Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dorothy Day and Obamacare

Servant of God Dorothy Day is a fascinating woman, and a saint for the modern world.  Prior to her conversion, she was an outspoken Communist sympathizer who'd had two common-law marriages and an abortion.  Yet after the birth of her daughter, she began to take Catholicism seriously, and was Baptized and received into the Church in 1927.  Her conversion to Catholicism produced a marked change.  She remained, as before, committed to aiding the plight of the poor, and devoted a large portion of her life to this effect.  She also remained an unabashed foe of captialism and its excesses, supporting Distributivism instead.  But while her old views were being transformed by her conversion, they were joined by a rejection of the use of violent means to achieve social justice, a rejection of Marxism, and an outspoken support of the Church's sexual ethic.  She was, without exception, pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-poor.

Like many of the saints, Dorothy was able to transcend the party politics of the day, with an ear towards the eternal.  As a practical matter, this meant that she found herself criticizing many of those who would present themselves as her allies.  On the one hand, Dorothy, once hailed by Abbie Hoffman as "the first hippie" was not shy about criticizing the "free love" ethos of the late 1960s.  But neither was she shy about criticizing the human rights abuses of Franco in Spain, even during an era in which many conservative Catholics supported him (either as the lesser of two evils or even as a defender of the Church, which he wasn't).

Her refusal to simply tow the party line for one side or the other earned her many enemies, as it still does today (the most famous recent example being Glenn Beck's attacks on her for supposedly being a Marxist: Christianity Today responds to that here).  But this refusal, born of her ability to move beyond the politics of the day to eternal truths, made her a prophetic voice like so many saints before her.  I was struck by this passage from a 1945 editorial she wrote for Catholic Worker, the newspaper she co-founded.  By way of context, the Social Securit Act was passed ten years earlier, in 1935:
We believe that social security legislation, now balled as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion. It is an acceptance of Cain's statement, on the part of the employer. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Since the employer can never be trusted to give a family wage, nor take care of the worker as he takes care of his machine when it is idle, the state must enter in and compel help on his part. Of course, economists say that business cannot afford to act on Christian principles. It Is impractical, uneconomic. But it is generally coming to be accepted that such a degree of centralization as ours is impractical, and that there must be decentralization. In other words, business has made a mess of things, and the state has had to enter in to rescue the worker from starvation.


Of course, Pope Pius XI said that, when such a crisis came about, in unemployment, fire, flood, earthquake, etc., the state had to enter in and help.


But we in our generation have more and more come to consider the state as bountiful Uncle Sam. "Uncle Sam will take care of it all. The race question, the labor question, the unemployment question." We will all be registered and tabulated and employed or put on a dole, and shunted from clinic to birth control clinic. "What right have people who have no work to have a baby?" How many poor Catholic mothers heard that during those grim years before the war!
Her clear-sighted vision is at once a stinging denunciation of both Democrats' push for state-supported birth control and abortions, as well as Republicans' demonization of poor women with lots of children, decades before words like "Obamacare" or "Welfare Queen" had ever been uttered.  In hewing to a Christian model that we should care for the poor, she made enemies of those who thought that the state should care for the poor, instead, and those who thought that the poor should just take care of themselves. 

She saw then that business and government are not the enemies that both laissez-faire capitalism and communism assumed them to be, that Big Business is all too happy to let the State take care of the broken worker.  She also foresaw that as Americans relied more and more on government for "charity," it would cause them to lose their own autonomy, and decrease the responsibility citizens felt for those around them, and for the problems of the day.  And she foresaw that a government entrusted with making sure you can eat is a government in control of your life, and that this government is going to make demands about the number of children you can have. 

The question is raised, repeatedly: what would Dorothy Day have thought of last year's healthcare legislation?  It's answered well here, but I think she provides all the clues we need in the excerpt above.  She would have obviously recognized the need for healthcare coverage, to take care of the ill.  She would have been furious with major insurance companies, and all those who produce an excessive profit off of the sick and the dying.  But while she would have agreed with the Democrats on the problem, there's no serious question that she would have rejected their solution.  She would have seen Obamacare as another attempt to shirk our Christian duties, to put the state in the shoes of the godly, and she would have railed against the strings attached: the federal funding for birth control and abortion. Her conclusion, it's safe to say, would have been that like Social Security, it was a "great defeat for Christianity."

Monday, November 29, 2010

David and the House of the Lord

The Responsorial Psalm at Mass yesterday was Psalm 122, which begins "I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.'"  It's a beautiful Psalm, but I learned something a while back that makes it even more beautiful.  Deuteronomy 23 established a number of rules about who could and couldn't enter the Congregation.  For example, Deut 23:8 says that for Edomites and Egyptians, "The children of the third generation born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD." But while they're in after three generations, it takes ten generations for those born out of wedlock.  Deut 23:2 commands, "One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD. "

Genesis 38:12-30 describes how the widower Judah impregnated his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, who then gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.  While this happens before Deut 23:2 is in place, it meant that once the Mosaic Law was established, the descendants of Perez and Zerah were forbidden from entering the Congregation until the tenth generation.  Now look at the chronology provided in Ruth 4:18-22 (and supported by 1 Chronicles 2, Numbers 26, Genesis 46, etc.):
This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.
Count 'em up. David is the tenth generation.  That is, David is the first of his lineage to ever be able to enter the Congregation, since ten generations before him, the Mosaic Law wasn't even around.    Now go back to Psalm 122:1, labeled "A Psalm of David": "I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD.'"  What a blessing that must have been, to be able to walk through the doors so long denied your family, and give thanks to God in His House.  As beautiful as getting to worship God in congregation is, it was probably even more beautiful to David, who knew what an immense gift he had, since those before him didn't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Who Are We Thankful To?

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you're enjoying family and good food, and taking a bit of time to acknowledge all of the ways in which we've been blessed by God.  This time a year, I hear a lot of talk about remembering what we're thankful for, which is great.  But I heard a great homily the other day at CIC, about how what often gets glossed over in our culture is Who we're thanking.

Traditionally, of course, Thanksgiving was a religious holiday.  It's actually a bit ironic, given how anti-liturgical the early pilgrims were, that one of their most lasting contributions to society is a quasi-liturgical holiday.  These were the folks who hated Christmas, after all.  In its original form, the purpose of the holiday was clear: we took a day to thank God for everything He'd blessed us with.

But as our culture moves away from God, Thanksgiving makes less and less sense.  If we're not thanking God, who are we thanking?  Ourselves, for being so prosperous?  We seem to be at risk of turning "thankful" into a word that means nothing more than "happy" or "lucky."  Thankfulness is a recognition of another's generosity, it's a showing of gratitude.  To be thankful, we need to recognize Who we're thanking.  This is a great day to do that. Count your blessing, but don't forget to thank the Source of your blessings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Refreshing Clarity from the New USCCB President

Archbishop Dolan of New York, the newly elected USCCB president, had this to say on the pope's recent remarks (and alleged remarks) on condoms:
“The Pope didn’t say, ‘Oh good, you should use a condom,’ ” Archbishop Dolan said, referring to a controversial comment the pope made in a book that is being released worldwide on Tuesday.
In the book, the pope said that a male prostitute who used a condom to prevent the spread of AIDS might be taking a first step toward moral responsibility. Some Catholic analysts claimed that the pope was floating a possible exception in the church’s ban on birth control. But Archbishop Dolan said the church could not simply change its doctrine.
“You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”
Well said.  If you get a chance, check the full interview out: it's comforting to know that Abp. Dolan has such a clear view of the threats which face our culture, and more importantly, the American Church Herself.

90s Flashback: Creepy Propaganda for Kids

Yesterday, I was reading an obituary written by Robert Poole, of Reason Magazine, for Dave Nolan, the recently-departed founder of the Libertarian Party.  In it, he says:
Dave and I came to libertarianism by similar paths, growing up reading Robert Heinlein’s individualist-oriented science fiction and then discovering Ayn Rand’s writings.
For some reason, this sentence really struck me.  Libertarianism, the belief system to which both Poole and Nolan dedicated virtually their entire adult lives, was a theory they were introduced to through what probably seemed like innocuous sci-fi.  Certainly, few sci-fi readers pick up Heinlein or Asimov asking to learn about alternative political theories, yet there it is. Heinlein in particular had far more lasting influence than you might expect a sci-fi writer to have: his 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land, which imagined a world with a "free-love" religion, was very influential on a number of early hippies, and Heinlein's term "grokking" is often used amongst atheists to describe the religious feelings they're trying to avoid ascribing to God.

Anyways, it got me thinking about the political and religious messages which were pushed on my generation when we were growing up in the late 80s and early 90s.  One thing came immediately to mind: Captain Planet.  The show was actually spearheaded by Turner Broadcasting's VP for environmental policy as a way to influence "2 to 11 year-olds" into adopting popular liberal mores on issues like environmentalism and "safe sex."  There's an infamous episode, "A Formula for Hate," which explained to 2 to 11 year-old kids how AIDS was transmitted.

But that's not the one I remember -- the one that stuck with me for years was the episode "Population Bomb."  The episode was fittingly named after the thoroughly-discredited book by Paul Ehrlich which predicted, amongst other things, that global starvation would ravage the West in the 1970s, as overpopulation outpaced our ability to feed ourselves.  Here's the statistic you need to know: global food production grows at a much faster rate than population. This is true empirically, and the logical conclusion is hard to miss: we (globally) currently produce more food per person than at any point in history.  There's just not a risk that there's not enough food to go around.  In fact, one of the major complaints West African producers have is that the US is bringing food to African markets so cheap that domestic producers can't compete.  There's too much cheap food.  That's literally the opposite of the problem Ehrlich predicted.  This is true of almost all of Ehrlich's predictions: the major problem facing the West is now underpopulation, as most Western countries, and particularly Japan, aren't even having enough kids to replace the people who die every day.  A major risk now is that there are too few young people, and that within a few generations, it will be a real challenge for the relatively-few working aged people to support all of the retirees.  In other words, Ehrlich wasn't just wrong, but dangerously and disasterously wrong, like someone who encourages you to have your roof removed, so you don't get too hot in the winter.  The economist Dr. Julian Simon actually got Ehrlich to put his money where his mouth was, wagering on commodities prices over a ten year period.  Ehrlich chose the five metals he thought would have skyrocketing prices over the span of a decade.  Every one saw its price fall, and two of the metals saw prices plummet.  The thing that made Ehrlich most dangerous is that he advocated forced population control to combat the false bogey-man of overpopulation.

In any case, Captain Planet picked up this theme and ran with it.  Here's a plot summary of the episode:

Introductory voiceover: “Our world is in peril. Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, can no longer stand the terrible destruction plaguing our planet.” Gaia has provided five teenagers of different races with magic rings. When they use the rings together Captain Planet — the superman figure — appears on the scene to right ecological wrongs.
Captain Planet tells the five youngsters: “If the number of people on our planet keeps growing the way it is, soon there will be too many people everywhere.”
The youngsters debate this: “I think people should have fewer children.” “In some countries the government recommends that a couple only have two children.”
However, the American teenager Wheeler is the 'redneck' who goes against this ecological wisdom: “No one is going to tell me how many kids I can have!” Then, Wheeler goes windsurfing in a storm and is washed up on a strange land, Miceland, inhabited by mangy, cross-breed mice. He is captured by mouse guards and taken to a food factory to be 'processed' so that the mice can eat him. The food technician — a 'good' mouse called Piebald — saves him. Piebald explains to Wheeler that Miceland used to be a paradise, but the mice destroyed the land by having so many babies. They turned the country into an ecological hell with no trees, serious pollution, not enough food, poisoned oceans and no fish.
A brutal dictatorship rules the people. Piebald used to be a scientist but when he tried to warn against having too many babies, jackbooted guards took him away from his family and he was stripped of his status. Wheeler asks him why people don't stop having large families. Piebald answers: “Everyone wants a big family — it's tradition.”
When the mouse dictator, General Claw, finds that Wheeler comes from a beautiful, fertile island — Hope Island where he lives with the other planeteers — Claw decides to invade and destroy it to take the food needed for his growing population. The other four planeteers arrive by 'eco-copter' to rescue Wheeler. The mice people start to riot against their brutal repression by General Claw. He fires a Sonic Canon, which starts an earthquake. The island starts to sink under the sea. Wheeler tries to save his friend Piebald and his mouse family (Piebald has responsibly had only one offspring), but Piebald tells him: “My people and I are doomed but yours can still be saved. Don't let this happen to you — don't let there be more people than your world can hold.”
Wheeler wakes up to find it has all been a dream, but he has learned his lesson. “Did you know the population of the world is now 5 billion,” he says “and it's increasing by 90 million people each year. But the earth is not getting any bigger, so when it is your turn to have a family, keep it small.”
The irony here is that the true brutal dictatorships were those countries that "recommends" people to only have two children, often through forced abortions (China) or involuntary sterilization (India).

And just so we're clear, that last sentence wasn't some dialogue between characters.  At the end of the episode, the characters would break the fourth wall to make sure kids understood the preachy message of that episode, in case they hadn't been over-the-top enough.  Here, each character turned to the screen and instructed  2 to 11-year old kids (including a young me) that when it was my turn to have kids, we weren't supposed to have more than two.

If you're finding it hard to believe that a Saturday morning cartoon was such brazen propaganda for a controversial agenda many parents (rightly) wouldn't have approved of, see for yourself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Early Church Father Worth Knowing: Optatus of Milevis

I. Who Optatus of Milevis Was

Prior to last week, I'd never heard of St. Optatus, the bishop of Milevis in the middle-300s.  I'm not alone: the  preface to the 1917 translation of Against the Donatists, the only work of his we still have, calls him "perhaps the least known of all the Fathers of the Church."  As it turns out, he was an important figure in the early Church, in part through his lasting influence on more famous Fathers like St. Augustine of Hippo.  His see, Milevus, was located near Hippo in what was then the province of Numidia, and the two were of one accord, theologically.  Along with neighboring Carthage, these three North African sees were some of the strongest defenders of orthodoxy against a whole slew of heresies, and every North African Council of the early Church took place in one these three sees, including the Council of Carthage which officially set the canon of Scripture.  In doing so, it was reaffirming what had already been determined at the Synod of Hippo, and what would be again reaffirmed at the Council of Milevis a few decades after Optatus' death.  Augustine, who would battle Optatus' Donatist opponents a generation later, commemorated St. Optatus on a list of North African converts who brought "gold and silver" to the Faith in Book II, Chapter 40 of On Christian Doctrine:
And what else have many good and faithful men among our brethren done? Do we not see with what a quantity of gold and silver and garments Cyprian, that most persuasive teacher and most blessed martyr, was loaded when he came out of Egypt? How much Lactantius brought with him? And Victorious, and Optatus, and Hilary, not to speak of living men!
Now, while Optatus was one of the jewels in the North African crown when it was a thriving heart of Christianity, we shouldn't ignore his flaws.  Optatus' major flaw is a willingness to believe almost anything negative about his opponents.  Because of this, while Optatus is a great source of what 4th century Catholics believed, he's sometimes an unreliable source for what the Donatists did and believed.  The other note of caution I should sound is that Optatus is writing to shame his opponents in their heresy.  In this, he is very much following the example of St. Paul, but to modern Christian ears, he at times seems excessively harsh.

II. What Optatus of Milevis Taught


A. The Sacraments Work Ex Opere Operato

If you're familiar with the Donatist heresy, here it is in a nutshell: they declared that the True Church consisted only of the saved. The Donatists were scandalized by the fact that some of the Catholic priests (the so-called "traditors") had denied Christ under torture.  As a result, they claimed that these traitorous priests were unable to confer the Sacraments, including Baptism.  Optatus repeatedly attacks this view, and one of the arguments he raises is that it's the Trinity, not the priest, who is responsible for the working of the Sacrament.  Thus, he notes in Chapter 1 of Book V that what's important isn't the faith of the priest, but the faithfulness of God:
With reason, therefore, have you praised Baptism, for who amongst the Faithful is unaware that the one Baptism is life for virtues, death to evil deeds, birth to immortality, the attainment of the heavenly kingdom, the harbour of innocence, and (as you too have said) the shipwreck of sins? These are the blessings conferred upon every believer, not by the minister of this Sacrament, but by the Faith of him who believes and by the Trinity.
While he's speaking specifically of Baptism here, he elsewhere deals with the other Sacraments. I just liked how concisely he handled the question there.

B. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, Laid Upon the Altar in the Liturgy

Book VI is intense.  The Donatists apparently destroyed the altars which had been used by the traditor priests, and Optatus is justly furious:
Your wicked actions with regard to the Divine Sacraments have----so it seems to me----been clearly shown up. I now have to describe things done by you, as you yourselves will not be able to deny, with cruelty and folly. For what so sacrilegious as to break, to scrape, to take away altars of God, upon which you too once offered sacrifice, upon which were laid both the prayers of the people, and the Members of Christ, where Almighty God was called upon, where the Holy Spirit descended in answer to prayer, from which many have received the pledge of everlasting salvation, and the safeguard of faith, and the hope of resurrection?
Destroying the altar is an attack on Christ Himself, since “what is an altar excepting the seat of both the Body and the Blood of Christ?”  He supports this by quoting 1 Kings 19:10 in which Elijah refers to the altars as “Thine altars” in talking to God.  Likewise, he accuses the Donatists of breaking "the very Chalices, which carry the Blood of Christ." The Donatists had apparently melted the golden Chalices which traditor priests had touched, and then sold the gold.  In this, Optatus says, "you committed two horrible sins," greed and the "unheard-of crime" of indiscriminately selling what belonged to God to idolaters. 

C. The One True Church is Headed by the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter.

In Chapter 1 of Book II, Optatus explains that the Church "is One, and her holiness is not measured by the pride of individuals, but is derived from the Sacraments. It is for this reason that she alone is called by Christ His Dove and His own beloved Bride."  This Church, he explains, is worldwide, from the rising to the setting of the sun, as prophesied in Scripture.  In the next chapter, he explains that the easiest way to know the true Church is looking to the Cathedra, the seat of the Bishop of Rome:
So we have proved that the Catholic Church is the Church which is spread throughout the world.
 We must now mention its Adornments, and see where are its five Endowments (which you have said to be six), amongst which the CATHEDRA is the first; and, since the second Endowment, which is the 'Angelus,' cannot be added unless a Bishop has sat on the Cathedra, we must see who was the first to sit on the Cathedra, and where he sat. If you do not know this, learn. If you do know, blush. Ignorance cannot be attributed to you----it follows that you know. For one who knows, to err is sin. Those who do not know may sometimes be pardoned.
You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the City of Rome was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra, on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all, lest the other Apostles might claim----each for himself----separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner.
 Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.
Remember, now, that Optatus is a bishop in North Africa.  By making this argument, he's conceding that he's not the head of the Church, or an equal partner in Church governance.  He then proceeds to give a list of popes from Peter until the time of his writing (in the middle 360s -- see the second comment below).  When he updated his book in the 380s, he updated the list of popes as well.  What makes this more remarkable is that this is the exact same thing that St. Irenaeus of Lyons did in Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 3, back in about 180 A.D. It's  hard to avoid the conclusion that Irenaeus didn't choose Rome randomly - that there was a reason that a Bishop of Lyons, France knew the lineage of the Bishops of Rome.  This conclusion is obviously strengthened significantly by the fact that a Bishop of Milevis, Numidia, also knew the lineage of the Bishops of Rome, and insisted it was "this one Cathedra" that all the churches on Earth should be united to.  His explanation why  -- "lest the other Apostles might claim----each for himself----separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra would already be a schismatic and a sinner -- is almost prophetic. After all, the Eastern Orthodox would do this exact thing with the See of Constantinople, which they call "New Rome."

But Optatus isn't done yet.  He knows that the Donatists have been claiming that "you allege that you too have some sort of a party in the City of Rome." He then says: "Behold, in Rome are the 'Shrines' of the two Apostles. Will you tell me whether he has been able to approach them, or has offered Sacrifice in those places, where----as is certain----are these 'Shrines' of the Saints?"  So the "party" in Rome that matters for purposes of Christian unity is the one who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at St. Peter and St. Paul.  That is, of course, the pope.  He concludes his argument simply: "How is it, then, that you strive to usurp for yourselves the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, you who, with your arguments, and audacious sacrilege, war against the Chair of Peter?"  You'll note that this is the fourth century, and Optatus has raised Petrine primacy, papal primacy, Apostolic Succession, and in support, the Keys from Matthew 16:17-19 (by the time he mentions them here, it's literally the sixth time he's mentioned the Keys to defend the Oneness of the Church). All of these are things that Protestant apologists have claimed weren't beliefs of the early Church. Keith Mathison, for example, advances the incredible argument on page 58 of The Shape of Sola Scriptura, that  "In the century between 1150 and 1250, a study of the writings of the canon lawyers and theologians reveals that 'they did not know of any magisterium conferred on Peter with the power of the keys.'” Optatus' writings clearly put this fake-history to shame, since he's writing hundreds of years earlier, and clearly is aware of the implication of the Keys for the Apostolic See.

D. Schismatics Remain Brothers in Christ

In Book IV, Chapter 2, Optatus explains that since they share God as a Father, and Christ as a Brother, he will continue to call the Donatists "brothers," even though they refuse to return the favor.  He challenges the Donatists to either change the Lord's Prayer from "Our Father" to "My Father," or start acknowledging the Catholics as brethren in Christ, since in praying the Lord's Prayer, the Donatists are unwillingly praying for the Catholics, just as the Catholics willingly pray for the Donatists in the same prayer.  It's always nice to see this sort of acknowledgement, particularly in writings as fierce as Optatus', both because it's charitable, and because it proves that this acknowledgement of schismatics as Christians isn't some Vatican II development. 


III. Conclusion

Optatus of Milevis is clearly and unambiguously Roman Catholic, believing in papal primacy, the Sacraments, the ex opere operato nature of the Sacraments, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Mass as a Sacrifice, and so on.  And he's just as clearly held in high regard from his contemporaries and successors, like St. Augustine of Hippo, who Calvinists try to claim was a proto-Calvinist.  This is telling, since if Augustine were really the way he's often presented by Protestant scholars, it strikes me as incredibly unlikely he'd have considered Optatus' contributions to the Faith to be "a quantity of gold and silver and garments."  It's also telling, since Optatus is clearly one of the major leaders of the Catholic party in North Africa, contra the Dontatists.  Augustine takes up this mantle after Optatus' death, leading the Catholics against the Donatists as well, and Augustine's On Baptism, Against the Donatists makes many of the same arguments that Optatus first makes in Against the Donatists (such as the ability of the Sacraments to be validly conferred even by heretics, and the absolute necessity of not breaking communion with the Church).  Protestants have long claimed that when Augustine called himself "Catholic," it didn't mean then what it means today. Optatus' writings show that this is just not true.  Finally, Optatus is important just to demonstrate the simple fact that these distinctly Catholic beliefs aren't some later novelty, invented at the time of the Great Schism or the Council of Trent or Vatican II. This is the once and for all Faith of the Church.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pope Benedict and Condoms

The biggest story this past weekend was what people are claiming Pope Benedict said about condoms.  The media has badly perverted his comments, so let me post what he actually said, before taking a look it means that the "Pope reverses thousands of years of Church teachings," as the Daily Mail originally reported.
I. The Comments
Taken from the BBC's excerpt of the forthcoming book "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times," here's the interview in relevant part:
Peter Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican's policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church's traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church's own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.
Pope Benedict: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.
Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.
I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering.
In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work.
This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man's being.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.
That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
Peter Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Pope Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
Personally, I think that the best part of the answer is how he begins.  The media has played armchair quarterback, with liberal columnists claiming (repeatedly and without a shred of empirical data) that the Church's position on AIDS has lead to millions of deaths in Africa.  In reality, the Church has saved millions of lives in Africa through all th means Benedict discussed, while the Church's critics do little to nothing to raise a finger to help, while assaulting the Church's assistance in the vilest of terms.  Still, it's these underlined portions which are getting all the attention, so let's take a look at what's going on there, instead.
II. My Reaction
First, why does Benedict choose the seemingly-bizarre example of a gay prostitute?  He's isolating the variable, so to speak. Condoms have two uses - (1) as a contraceptive, to prevent conception; and (2) to prevent disease.  The first use is absolutely forbidden, while the second use is commendable.  In other words, if there was a way to design a device that prevented the spread of AIDS and STDs, without preventing conception, the Church would be absolutely in favor of it.

Now, normally, the public discourse about condoms completely muddles these two, as if a child (a blessing from God in all cases) and AIDS (a deadly disease) are morally equivalent.  In choosing the example of a homosexual prostitute, Benedict separated the two.  When gays use condoms, they're not using contraception, since (obviously) they aren't "at risk" of conceiving.

Second, look at Benedict's focus. It's not on whether condom use is morally licit or not in the case he's described (he actually doesn't answer that question, despite all the media coverage to the contrary), but simply on the fact that this desire to use a condom is a positive sign for the rehumanization of sexuality. In other words, at the point that the individual in question goes from having animalistic sex to saying, "I will forgo some amount of physical pleasure in order to protect the physical well-being of myself and others," he or she is on the right track.  Because the Church's stance is that there is all sorts of physical pleasure you might want to engage in that's terrible for your spiritual well-being - unlike AIDS, which imperils the body, these sins imperil your soul.

This Catholic message is foreign to someone who's idea of sex is simply "I do what feels good."  Someone who's already prefigured to making prudential judgments, even in the heat of the moment ("Do I risk my life for momentary physical pleasure?") is in a better position to make moral judgments ("Do I risk damning my soul for momentary physical pleasure?").

Third, note that Benedict doesn't back away from his position on condoms not being the solution for Africa.  The armchair quarterbacks will criticize him for this, but he's backed up by the hard data: in Africa, the spread of condoms has lead to an increase, not a decrease, in AIDS cases. This is counter-intuitive, so let me explain.  Condom use decreases (but does not eliminate) the risk of AIDS infection in individual cases. But where NGOs have thrown condoms to combat the AIDS problem, it's given a false sense of security, so there's much more sex - meaning more total cases, more sexual partners, and more new AIDS infections cases than before condoms were introduced.

There are two helpful sports analogies here.  First, prior to the advent of boxing gloves, there were no reported cases of professional boxing deaths.  Now, we see about eleven boxing deaths per year, compared to basically none in mixed-martial arts (which uses really thin gloves).  Each blow from a boxing-gloved hand is less dangerous than an ungloved punch, but when your opponent has a boxing glove, you're likely to sustain a whole lot more hits, and the cumulative effect is long-term brain injury and a higher risk of death.  Second, the same is true of football helmets. Wearing a helmet makes you more likely to use your head as a weapon, meaning we've seen a lot of brain-damage from football after players rattled their brain.  If helmets weren't used, the vast majority of players wouldn't be stupid or crazy enough to use their head as a weapon, and they wouldn't get brain damage. But since boxing gloves and football helmets make us feel safer (which is what makes them so dangerous, of course), we're unlikely to see either of them go away anytime soon.  Same thing for condoms: we're drawn in by their false sense of security, which is why they are, in many cases, incredibly deadly.


But this is a question of prudence, not morality.  Condoms aren't, as a matter of fact, very effective in curbing the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the countries which have most successfully battled AIDS have done it by ignoring the armchair quarterbacks.  On the other hand, condoms are pretty effective in decreasing the AIDS epidemic in Southeast Asia -- the reason apparently being  that AIDS is often transmitted via forced prostitution, meaning the sex will happen whether a condom is used or not.

Fourth, let's take head-on the question that Benedict didn't address, but which everybody seems to think he did: can condoms be used, not as a contraceptive, but as a disease-prevention tool, in certain cases?  There is one glaring case in which this arises: marriages in which one spouse is infected and the other isn't.  The prudential question from #3 still exists (really, if the couple is worried about infection, don't have sex), but marital sex is obviously not intrinsically immoral in the same way something like gay prostitution is.

My inclination is to suggest that it wouldn't be immoral in this situation for the non-infected spouse to insist upon condoms, so long as neither spouse was doing so to avoid procreation.  Now, the press claims that Benedict has said this (he hasn't), and that it contradicts or "overturns" Humanae Vitae (it doesn't contradict it, and he can't overturn it).  Ironically, it's Humanae Vitae itself which says that items which are sometimes contraception may be used, so long as they're not used as a contraceptive. Birth control, for example, is sometimes used for health purposes, and the Church has explicitly said that's okay.  After reaffirming the Church's opposition to sterilization and artificial birth control, paragraph 15 of Humanae Vitae says:
On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (19)
Here, replace "cure bodily diseases" with "prevent bodily diseases" and you have the exact situation facing many Catholic couples in Africa.

However, there's a major counterargument to my own inclination.  If a couple is having sex while using a condom, is it possible for them to be open to new life?  Could a couple in which one spouse has AIDS welcome procreation?  This is particularly true since it might mean that in the process of procreation, both the mother and child become infected and die.  Certainly, their actions don't suggest that they're trying to have kids (they're not required to try to, of course), but does the condom suggest that they're trying not to?

Finally, I gotta hand it to Called to Communion for clearing up the waters right away.  Catholic Hour's take is very good, too.  Both mention a great analogy by one Janet Smith.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Mother" Church? "Mother" Mary?

Lots of Protestants are uneasy with the way that Catholics personify the Church as "Mother Church," and refer to the Church as She.  They're also uncomfortable, of course, with Catholics referring to Mary as "Mother."  Both of these practices, however, are derived from Scripture.

I. The Church Personified
Now, the Church is frequently personified in Scripture.  Paul shows us the Church as the Bride of Christ, and refers to Her as "Her," in Ephesians 5:22-32,
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her to make Her holy, cleansing Her by the washing with water through the word, and to present Her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the Church— for we are members of His Body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[Genesis 2:24] This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
If you notice, Paul paints a picture of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and as the Body of Christ, and even as Something indistinguishable from Christ (since "He who loves His Wife loves Himself," Eph. 5:28).

II. Mary as Mother
In John 19:25-27, one of the last things Jesus does on the Cross before dying is give Mary as Mother to the Beloved Disciple:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Now, the Catholic understanding of John's Gospel is that John is presenting himself as the Beloved Disciple, not to gloat about the favor he found with Christ, but to present himself as a model.  That all of us should act as beloved disciples of Christ.  If this is true, then Christ from the Cross is giving His Mother to all of us.  Note also that He refers to Her as "Woman."  This is going to be really important in looking at Revelation 12.

III. The Kicker: Revelation 12
The single most important passage to know in understanding why Catholics say things like "Mother Mary" and "Mother Church" is Revelation 12.  Here's Rev. 12:1-2, 5:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under Her feet and a crown of twelve stars on Her head.  She was pregnant and cried out in pain as She was about to give birth. [...] She gave birth to a Son, a Male Child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” [Psalm 2:9]
The Son, obviously, is Christ. But what about the Woman?  There are two major theories: that the Woman is Mary, and that the Woman is Israel and the Church. Now, Catholics affirm both, but it seems that everyone would have to affirm at least one of these.

We think it's Mary for obvious reasons.  First of all, She gave birth to Christ.  So taking the vision on face, Mary's an obvious choice.  Second, She's referred to in the New Testament simply as "Woman."   This is because of Her role as the New Eve.  Eve, before the Fall, was simply known as "Woman."  Mary, being preserved from original sin, is the New Eve, and from Her flesh and bones God draws the "Last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:45).  All of this is foretold in Genesis 3:15, which promises that a Woman will bear Seed, and that the Child of this Woman will crush the head of Satan.  It's this prophesy which Christ references on the Cross in John 19.

But it's also Israel and the Church.  Jesus Christ, as King of the Jews, is the culmination of Israel - the very drawing apart of a Jewish people was, for all time, for this purpose.  Genesis 12:3 shows that Abraham's lineage was to be a blessing for every people on Earth, and through Christ, this blessing is fulfilled.  The Church of Christ, then, is the fulfillment of Israel, and Romans 2:29 shows us this quite plainly.  The old priesthood gave way to the New, just as the old Law gave way to the New (Hebrews 7:12), and so on.  We see this also in the picture of the Woman in Revelation.  We see twelve stars, symbolizing the twelve tribes of the Old Testament, which culminate in the twelve Apostles of the New (see Matthew 19:28).

Interestingly, the details which are mentioned in Revelation 12 seem to signal that both conclusions are intended.  For example, Rev. 12:6 says that the Woman fled to the wilderness, for a place prepared Her by God.  This is a reference to the journey of Israel and his family travelling to Egypt in Genesis 46, but it's also a reference to Mary and Her family going into Egypt in Matthew 2:13-15.  In both cases, God specially prepared a place for them (sending Joseph ahead of Israel in Genesis; and sending an angel to instruct St. Joseph in Matthew).

Now, why is this all so important?  Look at how  Revelation 12 ends.  This is Revelation 12:17 -
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
Two things to notice.  First, this directly links back to Genesis 3:15, which promises enmity between Satan (represented there as a snake, and here as a dragon) and the Woman, who we know to be Mary  If you read the two, and then read the instances in John 2 and John 19 in which Jesus calls Mary "Woman," a very clear picture starts to form.  Namely, that in Genesis 3, God promises that Mary and the Devil will be mortal foes, and that Mary will give birth to Christ, who will crush the head of Satan.

This is actually a bit shocking - the Bible is saying that Satan hates Mary. It's not what we might assume - I mean, of course he hates God, but Mary?  Here, I think the  understanding of Mary that many Protestants have renders this passage nearly nonsensical.  Mary, to many Protestants, is no different than any other believer: a fallen, even totally depraved, sinner who just happened to have been in the right place at the right time to become Jesus' Mom.  But that's emphatically not how the Bible is portraying Her: She's part of a cosmic battle.  According to this passage, the Devil goes after you and I because He wants to hurt Her.

But there's a second thing to draw from this passage, almost too obvious to dwell on.  True believers in Christ are depicted as children of the Woman.  Now, Protestants might think that the Woman is Mary, but not the Church, or the Church, but not Mary, but ultimately, I think you have to take at least one of the two readings.  The Woman refers to Someone and/or Something.  And that Someone or Something is Our Mother.

So if you read this chapter as referring to Mary, then Rev. 12:17 tells us that Her offspring are all "those who keep God's commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus."  She is, in other words, the Mother of the  Living spiritually, as Eve was mother of the living by the flesh (Genesis 3:20).  So calling Her "Mother Mary" is only fitting, since Scripture says She's our Mom.  On the other hand, if you read the chapter as referring to the Church, then using the same logic, Mother Church is a fitting title.  In fact, to deny that the Church is our Mother would be to deny that you are one of the faithful of Rev. 12:17.  Or, in St. Cyprian's words, "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother."  Or, if you're aware that both Mary and the Church are described, then both titles are fitting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The End of the Ostpolitik?

Todd Hatch wrote an interesting account of his experience finally standing up for traditional marriage (once he got tenure) at a public university.  The experience sounds like it's been brutal but edifying: mostly, he's just been yelled at and called all sorts of names for not thinking-the-popular-thing.
In the midst of all this, while reading George Weigel’s The End and the Beginning, the second volume of his biography of Pope John Paul II, it occurred to me that John Paul might have something valuable to teach me. His predecessors, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, treated the Soviet bloc as a permanent fixture in modern Europe. Their so-called “Ostpolitik” sought to preserve what could be preserved of Catholic life behind the Iron Curtain by avoiding confrontation and cooperating as much as possible with the demands of Communist governments in Eastern Europe. This was a modus non moriendi, a way of not dying, not a way of fomenting Christian growth and expansion. Despite the pleas of many bishops behind the Iron Curtain to adopt a stronger stance and despite the Paul VI’s own anguish about Communist perfidy, the policy lasted through the 1960s and 1970s. Pope John Paul II, of course, ended the policy and began a vigorous spiritual campaign against the Communist domination of his homeland, Poland, and the other eastern European countries. The rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland and the eventual fall of Soviet communism owe much to the more confrontational approach of John Paul. “How many divisions does the pope have?” Josef Stalin had once asked. The Polish pope demonstrated that he didn’t need armies, that personal example, words of truth, and the creation of a culture of life were more important than guns and tanks. John Paul’s example and my own experiences at EKU have convinced me that it is time to end Ostpolitik on campus.
For at least two generations, Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, and other religious conservatives have sought to “get along” with the prevailing American campus culture of relativism and moral license. We have dedicated ourselves to academic excellence, to fair and balanced teaching, and to keeping a low profile. We have kept quiet in department meetings, in the faculty senate, and on university committees. We have bitten our tongues when colleagues disparaged our religion, our morality, and our most cherished beliefs. We have convinced our colleagues that religious conservatives can be surprisingly thoughtful and urbane.
In the end, what have such actions won for us?
Answering his own question, Hatch concludes that the "Ostpolitik" engaged in by morally conservative university professors has saved their jobs (and permitted them a very small soapbox), at the expense of letting the broader university fall into moral decay at a startling pace.  He reasoned that it's time to stop figuring out how we can best get along with an increasingly anti-Catholic and anti-Christian university culture, and start trying to win back our college campus, and the souls of our college-aged men and women.

I was reminded of this essay when I read USA Today's reaction to Abp. Dolan's election to President of the USCCB, quoted in USA Today.  First, here's how they characterized the distinct between Kicanas (who was expected to win) and Dolan (who did):
Kicanas was a protege of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who was known for his "common ground" approach and emphasis on a broad spectrum of Catholic social teaching. Dolan is closer to the traditionalist approach, defined not only by opposing abortion but also by publicly slamming Catholic politicians for pro-abortion rights votes. Veteran Church-watcher David Gibson, blogging at Disputations, called it "a shocker."
This is a pretty inaccurate description of Dolan's views, but a pretty accurate description of Kicanas'.  As regards Dolan, the article doesn't demonstrate a very good understanding of what goes on between bishops and pro-choice Catholic politicians.  As the example of Bp. Tobin and Rep. Kennedy made clear, bishops try and quietly correct errant Catholic sinners.  It's not a "defined" part of Tradition that bishops have to "publicly slam" sinners.  At some point, however, if a nominal Catholic continues to (a) claim he or she is Catholic, and (b) openly advance an agenda directly at odds with the Church, then the bishop has a moral obligation to speak out and dispel the myth that this is an acceptable Catholic position.  It's not about slamming the politician, but protecting the flock, and doing what's necessary to try and bring back the errant Catholic in question.  It's also not a very good description of what the author calls the "traditionalist" approach - are conservative bishops really only concerned with abortion and abortion?  Can anyone who's read Dolan's blog or press releases really say the man's interests are single-issue?  Can anyone say this about any of the conservative Catholic bishops?  That said, some conservative Catholic bishops do take pains to signal that abortion is a bigger deal than immigration, death penalty, and the like, because that's how the Church understands it.  Immigration policy and death penalty are areas on which faithful Catholics may disagree.  Abortion is not.

Still, it's fair to say that Kicanas is cut from the same Ostpolitik cloth as Bernadin, seeking to find "common ground" with the culture, while Dolan is more like his predecessor, Cardinal O'Connor, willing to take on the culture in a full-frontal assault.  The article makes this clearer, by quoting Michael Sean Winters:
The bishops have certainly shifted politically, but fundamentally Dolan's victory shows the bishops' desire to have a forceful personality at the head of the Conference. This was an endorsement of Cardinal George's willingness to take highly visible positions and a commitment to maintaining that vigorous style of leadership.
Yes, the "common ground" approach has been supplanted as an organizing principle by a desire for a clear Catholic identity.
Archbishop Dolan is not [a] right-wing culture warrior. He is smart, gregarious, something of a lion in the mold of Cardinal O'Connor, unafraid to state the Church's teachings clearly and unapologetically. But, there is never the kind of "in your face" attitude you see from some of the more extreme bishops.
If MSW is right, and it's probably too early to say for sure, it would be a huge relief.  I have little doubt that many of those in the Bernadin camp were men of good will, seeking what was best for the Church, but that Ostpolitik approach has a truly sorry track record.  And it seems that the US bishops are starting to get that.  In particular, it seems that the controversy over Obamacare was what did it for many of them.  They were faced with the possibility that the US government would pass a law trying to force Catholic hospitals and insurance companies to provide "emergency" abortions, provide contraception, and provide sterilization. This, along with seeing their flagship university defy the local bishop and honor the president responsible for this legislation, seems to have been enough to turn the hearts of at least a few of the bishops "in the middle," as it were.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Very Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist

My dad asked me last night for some resources showing the views of the Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist. A woman he does hospital ministry with had heard that the Church didn't believe in transubstantiation until the 1200s. This is a common error: the Church defined the dogma in the 1200s, but only because before that, it was so well understood that there was no need to define it.  Similarly, you won't see a lot of early Catholic writings (much less Church definitions) on gay marriage, just because taking a view other than the Catholic one was quite literally unthinkable.  It doesn't mean the early Church was okay with (or even neutral on) the question of gay marriage - just that the topic wasn't in serious controversy. In any case, I've decided to make an admittedly-incomplete list of writings from the early Church demonstrating a belief in the Real Presence.  Today, I'm only going to look at the time of the Apostles until the year 200 A.D.  Hopefully, sometime later this week, I'll be able to tackle some of the really great resources we have from the period of 200 to about 400 A.D.

Let's set the stage, historically.  By 200, there's been no ecumenical Church Councils since the Council of Jerusalem -- the Council of Nicea is still 125 years away.  While the Books which would later become the Bible are widely circulated and seem to have generally been understood to be inspired Scripture, there are still some disagreements over which books are canonical, and even what "canonical" implies: namely, do we read a given Book in Church only if it's inspired?  Or is it okay if it's uninspired, if it's still an accurate source of information about the Faith? (In modern terms, it would be like wondering if the Catechism should be one of the Readings in Mass).  The first time we see the word "Trinity" used to describe God is in 181 A.D.  The reality is there, but crafting a precise philosophical language to capture these realities takes time.  In contrast to the kinks that the early Church was hammering out on everything from the Trinity to the Bible, their grasp of Eucharistic theology is almost shockingly clear.  Even though philosophical terms like transubstantiation are far in the future, we're already seeing, by 200, terms like transmutation being used to describe what the words of consecration does to the bread and wine, and what the Eucharist does to our soul.


I. Didache (mid-first century)

The Didache is probably as old as the New Testament, and was in widespread use by the death of the Apostle John in 100 A.D.  Unlike the Scriptures, the Didache isn't the work of a single author.  Rather, it's something like an early Church catechism: outlining just the basics of Church practice.  Chapter 9 is on the Eucharist, and after proscribing some beautiful and simple pre-Consecration prayers, it instructs: "But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, 'Give not that which is holy to the dogs.'"  In the next chapter, there's a post-Communion prayer of thanksgiving, in which the Church prayed in part: "Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant."


II. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 103-107 A.D.)

Ignatius dealt with the first Eucharistic controversy in the Church: the Gnostics.  The Gnostics major heresy wasn't denying the Real Presence: rather, they denied that Jesus was fully God and fully Man.  But as a result of this, Ignatius notes, they couldn't affirm the Eucharist, and thus, we can't commune with them.  This is from Ignatius' letter to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 7:
They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.
This same Ignatius, in his letter to the Ephesians, refers to the Eucharist as "the medicine of immortality."


III. Justin Martyr (150-155 A.D.)

Justin Martyr clearly shows that from the beginning, the Church held that not only was the Eucharist the Flesh and Blood of Christ, it also wasn't bread and wine after the consecration.  Here's Chapter 66 of his First Apology:
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
So once a certain prayer of His word is said, the bread and wine cease to be common bread and wine, and become spiritual Bread and Wine: namely, "the Flesh and Blood of that Jesus Who was made Flesh."  The "prayer of His word" is the prayer of consecration, as Justin explains, quoting Christ at the Last Supper.  What's translated there as "transmutation" is incredible.  The actual phrase is "kata metabolen," and that metabolen is the root word of our word "metabolize."  What Justin is actually saying is that by the Eucharist, our own body and blood is nourish and metabolized by Christ.  Just as when we eat bread and drink wine, we turn the elements into our body through metabolism, when we eat the Eucharist, Christ metabolizes us (so to speak) into His Body.  This is very much consistent with the view Scripture presents in places like 1 Corinthians 10:17.


IV.Irenaeus (180 A.D.)

Irenaeus was faced with a second Eucharistic heresy: this time, the heretics were claiming that spirit was good, but flesh and blood were evil, and that we were simply souls trapped in our evil bodies.  Salvation, to these heretics, consisted of being liberated from flesh and blood.  Irenaeus, in Book V, Chapter 2 of Against Heresies, used the example of the Eucharist to show that the material world isn't evil for three reasons: (1) material bread and wine, taken from the earth, become the Body and Blood of God; (2) the Eucharist is His physical Body and Blood, not some invisible spiritual "Body" [this point was assumed in Irenaeus' time, but is very much in controversy now]; and (3) through the Eucharist, we're promised that our bodies will, after death, be glorified in the same way the bread and wine are glorified.  That part is fantastic.  But there's an even clearer passage.  In Book IV, Chapter 18, Irenaeus is dealing with the same heresy, and noting that these heretics still offer Mass.  His argument is simple: they should either base their theology off of the Eucharist, like Catholics, or stop offering Mass:
Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.
This passage is also helpful in that Irenaeus mentions that the bread ceases to be common bread at the point it becomes the Eucharist.  It still has an earthly reality (we'd say "the accidents" of bread), but it's not bread anymore.


V. Tertullian (c. 203 A.D.)

I should mention that Tertullian, while brilliant on many points, isn't the most reliable Church Father.  He became a Montanist later in life, and may have even died outside the Church.  But we still can see quite clearly that he shares the same Eucharistic faith as those others we explored above.  One of the issues Tertullian addressed in Chapter 19 of On Prayer was whether we should receive Communion on fast days (called "Station" days).  He says yes, because it's the Lord's Body, and that's Who we're striving for.  He also notes, as many of the above Fathers before him noted, that the Eucharist is truly a Sacrifice offered to the Father:
Similarly, too, touching the days of Stations, most think that they must not be present at the sacrificial prayers, on the ground that the Station must be dissolved by reception of the Lord's Body. Does, then, the Eucharist cancel a service devoted to God, or bind it more to God? Will not your Station be more solemn if you have withal stood at God's altar? When the Lord's Body has been received and reserved each point is secured, both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty.


Conclusion

As you can see, from the earliest days of the Church, we see the Church Fathers proclaiming unanimously that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, and that the Eucharist truly saves.  We also see them articulating that the bread and wine become the Eucharist at the prayer of consecration, and that once consecrated, the bread and wine cease to be common bread and wine. Christ doesn't just mingle amongst the elements.  The elements cease to be, and become Christ instead, in what has been called transmutation, and would soon be called transelementation and eventually, transubstantiation.  The rest of theology was understood through this prism of the Eucharist: if your views caused you to reject the Eucharist, you were out.  The Christians would stop communing with you, and if you were a priest, you could no longer offer Mass in good faith. So this very Catholic understanding of the Eucharist  served as a benchmark for determining orthodox Christianity from the very beginning.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Archbishop Dolan Elected USCCB President!

This is stunning, given that Kicanas was considered a shoo-in.  Dolan was a great pick.

If you're just stumbling on to this story, you can read about the presumptive pick, Bp.Kicanas, and the troubles he's faced here and here. This is one of those times where the USCCB really exceeds expectations, and we should thank God for it.

Update 1: Thomas Peters has the vote counts from each round of election.  It shows how close this really was.
Update 2: From Rocco Palmo's coverage of the event, the perfect picture:


Update 3: The newly elected USCCB vice-president seems pretty great, too.  Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was just in the news for warning the courts that overturning the will of the people in California's anti-gay marriage Prop 8 would have Roe v. Wade-level implications for dividing the country.  Abp. Kurtz has been the head of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage and Family Life.

Foot-Shooting

If Bishop Kicanas didn't have enough problems today, it turns out that the Rainbow Sash Movement (the craziest of Catholic heretics) has endorsed him, suggesting that:
We understand Bishop Kicanas understands that Bishops are privately changing their position because input is bubbling up from the pews of our parishes in support of such issues as Gay Marriage, and Pro Choice.
The not to distant past situation at Notre Dame was an attempt on the part of some fundamentalist Bishops to make a hard turn to the right in general, and the Tea Party in particular. The end goal was to turn Catholic support away from President Obama. Bishop Kicanas voice during this difficult situation called for moderation, and listening.

Leaving aside RSM's nearly-unreadable grasp of the English language, the group seems to be suggesting that (a) there are a group of bishops who are secretly pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and that (b) Kicanas is either sympathetic to, or at least not fiercely opposed to, this camp.  This is probably not the message Kicanas was hoping for on the eve of his (probable) election to USCCB president, and it's accompanied by an unpleasant juxtaposition of a picture of Kicanas and a picture of a rainbow sash.

You would almost expect this to have been a press release issued by someone who truly hated Kicanas -- it smears other bishops (including Archbishop Chaput and and Dolan, by name) as "Fundamentalist," suggesting a grasp of Fundamentalism about as strong as their grasp of English (hint: the term doesn't just mean "bad").  And as the quoted potion of the release shows, RSM's lens of this all is strictly political. The only reason that Catholics might oppose abortion, or gay marriage, or a pro-choice president speaking at the flagship American Catholic university, or reform of the CCHD, or any other thoroughly Catholic concept,  is because they want the Catholic Church to be more like the Tea Party, and because they hate Obama.  There's no sense of Jesus Christ being the Truth, and having imbued one Institution with that Truth once and for all.  Everything's up for grabs, and everything's political.

In other news, supposedly-Fundamentalist Tea-Partier Archbishop Dolan gave a homily last week dedicated to Servant of God Dorothy Day, the radical Catholic social activist who Glenn Beck famously derided as a "Marxist."

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Important Hypothetical

Imagine that you're in charge of a seminary.  Seminarian #1 reported to his counselor that while at a bar, another seminarian he was out with (Seminarian #2) patted a guy on the behind after they'd been drinking.  It hadn't gone any further - it wasn't as if the two men went home together, or had engaged in any further physical affection - but it was enough to trouble Seminarian #1. The counselor reports the incident to you, and you call Seminarian #2 into your office.

Seminarian #2's story is identical to what you already knew from the counselor: he'd been drinking, and playfully patted a guy's butt. Nothing else happened.  You question him further, and he reveals that several years earlier, he'd twice had gay sexual experiences after he'd been drinking.  He insists that it was an experimental phase, and that he's prepared to live a celibate life.  You send him to counseling, in order to find out if he's got what it takes to live a celibate life, and to see how much of a problem the history of drinking is going to be.  The evaluation suggests that he's prepared to live a celibate life.

These are the facts you've got.  Given them, what would you do as rector of the seminary?  Specifically, you're faced with a troubling question: should you deny Seminarian #2 ordination over these incidents, or not?  Should the answer be the same as if the sexual history were with women?  Mentally answer these questions, then click before.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pharisees, Pelagians, and Catholics on Justification

I'm sure most people reading this blog have heard more than they'd care to about justification this week, but there was one last point I wanted to bring up, both because it's interesting, and because I said I'd address it earlier this week.  The idea is this: many Christians, particularly Protestants, read "Pharisees," and think that these were the folks who thought that they could work their way to Heaven.  In Institutes of the Christian Religion, for example, John Calvin describes Catholics as "Papists" and "those Pharisees," because he claims Catholics teach that justification is through good works.  Besides being a false interpretation of Catholic doctrine, this view is a false interpretation of even what the Pharisees taught.  The trouble here is that Calvin and many other Reformers, as prolific students of the work of St. Augustine, obscured the distinction between Paul's battle against the Pharisees, Augustine's battle against the Pelagians three centuries later, and their own battle against the Church.

The truth is Pharisees thought they were justified by the working of the Mosaic Law; Pelagians believed they were justified by being good and doing good works; and Catholics believe we're justified by grace through faith, but that we must then participate in the works God has stored for us, or we can lose our salvation. These aren't interchangable positions.  I addressed the Catholic position two days ago, so here are the other two:
(1) Pharisees Taught Justification by Works of the Law, Not Good Works
A good chunk of the confusion over what the Pharisees believed is based on sloppy exegesis, and a too-quick assumption to take "works of the Law" to mean "good works."  Now, it's possible that's what's meant by works of the Law, and certainly, much of what the Mosaic Law commanded were what we would call "good works," but this isn't even a point that most Protestants consider.  After all, look at the concrete things Paul is addressing as "works of the Law," and you'll see that most of them don't even fall in the category of "good works." N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, lists the major ones as "Sabbath [keeping], food-laws, circumcision," none of which are "good works" of themselves.  Further, Wright notes that when Paul writes to the Galatians, he's answering the question, should "ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not?"  Wright notes:
Now this question is by no means obviously to do with the questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus. On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, it has to do quite obviously with the question of how you define the people of God: are they to be defined by the badges of Jewish race, or in some other way? Circumcision is not a ‘moral’ issue; it does not have to do with moral effort, or earning salvation by good deeds. Nor can we simply treat it as a religious ritual, then designate all religious ritual as crypto-Pelagian good works, and so smuggle Pelagius into Galatia as the arch-opponent after all.

(N.T. Wright, Paul, p. 120-121). On this point, Wright is certainly right.  The Pharisees weren't claiming to be justified because they were "good people," but because they were observant Jews.  Keeping the Sabbath, keeping kosher, and circumcising your children aren't intrinsically good actions, morally.  This is transparent if you go back to what's perhaps the most famous Bible passage on justification-by-faith, from Romans 3.  Now, here's the section of the NIV that Protestant apologists like to quote (Romans 3:27-28):
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
That sounds sort of like Paul is attacking "justification by good works," particularly if your attention is drawn towards "works" and away from "of the law."  But now, let's put it pack into context (Romans 3:21-31):
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His Grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
If you take Paul to mean "good works" in Romans 3:27-28, his follow-up questions make no sense.  After all, there are benevolent Gentiles, and the Jews would certainly know this.  Yet the "works of the Law" Paul is referring to were something available only to the Jews.  And the example Paul points to, again, is circumcision.

The example of Rahab shows this.  Rahab, you may recall, was a Gentile prostitute who saved the Israelite spies in the city of Jericho in Joshua 2.  Joshua declares in Joshua 6:17, "Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent."  So Rahab did a good work (saving the Israelite spies) but didn't do the works of the Law (she was a Gentile, and the Law never says anything about saving spies).

Rahab's a good example because according to the Pharisees, she couldn't be justified: she didn't perform the works of the Law, as she was a Gentile.  Yet the New Testament says (1) she's saved by faith, and (2) that she's saved by a faith animated by good works.  Hebrews 11:31 says, "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient."  And the KJV of James 2:24-26 says, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

The other good example, of course, is Abraham.  Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, yet Abraham precedes Moses, and obviously couldn't be saved by the Law.  This example was devastating to the Pharisees' position, because Abraham is the Father of the Jewish people.  Were they going to say even he wasn't Jewish enough? It would be like calling George Washington un-American.  Watch how the New Testament writers use these two examples (Rahab and Abraham) to make their point about the necessity of faith (in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews) and the necessity of good works (James).
(2) The Pelagians Believed in Salvation by Good Works, while Catholics Don't
Now, the Pelagians did believe in the position that many Protestants wrongly ascribe to the Pharisees and to Catholics.  Augustine was the de facto leader of the Catholic camp, which strongly opposed the Pelagians.  Here's chapters 3 and 4 of Epistle 214, in which he talks about how he petitioned the Pope about the Pelagians, and then outlines their views and our own:
3. From this you may understand why I wrote the letter which has been referred to, to Sixtus, presbyter of the Church at Rome, against the new Pelagian heretics, who say that the grace of God is bestowed according to our own merits, so that he who glories has to glory not in the Lord, but in himself,—that is to say, in man, not in the Lord. This, however, the apostle forbids in these words: "Let no man glory in man;" while in another passage he says, "He that glorieth let him glory in the Lord." But these heretics, under the idea that they are justified by their own selves, just as if God did not bestow on them this gift, but they themselves obtained it by themselves, glory of course in themselves, and not in the Lord. Now, the apostle says to such, "Who maketh thee to differ from another?" and this he does on the ground that out of the mass of perdition which arose from Adam, none but God distinguishes a man to make him a vessel to honour, and not to dishonour. Lest, however, the carnal man in his foolish pride should, on hearing the question, "Who maketh thee to differ from another?" either in thought or in word answer and say: My faith, or my prayer, or my righteousness makes me to differ from other men, the apostle at once adds these words to the question, and so meets all such notions, saying, "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou didst not receive it?" Now, they boast as if they did not receive their gifts by grace, who think that they are justified of their own selves, and who, on this account, glory in themselves, and not in the Lord.
4. Therefore I have in this letter, which has reached you, shown by passages of Holy Scripture, which you can examine for yourselves, that our good works and pious prayers and right faith could not possibly have been in us unless we had received them all from Him, concerning whom the Apostle James says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights." And so no man can say that it Is by the merit of his own works, or by the merit of his own prayers, or by the merit of his own faith, that God's grace has been conferred upon him; nor suppose that the doctrine is true which those heretics hold, that the grace of God is given us in proportion to our own merit. This is altogether a most erroneous opinion; not, indeed, because there is no desert, good in pious persons, or evil in impious ones (for how else shall God judge the world?), but because a man is converted by that mercy and grace of God, of which the Psalmist says, "As for my God, His mercy shall prevent me;" so that the unrighteous man is justified, that is, becomes just instead of impious, and begins to possess that good desert which God will crown when the world shall be judged.
That last part is very important, because it shows where merit plays a role in Catholicism, and Augustine is contrasting it to the Pelagian camp.  Many Reformers accused the Catholics of being Pelagians or Semi-Pelagians for holding Augustine's precise views over a millennium later.  The Catholic view is that God gives us unmerited gifts, and we that we can use those gifts or not use them - and it is this use for which we will be rewarded or condemned, not our own merits.  In his masterful treatise On Grace and Free Will, Augustine, that same archenemy of the Pelagians, explains:
Now wherever it is said, "Do not do this," and "Do not do that," and wherever there is any requirement in the divine admonitions for the work of the will to do anything, or to refrain from doing anything, there is at once a sufficient proof of free will. No man, therefore, when he sins, can in his heart blame God for it, but every man must impute the fault to himself. Nor does it detract at all from a man's own will when he performs any act in accordance with God. Indeed, a work is then to be pronounced a good one when a person does it willingly; then, too, may the reward of a good work be hoped for from Him concerning whom it is written, "He shall reward every man according to his works." [Matthew 16:27]
There's a parable of Jesus' which is particularly on point here: the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30. "Talents" were originally gold coins, but because of this parable, became synonymous for "gifts from God."  In the parable, God gives one man five talents, another two, and another one, "each according to his ability."  The men with five and two doubled their money through prudence, while the man with only one "went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money" (Matt 25:18).  At the return of the Master, he rewards the first two men and punishes the third.  To the first two men, He says, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" (Matt. 28:21,23).  The third, He calls a "wicked, lazy servant," and He orders: "And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 28:26,30).  This passage is transparently about God's relationship with us, and our use of the gifts He's given us.  There are three steps here:

  1. God gives us talents, unmerited gifts.  This refers primarily to Grace, but also to the natural talents we've been given.   Elsewhere in Scripture, these are called charisms, or "gifts," and are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
  2. We then either use the gifts for God, or we don't.  If we do, we're being faithful.  If we don't, we're being worthless.
  3. God then rewards or punishes us.  Note that the reward far exceeds what the faithful servants actually did.

Augustine's point is that the Pelagians act as if they can merit step #3, while ignoring that (a) it's only because of the Grace of God that they had gifts to begin with, and (b) that it's only through the Grace of God that they're able to act on those gifts in a way pleasing to Him, and that even faith can be falsely reduced to a "good work." The truth is, Step #1 is totally unmerited.  In Step #2, there's a degree of merit: we're either obedient or disobedient, but without God first acting, we wouldn't be able to do anything.  Step #3 is also unmerited, although this is something people often don't notice.  God puts the faithful servant in charge of many things: that's not the reward for a solid investment.  If you have a good accountant, he might merit a percentage share of your profit, but he doesn't merit being put in charge of many things, or acquiring a "share" in the business.  So Christ, the Master, is far exceeding whatever merit there was to the servant's obedience.  On the other hand, the disobedience is absolutely fitting: if you have a terrible accountant, he deserves to be fired.  More to the point, our obedience doesn't merit us yet greater gifts, nor does it merit us a share in the joy of Heaven, the rewards given by Christ.  We are, after all, servants.  Even if there was no reward, our obligation would still be to obey.

Now, the Christian audience immediately understood this: God has given us graces and gifts which we haven't earned.  But we must use those graces and gifts in order to be faithful servants.  We never merited the original talents, and all the profit is a result of God's original "investment" in us, so to speak.  Christ's reward for faithfully cooperating is another unmerited reward, although one we can bank on.  It's in this last sense of being able to "bank" on the promises of Christ, that we Catholics sometimes speak of "merit" - Christ promises that He'll reward the faithful, we've been faithful, so we're due that reward.  As I've noted before, this is the bold language of Paul, but it's not Pelagianism -- faithfulness is due the rewards of Heaven only because Christ promises it, and we've put our trust in Him. Faithfulness would be our obligation either way, and has no merit other than that assigned it by Christ.

Conclusion

It's worth making crystal clear that both the Pharisees and the Pelagians had heretical views of justification.  But when we act like they had the same heretical view, we're completely misunderstanding Scripture. And when some go further and act as if Catholics have the same views as either the Pelagians or the Pharisees, they've gone yet further off-course, into sheer falsehood.

To say that the Catholic position is Pelagian is to say that the position of Augustine's was Pelagianism, which is as absurd as declaring Abraham not sufficiently Jewish.  It was due in no small part to Augustine's influence that Pelagianism (the real thing, not the myth) was destroyed, and it was Augustine's views on justification Calvin thought he was restoring.