Cardinal Walter Kasper, a high-ranking Vatican official whose work has already been praised by Pope Francis, has a memo for conservative Catholics hoping desperately that the “correct” implementation of the Second Vatican Council will solve our problems:
“In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.” (Cardinal Walter Kasper, L’Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013)
There ya go. Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
In other words: “Lots o’ luck ‘implementing’ this Council”.
Cardinal Kasper acknowledges, of course, that it’s normal for some turbulence to follow an ecumenical council, but for different reasons. Due to its intentional ambiguity the Second Vatican Council is “a special case”:
“For those who know the story of the twenty councils recognized as ecumenical, this [the state of confusion] will not be a surprise. The post-conciliar times were almost always turbulent. The [Second] Vatican, however, is a special case.”
My thanks to Boniface at Unam Sanctam Catholicam, whose comments on the topic are also worth reading.
It is often said among concerned Catholics – of every persuasion, left and right – that the Second Vatican Council has not been fully or properly implemented. This is rather alarming, as it has been 47 years since the close of the council in December of 1965. What’s taking so long?
But I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, it has been 105 years since Pascendi Dominici Gregis was promulgated by Pope St. Pius X, and to this day Pascendi still has not been implemented.
Is it too much to ask that we first implement Pascendi before going on to implement Vatican II?
“In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences. It goes without saying that if anything is met with among the scholastic doctors which may be regarded as an excess of subtlety, or which is altogether destitute of probability, We have no desire whatever to propose it for the imitation of present generations (Leo XIII. Enc. Aeterni Patris). And let it be clearly understood above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and We, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of Our Predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, We do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the Superiors of religious institutions. Further let Professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment …
Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn. The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favour Modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, by criticising scholasticism, the Holy Father, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archaeology, biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. In all this question of studies, Venerable Brethren, you cannot be too watchful or too constant, but most of all in the choice of professors, for as a rule the students are modelled after the pattern of their masters. Strong in the consciousness of your duty, act always prudently but vigorously.
Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for Holy Orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty! God hates the proud and the obstinate. For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred it shall be held as null and void. The rules laid down in 1896 by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars for the clerics, both secular and regular, of Italy concerning the frequenting of the Universities, We now decree to be extended to all nations. Clerics and priests inscribed in a Catholic Institute or University must not in the future follow in civil Universities those courses for which there are chairs in the Catholic Institutes to which they belong. If this has been permitted anywhere in the past, We ordain that it be not allowed for the future. Let the Bishops who form the Governing Board of such Catholic Institutes or Universities watch with all care that these Our commands be constantly observed.
It is also the duty of the bishops to prevent writings infected with Modernism or favourable to it from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No book or paper or periodical of this kind must ever be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be equal to that caused by immoral reading – nay, it would be greater for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not badly disposed themselves but ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the account of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to be read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in preparing the way for Modernism.
To give you some more general directions, Venerable Brethren, in a matter of such moment, We bid you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to put down writings of this kind, but the number of them has now grown to such an extent that it is impossible to censure them all. Hence it happens that the medicine sometimes arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops, putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the outcries of the wicked, gently by all means but constantly, do each his own share of this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII. in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum: Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to prescribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses … “
We were privileged to visit Thomas Aquinas College again this month. I attended one philosophy class and two theology seminars, and left greatly impressed with the participating students. One of the children remarked that TAC feels more like “home” than home, and I can definitely see the point. Here are some photos taken by a family friend who accompanied us:
This little story about Pope Francis and one of his weary Swiss guards will inevitably charm everyone but the stone-hearted. As it well should. We see in Pope Francis, the Jesuit, a very Latin and Franciscan way of being Catholic.
But let’s be very careful about reading too much into gestures like this. It’s true that rules were made for man, not man for rules. And so when a man-made rule is broken for the sake of charity or necessity, it can be a laudable thing. Our Lord Himself paved the way when, for example, he healed the sick on the Sabbath (a divine law, but deformed at the time by many Jewish accretions).
However, selective rule-breaking is only laudable in the context of general rule-keeping. Let me put it another way: rule-breaking only has symbolic value in a culture where the default mentality is obedience and rule-keeping. Otherwise, breaking the rules symbolizes nothing more than just another individual doing his own thing, his own way, just as everyone else does – because he can.
When it comes to religion and all things associated with Catholicism, I submit that most Catholics don’t need a lesson in charitable rule-breaking or any other kind of rule-breaking. Some of us do, undoubtedly, and if the shoe fits let us wear it gladly. Pope Francis is who he is, and I am grateful for that. But generally speaking, the Christian world is reeling from its contempt for Catholic order and discipline, and is desperately in need of holy examples of obedience. If another pope decided, instead, to commend the Swiss guard on his fidelity and discipline rather than bringing him a chair and a sandwich, such a pope would not for this reason be any less charitable.
During one of our family discussions, toward the end of the Divine Mercy novena, the children had some thoughtful questions about the relationship between justice and mercy. Afterwards my eldest son, as is his custom, decided to “ite ad Thomam” – “go to Thomas” – for clarity on the topic. The result is this enlightening blog post. Before you begin, recall that according to St. Thomas evil (and therefore punishment) is by definition the privation of a good, and not something with its own essence.
First, St. Thomas says that rather than being strictly opposed to Justice, God’s Mercy actually goes beyond Justice, rewarding with more than what Justice demands. St. Thomas uses the analogy of a man, owing another man one hundred pieces of money, but by an act of mercy, pays the man two hundred. This mercy is not opposed to justice, which demands one hundred; indeed, this act of mercy more than satisfies the demands of justice, for the man is payed his one hundred, and then some. So mercy is not opposed to justice, but in fact goes beyond it, giving more than what justice by itself would give; and in so doing justice is more than satisfied. So God in His Mercy rewards the saints with much more than, by justice alone, they would have merited by their own powers. But in so doing, He doesn’t go against justice, but completes, indeed, more than completes it. I think this is probably one way to interpret what St. James means when he says “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Mercy is a higher standard than justice. Thus, in meeting the standard of mercy, one soars above the standard of justice, going beyond it.What, then, of those who are damned to hell? Do they experience God’s Mercy? If Mercy goes beyond justice, does it then punish the damned more than justice does? Well, yes, St. Thomas says, God’s Mercy is in hell; but it obviously an absurd thought that Mercy would punish the damned more than Justice. Rather, St. Thomas says that even the damned in hell are not punished as much as they deserve to be punished. So how is this so, if Mercy goes beyond Justice? Let me explain: By justice, the damned deserve some sort of evil; and evil is a lack of the good. But God in His Mercy, as unbelievable as this may seem, allows them a greater good than the very little which they have merited by their sins. Mercy gives a good which exceeds the good which justice gives; and justice gives very little good to the damned. Mercy gives more; and thus, in a strange way, it meets and goes beyond justice. This might seem to be a strange way of looking at it, granted; but the key here is to remember that justice renders what belongs to a person, and conversely takes away what does not belong. Now, when a person commits a sin, we normally say that he therefore deserves an evil; but we would hardly say that this evil belongs to him. Rather, to say that he deserves an evil is the equivalent of saying that he deserves something good to be taken away from him, something which once belonged to him, but, by his sin, now no longer belongs to him. This is because, again, evil is defined as the absence of the good. Furthermore, in taking away from man a good which no longer belongs to him, justice must still leave some good remaining. This is the small bit of good which still belongs to the sinner, after having lost his claim to other goods, by sinning. Justice allows this small bit of good to the sinner, thus rendering to him what belongs to him. Now, in hell, the damned are reduced by justice almost to the very lowest level of their ontological goodness; practically the only goodness they would have now is their existence; all other goods they would now lack. Justice has allowed them their existence, and only their existence, in reward for the very little they have done in life. All other goods do not belong to them; hence the immense and unimaginable pain which they must undergo. But enter Mercy, which gives them some small good, beyond the mere good of existence to which justice would have reduced them; by this good of Mercy, the damned do not in fact suffer quite as much as they deserve – even if, indeed, their pains are still immense and unimaginable. Mercy has given them a good beyond the good of Justice; and St. Thomas’ principle is shown to apply here as well.Again, at first this is a strange way of looking at hell, and we may not normally think that way about the concept of justice. But once we really consider the matter deeply, I think it works quite well, given the notions of evil as a privation of the good, and justice as rendering what belongs, etc.Now, leaving aside that aspect of the question, there is something else that St. Thomas tells us which is very interesting. Yes, it is granted, Justice and Mercy in God are both infinite and perfect. However, St. Thomas says, Justice is nonetheless founded upon Mercy, being secondary to it. How is this so? Justice presupposes an order of nature which is found in things, in creatures, in creation. There is an order of goods, and justice distributes these goods to creatures in due proportion, according to what belongs to them, etc. Justice presupposes something already existing in creation, for it gives according to what, by nature or by merit, belongs to creatures. Now, where did the nature of creatures come from? This nature determines that certain things belong to them, and thus justice gives it to them. Where did the power to merit come from? This again determines that certain things belong to the creatures meriting, and thus justice must give it to them. But there is always the presupposition of something else here, namely the nature or the merit or any other factor, according to which certain goods belong to these creatures, and justice gives it to them. But where did these presupposed principles come from in the first place? From the Goodness of God, Who gave these things to creatures of His own free will, not because there was yet another presupposed order according to which He must have given these things. In other words, He gave us our existence, our nature, our power to merit, etc., purely out of His Mercy. We didn’t deserve to exist, to be who we are, to be able to do what we can do, and all these things; and thus we didn’t deserve to be able to deserve anything at all. But neither were we undeserving of any of these good things. Indeed, it is quite unintelligible to even speak of deserving anything, without first presupposing these things – our existence, nature, abilities, etc. – because these things are the subject-matter, as it were, of justice itself. Thus, we exist and have all these things purely because of the Mercy of God. And because of it, we are able to claim certain things as our own, as belonging to us; and Justice builds from there, coming into play only once the Goodness of God, i.e. His Mercy, has done its first work. Justice therefore presupposes Mercy, and is founded upon it.Understand that this does absolutely nothing to establish a contradiction between Mercy or Justice in God. On the contrary, it only shows how both His Mercy and His Justice are fully at work. But Mercy triumphs over Justice nonetheless, in a way which does not contradict it.
The bishops and most Catholic political activists have made “religious liberty” the cornerstone of their argument against the HHS mandate. But this is extremely short-sighted in my opinion, and is likely to be used against us. In the first place, the concept of liberty is slippery and ambiguous. Consider two possible definitions of religious liberty: 1) the right to be free from legal coercion in religious matters; and 2) the right to be free from social and economic coercion in religious matters. This distinction is critical but is lost on most people. The bishops have definition #1 in mind, but the courts and the general public already think in terms of #2 … and #2 is a trojan horse with great potential to undermine Catholic institutions.
In 2011 a legal complaint was filed against Catholic University of America arguing that Muslim students have the right to their own prayer rooms – along with the right not to be intimidated by Catholic symbols everywhere, such as crucifixes in the classrooms. Religious liberty in this sense means the right of individual Muslims to unfettered religious expression and accommodation, even on a Catholic university campus. And why not? Liberty is liberty. To the extent that religious expression is in any way prevented or made difficult, religious liberty is compromised. Religious liberty, according to this understanding, depends upon the means and opportunity of expression rather than the absence of legal prohibitions. The CUA complaint went nowhere, but the logic is already employed in other contexts, so it isn’t far fetched to imagine all kinds of anti-Catholic mischief being justified in the name of religious liberty.
Furthermore, we really don’t believe in a generic form of “religious liberty” anyway, even in the sense of freedom from legal coercion. Consider the same-sex “marriage” controversy. Some religious denominations believe in it. Don’t their members have the right to religious liberty? Same goes for Muslims and others whose religions allow polygamy. And what about numerous other religious-based practices that ought to remain illegal – take female circumcision, for instance, or smoking pot? Better yet, let’s consider child sacrifice, which is known to be practiced by the adherents of La Santa Muerte. Does child sacrifice as a religious liberty issue seem far-fetched to you? It shouldn’t. Devotees of this Mexican death cult are already here, as are Americans who believe in the right to kill children yet unborn. The idea of religious liberty means that people should not be forced to comply with religious values they don’t believe in. Many Americans – including many religious Americans – don’t believe in Christianity’s absolute prohibition of child killing. Don’t they also have a right to religious liberty?
The fact is that any unspeakable horror can be justified in the name of religious liberty. Religious liberty isn’t the issue. The issue is Christian liberty, because Christianity is true and its values are good for society. That might be a harder sell, but it’s an honest one and it will never be used against us. As it stands, I’m afraid the more battles we fight for “religious liberty”, the more ground we cede to our enemies.
The erudite Fr. George Rutler gently puts capital punishment in perspective with respect to Catholic doctrine in his latest article for Crisis Magazine, “Hanging Concentrates the Mind”:
“It is not my concern here to take a position on capital punishment which the Catechism (# 2266) acknowledges is not an intrinsic evil and is rightly part of the state’s authority. This is nuanced by the same Catechism’s proposition that its use today would be ‘rare, if not practically non-existent. (#2267)’ As a highly unusual insertion of a prudential opinion in a catechetical formula, this would seem to be more mercurial in application than the doctrine of the legitimacy of the death penalty. What is oddly lacking, however, is reference to capital punishment as medicinal as well as punitive. Tradition has understood that the spiritual aspect of the death penalty is to ‘concentrate the mind’ so that the victim dies in a state of grace. Simply put, the less I believe heartily in eternal life, the more disheartened I shall be about entering ‘a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’”
Fr. Rutler proceeds to recount the history of sainted popes who imposed capital punishment in the Papal States, surrounding it with ritualistic dignity for the condemned man, making the sacraments available to him, even exhorting the citizens to fast and pray for him. The very antithesis of cruel bloodlust, it seems to me. It’s also worth remembering that a pope as recent as Pius XII was eager to see justice done in this way.
Earlier this week, the Catholic bishops of Louisiana lobbied governor Bobby Jindal, also a Catholic, to stop the execution of Christopher Sepulvado (on Ash Wednesday!), another Catholic whom they said is repentant and active in his faith. Governor Jindal declined, which was well within his rights, his office responding that the “trial was handled appropriately, and the punishment decided on by a jury of Mr. Sepulvado’s peers is proportional to the crime he committed.” I can’t help but think it unfair of the bishops to place the governor in a position of seeming to oppose the Church on a question of prudential judgment legitimately belonging to the state. Would that Governor Jindal of Catholic Louisiana also exhorted his fellow citizens to fast and pray for the soul of Mr. Sepulvado!
Some eight years ago we packed up and moved almost two hours away from a thriving, orthodox Catholic parish in Sacramento. There were lots of reasons. With young children, fighting the wicked culture of the city was becoming a daily nuisance. I wanted a more serene life for my family, preferably in the country. We wanted to move closer to aging relatives. My wife was having ethical conflicts in her employment. It all seemed to come together at once. We bought a small ranch and started a little homestead. Our children were blessed by it in many important ways. The only problem was that we could not take our parish with us.
We planned to solve the “church” problem by driving to the city on Sundays. That was fine, but it left little opportunity for traditional parish life – choir rehearsals, altar guild, first communion classes, feast days, home school co-ops, volunteer work, and the like. Very soon thereafter the possibility opened up for a weekly Latin Mass in Chico. We felt obliged to support the fledgling new community and try to help it grow. Visits to our former parish in the big city became few and far between. So also did exposure to vigorous, challenging, orthodox spirituality in the homilies at mass, in confession, and in the lives of our fellow parishioners. Friendships and community life suffered as well. While we are immensely grateful for the Latin Mass in Chico, our numbers are dwindling, and it does not come close to replacing what the F.S.S.P. provides at a wholly traditional parish.
We’re staying put, and it’s for the best, but I can’t recommend that anyone else follow this pattern in their own lives. It is vital to stay close and connected to orthodox Catholicism in all of its manifestations. In the history of salvation there have been many saints who achieved holiness in near isolation – the prophets, the desert fathers, hermits and anchorites, and so forth. But this isn’t the norm. For those of us who still lack heroic virtue (and that’s most of us), the many helps of Catholic culture are essential. We need to hear the whole unvarnished truth of Christianity from the pulpit: the “be nice to everybody just like Jesus was” mantra doesn’t cut it. The effect of weak and insipid and unspiritual homilies, Sunday after Sunday, is absolutely pernicious. And how does one raise children to respect priests and the priesthood when, on the drive home, it is always necessary to explain why Father was wrong about this or that point of basic Catholic doctrine? We need homilies that strengthen our faith rather than water it down. We need to be challenged to grow spiritually. We need the support and example of holy, orthodox priests who are clearly devoting their lives to Christ. We need the fellowship and inspiration of better Catholics. Yes, that’s right, some Catholics are better than others, and there’s nothing elitist about admitting this. Just as chess players seldom improve unless playing with those who are more advanced, so Catholics seldom grow in their spiritual lives unless they spend a lot of time around their betters.
Which brings me to Dr. Taylor Marshall’s recent post on The Great Catholic Migration. I am convinced, as he seems to be, that the majority of Catholic parishes in this country are beyond human help. You can’t save your lukewarm Novus Ordo parish by staying and fighting. If you’re lucky, you might succeed in tinkering around the edges – eliminating the most grievous abuses, getting the tabernacle back on the altar, maybe improving the music a little. Meanwhile, you exhaust yourself and put your family at risk. Worse still, you will develop a nasty habit of criticism. That’s right. The whole Novus Ordo mentality, in which everyone is supposed to “participate” and be “involved”, in which every taste and preference and opinion is supposed to be accommodated, encourages constant criticism and endless tinkering. Your tinkering, if generously permitted, is viewed merely as the preference of another faction that needs to be appeased for pastoral reasons. My advice? Get out of Dodge. Flee, if you can do so without sin, to those parishes and communities where the holy Catholic Faith is taught and lived without compromise. A good rule of thumb: stay close to the F.S.S.P.
My eldest son has a new blog – A Foretaste of Wisdom. The title is rather modest, for at this blog you will find plenty of uncommon wisdom indeed. This is where he posts the gems he finds in his spiritual, theological, and philosophical reading, along with personal reflections on topics of interest. Recent entries include Divine Intimacy – Humiliations, Two Forms of Pride, Johann Sebastian Bach – Cantata: Ich Habe Genug, and Interior Trials in the Spiritual Life. But nevermind all that: the blog is worth reading for sake of surfing the many worthy links in his sidebar. He invites my few remaining readers to visit and comment.