Scripture and the Crisis – Part 3

Eamonn Clark

See Part 1 and Part 2. Today we look at the story of the Levite and his concubine at the end of the Book of Judges. Warning: do not read while eating.

Judges 19-20

In those days Israel had no king. [The chaos of Israel after Joshua’s death is ominously summed up in this line, which is repeated several times throughout the Book of Judges. It is a lawless land. Here, near the end of the age of the quasi-vigilantism of the Judges, we see moral corruption at its peak in a story which is perhaps the most gruesome of the entire Old Testament.]

Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. [The Levites were the sacred tribe which held no land of its own and from which all the priests came. What is this Levite doing in the wilderness, away from civilization? He is near the tabernacle at Shiloh but is not obviously personally dedicated to it. He certainly does not seem to be interested in the hermitage for the sake of private prayer… Why is he taking a half-wife from a city already known (from the previous chapters of Judges) to be a source of intense corruption of worship (namely, idolatry)? This shady situation already blurs some lines: the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the natural, and the conjugal and celibate. Nothing is immoral in itself so far, but we should expect trouble with such ambiguity and proximity to sin. And how we have allowed these same lines to be blurred in the past decades… It is no longer the flesh descendants of Levi, but the spiritual descendants of Melchizedek – the clergy – who have been wandering about, swinging close to sin, and blurring lines. Much of this also has to do with concern for proper worship.] But she was unfaithful to him. [An idolatrous hometown breeds unfaithfulness – go figure.] She left him and went back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her parents’ home, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him.  His father-in-law, the woman’s father, prevailed on him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.

On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.” So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the woman’s father said, “Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.” And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the woman’s father said, “Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!” So the two of them ate together.

Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the woman’s father, said, “Now look, it’s almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.” 10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. [The inconstancy of the Levite, triggered by a desire for food and drink, for rest, and for pleasing his concubine’s father, ends in imprudent haste. Such closeness with the world will lead to bad decision-making, it seems, where the darkness will come quickly, bringing trouble with it.]

11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.”

12 His master replied, “No. We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” 13 He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.” [Jebus – Jerusalem – was at that point not yet a Jewish city. The Levite’s insistence on staying among the children of Israel signals a kind of piety, but also a false sense of security. “As long as we are with God’s chosen people, we will be alright.”] 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin.15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night. [Recall how the angels visiting Lot were also going to stay in the square. Nobody is on the lookout anymore.]

16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 17 When he looked and saw the traveller in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going? Where did you come from?” [The perfect set of questions for the Church these days, especially the hierarchy.]

18 He answered, “We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the Lord. No one has taken me in for the night. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, the woman and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.” [Notice the strangeness of the Levite’s answer… Is he going to Ephraim’s hill country, or to the tabernacle at Shiloh? He apparently complains that nobody has provided hospitality, but then says he doesn’t need anything. As we have seen already, he is a confused man.]

20 “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. [Quite the partier this Levite is.]

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” [Like the men of Sodom, they are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. The two dispositions are not caused by each other, but evidently, they exacerbate each other.]

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” [This is almost exactly the same as the episode in Sodom. But now watch the turn…]

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine [the one who had motivated the whole journey he is on, whom he went to retrieve 4 months after her unfaithfulness!] and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. [The men are so full of lust that they are placated by this woman being put in their midst. The Levite’s willingness to do this, however, does not seem to be quite the same as the owner of the house. We do not hear a complaint from the Levite – perhaps he is just a coward. He is half-hearted and uncertain, as we have seen throughout the whole story, except when it comes to protecting himself. Even though he would have been overcome by the mob, he at least could have made his concerns known. After all, the sacred caste has a special duty to speak out against evil! Why is it not the Levite who is exhorting and castigating the mob?] 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. [How many victims of abuse are captured by this image? Longing for safety and acceptance, only to have become so weakened that they can merely lay at the threshold.] 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” [See the pastoral skills of the Levite at work.] But there was no answer. [Now comes the turning point…] Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. [The realization that his half-beloved has been killed seems to move him to mercy. About a thousand years later, Christ will tell a story in which a Levite fails to pick up a man only half-dead for fear of being made unclean. Only now does the Levite begin to be “serious” about loving, and in a way it is too late… But what he lacks in timeliness, he arguably makes up for in grotesque theatricality.]

29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!” [And this is what we have seen happen. The effects of abuse have been sent around the Earth, in all its graphic nature. The nations are horrified and enraged, and rightly so. In our day, it is arguably worse, as it was not a group of Levites who abused the woman but other men. How much more intense might the reaction of Israel have been if such a thing had happened in the shadow of the tabernacle at Shiloh…]

(20) 1Then all Israel from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came together as one and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, four hundred thousand men armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.”

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and outrageous act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and tell me what you have decided to do.”

All the men rose up together as one, saying, “None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. But now this is what we’ll do to Gibeah: We’ll go up against it in the order decided by casting lots.

12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13 Now turn those wicked men of Gibeah over to us so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.” [Again, like we’ve seen in the two other passages we’ve looked at before, the penalty which is seen as appropriate is extreme – but so too has the evil been extreme.]

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. [One might be inclined to say that they don’t want to go down the rabbit hole on this.] 14 From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. [We see now two groups – the Benjamites, who don’t seem to think that retribution for a crime is all that important when it concerns men of their own kin, and the men of Gibeah themselves, the one who actually perpetrated the crime. They are now defended by many armed men, including highly skilled warriors – who shoot from the “sinister” hand.]

17 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle. [They have far more men, but Benjamin is more greatly invested in victory… Their own existence seems to be on the line.]

18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?”

The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first.”

…(the Benjamites kill 22,000, then 18,000 in a series of battles commanded by the Lord – they pray and fast and weep and ask again if they should go up)…

The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” [God has desired the fighting to occur even though He knew Benjamin would cut down so many good men. But now, God will fight on the side of the good guys.]

29 Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. 31 The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. 32 While the Benjamites were saying, “We are defeating them as before,” the Israelites were saying, “Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.” [Benjamin is lulled into a false sense of security by their apparent dominance, then this arrogance is capitalized on by the other tribes. What exactly such a strategy would look like today, I do not know.]

33 All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. 34 Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. 35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. 36 Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. [Ultimately, the victory belongs to God. And it will come unexpectedly and swiftly.]

The Israelites go on to destroy all the cities and towns of Benjamin, although a small remnant of Benjamin escapes alive, not only because no tribe can be entirely snuffed out among Israel, but also as a reminder that evil can never truly be entirely rooted out in this life. The Levite’s lack of good sense is what occasioned all of this, however. While he is not the perpetrator of the abuse himself, he could have taken many steps to avoid such a catastrophe. There are many lessons here for clerical culture – the importance of clear boundaries and categories in relationships, dedication to frequent and right worship, a clear sense of purpose and personal identity, appropriate distance from worldly pleasures, careful decision-making, and courage to speak out against evil – even, sometimes, in the face of the mob.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the personal psychology involved in abuse… Be sure to subscribe to be notified!

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 2

Eamonn Clark

See Part 1. Let’s take a look at a different aspect of the crisis – the “cover-up.” We turn to the Book of Joshua, just after the destruction of Jericho, the city of sin. The spoils were supposed to be dedicated to the Lord and put in His treasury in the camp… or else.


But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. [Achan wanted some gold for himself. What belonged to God, and to the whole camp collectively insofar as they offered it together, was held back for personal gain. While Achan’s remote intentions are unclear, surely he sought to advance himself politically and socially.]

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” [After the victory at Jericho, the archetypal city of sin, the Hebrews are feeling very good about their position over Canaan. They have grown presumptuous and inattentive to their own sinfulness.] So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. [How strange that with our comparatively few clergy we used to be effective at converting the world, but now things are different. Something has happened… And often, the people who don’t worry about the numbers, or who have no real plan to reverse their trend in ordination numbers, are part of the problem, as we have been seeing.]

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” [Joshua realizes the harm that has been done to their reputation… The defeat at Ai will become an incentive for attack from the whole land.]

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. [So, what is sacred that has been hidden? It is the priest’s life itself… It belongs to God, and to the Church. It does not get to be treated as his own, it cannot be hidden away – it must only be “hidden” with the Lord, like all sacred things, but then its flaws are in view for all to see. Just like the spoils of Jericho, every priest is taken from among sinful men and made sacred to the Lord. And if some priest is not a good “offering,” he must either be reformed or discarded.]

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. [Israel is to be reminded through this consecration that they are not a normal people, they are God’s own inheritance. This gives them insight into how egregious this crime is, and why they have failed to conquer Ai – and will continue to fail until the situation is remedied.]

14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” [The investigation begins. It is thorough, and the stakes are made clear from the beginning – the one who is guilty will pay with his blood. Nothing less will suffice as punishment.]

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” [The little piety that is in Achan’s heart is taken advantage of by Joshua to profit the whole camp, and ultimately, Achan’s own soul.]

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” [One must wonder what would have happened had Achan continued trying to hide the spoils. Surely, it would have turned out even worse for him and for all Israel than it is about to.]

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. [Achan finds himself in a fate similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah – utter destruction, along with the destruction of his incidentals, in this case his possessions and his children. Nothing of the wickedness of Achan must be allowed to continue on, lest something so terrible be repeated. Furthermore, an example must be made. Despite it seeming like Achan’s children are wronged here, perhaps they, too, were complicit in the cover-up. There are other ways to explain their demise, but this is certainly a possibility. Why did the children not turn over their father to Joshua, or at least return the stolen goods? Surely, they knew about the crime…] 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. [A memorial to deter future wrongdoers.] Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

The things which belong to the public honor of God, such as the integrity of priestly life, cannot stay hidden away. Some might accuse me of “magical thinking,” but it seems confirmed by experience that priests leading double lives usually do not make many converts, do not devote long hours to the confessional, and do not deliver that kind of preaching which moves to greater faith, hope, and charity. They might indeed attract much curiosity and intrigue, they might make the parish a lot of money, they might be great social activists, but the real spiritual battles are not being fought by them. Such a man is forced to stay away from what is truly holy by the weight of his own conscience… Either his sin must go, or the Lord must go.

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 1

Eamonn Clark

In several posts, I have tried to provide some context to the present crisis of morals in the Church. As always, the linchpin is Holy Thursday and Good Friday – we are always doing better than that – but here I wish to give sexual crimes and cover-ups a deeper treatment through looking at a few examples in Scripture. I will present an abbreviation of the text and my own gloss.

The first story, familiar to most, is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s escape.


The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. [Lot is a quiet force for good in Sodom. He sits at the gates on the lookout. He knows what is around him, and he has a real concern to keep his guests safe from harm. He offers his own house so that they will be under his own watch, and then he gently suggests that they should get out of the city quickly afterward – he even uses unleavened bread to feed them, as will also be used later in the Exodus as a symbol of hasty departure.] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” [These men are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. They do not want Lot’s virgin daughters, they want his male guests. This group has grown large enough to protect themselves, as they come from all parts of the city. Although they arrive at night, they are open about what they want. We can infer that they have been at this for some time – they have corrupted the young and incorporated them into the group, likely as a lower caste. Twice we hear about the bifurcation between the ages within the group.]

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” [Lot knows that he cannot stop the men from sinning. Knowing the lesser evil, he proposes it to them. He can’t do anything else – it is beyond his power. Despite being “in the know,” his responsibility is limited. Undoubtedly, his opinion on this group is already well-known throughout the city.]

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. [We see the manipulative and coercive tactics of the group… Command, ridicule, threats, and finally violence.]

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” [God does tolerate great evil, but only up to a point. Evidently, the existence of such a group has become intolerable, and death is their penalty.]

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. [Lot finds that his whistle-blowing lacks effect. His sons-in-law surely know of the evil in the city, but they don’t believe it is bad enough to warrant divine intervention. Could there really be that much of it? And is it really that wicked to begin with? Etc.]

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” [The way to protect oneself from being destroyed in Sodom is to run away from it. It is not Lot’s responsibility or prerogative to reform or rehabilitate the group, it is to distance himself from it.]

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. [Incredibly, Lot is somewhat attached to the city. It is familiar to him and is pained by the thought of putting it behind him. The purification, although he knows it is necessary, is a fearsome thing.] 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. [With the rising of the sun comes a plain view of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants what comes next to be seen.] 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. [Curious schadenfreude, or misplaced mercy and regret? Either way, it was not virtuous. One of the few who was supposed to be saved destroyed herself by failing to keep her sights set in the right direction.]

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today. [The end of the story leaves our hero in disgrace. Lot thought that since he had escaped the evil men of Sodom, he was safe. He was not – he carried evil with him. He failed to stay vigilant, as if he believed the destruction of Sodom destroyed all the evil in the world. His own fall into perversion, while unintentional, leads him to become the father of two wicked races who would later persecute the sons of Israel, trying to keep them from reaching the Promised Land.]

The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, not spared even after Abraham’s pleading, called for a proportionate punishment, which in this case meant the absolute destruction of the cities. (There is archaeological evidence of the historical truth of this account, by the way.) God “gets it.” Coincidentally – or not – August 30th saw the 450th anniversary of an Apostolic Constitution by Pope St. Pius V which legislated degradation and then death for clerics who participated in the perversion of Sodom. Such curious times we are living in. But as Lot’s ultimate downfall shows us, no one should presume to be above depravity, even those who fight against it.

Next, we will look at a story about a cover-up… and how it goes awry.

True Myth Part 3: Noah’s Ark, Utnapishtim’s Ark

Eamonn Clark

So here’s a shocking fact for your Monday afternoon… The story of Noah and the Flood is reiterated in ancient cultures across the entire planet. China, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, North and South America, Oceania… In all these places we find a story about a pre-historical global flood, typically brought on by divine power in response to some problem or frustration, a hero who wins survival (almost always with a boat in which he protects some other living creatures), and ensuing re-population, usually after a prayer of thanksgiving. Some even have their own version of the mysterious “Nephilim” and the “sons of God” who fathered them, mentioned immediately before the story of Noah – and not just in the Ancient Near East. What does that tell us?

Possibly a lot, especially given a defining characteristic of the Jewish version… Unlike the other heroes, who are saved because of their strength or cleverness, Noah is saved because of his righteousness.

Beyond this, the order of the world after the Jewish Flood is quite different, including a clear provision for violence in both sustenance and punishment; there is a covenant; and in the end of the story we find the very roots of the rivalry between the Jews (the descendants of Shem… “semites”) and the Canaanites (the descendants of Ham). Quite significant.

The words “Noah’s Ark” often brings one of two visceral reactions: open mockery or full-blown fundamentalist zeal. I suggest that neither are warranted. Without an attempt to unpack every intimation of salvation history and every echo of other Flood narratives, here are some quick thoughts for consideration.

The story of Noah is much subtler than people usually give it credit for. Like many Biblical texts, it has a chiastic structure (ex. A, B, C, B’, A’), where each part of the story is “undone” or “reflected” in reverse order later on, with the apex being the moment that God “remembers” Noah. Also, the Ark is not an “equal opportunity” vessel: one pair of each of the unclean animals, seven pairs of the clean animals. Of course, all life is contained in the Ark – nothing outside survives the Flood. The point is to purify the Earth… although some “impure” things are kept alive intentionally, thus pointing towards some later, more complete purification.

Perhaps this helps explain why violence is explicitly sanctioned by God after the Flood – both to kill animals for food, and to kill men as punishment (“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…” – Gen. 9:6). The antedeluvian order is not simply reiterated, lest it go awry once more. Since God commits Himself to refraining from destroying the whole Earth again as in the Flood, the race of men evidently need the right to govern themselves more severely, and to “cleanse” their concupiscence by eating flesh. (It is not entirely clear that eating meat was forbidden before the Flood, but it is at least explicitly allowed after.)

Unlike Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah does not win immortality; in fact, he dies shortly afterward. And lifespans get shorter in general. (Bossuet notes this in his wonderful book The Continuity of Religion – a wetter, cooler climate would lead to shorter lives, goes his explanation.) So what was the Flood for? It leads to an arguably more violent world order with shorter lifespans, and the ritual impurity aboard the ark was outmatched by the spiritual impurity of Ham, who shames his father Noah and becomes the patriarch of the wicked race of Canaanites whom will be purged by the descendants of Shem. Could it be pointing at a spiritual order yet to come, where lives are yet longer, and there is no bloodshed, in crime or punishment, and no need to purge anyone from the Earth? It seems that the story expresses this longing, which cuts through all cultures… The Flood doesn’t present itself as a permanent solution.

While we should expect similar stories across cultures about eternal things, the similarities between Flood myths are striking. Could there have really been some prehistoric event, perhaps in North East Africa or the Fertile Crescent which was carried by early human migration across the planet? It’s certainly possible.

Supposing this, what would that mean for the Jewish account of the story? Are the Jews simply “sprinkling some God on it” for the sake of some theological agenda? Whether that is true or not, it remains that the text itself is inspired – apparently, this is the version of the story which God prefers, and its lessons are the ones to be learned. This would be true regardless of its literal historical status. The text is revelatory and so can tell us His own private thoughts and actions – such as a covenant or moral prescriptions. Whether the historical figures of an ancient flood did precisely what Noah did is not exactly the point either way. Reducing Scripture to mere “brute fact” history cheapens it in a way. God’s inspiration of “epic history” – however “literally” historical – makes him like a supernatural version of Herodotus. He gives us the interpretation of important historical events which is most conducive to salvation.

And that perspective is what has to inform any Christian study of comparative religion… God knows well the context in which He has taught and appeared and uses it to His advantage. A universal Flood myth, healed and spiritualized by the Jewish account, is a great example.

The double-effect gauntlet has been thrown…

Eamonn Clark

John Finnis has published the first part of a two part series on capital punishment at the Public Discourse.

It is wrong.

I will wait for the second part to appear to launch a full critique, but note now the startling assertion that he makes: all intentional human killing, of any kind, is forbidden by the 5th commandment.

For those unfamiliar with Finnis, he and Grisez (and to a lesser extent, Boyle,) were the chief architects of what is widely now considered to be a failed normative ethical project called “New Natural Law.” Its arch-proponent, Dr. Grisez, was a long-time professor at my own undergraduate university. He died only a few months ago.

NNL has its rhetorical advantages, but it suffers serious theoretical problems. I won’t explore those any time soon… Except for one, which I just did my thesis on. It centers around NNL’s vision of the so-called “principle of double effect.”

Without getting into it too much – and hopefully without spoiling the possibility of publishing my thesis in some form in the future – suffice it to say that Finnis and friends face “unintended consequences” of their own when they take the line that “intention” reigns supreme in the way they suggest.

Note that NNL theorists, while typically opposing the death penalty, would also support the use of craniotomy. (Don’t google it. It’s essentially medical abortion necessary to save the life of the mother.) This debate extends back into the 19th century, when Cardinal Caverot of Lyon inquired of the Holy Office about the matter, and Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore wrote against the procedure in his moral theology handbook. This sparked a round of debates which has swirled for more than a century. Eschbach, Pennachi, Waffelaert, Avanzini… and on and on until we have the three camps of today, one represented by NNL theorists, one represented by the teaching of the Holy Office and most Catholic moralists, and then finally one represented almost exclusively by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Briefly, however, the paragraph in the Catechism about the 5th commandment and war which Finnis proof-texts (2307) is either simply poorly worded (although it does use “intentional destruction” rather than “intentional taking,” for what it’s worth), or it is just a lacuna.


More to come… Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe.

Clerical Celibacy: The Devil’s New Target

Eamonn Clark

If you haven’t heard it yet, there is a silver bullet which will cure all the ills of the Church’s clergy… it will increase vocations, it will root out the sexual deviants, it will enhance ministry to spouses… it is the end of mandatory celibacy for priests.

With the outbreak of the recent abuse/gay scandal, and the Pan-Amazon Synod around the corner, it seems that the Enemy has revealed the game plan. Let’s see if we can make a compelling argument for keeping celibacy around.

There are three classical categories of value of celibacy in itself. In increasing order of importance, they are:

  1. Economics
  2. Witness
  3. Union with God

Most are somewhat familiar with the economic problems with a married clergy. If not, here are a few of the issues.

  1. Parishes would have to support an entire family rather than one or two priests – room, board, insurance, education, health, etc.
  2. A lot of money would need to be invested in new seminaries to accommodate more seminarians (presumably, at least for a while,) and their families
  3. It is difficult to split time and energy appropriately between one’s family and the parish – it often causes serious strain and burnout

Depending on how broadly one makes the “economic,” it could also include the psychological toll on the wife, who can be subject to intense scrutiny and gossip in the parish.

The other two nodes are more important but less appreciated. The value of celibacy as a witness to the reality of the future coming of Christ helps to mark our priests as special in the eyes of the world. And how uncomfortable it makes the worldly… After all, one of the daughters of lust is a loss of desire for the goods of Heaven. To compromise here would be to lose that power. Hold that thought.

The last node is almost entirely unheard of these days, but it centers around the imitation of Our Lord and the life of Heaven to come, which will not contain marriage, as He said Himself. (Mt. 22: 30) The celibate state allows a person to focus his or her efforts entirely on pleasing the Lord, directly, as it were, rather than indirectly through pleasing one’s spouse. This is just what St. Paul said. (1 Cor. 7: 32-35) It makes more room for charity, and the continual foregoing of the great good of marriage for God’s sake, especially under a vow, is its own special form of worship.

We can see how simpler economics leads to better witness, and better witness leads to quicker union. By freeing oneself for ministry, a person is more able to preach, teach, govern, sanctify, etc., meanwhile extracting a minimal amount of resources from the faithful (a reality which St. Paul continually drew attention to on his own part). It is clear that this brute fact of more availability due to celibacy is at least in part the reason why the vast majority of the Church is Latin, and not part of an Eastern Rite which generally allows for married priests. The Latin discipline has rendered an astonishingly greater number of disciples – celibacy is, after all, traditionally seen as the “hundredfold fruit” of the good soil. (Mt. 13: 23) This greater spiritual reaping naturally leads one closer and closer to the goodness of God, which disposes one for greater union in this life. This in turn should actually inspire increasing poverty and obedience, which should increase the amount and quality of witness, which should increase union, and so on. It’s a beautiful cycle.

But the challenges which celibacy faces today have mostly to do with the topic of witness. Let me break them down by stating the claims which one will hear today in various corners of the Church (and beyond, for whatever that’s worth):

  1. Celibacy discourages vocations
  2. Celibacy leads to adverse sexual behavior/deviance
  3. Celibacy renders one less able to minister to couples as such

The first point is at issue in the upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod, which I have already written about at length here. The reality is that this short term gain will yield long term damage. The growth may indeed spring up at once, but over the years, the sun will dry out the plant, and the hundredfold fruit will disappear. The Amazon, and whatever other areas claim the same need for an exemption from universal law due to abysmal vocation numbers (viz., most of Western Europe), will likely have priests who, while more numerous, will be less interested in priestly work and less able to do it, meanwhile exacting a much higher tax on the faithful.

The second point is initially plausible. A great number of people can’t imagine living a life willfully without marriage without any pre-existing “condition” which renders one uninterested in the first place. Therefore, the people who do try to stick it out are left only with inappropriate vents for their pent up sexual urges. And so, most priests who aren’t already “off” become mentally ill and act out.

In response, we must consider a few things. First, the fact is that sex abusers almost universally are not “equals” with the ones they abuse. These people, if they wish to lead a public life, seek (or by nature have) positions of power over vulnerable potential victims. Coaches, teachers, older family members, etc. And of course there is the manipulation of the casting couch and other abuses of gate-keeping. The point is that the mental pathology is what creates these men’s desire for Holy Orders – it is an attempt to obtain power, prestige, and plausible deniability so that their twisted appetites can be satiated indefinitely. In other words, these men had “fauxcations.”

The other side of the coin is that the men with normal sex drives do not become monsters when those desires are suppressed. It is not a reasonable progression to go from a healthy sexual desire to homosexual and/or age-inappropriate desire. The natural progression would be to “normal” instances of acting out, such as flirtatious behavior, entertaining impure thoughts, etc. To suggest otherwise would be like saying that sustained dieting leads people to want to eat dirt or human excrement – yes, it will make the hunger go away, but it is repulsive to someone with a healthy appetite. There is simply no substantial evidence to suggest that there is a significant problem with good sexual desires turning toward homosexual or other abnormal perversion due to accepting celibacy as a state of life. These problems pre-exist in persons who have them, often due to having been abused themselves. The solution, therefore, is not to do away with celibacy, but to do away with those with these pathologies.

But suppose celibacy was indeed done away with as a requirement for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite. On top of the challenges already noted, given the current crisis of both homosexuality and abuse of minors, there is an obvious additional problem… Those few men who really do have the gift of celibacy and choose to use it (rather than just ignoring it) would each face an unwelcome public perception: “What’s wrong with you?” Because priests can marry, and these ones didn’t, they must be attracted to men or kids.

So much for that approach.

Finally, there is the strange suggestion that one without experience of marriage can’t very well minister to people approaching marriage or living it. I already addressed this kind of thinking here, but briefly, this thought bases itself at least on an insufficient understanding of the relationship between experience and wisdom. Of course experience can cause wisdom, but so can abstract learning. (Do you need to be a former Pro-Bowler to coach an NFL team to a Superbowl win? No.) A lot of that sort of knowledge can come through extended interaction with married people, especially in confession. Just as well, the healthy celibate has a privileged perspective on what marriage is, given that the desire remains and yet its fulfillment is foregone… When we fast from food, for example, we more easily understand its rightful place in relation to our lives here and hereafter – and the same can be said of marriage.

There is definitely a massive crisis in the clerical ranks surrounding the 6th Commandment. But lowering the bar is not the right approach… And if we do dispense with celibacy, either for specific regions like the Amazon or in universal law, it seems it would be nearly impossible to go back.

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors,” says Scripture. (Prov. 22: 28) Food for thought.

Some Dogmatic, Canonical, and Moral Questions to Ponder

Eamonn Clark

Given the past few years of theological disputes, several questions have proposed themselves as needing more serious attention, either in explanation of or exploration for the correct answers. Except to suggest the use of one particular theological tool, I don’t have any purpose here other than to say what some (but not all) of these questions are and to give them a definite shape in the hopes of helping them to be more effectively addressed. Here we go…

  1. How do we determine what is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium and what is fallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  2. Even if something is certainly taught fallibly by the ordinary magisterium, how do we know if it is still binding through demanding “religious assent”?
  3. What is the moral significance of failing to adhere to various kinds of positions taught with varying degrees of frequency, strength, and recentness?
  4. To what degree, if any, are theologians exempt from such demands and their corresponding moral penalties?
  5. Who exactly belongs to this supposedly exempt category called “theologians”?
  6. When does it become morally acceptable for theologians to presume to correct a legitimate ordinary magisterial organ, in various degrees of publicity?
  7. What is the exact significance and character of the extraordinary magisterium if it can only teach what has already been taught by the ordinary magisterium?
  8. Can a practice of the Church or its encouragement of a practice establish a speculative doctrine to one degree or another, other than with regard to the liturgy and the sacraments?
  9. What is the authoritative character of prudential utterances of the Holy Father or his legitimate direct cooperators (such as the CDF) when the matter of the utterance actually belongs most properly to the discretion of a legitimate civil authority?
  10. Is there a good solution to so-called “conflict marriage” annulment cases in which the petitioner is unable to produce witnesses due to a legitimate obstacle (such as the witnesses being dead)?
  11. What level and kind of ignorance of the Church’s legal system and its legitimate demands upon oneself would suffice to remove some or all of the formal aspect of sin from one’s materially sinful union?
  12. If there is a possibility of a complete or partial excuse of moral culpability due to ignorance of canon law’s legitimate demands upon oneself with regard to marriage which can be privately ascertained by a sacred minister, how ought such persons be sacramentally ministered to, whether publicly or privately?
  13. Aside from the general application of c. 915, and independent of the question of culpability for cohabitation and bigamy themselves, under what circumstances, if any, is it possible that to leave a person in ignorance about the moral necessity of an annulment, for which he or she is privately judged to be at least partially culpable, constitutes a legitimate condescension to a perceived likelihood of being unwilling to cooperate and thus likely leading to even worse sin?
  14. What is the exact character and efficacy of a so-called “spiritual communion” for those who persist in mortal sin?

These aren’t “ivory tower debates.” Some of these questions, as I have implied in previous posts, could be helped by a more common use and further refinement of the Church’s system of “theological notes.”

Wake Up and Smell the Concupiscence

Eamonn Clark

Policies will fix the problem. Bishops will fix the problem. Lay people will fix the problem. Money will fix the problem. The Pope will fix the problem.

Yeah, right.

Among several things that really stuck with me from my old seminary’s Church history professor was him asking our class this question: “What is the value of studying Church history?” Were he to ask me today, without the slightest hesitation I could say that perspective on crises must be one of the most important benefits.

The most cursory glance at the annals of Catholic history, let alone the history of ancient Israel, takes one on a tour of practically every kind of human wickedness imaginable, often in its most extreme forms. While there are certain elements of our own day which are uniquely challenging, by and large we have of late been spoiled rotten with good popes and a healthy ecclesiastical environment. You don’t believe that? Come with me on a brief tour.

So we have a sexual scandal among clergy? We do. But recall Pope John XII, who died while in bed with another man’s wife when her husband came home, either from shock or from being murdered. This was no fluke but was rather the culmination of a wanton life of lust and hardened impiety. (He also was kind enough to give the people of the Diocese of Todi a 10-year-old whom he had consecrated personally to be their bishop.) There was also Alexander VI of the infamous Borgia family, and Julius II, and Paul III, to name just a few men who were rather fond of the ladies.

Ah, but it’s a homosexual problem, it may be replied… This too is hardly new, as a small litany of popes have had serious accusations of such behavior leveled at them, several of them as recently as the 16th century. One can begin to understand some of Martin Luther’s frustrations, no?

So there’s some financial corruption in the Vatican? Do you remember when Pope Benedict IX sold the papacy? And then when he ended up being pope again, and even after leaving a second time, returned for a third? (By the way, he also had an intense “appreciation” for women… and sometimes men. On the other hand, he may have been elevated to the Chair of St. Peter as young as the age of 11, and when he left the papacy for the third time he went off to do penance for the rest of his life, so let’s cut him some slack.)

We hear about how corrupt and inept and “legalistic” the Church’s courts can be. Well, who could forget the infamous Cadaver Synod of 897? That was when Pope Stephen VI exhumed the body of Pope Formosus and put him on trial – and found him guilty. This eventually led to a public uprising in Rome, Stephen being strangled in prison, and the excommunication of 7 cardinals. (The 9th and 10th centuries were particularly interesting times for the papal court, due in no small part to the enormous influence of the wicked Theophylacti family.)

It’s nearly impossible to go a day in the Catholic blogosphere without reading about how seriously ambiguous and possibly gravely erroneous some statements of the current pope are. Well, imagine if Popes Honorius I or John XXII had been on Twitter, or if the three different popes who attempted to give authority to some priests to confer Holy Orders could have quickly adjusted an online text of a universal catechism to reflect their fallacious opinions.

You think that there might be a possibility of a papal deposition, or that the Holy See might already be vacant, and that this is all unthinkable? Go read about the Western Schism, where there were not two but three men who had serious claims to the Chair of St. Peter. Many saints were divided on the issue, among them Catherine of Siena (who supported Urban) and Vincent Ferrer (who supported Clement).

And we’ve only been talking about popes. The investiture controversy, the Arian crisis, the laxism which brought on the Gregorian reform… And on, and on, and on.

Church history is one long series of crises, guided by God’s providence. The worst crisis has come and gone, by the way – that was the first Holy Thursday and Good Friday. It can never be overstated how important those two days are for understanding what role sin has in the Church’s hierarchy, and why it should not be cause for existential alarm. Christ wanted Judas in the Twelve for a reason… It seems it was partially to dissuade us from seeing the Church as the kind of worldly messianic kingdom that the Jews had been waiting for. Heaven has only half come to Earth.

It’s not that the various public reactions don’t contain good ideas to help rectify the roots of the McCarrick scandal, although I do wonder about some of the particulars. They are probably worth pursuing to various extents. But it is naive to think that with the right policies or people or pressure, sin – even grave sin – is going to somehow be expunged from the clergy. As long as we ordain sinners, we will have sinners for leaders. Do not let Judas scandalize you.

So there is, in fact, only one way to “solve the crisis” – it is for God to bring the world to an end.

Wake up and smell the concupiscence.

A Breakdown of Positions on the New Catechism Text

Eamonn Clark

Basically, there seem to me to be available 16 positions on the new text of the Catechism. They break down according to the following bifurcations: the text itself as an objective piece of magisterium vis-a-vis the author’s subjective intention behind the text, whether the putative development  is practical or speculative (viz. a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine or a principled definition of universal moral prescript), and whether that development is legitimate or illegitimate.

I consider the various readings of the text as having attempted sincerely to use the standard hermeneutic of magisterial documents, namely, to read them within the context of what has gone before, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and without otherwise relying on the subjective intent of the author except insofar as it is incontrovertibly expressed in the text. In other words, when in doubt, try to find the most sensible meaning which does not contradict established doctrine.

For my purposes here, a legitimate prudential judgment would be a correct judgment, even if it is not binding. I do not consider here the various positions on the binding character of either practical or speculative characters of the text (which would add even more positions), although it seems rather clear that it can only be the text itself in which such a binding character could be found (and not in the hidden recesses of the author’s mind), and it could only be binding if legitimate (viz., it does not contradict a past infallible teaching). It furthermore seems clear, if we are to take Ratzinger’s instruction on the matter seriously, that merely prudential applications of the Church’s teaching on capital punishment cannot be binding, even if they are uttered by the Holy Father. So that leaves us only with the possibility of a binding or non-binding legitimate speculative judgment.

Let’s see this drawn out in its combinations… I have marked commonplace positions in bold.

  1. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  2. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  3. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  4. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  5. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  6. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  7. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  8. The text presents a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  9. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  10. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  11. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  12. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is legitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  13. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  14. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a prudential application of pre-existing doctrine which is itself illegitimate.
  15. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself legitimate.
  16. The text presents a speculative development of doctrine which is illegitimate, and the author’s intention is to present a speculative development of doctrine which is itself illegitimate.

Personally, I find it possible to torture the text into being a merely prudential application, solely due to its partial reliance on “more effective systems of detention” as a criterion for calling the death penalty “inadmissible.” This application, in my opinion, is the result of a very bad judgment, not only because of the vast disparity among various countries’ justice systems, and the violence which can be caused directly or indirectly from within even a good prison, but also because it ignores some of the major arguments in favor of capital punishment, such as deterrence and an incentive to individual repentance.

Had there been no mention of systems of detention, my position would probably be different. While the last paragraph does say, “the Church teaches,” thus seemingly putting the text into the realm of speculative claims, the foregoing is enough in my view to render it “toothless.” It seems one can, and therefore should, read the text as meaning, “the Church teaches in the way that She can teach prudential applications of doctrine which properly belong to the legitimate civil authority,” which is to teach merely in a hortatory way, i.e., “Think hard about not killing!”

Given the other two reasons for the putative development (the clauses about the “increasing awareness” of dignity and the “new understanding” of penal law), it seems difficult to deny that the author’s intention was speculative. Because of the staggering litany of popes, saints, Fathers, and trustworthy theologians who have not merely tolerated capital punishment but have taken a positive stance in favor of it, if the teaching of the legitimacy in principle of capital punishment does not belong to the infallible body of ordinary magisterial teaching then one must wonder what does. One could very easily replace some words to form a “development” of the teaching on abortion, contraception, gay marriage, women’s ordination… All that needs to be done is to say that there is “an increasing awareness” of the dignity of the pregnant mother, or the financially burdened spouse, or the homosexual, or the woman, which would allow for a “development” on a connected issue which, while leading to a differing praxis would not be a “contradiction” because what has developed is the awareness or understanding of the dignity of the person or their desires which naturally leads to that new praxis, and even if there were a doctrinal contradiction, the doctrine was not directly defined by the extraordinary magisterium anyway. Watch:

The sacramental ordination of men alone was long considered an appropriate response to a male-dominant culture and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of avoiding scandal.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of women is equal to that of men. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of the Church’s conferral of ordination.

Lastly, more effective systems of ecclesiastical administration have been developed, which ensure the due protection of traditional mindsets with respect to the role of men in the Church but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive women of the possibility of sacramental ordination.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that restricting sacramental ordination to men alone is inadmissible because it is an attack on the talents and dignity of women, and the Church works with determination for the implementation of women’s ordination worldwide.

It’s that easy.

I don’t think that the intense exasperation and Sedevacantism which are now cropping up are warranted. We have seen such antics before with Honorius I (over Monothelitism) and with John XXII (over the Beatific Vision). These issues were resolved without a deposition, and without an antipope. Furthermore, it does not seem to me that we are in the kind of situation at issue in the increasingly relevant debate between St. Robert Bellarmine, Suarez, and Cajetan about manifestly heretical popes. (It is also unclear who is right, or if there might be some middle-path.) For what it’s worth, Bellarmine thought the situation of a manifest heretic (as opposed to a merely occult heretic) occupying the See of Peter was impossible, and surely he knew of Honorius and John. Bellarmine did, however, see capital punishment as an item over which there could be heresy.

At any rate, a troubled mind will not help to resolve anything. So let’s all calm down.

Much to ponder… More to come… Stay tuned.


Main image: screenshot of the Hydra from Disney’s Hercules

Brace yourselves…

Eamonn Clark

I have recently been reading Prof. Feser’s wonderful exploration of the Church’s perennial teaching on capital punishment. That teaching is, and it always will be, that it is at least in principle a good thing and must be used judiciously and equitably, having been commended in Scripture in many ways and places, taught by the Fathers, Doctors, and Popes of the Church repeatedly, and even used quite comfortably and frequently under Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Today, the news broke that the Holy Father has decided to alter the Catechism of the Catholic Church evidently to say that the thought that the death penalty is morally legitimate is not correct. I wrote about the rumblings of this development here. Whether there is some way to square the text of the new paragraph, and its accompanying explanation, with past teaching in such a way so as not to contradict it is not at all clear at this point. However, neither is it clear that the Holy Father intended this to be a teaching ex cathedra. (The Catechism is NOT an infallible document, by the way, and makes no claim to be; it is rather an attempt at a presentation of the Church’s teaching.) But no reasonable person, who understands the teaching of the Church, can be comfortable with this utterance.

Hold on to your hats, folks. I am afraid this is going to be ugly. But don’t jump off the boat.