Sola Scriptura – a Conclusion

Eamonn Clark, STL

After two previous posts on this topic, I am about ready to wrap it up. My first post, my most popular ever, still retains its value. I did a follow up post responding to a critique, and there is a response to that post. Unfortunately, that second response was intellectually lazy, and, seemingly, just a cop-out which amounted to – “he made some straw men, but I won’t say how, it’s too hard.” Well… Okay then. Disappointing – and also revealing. Read for yourselves to judge and see if that’s really the case. I tried to be quite fair. Anyways, consider this my final word on the matter.

The problem of canonicity is probably the most basic problem for Sola Scriptura. That is, how do we know what books are Scripture in the first place? I submit that there are only 4 ways to answer this question, period.

  1. Scripture is not a rule of faith, so it doesn’t matter (held by non-Christians)
  2. One is bound to be personally wise/holy enough to know intuitively which texts are Scripture (held by nobody)
  3. We have a fallible collection of infallible books (a deeply problematic pretzel of a position held by major Protestant scholar R. C. Sproul – again, how do we know that these books are infallible in the first place, and why would God leave some infallible texts outside our use and possibly allow some fallible texts to show up in what we call the Bible?)
  4. There is an authority external to Scripture which determines what is Scripture and what is not, thus undermining the position that Scripture alone is the entire rule of faith, as if an authority can define what is contained in Scripture, it follows that it is a parallel teaching authority (held by Catholics, Orthodox, etc., and, ironically, in practice held by Martin Luther, who presumed to create his own canon, prompting Trent’s definition of the canon)

With regard to #4, one would struggle to explain how and why an authority external to Scripture would exist solely to define the canon and not also be able to interpret its contents without error. It just does not sound very much like the God of Christianity: “Here’s a book, good luck.” And here we go into the problem of anarchy, which I described in my first post… each is left to his own devices, with many people with contrary positions claiming the support of Scripture and even that they are being instructed from within by the Holy Spirit that “x” is true and not “y.” It’s like we’ve returned to the time of the Judges, when “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own mind.”

That’s it. If anyone can show me how this point – just this one – falls apart, I will return to this topic. But that’s about all I have to say on it. For more, see here.

Thoughts on Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s “Amoris Booklet”

Eamonn Clark, STL

I am continuing to publish some of my notes for a potential book on the various readings of Amoris Laetitia. I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day otherwise.

Bad interpretations of AL, in particular of Chapter Eight, remain a major pastoral-academic concern, despite the dust seeming to have settled. In actual Catholic life, which lies outside of seminary classrooms and the blogosphere, this is a real issue and will continue to be so until there is either sufficient intellectual conversion among the elite, both ecclesiastical and academic, or there is extremely strong papal teaching on the matter.

Here, we look at a small book put out some years ago by Cardinal Coccopalmerio, who used to be prefect of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. We should pray for His Eminence. He is very old now, and we never really found out exactly what the deal was with that infamous party at his secretary’s residence. Really – pray for him.

On we go, then. Some small edits made from my notes.


Coccopalmerio perhaps makes a better case than Fernández regarding the question of grace but arguably ends up with an even less tolerable position on the nature of the moral law.

“Having considered the ontology of the person also in the unique elements and particularly in those that in some way limit the person in his capacity to act normally, it seems to me that the Exhortation leads to three important consequences: the so-called “law of gradualness,” the recognition of the good that is possible, the non-immediate imputability of all those people who do not fulfill the law or who fulfill it only in part, and the consequent need to refrain from judging these people as culpable and therefore as in a state of grave sin.”

“The so-called ‘law of gradualness’ recurs many times in the magisterium of Pope Francis, in the proposals of the Synod of Bishops and in the Exhortation Amoris laetitia. Let us see at least one passage: ‘Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”. (Familiaris Consortio, 34). This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life” (ibid., 9)’ (n. 295). The so-called ‘law of gradualness’ presupposes, therefore, an incapacity or a serious difficulty for a person to put the law into practice, at least in its totality, in all its requirements, on account of a condition of weakness.”

This last statement of Coccopalmerio seems to exceed the teaching of the Holy Father when the Cardinal claims that there can be an “incapacity” in fulfilling the demands of the law. However, he goes on to say that such an incapacity could be derived from “a condition of sickness”:

“For these members of the faithful, pastors of souls should, on the one hand, state the ideal, that is, the law in its entirety and in all its demands, but they should, on the other hand, work to heal the weakness, that is, to increase ability to act, by using the normal methods of pastoral care in this work, especially preaching and the sacraments. From this case, we should distinguish another case of impossibility or serious difficulty in putting the law into practice. And, in fact, the law is given for all people, and does not take into account, nor could it, a condition in which individual persons can come to find themselves with an incapacity to act normally, and therefore, to observe the law, such as, for example, a condition of sickness.”

This is a fine position, even though his expression of the position is unclear. People who struggle with sin should be helped by preaching and the sacraments. People who cannot avoid a materially sinful act due to sickness (we assume he means mental illness) are not guilty of actual sin, and so we must use common-sense jurisprudence in our dealings with such people, taking into account their objective inability to perform human acts in a normal way. There is no problem with this suggestion. But he goes further: 

“We can recall that, by making provisions for such situations of inability with pastoral wisdom, canon law has already provided in its roots some remedies that are comprehensively referred to as “aequitas canonica” [canonical equity], and those are known as exception, dispensation, and epikeia. In the case, however, of the “law of gradualness,” the impossibility or serious difficulty to put the law into practice is caused by an incapacity to will it because of a condition of weakness of the will.”

Now we are left wondering if “a condition of weakness of the will” means something other than “a condition of sickness.” He does not clarify. Let us suppose, for his sake, that it is what he means.

“Three barely reported texts are undoubtedly of great human and pastoral value. It seems important to me to re-read three particular expressions: ‘…  what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God… it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits.’ (n. 303) ‘… possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits….’ ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God…’ (n. 305) ‘… eventual stages of personal growth…’ ‘the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best.’ ‘… a church … a mother … always does what good she can…’. These are expressions that speak for themselves. They are, however, [expressions] of great realism and great respect for the concrete ontology of every person. The statement should be noted that God himself requires only what is possible and He accepts, therefore, what is possible. Likewise, the Church [is] like a Mother.”

At long last, Coccopalmerio rightly draws attention to the fact that God cannot command the impossible. He is also right to imply that the careful urging of a person toward greater virtue is a role proper to the Church as a Mother, and its pastors who do this work should be attentive to the status of a person’s individual inclination towards vices and virtues, just as St. Gregory the Great indicated in the Pastoral Rule. This is his first “solution”: to say that a person cannot live up to the ideal of the law due to a weakness of will. There would be no problem with this except with the ambiguity of the words “can,” “impossible,” etc., provided he left it there: such weakness of the will we call vice, and vice produces sin.

However, he has much more in mind than this, as the next passage shows:

“The second solution: the non-immediate imputability of those people who do not fulfill the law or fulfill it only in part, and the consequent need to refrain from judging these people as culpable and therefore in a state of grave sin. We can read a pair of texts: “It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being” (n. 304). “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Jesus ‘expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated’ (ibid., 270)” (n. 308). We can re-read the valuable text of n. 305 already cited above (cfr. no. 4.1.). I would say that all this makes the reason complete for what we have said above regarding the person and the moral action made impossible by concrete conditions, such as that one exemplified by a woman cohabiting for years, conscious of the illegitimacy of her union, genuinely desiring to put an end to it, but however, it has been made impossible, at least at present, to put her desire into practice.”

It is no longer reasonable to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt. By his last words in this section, it is evident that what he has in mind is not a case of severe mental illness but instead a case of severe attachment to sexual activity in the context of an illicit union. This is clear because the Cardinal says that there are concrete conditions which make “the moral action” impossible in the case he gives of a woman living for years in an illicit union, who is aware of its illicit character, and somehow both genuinely desires to stop sinning but it is impossible to stop nonetheless. The details of the case he refers to were explained earlier in the book: 

“[Suppose there is] a woman who went to cohabitate with a canonically married man who was abandoned with three young children by his wife. However, this woman has saved the man from a state of deep despair, probably from the temptation of suicide; she has brought up the three children, not without considerable sacrifices; their union lasts for ten years now; a new child is born. The woman of whom we speak is fully conscious of being in an irregular situation. She sincerely would like to change her life, but evidently she cannot do it. If, in fact she left the union, the man would return to his situation from before, the children would be left without a mother. To leave the union would mean, therefore, not to fulfill her grave duties to people who are innocent in themselves. It is therefore evident that it could not take place ‘without a new fault.’”

The Cardinal at least realizes that leaving the union is not the only option: “she should practice continence” is the natural objection, which he is well aware of and notes. He goes on to quote Footnote 329 of AL, which quotes Gaudium et Spes 51. These passages from the Council speak about maintaining “intimacy” being important for the couple with respect to raising their children. The Cardinal explains:

“It is important to ask ourselves what the expression used by the Council exactly means: ‘the intimacy of married life’ (in the original Latin text: ‘intimata vita conjugalis’). Undoubtedly, this means the performance of conjugal acts. Beyond the meaning of the words, what is said above leads to this exegesis: ‘at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased.’ At this point, the text states: ‘… where the intimacy of married life is broken off’ (Latin text ‘abrumpitur’), and so the performance of conjugal acts is interrupted, ‘it is not uncommon that fidelity is imperiled and the good of the children may be endangered… their upbringing… the courage to accept new ones.’ One may naturally note that the opportunity to not abstain from performing conjugal acts in order to prevent that ‘fidelity is imperiled and the good of the children may be endangered’ is a directive given by the Council for situations of marriage, in other words, for legitimate unions, while it is applied by the Apostolic Exhortation to cases of unions which are at least objectively illegitimate. I believe, however, that this difference is not relevant to the correctness of this application. Having considered the preceding texts, it seems to me that it may be held: a) if the commitment to live as brother and sister proves possible without difficulty for the couple’s relationship, then the two cohabiting may accept it willingly; b) if, however, this commitment creates difficulties, the two cohabiting seem not to be obligated in and of themselves, because they will meet the case of the subject of which n. 301 speaks with this clear expression: a subject ‘can be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’”

Let us suppose, with much lenience, that the Cardinal’s assertion about the meaning of the phrase “the intimacy of married life” in GS is correct in that it refers to conjugal relations, and let us suppose he is right to see AL applying this same criterion to illicit unions – even though these are not “conjugal” but merely sexual acts. (In the strict sense, the word “conjugal” implies “married.”) The direct implication is that a person who wants a good thing to happen, namely, the prevention of “further sin” (like the partner harming himself or the children), is justified in giving sexual favors to obtain it; in fact, one could easily argue that giving such favors is a duty because of the importance of maintaining a stable family environment for the sake of the children. (A similar argument, in favor of the duty to use contraception, has been recently made by an increasingly prominent Roman moralist, Father Maurizio Chiodi.) Ironically, Coccopalmerio suggests this adulterous act is part of the good of fidelity. It cannot be so.

After detailing the “concrete case” he has in mind, the Cardinal goes on to explain his opinion on the possibility of “mitigating factors” obtaining in this woman’s psychology.

The most generous reading of these passages gives us the following teaching from Cardinal Coccopalmerio: when one thinks or feels that it is impossible to fulfill the demands of the moral law due to the desire for future goods or due to present weakness of will, God does not demand that the moral law be fulfilled. There are two plain errors. On the one hand there is simple consequentialism or proportionalism – when a better good can be obtained by what is normally seen as wrong, that act stops being wrong. On the other hand there is the paradigmatic case of saying that temptation excuses from sin, seemingly proximate to heresy. (One is reminded of the famous 17th century laxist, Archbishop Caramuel, the “Lamb of God,” so named because he “took away the sins of the world.” St. Alphonsus also dubbed him the “Prince of the Laxists.” Caramuel made a similar argument about temptation removing guilt.) One could use the Cardinal’s method to justify practically any action whatsoever – “I can’t follow the moral law because I want this future good which is threatened by not violating it, and so God does not demand it,” or “I can’t follow the moral law because I am weak, and so God does not demand it,” or a combination of the two. We can and should notice that, coincidentally, that this argument is never applied for the “malefactor” in broken marriages – why could there not have been “mitigating factors” for a man who abandons his wife and children? Could it have been that he needed to do so in order to avoid some bad thing in the future? Such considerations are never made.

The less generous reading has the Cardinal falling directly into heresy regarding sufficient grace.

Is Doubt a Sin?

Eamonn Clark, STL

Perhaps there is no moral issue which is more confusing to people than what is demanded of the intellect with regard to faith. It is an especially big problem in the West, among young people most of all. One hears from time to time, “I’m not sure I believe in the Church’s teaching on x,” where x is more often than not some moral teaching which rubs against the grain of progressive Western values of “tolerance” and “compassion.” One also hears occasionally, “I just struggle to believe y,” where y is some article of faith or a close derivative, with the supernatural character being particularly clear, such as the bodily resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. Last of all, one also hears the blunter sort of statement, “I don’t believe in z,” where z could be either a moral or speculative doctrine taught authoritatively by the Church. In all three cases, if the doubter had previously called himself Catholic, it is unlikely to be any different after such announcements. He will still most likely simply say that he is “Catholic, but…” Whence the pejorative title of “cafeteria Catholic” comes.

Catholicism is not a culture. It is not a race, either. The Pharisees of old confused Judaism for a culture and their natural lineage for a spiritual one – descendants of Abraham in the flesh do not necessarily inherit his spiritual blessings. As someone put it once, God has no grandchildren. Excepting those who cannot use their reason (like infants), following Christ must be a personal choice which at least formally subjects everything else to Him and His will, meaning, at least in principle, despite failures from weakness, one wants to do His will no matter what.

This not only includes believing what God has said through Christ and His Church, it begins with this belief. Faith, which is not a mere collection of spiritual feelings or some arbitrary belief in spiritual realities but is rather trust in God’s Word as revealed in Christ and through His Catholic Church, is the condition for having a real spiritual life in the first place. (This can be implicit – see Hebrews 11:6 – but we’ll leave aside the special case of those who have not really been preached to sufficiently.) One who does not take God’s Word for truth, on the authority of God, and subsequently recognizing His voice in the Catholic Church when such becomes possible, can do nothing to please Him. The Scriptural evidence for the necessity of faith for salvation is copious – a reading of Hebrews 11 should suffice to give you the picture, along with the Lord’s statement in the Temple at the start of Holy Week: “Then Jesus cried out, ‘Whoever believes in Me does not believe in Me alone, but in the One who sent Me. And whoever sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness. As for anyone who hears My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not receive My words: The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it. And I know that His command leads to eternal life. So I speak exactly what the Father has told Me to say.'” (John 12:44-50)

To disbelieve any part of the teaching of God is to cut oneself off from Him, by implying that He is either confused or, even worse, lying. God demands that we perceive that He knows all and never lies. To disbelieve that the Church faithfully carries and announces God’s teaching is to reject those whom the Lord sent out to do precisely that, just before His Ascension: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘Behold, all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'” (Matthew 28:16-20; cf. the sending of the 70 in Luke 10:16 – “He who hears you hears Me,” etc.)

To be a Catholic in law is to be sacramentally Catholic. If one was baptized as a Catholic, one is legally a Catholic. However, this does not mean that one truly belongs to the Catholic Church in an effective sense. That requires faith in the teachings of God through the Catholic Church, namely, the creeds and dogmas proposed for belief (i.e. the Trinity, the Resurrection, the Assumption, etc.), and also intellectually holding to their clear derivatives as proposed by the Church since, even though such data is not explicitly revealed by God, the Church enjoys protection in interpreting revealed truths whether through the Her ordinary or extraordinary magisterium. Were the Church not able to exercise both of these functions, that is, infallibly stating what is revealed by God directly and infallibly interpreting the immediate consequences of that data, there would be no real significance of the Church as a teacher. This would even extend to the necessity of throwing out Scripture – as otherwise the Church would not infallibly teach what belongs in Scripture in the first place.

So, are pro-choice politicians, for example, even able to be Catholics, over and above the legal sense? As it turns out, strictly speaking, yes. The illicitness of abortion does of course belong to Catholic doctrine, but it is not a datum revealed by God per se. The 5th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is revealed by God, but its application to cases where there is even the slightest bit of clarification needed from an additional science renders the conclusion non-revelatory, even if definitive and infallible, which is the case with abortion. One who denies this teaching on abortion, presupposing an awareness of what one is actually talking about (a theme we will return to momentarily), is a mortal sin indirectly against faith, in addition to being (sometimes) a mortal sin of both formal and material cooperation in the evil act of abortion and (sometimes) a mortal sin of scandal. So it should not be any consolation that one happens not to sin so egregiously against faith that it actually constitutes heresy, resulting in the loss of interior moral membership in the Church – it is actually to one’s greater shame, as St. Peter indicates: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.'” (2 Peter 2:21-22)

I base my analysis here on Fr. Cartechini, SJ’s wonderful chart on theological notes. I have referenced it before – it might be a little bit too rigorist in my opinion, and the legal framework it is based on (the 1917 Code) renders some parts a bit obsolete, but it is very good at setting up the theoretical side of the problem. See also Dr. Feser’s nice explanation of the 5 types of papal teaching, which maps onto this schema easily enough. In truth, the world of systematic/dogmatic theology, especially when touching morals, is not exactly as straightforward as most think it is. In fact, one might be able to make the case that the Church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion belongs to a higher note than mere Catholic doctrine, especially given that Pius IX’s dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception does indeed treat of Mary’s conception, not of her “quickening” or any other antiquated embryological terminology. (Gynecology had really just begun to take off shortly before the 1854 proclamation on Mary’s conception.) Given that Pius IX used “conception” in Ineffabilis Deus, rather than some other term, (like “existence,”) did he thereby allow a theological demonstration of the humanity of a conceptus, given that he clearly means to ascribe humanity to Mary in such a state, as only humans can be preserved from the stain of original sin? If so, it would be easier to make the case that the illicitness of abortion is a truth of “ecclesiastical faith,” the second highest kind of doctrine. (It would still certainly not be of Divine and Catholic faith, the highest degree, nor would it be situated as proximate to faith, it seems.) But I am not convinced by that argument – it very much strikes me as still not closely enough connected with revelation. I could be wrong. It might be that those who reject the teaching of the Church on abortion aren’t Catholics. But it is somewhat academic… However, since certain politicians have made it so abundantly clear that they think they are still Catholics (devout!) and push the most ghoulish kinds of pro-choice legislation, maybe more study of this issue is called for. (Friends of mine looking for a good Licentiate thesis topic – this could be a good one.)

All this is basically to say that intellectual disobedience, whether through heresy in the strict sense or less serious kinds of dissent with what the Church understands as being binding upon the minds of the faithful with regard to faith OR to morals, is material sin. The intellect’s relation to other elements will determine its formal character, as we will see.

So what of our x, y, and z cases? What about that vocal kid in youth group who says he supports gay marriage? What about that couple that puts an “ordain women” bumper sticker on their car? What about that friend who’s just not sure if there really is a resurrection of all humanity at the end of the world and has just decided not to take a stance on the question? What about, what about, what about…

As we have seen, sometimes it can be tricky enough to situate the object itself into the proper category. Is it a denial or doubt of something directly revealed by God? Is it something merely closely connected with revelation? Or merely something taught infallibly by the magisterium? Or something else?

The next question is what the subject’s relationship really is to the object. This can be even trickier, as we can’t read minds.

First of all, doubt, as a moral category, lies underneath of rejection or “dissent” but above mere hesitation or anxiety. Doubt is a choice to suspend belief, whether by a positive act of deciding not to believe one way or the other, or by a deliberate failure to address a hesitation or anxiety over a matter requiring assent by not moving the mind in one direction or the other. Sometimes it is not particularly clear, even to the person himself, what is going on in his intellect.

Second, we have to evaluate the subject’s understanding of what he is considering. This is the most difficult aspect, and it is divided into two parts. Briefly… First, there is the attention given to the doctrine’s source qua authoritative source, and, second, there is the ability of the intellect in this particular moment to grasp the doctrine as something intelligible.

As to the second part, those who are suffering from some anxious movement of the mind can be so overwhelmed by the apparent strangeness or natural impossibility of doctrines that they start to seem disconnected from reality. Souls ought to be counseled not to worry themselves should they seem to consent to such temptations – the fact of the anxiety means that they are resisting somehow, and their minds cannot be expected, at least not under grave precept, to withhold all such assaults. But more on this below.

As to the first part, we could consider the example which St. Thomas gives when asking whether venial sin can be in the higher intellect when directing its own proper acts (as opposed to whether it can have sin when directing outward actions or interior movements of the will). Suppose a person begins to consider the resurrection of all the dead at the end of time, and he immediately thinks this to be untrue, as he is only thinking of things according to natural processes and empirical evidence. This is venial sin, as he should have his mind always sufficiently turned toward the truth of the Faith such that this would not occur. However, if he begins to consider that this doctrine is proposed by the Church as an Article of Faith, or that it is taught by Christ Himself, and subsequently that it is the doctrine delivered by God, then he arrives at the point at which he will either return to intellectual assent (belief) toward the doctrine, or he will enter into a mortal sin directly against faith, thus losing the virtue of faith altogether, by not assenting. One is obliged seriously to learn the basic tenets of the Faith, and should some subtler point be at issue then those with less learning ought to consult those who are more learned (and most trustworthy). The obligation increases with the recurrence of such thoughts of dubious orthodoxy, and with the significance such thoughts have for one’s life – certainly, one who takes it upon himself to become an activist, such as for “equality in the Church” of various sorts, has a serious duty to know first what he is talking about before setting himself against those who propose the opposite position and can point to any number of authoritative sources which affirm their claims. Failure to do such would, it seems, entail a loss of the virtue of faith. Even merely “being vocal” is serious business. The wisdom literature suggests that silence brings wisdom and preserves one from sin for a reason.

Implicit assent would be enough in normal scenarios for those battling some temptation towards doubt or even dissent. In his classic work, The Spiritual Combat, passages of which were read daily by St. Francis de Sales, Dom Scupoli gives the advice to those struggling with anxious thoughts over matters of faith to make general acts of faith, rather than fixating on whatever particular doctrine is bothersome. “I believe all that the Church teaches because it is from God.” Scupoli suggests that if these thoughts are coming at the behest of the Devil, and he prods one to explain what the Church teaches, it will be very mortifying to the Evil One to respond, “The Church teaches the truth,” and leave it at that. Should the response come, “What is the truth?” the reply should be, “What the Church teaches!” Thus will anxious persons escape confusing themselves and ultimately losing their faith, and they will torture the Devil in the meantime.

In the end, as these two aspects (awareness of the authoritative source of a doctrine, and clearness of mind toward the doctrine) decrease, the sinfulness will decrease. More serious offenses, of course, ought to be confessed, especially if they became outward statements or activism – whether it was last weekend at youth group, or during the local synodal meeting, or on the campaign trail.

There is a lot more to talk about, but I will save it for a book I’ve been working on related to this theme (and connected issues). Don’t wait up for it, it will take a very long time still to come to publication, if it ever makes it…

Poland post coming in the next few days.

The 10 Reasons for Clerical Compromise on Divorce and Remarriage

Eamonn Clark, STL

I had been preparing a book on a certain post-synodal apostolic exhortation, but maybe it will never see the light of day. Instead, I might just share here a few bits and pieces with small edits. Here is one of them.

The first set of errors can be called “Jesuit legalism,” making the law to be the ideal. (Jesuits have classically seen morals through the lens of “criminal law,” where the bar is high to convict the defendant.)

  1. Underestimation of the power and universality of grace
  2. Overestimation of the ability to be ignorant of the natural law without blame
  3. Lack of understanding of the extent of “epikeia” in formulations of natural law found in the Decalogue
  4. Overestimation of the mitigation of culpability in difficult cases (i.e., “temptation excuses from sin”), especially by conflating habitual intentions with individual actions
  5. General consequentialism or proportionalism, frequently ending in a kind of “situationalist ethics” when other errors inform the application

The next set of errors could be summarized by the phrase “empathy-driven jurisprudence,” which bases the order of public welfare around one person or group’s difficulties.

  1. Conflation of public and private reception of Sacraments
  2. Forgetting/ignoring the rights of the putative spouse and children 
  3. Over-application of the internal forum solution of the (vanishingly rare) “conflict-marriage” case
  4. Neglecting the freeing characteristic of objective due process in ecclesiastical courts
  5. Underestimating the damage caused by undue dissimulation/neglect of the prevention of scandal

The possible roots of clergy teaching this doctrine are:

  1. Bad seminary formation
  2. A generally overly empathetic pastoral mindset which clouds prudence, especially with respect to the importance of the courts and due process
  3. To account retroactively for mistakes they have made in the past about correcting the faithful in this matter
  4. To remove or soften their obligation to do the difficult work of calling sinners to repentance 
  5. To mount an indirect defense of lax moral lives of their own

We must always pray and fast for clergy, especially bishops – the bad ones most of all.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part IV

Eamonn Clark, STL

See parts one, two, and three.

We all know that romance is a risky venture.

For some more than others!

What is the risk we are concerned with here? It is the subtle movement from mere romantic feelings into “curiosity” (wanting knowledge of something – in this case, a person – which is not helpful for you to have… like certain kinds of immodest glances and even discussion, which are then “annexed” to lust) into more impure thoughts and indeliberate desire, into morose delectation (often manifested in and aided by outward motions, as already described), then often even into fornication, many or even most times in an unnatural way (viz., in a way that ensures no offspring, which character aggravates the sin even further).

Looking at people who are attractive is obviously necessary for one who is in the market for love. Of course, looking longer or looking at more than is really necessary starts the downward trajectory we have described above. One must use some discipline and honesty in these matters, without being unnaturally cold or rigid, allowing for some authenticity of expressions of affection. (Certainly, voyeurism, looking at indecent images, etc., for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity is always at least a venial sin, and if one is deliberately purposing to take pleasure in the desire to “go all the way” by means of such looks, even without self-abuse, the words of Our Lord in Matthew 5:28 have been fulfilled – it is “adultery of the heart.” The satisfaction of curiosity which simply arouses desire as an effect is not necessarily mortal sin, except if one has the wherewithal to consider or at least has the time to consider and experience to know that this is indeed a proximate occasion to mortal sin, as it is for most people before they are middle-aged, then even such acts become mortal sins on account of the treatment of one’s soul with such recklessness.)

It is very difficult to be perfect in this regard during extended courtship. There will be small slips into sin, as the desire for propagating the human race is extremely strong on account of the good that it seeks, and it is also the most corrupted desire we have (which, says St. Thomas, is due to the fact that original sin is transmitted on account of generation). But the risk of a person foregoing marriage who doesn’t have the strength to do so is far worse than the risks involved with courtship, at least in the long-term. So, there is a risk, but a proportionate reward, for most. These risks do need to be taken seriously, with clear boundaries discussed honestly between a couple – not first date conversation material, but maybe 4th or 5th date…

TL;DR: It’s okay to expose oneself to risks of some sin in romancing to avoid habitual falls into unchastity in the long-term.

But if none of this is much of a challenge, then we reach the fifth and final principle…

If you can raise your mind, do that.

The Castration of a Sacrament

Eamonn Clark, STL

As subscribers might be picking up on, I have reached a point where I am starting to speak my mind a bit. This is for a few reasons. Thankfully, I am still prudent enough to keep those to myself… for now.

I have noted with interest since the Pan-Amazon synod the tendency of many “influential” figures in the Church to empty the sacrament of Holy Orders of one of its characteristic dimensions, or offices (“munera”)…

When Jesus is visited by the three Wise Men, they bring Him gifts representing His three offices, as Eternal High Priest: myrrh, representing priesthood or sanctification, frankincense, representing prophecy or teaching, and gold, representing kingship or governance.

As Ven. Fulton Sheen points out in one of the most mature of his works, “Those Mysterious Priests,” every priest is a “little Christ.” He participates in the ministry of Christ the Eternal High Priest. These “little Christs” therefore inherit His offices. They too are given gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Today, some want the gold to be withheld.

We saw this on display in the Pan-Amazon Synod in the suggestions of “reshaping” or “rethinking” the governance of the Amazonian local churches. Laity ought to be able to rule over the ecclesiastical territories and goods, while priests simply move around to preach and administer the sacraments… so goes the suggestion.

This is an attack on the integrity of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is, in fact, a castration.

Let me put it bluntly. One of the deeper reasons why women cannot be priests is that it is more fitting for men to hold positions of governance. That’s not to say that women can never be good leaders, or should never be in charge of public affairs, etc. – but it is to say that this is a deviation from the norm, and world history bears this out. (I leave aside, perhaps for another time, the Western cultural experiment of women “in the workplace” in the sense proper to the West after the industrial revolution. In my opinion, it has not gone well.) The superiority of men for rule is for numerous reasons – psychological, physiological, sociological, and protological (these latter explaining or verifying the others). This hard truth flies in the face of contemporary Western culture, and yet it is right there in St. Paul’s exegesis of Genesis (1 Corinthians 11 – a complex text, for sure, but there is no getting around certain conclusions), among other places in Scripture. And it accords with the common experience and observation of basically all ages and cultures in world history. Men hunt, women gather – that means something for how society is going to work, let alone flourish. More physical strength and subsequent risk taken, more knowledge of the territory, more freedom when raising a child… it all entails a certain kind of right and fittingness to govern. And this is in fact the pattern even before real civilization began. It continues now, though it is a bit more complex.

The protological truths are where really good spiritual reflections can start. For instance, St. Thomas argues1 that a helper is made for Adam (who came first) primarily with respect to generation – he cannot populate the Earth by himself. Men and women, let it be known, have exponentially different capacities for generation. A man can rather easily have thousands of children in a lifetime and have plenty of time for other things (look at some of the pharaohs); a woman can have a few dozen. That is part of why, as I explored recently, polygamy only ever worked one way in the Bible, on account of the benefit of propagating the human race and propagating the Chosen People in particular. So, this is part of the natural power of Adam, and of males: to propagate the human race. Women are critical assistants in this essential task, but they have a far weaker power of generation. That is just biology.

This biological element of the dynamic between men and women in the context of Eden (along with some other elements which I won’t explore today) is a symbol for what the priesthood is. It is an office whereby spiritual propagation occurs by the personal grace of Christ working through the priest, in the Church, His Bride. Sure, Christ’s grace works instrumentally through any person helping another to be more virtuous, but the instrumentality of the priest is different – it is by his own rational initiative that he exercises his priestly ministry as such, infallibly calling upon God to work in him and through him. Like Joshua made the sun stand still, the priest celebrates the sacraments. “There has never been a day like it before or since, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man, because the LORD was fighting on behalf of Israel.” (Joshua 10:14) Really, it is more like when Christ prays to the Father to have a miracle worked, such as the raising of Lazarus: “So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.‘ Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go!'” (John 11: 41-44) This is unlike the charity expressed in a kind word which efficaciously moves a soul to repentance – the causal structure is different. The person who is merely baptized does not “demand” the movement of grace in such an action.

Now, not only is celibacy under attack from those who cannot understand spiritual fatherhood and its ascetic components due either to worldliness, or bad theological education, or sinful lives of their own which they are trying to justify somehow, or outright contempt for the good of the Church, or a combination of these things; the governing function of clergy is being questioned at the highest levels of the Church Militant as well. Often, the same people will put forward both of these two very bad ideas. And, in the extreme cases, they might also propose that women be ordained.

See how it works? See where the root is?

All these things go back (at least in part) to misunderstanding the principle of Adam’s rule over Eve, in relation to Christ’s rule over the Church. Adam is a priest too, a kind of natural priest, the firstborn of material, rational, natural creation – extended later on in Scripture through the so-called “primogeniture” (firstborn) priesthood. Eve is his bride. That spousal dominion, which is “economic” rather than “servile,” we should note, preceded the Fall… it is not a result of sin. Thus, Christ, the New Adam, is a male. Those who participate singularly in His priesthood, who by their office represent His very Person in the administration of grace, truth, and POWER, must be male (and should ideally be celibate, concerned only with spiritual propagation, like Christ).

So we can now see an issue with Cardinal-elect Ghirlanda’s bewildering statement about the new possibility of laity running Roman dicasteries – he argues that it is not a problem, because the “power of governance in the Church does not come from the sacrament of Orders,” but rather from the “canonical mandate,” which, if he didn’t realize it, will always come back to a cleric, whether the parish priest, the local bishop, or the pope. So… the question must be raised… could the pope appoint a lay “vicar for global Church governance” who in practice governs all the world’s bishops, while the pope plays billiards or something? While it is obviously not ideal, is it even possible in theory? It is not so clear. Nor is it clear if the alarming centralization of power in the papacy (pace all the talk about “synodality” and “decentralization”) in the past year or so is entirely legitimate in principle. Understanding what popes are, and what popes are not, which in turn determines their legitimate power and authority, is hopefully going to be a major theological and legal fruit of the period in between Blessed Pope Pius IX and Pope Francis – the period from those who were alive during Vatican I to those who were alive during Vatican II. This age has also seen the end of lay involvement in conclaves (the ius exclusivae) with Pius X – a topic not unrelated to this, but one too complex to broach here, as it opens a very beefy can of worms related to investiture (who chooses/appoints bishops).

As some have already begun to point out, the announcement of – and thankfully, not yet the use of – the “Ghirlandian governance principle” is an attempt at a major revolution in the understanding of Holy Orders and the Church as such, and it seems to run up against the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (in Lumen Gentium specifically), and the Code of Canon Law, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church… While Vatican II is a pastoral and not a dogmatic council, it is also not simply an ideological cafeteria. It is especially annoying when the same people want to appeal to the allegedly unquestionable wisdom and authority of every part of and practical effect of the Second Vatican Council when it suits their agenda, and then jettison things like this because it is not useful to their own ends. (NB: I am not accusing Fr. Ghirlanda of this.)

It turns out that many good clergy resent laity telling them how to govern ecclesiastical affairs on account of those laity being set over those clergy… If we are in fact to follow the teaching of Vatican II, they apparently have got a right sense of their sacramental character. Like Eve is to Adam, laity are critical assistants and cooperators, and they can obviously be great saints, which is the most important thing… but ecclesiastical rule properly belongs to those conformed to Christ in Holy Orders. There could perhaps be individual and extraordinary exceptions in particular cases, but it is not and never can be the norm. To argue otherwise is a castration of the sacrament.

Once again, for my readers in the Second Cycle – this would be a good thesis topic. Distinguishing ecclesiastical governance properly speaking from other kinds of governance (i.e. in religious life) would be a part of such a study.

1 – The biological errors that St. Thomas makes do not destroy the overall argument. Adam didn’t need someone to talk to – he was already talking with God. He needs help making others like himself. Yes, this opens a discussion of why he wants to do this, but the basic point is not therefore fundamentally destroyed.

Adventures in Casuistry: Episode 1 – Sanchez on the Marital Debt, Part 1

Eamonn Clark, STL

May I draw your attention to my newly expanded “research” tab, above on the top right. (Email readers, you have to go to the website itself to see). I have added many links to old manuals of moral theology. The authors are listed in no particular order, and they are mostly files accessible through Google Books. The first volume of what I think is the most relevant moral theology text is what I link to, but other volumes and works are searchable below in the “related” section. It is incredible what is available to all, for free.

Almost all of them are in Latin. And they are generally enormous books, meticulously organized, quite searchable, and, for someone whose mind is “wound tight,” they are extremely satisfying to read.

I have known of the manuals for a while, but only in the past few weeks have I really become seriously interested in working through them – in part because I discovered many of them are available for free online, but also because I have been working on some questions related to sexual ethics… I am astonished to find the wisdom on this topic in the older authors being so rich, so vast, and so entirely forgotten. It is a tragedy. (The blame mostly falls on the myriad of things going on in the 19th century, including, we must admit, the rise of neoscholasticism. The manuals in general started to fall out of favor around this time.)

Therefore, in order to make a small contribution to the recovery of the manualist tradition, which ought to be revived to some extent, and to help expose new students like myself to these treasure troves of theological acumen, I will be posting some texts from them once in a while, with a translation, maybe even a few comments.

Today, flowing from my studies on marriage and sexuality, we dive into Thomas Sanchez, SJ’s immense work on marriage, De Matrimonio, which is one of the most important texts on the topic in the history of theology. It is a HUGE work, divided into 10 books over 3 volumes, with hundreds of questions addressed. Today, we are looking at the introduction to Disputation VIII, in Book 9 (On the Marital Debt), which we find on page 193 of Volume 3.

I am working on my Latin… I start, I admit, with Google Translate, and I go from there. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all my translations, so be aware of that. If you are a Latinist and want to help, please reach out! (NB: I also might skip over some of the citations which authors make, for simplicity’s sake. You can always just look at the text yourself if you want to know references.)

Sanchez, De Matrimonio, Liber IX, Disputatio VIII (Tomus III, 193) [“Introduction”]

Disputatio VIII: An actus conjugalis vitietur ratione finis ad quem referetur? Et specialiter si solum exerceatur propter bonum sacramenti: nempe, ad significandam conjunctionem Verbi cum carne aut Ecclesia?

Disputation VIII: Is the conjugal act corrupted by reason of the end to which it is referred? And especially if it is exercised only for the good of the sacrament, namely, to signify the conjunction of the Word with the flesh or the church?

Hactenus in genere disputavimus, qualiter sit licitus, et obliget conjugalis actus. Jam de circumstantiis, quibus vitiari solet, agendum est. Et primo de finis circumstantia, quae in actibus humanis primum locum obtinet. Et potest esse multiplex finis illius actus, nempe, prolis, reddere debitum, significatio unius Christi cum Ecclesia, aut cum carne, sanitas corporis, vitatio fornicationis, voluptas, aut alius finis extraneos. In praesentiarum disserimus conjugalis licitus est, relatus in bonum prolis, aut in fidei bonum: nempe, dum exercetur gratia prolis habendae, aut servandae fidei alteri conjugi reddendi ei debitum. Conclusio tanquam certissima statuitur a Magistro 4. d. 11 et D. Th. ili q. 2 . a. 2 et universis Theologis: et ab omnibus utriusque juris professoribus cum Gloss. e. Quidquid 31 q. 2. verb. Ab adulterio. Et constat de bono prolis. Quia cum Deus ad multiplicationem generis humani matrimonium instituerit, illo utens ad hunc finem peccare nequit: alias Deus aliquid illicitum instituisset. De bono etiam fidei constat. Quia tenentur conjuges ex justitia ad debitum sibi mutuo reddendum. Quia ergo, ut huic satisfaciat obligationi, ad conjugem accedit, tantum abest, ut peccet, ut potius opus virtutis et obligatorium faciat.

So far we have discussed in general how the conjugal act is lawful and how it binds. We shall now treat of the circumstances under which it is wont to be vitiated. First, the circumstance of the end, which takes place first in human acts. And there may be a manifold end of that act, namely, children, paying the debt, signifying Christ’s oneness with the Church, or with the flesh, the health of the body, the avoidance of fornication, the pleasure, or other external ends. In the present discussion, a married person is allowed to join in the good of the child, or in the good of faith, namely, when he exercises the influence of having a child, or of keeping the faith in return to the other spouse due to him. The conclusion is established as the most reliable by the Master 4. d. 11 and St. Thomas in q. 2 a. 2 and by all theologians. And it is clear about the good of the child. Because when God instituted marriage for the multiplication of the human race, one cannot sin by using it for this purpose: otherwise God would have instituted something unlawful. It is also evident of the good of faith. Because married couples are bound by justice to pay the debt to one another. And because, in order to satisfy this obligation, the man goes to his wife, so far from being a sinner, he rather does an obligatory work of virtue.

Observare tamen oportet minime sufficere, quod actus conjugalis culpae venialis immunis sit ex finis circumstantia, ipsum referre ad bonum prolis. Nam si in prole sistatur, desiderioque habendi successorem ea intendatur, culpa venialis erit: sed proles intendi debet ad cultum Dei amplificandum. Ratio est, quia alias staretur in creatura, nec bonum esset faeramenti. Natura enim bonum prolis intendit, ut in ipsa species conservetur: bonum autem sacramenti exposcit, ut referatur in Deum. Nec inde inferre licet motum naturae malum esse, sed esse imperfectum; nisi ad aliquod sacramenti bonum referatur. Sic D.Th. 4. d. 31 qu. 2 a. 2 ad. 1 Gerson. p.1 in compenio Theologiae tract. de sacramento conjugii, alphabeto 27 litera O. Tabiena Matrimonium 3 q. 2 s. 3

However, it is far from sufficient to observe that the act of a conjugal act is immune from venial guilt, from the circumstance of the end, that it relates to having a child. For if it is ordered towards having offspring, and it is motivated by an intense desire simply to have a successor, it will be a venial sin; but having offspring should be directed to enlarging the number of those worship of God. The reason is, that otherwise it would be only about creatures, and thus would not be well done. For while it is true that nature intends the good of the offspring to be preserved in the species itself, the good of the sacrament demands that it be referred to God. Nor is it lawful to infer from this that the motion of nature is evil, but only that it is imperfect unless it is referred to some sacramental good. Thus St. Thomas 4. d. 31 qu. 2 a. 2 ad. 1.

Nec tamen reminisci opus est in actu ipso conjugali alicujus ex finisbus licitis, sed satis est, si habitu referatur ad illos. Sicut juxta communem. Theologorum senten. id satis est ad meritum. Atque ita D.Th. et Tabien. num. praeced. allegati dicunt erigi, ut proles actu vel habitu referatur in Deum. Ita docent Veracruz 3 p. Speculi, art. 16. concl. 5. Matienz. lib. 5 recop.t.I.rubr.glos.I. n. 105. Led. 2 p.4.q.5 1. ad fi. Quare satis est, si a principio conjuges matrimonium inierint propter hos fines, nec intentionem ipso actu contrariam habeant, ut actus conjugalis in ipsos relatus censeatur. Ut bene docent Led. et Veracr. ibidem, qua de causa dicit Led. excusari conjuges a multis venialibus. Quod optime etiam explicuit Sylvest. verb. Debitum, quaest. 12. vers. 2 ubi dicens ut actus conjugalis meritorius si, referendam esse prolem ad Dei obsequium: subdit id esse verum, licet de obsequio divino nil cogitetur, sed solum de successore. Quia ex quo conjux est in gratia, nec malum finem intendit, virtute refert in Deum.

However, there is no need to remember anything from the lawful ends of the conjugal act itself, but it is enough if it refers to them in habit. It is approximately the general opinion of the theologians this is enough for merit. And St. Thomas and Tabien. say the same. Surely the preceding say that the procuring of offspring may be referred to God in act or habit. Therefore, it is sufficient that if couples from the beginning had entered into marriage on account of these ends, and they did not have an intention contrary to the act itself, then it would be considered related to their conjugal acts. See Veracruz, (ibid.). And it is for this reason which reason Led. says couples are excused from many venial sins. Sylvest. also explains this very well, where he says, that if the conjugal act were meritorious, that the offspring should be referred to the service of God, he adds, that it is true, even if nothing is thought of divine obedience, but only of a successor. Because since he is a partner in grace and does not intend an evil end, he refers the act virtually to God.

Next time, we will continue on with Sanchez and see what conclusions he draws from the foregoing.

Happy Easter, dear readers!

Cardinal Marx is Right… But Mostly Not.

Eamonn Clark, STL

The Catholic blogosphere will no doubt be ablaze with indignation at the German cardinal’s latest attempt at theology. While the Twitterati will certainly make many points about how wrong he is about the “issue at hand,” which he certainly is, they might miss the chance to acknowledge the truth of one element – which is about the status of the Catechism.

Many people would struggle to explain what exactly the Catechism is. That’s precisely because they know it as “the” Catechism, rather than “a” catechism. A catechism is a tool for teaching and explaining the Catholic faith. It is not the Faith itself. Very often people will ask, “Where is the list of things which the Catholic Church teaches?” This is an understandable but misguided question. While it is true that the “matter” of the Faith is propositional, meaning, one can use words to signify its content, there is no “list of propositions” which qualifies as “the official list of all the things Catholics must believe in order to be Catholic.”

This is for a few reasons.

First, Catholic doctrine has “levels,” or “notes,” to use the technical term. In short, some elements of what qualify as “Catholic teaching” are more derivative or less derivative in some way, either from other doctrines (i.e. “the laity may receive the Eucharist,” “Anglican Orders are invalid,” etc.), or from other doctrines set in relation to the observable world (i.e. “St. Clement was the pope,” “abortion is a sin against the 5th Commandment,” etc.). This complicates matters a great deal – should all of what is contained under the category of “teaching” be included? What that even means is rather obscure, unless one wants to restrict this only to those propositions canonized “de fide,” which ends up being a rather short list, even though there are three types of “de fide” propositions.

Second, sometimes what once had a relatively high theological note is reduced to a lower one, to such a degree that it comes into serious doubt; the opposite can also happen, going from a lower note to a higher one. The current example of the former is the possession of the Beatific Vision by Christ during the entirety of His earthly life, which is a hot topic in the literature today. Current examples of the latter include the Marian dogmas – certainly, the Immaculate Conception, which St. Thomas famously argued against, there being the freedom to do so at the time – but also the Annunciation, which has moved up, and now, most especially, the possibility of a definition of a fifth Marian dogma looms far in the distance, which is that of Mary as Mediatrix of all graces. There are certainly limits to the kind of movements or developments which can occur, (such as “de fide” propositions being unable to move downward,) but the fact that doctrine is “mobile” in this way cuts against the logic of a “doctrine list.”

Third, language changes over time, and it can even be ambiguous in the present. To try to set in stone a few propositions in the context of an ecumenical council is challenging enough. To try to do it with “everything” could invite an unbelievable amount of trouble in the distant future, or even the near future. One need only think of the ancient spat over “hypostasis” with the Greeks, for instance, to see how this could be a problem – or even things more recent, like the the moral status of the word “inadmissible.”

So, what does all this mean for Cardinal Marx’s claims? Well, first of all, the “Catechism,” which is more precisely called The Catechism of the Catholic Church, is about as close as one gets to a “doctrine list” of the sort which people usually desire. What is contained in it is very important. It is the first “universal” catechism – formerly, catechisms had only been written locally (such as the famous Baltimore Catechism, written for the USA), or for a particular group (such as the Roman Catechism, which was written for bishops and pastors). This catechism, however, is the one written for everyone – kids, adults, men, women, Brazilians, Japanese, Red Sox fans, Yankees fans… What is in it therefore matters more than what is in other catechisms. Everyone is supposed to be able to rely on it for guidance.

That’s why changing anything in the text of The Catechism of the Catholic Church ought to be a hair-raising prospect. It implies that it was wrong, or at least gravely defective, when the definitive text was promulgated. Now, to reiterate, catechisms are merely tools for teaching the Faith, they are not the Faith itself. However, this is supposed to be the tool which everyone can rely on. It should not be changing every once in a while to suit the latest tastes in language, culture, or theological speculation… in several centuries, it may indeed be time to rewrite the text entirely for the sake of updating the way the Faith is communicated through the words, the expressions, and even the themes emphasized to some extent. But it turns out that changes can indeed be made to the very text of what the Church currently refers to as Her universal catechism, which means in some sense one is allowed to doubt its content qua instrument. That’s where Marx has it right. What makes this so scary is that there is precedent for doing this already, since the capital punishment kerfuffle.

The deeper point to be made is that doctrines do not develop “laterally” – a change in our understanding of femininity, for example, could never contradict the Church’s teaching on Holy Orders being reserved to men alone; were there such an understanding to be developed, that understanding of femininity must be wrong. The Church effectively says, “There is a rock in this path. You can’t go this way. Turn around and try another route.” And, in fact, one can use precisely the same structure of the capital punishment paragraph to justify any sort of “lateral development,” such as is now proposed by Cardinals Marx and Hollerich on homosexuality. If our understanding of human sexuality develops, it must develop without transgressing settled doctrine about the meaning of sexual acts, among other things. (And if the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic immorality of homosexual acts is not settled, then nothing outside the Creeds and Councils is settled, which is preposterous.) The capital punishment paragraph practically functions as a lateral development MadLib. Watch:

“Recourse to the condemnation of all homosexual acts was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain abuses and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.  

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the autonomy of human sexuality is legitimately expressed even in a homosexual relationship. In addition, a new sociological-scientific understanding has emerged of the significance of the structure of the nuclear family.

Lastly, more effective systems of inclusion have been developed, which ensure the due protection of homosexuals and, at the same time, do not definitively deprive them of the possibility of marriage.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the exclusion of homosexual activity in society is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of human sexual autonomy,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

There you have it – the Devil’s blueprint. It’s that cunning, subtle, and disgusting.

So, what is ours? Knowing our faith, praying and fasting for clergy, and keeping our children out of harm’s way – which in many places almost certainly means pulling them from public elementary schools… maybe even the parish schools in some cases. Almost definitely off of TikTok for the younger ones.

Do you know what your children are learning about sex and gender? Are you sure? Ask them what their friends teach them, too… You might be shocked. Can they explain what a boy is? What a girl is? What marriage is and what it is for? Why marriage is a sacrament for Christians?

The Hidden Idolatry in Our Midst

Eamonn Clark, STL

In the past, it has struck me that the sense of sin among even many pious people is skewed in favor of measuring the gravity of sin in terms of its effects rather than in terms of its disorder. The specific example that has come up multiple times relates to the Sixth Commandment, but I will use a slightly different example: the difference between the Eighth Commandment and the Second Commandment. Lying is wrong. But swearing a false oath (perjury) is far, far worse. It is leagues above the most malicious of lies, when such lies are taken by themselves as lies, even though a malicious lie can cause such great damage while one may see no real damaging effect from perjury at all, even most of the time. (By the way, it is perjury that the Second Commandment is really about – not “using bad language,” as is unfortunately taught so frequently.)

Why is perjury so much worse? After all, it is a lie that may or may not have a bad effect, while a malicious lie is designed to harm another and often has such terrible effects. Even taking the cumulative force of the violation of other precepts together with malicious lies as their root (such as the violation of the Fifth or Seventh Commandments), we should note that not only does the Second Commandment rank higher numerically on the Decalogue, at a whopping five places above, but it is actually on the First Tablet. This is because, first of all, it relates directly to our relationship with God and His due honor. Second, following from this, the sin of perjury (“swearing on the Name of God” in a matter which you are lying about) is enormously disordered, much more disordered than trying to harm some mere creature with a lie. When perjuring, one “harms God,” in the way that this is possible. Seeing as the point of human existence is primarily to love God, and that the love of creation is only well-ordered in relation to the love of God first, we can see how a direct assault on the honor of God is much worse than a direct assault on a creature, especially when the sin is the same sort of action. (Sometimes people take false oaths in words without truly meaning to take a real oath – “I swear to God,” etc… This is a terrible habit which must be intentionally rooted out. It is arguably venial sin in itself in the case of mindlessness, but such mindlessness proceeds from somewhere – often a general lack of interest in honoring God and His Holy Name, which reveals a lack of charity.)

Now, onto the real topic for today: the violation of the First Commandment and this sin’s infiltration into the normal lives of so many people. So. Many. People. And no, I do not mean “idolizing sin/money/sex/etc.” I mean real idolatry. Let’s get into it.

One of the few people that St. Thomas specifically names and accuses of sin in the Summa Theologica is the great Roman philosopher Seneca, whom several pages later is relied on, strangely enough, as an authority on gratitude. (Thomas also did not like the Stoics in general, of whom Seneca was a foremost member and representative. In fact, the Stoics are the only group which the Angelic Doctor basically mocks, to my knowledge, for their hypocritical doctrine on the use of pleasure.) The relevant section for us, however, is the II-II q. 94 a. 2 resp., which discusses whether idolatry is a sin.

Thomas quotes Augustine, who himself is quoting Seneca, on the worship of the Roman gods. Here it is: “We shall adore in such a way as to remember that our worship is in accordance with custom rather than with the reality.” Thus spoke Seneca. Well, at least he was honest about what he was doing. Thomas, with Augustine, finds this to be “wicked dishonesty,” especially since Seneca pretended to worship the gods so well that people thought he actually believed.

I was speaking some time ago with a friend about the strange phenomenon of “atheist Jews” who continue to practice the rituals which signify the advent of the Christ. Well, they neither believe in the reality of the Incarnation nor do they actually expect it. It is about custom – a bizarre and grotesque outgrowth of these Jews’ distant ancestors who accosted Jesus for not understanding Judaism because He did not follow the customs they were so fond of. We can say that these ethnic Jews who, unlike their ancestors, do not even believe in God at all, nonetheless pretend to worship God and therefore are in fact idolaters on this account. This is because the outward ritual of the Passover meal, or Succoth, etc., are imbued with a significance so evidently containing the communication of idea of submission, praise, hope, etc. in relation to the God of Israel that these rituals also contain the idea and the objective fact of worship of that very same God. Despite the lack of belief in God, such ethnic Jews pretend to worship Him nonetheless, even if they would insist that they are not doing so. The rites of the old feasts are themselves sufficient to indicate that one is expressing faith and hope in the God of Israel. This is much the same as the Christian lapsi who dishonestly pretended to worship the Roman gods to escape persecution, though those who gave in after much torture certainly have much less guilt than those who were afraid of incurring mild inconveniences. But those who simply outwardly communicate worship (latria) are not only formally giving idolatrous worship (even if it happens to be worship given to the one true God), but it is also, in Thomas’s words, a “wicked falsehood.” (He also attacks the continued observance of the Jewish rites after the age of the Church begins – like that which was promoted by the Judaizers that Paul fought against so vehemently – and though he does not say it is idolatrous, it is nonetheless a “pestiferous superstition.” A wonderful phrase, if I do say so myself.)

And now we come to the real problem. The outwardly devout attendance of Mass on the part of those who lack belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which, in the USA, is about 70% of self-identified Catholics, including about a third who show up every Sunday. Let us investigate.

Christ and the Eucharist are the same, except for shape (“secondary dimensive quantity”) and thus also according to mode of presence (“sacramental presence”/”substantial presence” as opposed to “local presence”), and they differ in the reason for the unity or “concomitance” of the parts (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, whether by “nature” directly as with Christ in Heaven, or in virtue of real concomitance resting the power of the word – which subject Lateran IV dealt with so succinctly). This means that to worship the Eucharist is to worship Christ…

…if one believes in the Eucharist as such. If one does not actually believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, what is happening in such a soul at Mass? He is giving the objective signs of latria, adoration, worship, to what are, in his mind, mere bread and wine, not Christ, though he may see these objects as somehow “representing” or “symbolizing” Christ. Therefore, it constitutes formal idolatry, even though materially, unbeknownst to him, it is materially worship of Christ.

That is the thesis. It needs some qualification, so I will now walk it back a few steps. Of course, most people in such a situation have little to no meaningful catechetical formation. They have never been told that the Mass is a sacrifice, that it re-presents Calvary, that Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist, that the state of grace is requisite for a good Communion, that rendering good worship in the Mass is the highest act of moral virtue which one can do, etc. They have instead been formed by the Protestant culture and liturgy which surrounds them, and, unfortunately, have also been formed by the Protestantization of the Catholic Mass which resulted from the reforms after the last Council, coupled with decades of weirdness and sloppiness in the reformed liturgy. So, despite probably having presented themselves for catechetical formation, it has not been given to them. The average Sunday pewster would be able to tell you aesthetic differences between what Evangelicals or Lutherans are doing in their worship and what Catholics are doing in ours, but meaningful theological differences would be a struggle to explain. It is difficult to see how that is entirely the fault of the individual in ignorance.

It is also the case that the formal idolater hardly understands themselves to be offering worship to the Eucharistic species at all. (Once again, one might point to the reforms as a possible root for this shift, along with the experiments of the following decades.) They simply “follow the crowd,” and they don’t think much more about it.

On the other hand, I once had an experience, when assisting in a parish in the USA, of a group of parents who came to have details explained about their children making their first Holy Communion. I think many of them had their kids with them. The meeting was held in a chapel, with a full tabernacle. I distinctly remember sitting there at the end of the meeting in genuine shock and awe as I watched each one of several dozen people exit the chapel without the slightest act of reverence toward Christ in the Eucharist… What is one to make of this morally? It is the opposite of the phenomenon of kneeling, bowing, and receiving Holy Communion at Mass without faith in the Real Presence. It is worship which ought to be given but is not, which is called irreligion, specifically sacrilege (the failure to honor rightly a sacred object). While it is only a minor kind of sacrilege and is done in ignorance, as opposed to burning a church down intentionally, it is still deeply disordered.

Likewise, when real outward signs of reverence are given, it communicates something about what is interior, namely, belief about the dignity of the object reverenced. One cannot get around this. There is a kind of idolatry, even though done in ignorance, in the person who lacks Eucharistic faith but goes through the motions at a Mass. This, too, exposes an immense disorder in the soul, and in this particular case, especially in the intellect, as one is utterly ignorant of the reality of the Blessed Sacrament. It reveals that one does not know how to give worship hardly at all, even when in precisely the right place at precisely the right moment, and even when doing outwardly the precisely correct things, in the context of the highest kind of worship.

This is a crisis. It is a First Commandment crisis. If we cannot get this right, what else matters?

That is the situation. What to do? More preaching on the Mass, and more vigilance exercised over catechesis in parochial environments, indeed can go a long way. However, I propose there are other remedies as well.

  1. Perpetual adoration, or as close as the parish can get to it. A good introduction to what this is, and why it is done, where much teaching can be done, is the set up for the practice itself, which is always sure to bring many blessings to the community. A culture ought to be built up around keeping watch with Our Lord. Eucharistic processions are good too – the more public the better!
  2. Liturgy needs to be celebrated very precisely and very well. This cannot be emphasized enough – the chief way that people learn what the liturgy is all about is by experiencing it. So if it is anthropocentric, they will learn that Mass is about “me” or “us.” If it is done well, they will learn that it is about Christ, specifically about Christ in the Eucharist – not about music, not about the homily, not about “participation” qua “doing stuff,” and not even about community. It is about what is happening on the altar, and our participation in that act of sacrifice, by prayer, presence, and even by palate – though it is only necessary to receive Holy Communion once a year during Easter, and it is, of course, obligatory to refrain when in grave sin.
  3. Priests and other sacred ministers need to exhibit special devotion before, during, and after the Mass. This is closely connected with, and even identical to some extent, with the point about liturgy being celebrated well. If Father doesn’t bother to genuflect when setting up for Mass, why would anyone think of the tabernacle as anything other than a pretty-looking box? If he handles the sacred vessels like ordinary things, why would anyone think something is special about what they contain? And so on. It is also especially helpful for people to see priests praying before and after Mass. In many parts of the world, this is not customary, once again, due to the exertion of cultural pressure from Protestantism. I would suggest that it is often more helpful for people to see Father praying for a few minutes after Mass than to shake hands on the way out the door… But, alas, one must not be too harsh in the violation of custom, and it is frequently the case that people would never speak a word to Father other than at such a moment. However, if there is more than one priest around, he should greet people, while the celebrant goes to pray. After all, as Canon 909 says: “A priest is not to neglect to prepare himself properly through prayer for the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and to offer thanks to God at its completion.”

The case of formal idolatry, even if watered down somewhat from the Senecan version, is not a sin without enormous bad effects – they are simply distant from their cause. How many people have stopped going to Mass altogether because they don’t see the need for it? How many people make bad communions? How many people never bother to pray directly to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or even reverence Him intentionally, thus depriving themselves and the world of untold amounts of grace? How many people go to non-Catholic churches on some Sundays because they don’t really see the difference? How may people go to Mass a few times a year because of “custom” rather than “reality,” almost like Seneca or the atheist Jews who still observe their ancestors’ feasts out of some kind of nostalgia or sentimentality??? These bad effects come from a lack of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, an enormous disorder. It stands to reason then that over time, if we heal the root, we fix the fruit.

I know how jarring the use of the word “idolater” is. It is out of care and concern for souls that we ought to use precise language, albeit tactfully. Hopefully, these considerations can move things in the right direction for those who read and have the position to preach, teach, and otherwise influence souls.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part III

Eamonn Clark, STL

See parts One and Two

The third great principle: the emotions are not the body.

At this point in our series, some might be thinking, “This is totally unrealistic! You are saying it’s wrong to have feelings!” No, not quite. Let’s dig into the distinctions even further.

Seeing “her” or thinking of “him” is going to cause an emotional response. This emotional response will have its physical effects – the heart, the face, the knees – and there might be an automatic sexual impulse (arousal), or even a kind of “pre-sexual” impulse or pleasure which is even more preparatory, in the body as well that comes along as a result. Insofar as it is not specifically being desired, or there is not some special reason one ought not to be having such thoughts, it is not going to be a moral problem. How to distinguish, then, between the allowance of some feelings and not others? The ego, or the psyche, has its own proper objects for pleasure in a certain way. Consider the thrills which accompany the following statements: “She wants to go out with me!” and, “Maybe he and I really could have a life together!” When mixed with the blameless perception of the good of that individual “as” masculine or feminine (what was described above as “love”), some “overflow” of the emotions into the organs is natural and normal and without blame in itself, as it is simply generally unavoidable when romancing, just like salivating and starting to feel hungry with the cheeseburger. Sometimes, just being around the cheeseburger is enough to get one going.

The emotions experienced by the hope of being paid attention to by HER, or the chance of being emotionally affirmed by HIM, let alone the actual experience of these things, is principally an experience of one’s psyche, of the other person as such, which then overflows into the body in other ways. As long as the point remains to experience the other person socially rather than to have increasingly intense physical experiences within one’s own body, leading to a sexual experience of the other person (even if not yet “physically intimate”), that is, by experiencing the person for the sake of that sexual desire which is growing, one will generally be doing alright.

Rational goods, which all of lower human powers exist to serve, are principally two: truth, corresponding to our intellect, and friendship, corresponding to our will. We will come back to this later, but it is important to note here that the pursuit of these things, in this case the special kind of friendship which romance entails, is what we are created for. All of our emotions, and even our bodies, exist so that we can pursue the truth in a community of friends. This is only perfectly fulfilled in Heaven. But for now, we have our broken world, in which we can find a slice of what is to come in good and solid human friendships, including the intense kind of friendship called marriage, which implies a preparatory and penultimate friendship of courtship or dating.

But there is risk, we should note. The distinction between the social and the sexual leads in the context of the fallen world in which we find ourselves calls to mind the risk of sin, and this takes us onward to the fourth great principle, “risks can be justified by proportionate rewards.”