Seven False Messiahs – Which one do you believe in too much?

Eamonn Clark

The little writing I have been able to do outside of normal work has recently been quite fruitful. Allow me to share a schema which identifies seven false messianic paradigms (or expectations of what the Christ is supposed to be or do)… We all gravitate toward one or more of these, and it is the task of the Gift of Understanding to correct these errors (crushing our little mental idols of God), leading us toward the truth rather than imitations of it.

The Messiah is not primarily about any of the following things: politics, rubrics, therapeutics, economics, theatrics, academics, or aesthetics. He is concerned with each, but only halfheartedly, as it were. One can easily identify an “antichristic” figure who would fulfill each of the seven the way we are inclined to desire… But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Politics – This is the paradigm which dominates the Gospels, and its zenith is found in Peter. The Messiah will throw off Roman rule and usher in an age of peace in Israel, and there will be a big Jewish party in Jerusalem. When Peter tells Jesus he is ready to die for Him, he really means it: he will die for this cause which he has fallaciously projected onto Jesus. When he discovers in the Garden of Gethsemane that the political Messiah is not Jesus, his whole world of hopes and dreams collapses – this is not the Messiah Peter signed up for. It is also not a Messiah which can be legitimately invoked to sanction any prudential legislation which a state might have to produce. The things that are God’s are God’s, the things that are Caesar’s are Caesar’s. The Christ does not deign to sanction public policy which exceeds the boundaries of the Ten Commandments – it is beneath Him.

Rubrics – The Pharisees will immediately come to mind with this word, “rubrics.” This is correct, but it is not sufficient… The thought that the Messiah is supposed to keep everyone in line extends beyond the Torah, written and oral, and into normal human behavior as well. Why does God allow people to do evil things? How can grace come through wicked ministers? Isn’t this what the Messiah is supposed to fix? No, no it is not. The Messiah is not these people, after all, and His glory is behind the cloud.

Therapeutics – The encounter with the rich young man is one example of a search for a Therapist-Messiah. Those who merely want the Christ to affirm them rather than challenge them are falling prey to this trap. The Messiah has not come to bring peace, but a sword. The world of discipleship is not a “safe space,” it is a continual high-stakes battle against sin and self-confrontation for the sake of deeper conversion of heart. “Spiritual but not religious” is the apex of this calamitous paradigm.

Economics – The crowds are like the Devil… They want the Messiah to turn stones into bread. The feeding of the 5,000 prompted the crowd to try to take Jesus away to make Him their king (John 6: 15). They are hoping for an endless Divine buffet, not of the Bread from Heaven, but of literal bread. It turns out that the Divine medical clinic was not in the cards either, though such arrangements would certainly have improved the temporal quality of life of, well, everyone. But civic works, as nice as they are, are not what the Christ has come for.

Theatrics – We’ve had the bread, so what about the circuses? Again like the Devil, the crowds always want a show. They want signs… meaning spectacular outward manifestations of Divine power. But this didn’t work for their forefathers in the Desert, and it will not work for them either, for miracles not only aren’t the point of the Messiah, they do not even of themselves suffice to create faith.

Academics – Those who regularly pray the Office of Readings might recall St. Francis Xavier’s scathing critique of the scholars in Paris… Surely, to turn the Christ into a mere object of study and intrigue is a deadly error. We might think of Herod as a prototype, who loved to listen to John the Baptist, but would not repent, and who longed to see Jesus for some time out of curiosity (which plugs into theatrics as well). The Messiah has not come simply to be an interesting point of debate, He has come for something greater. To reduce faith to study and learning is, therefore, a colossal error. Faith is the result of grace.

Aesthetics – Finally, we have a kind of catch-all error. In general, the Messiah has not come to create a certain kind of experience of God. “Stop holding on to me,” the Risen Lord tells the Magdalene… The Kingdom is not of this world, it is of eternity and consists in grace – it is a silent and invisible reality, at least for now. No fire or storm or earthquake is necessary. While we might point to some ancient errors and movements as examples of aesthetic errors, surely we can acknowledge some in our own day, such as certain attitudes which can surround the liturgy (with both libs and trads) or spiritual growth in general, such as I have discussed elsewhere. The Messiah is not about creating certain feelings or experiences, nice as those may be.

More false paradigms could possibly be added, though these will suffice for today. It is also a worthy endeavor to explore various combinations of these errors to see what kind of behavior and mindset they cause when working in tandem, such as with so-called “moralistic therapeutic deism“… But I will leave that to you the reader to do for yourself.

What, then, is the Messiah really about? In what does “messianics” really consist? Well, it is partially concerned with the 7 things above… But only indirectly. Christ is concerned with economics, for example, but it is not the primary mission. He is really concerned with how people relate with laws and protocol, but again, that is not the fundamental point.

The Messiah is Revelator and Redeemer. He gives us doctrine ordered to salvation, and then He actually offers us that salvation through Himself. All other activities of the Christ center around and are ordered to revelation and redemption – showing the way to God, or helping us to walk it. That road is narrow, but its gatekeeper is the real Christ… The wide road has a different gatekeeper, who also is concerned with politics, economics, and so on, albeit in a direct and fundamental way – it is the Devil, or the antichrist, wherein we see fine temporal “leadership,” but a terrible eternal friend.

A Radical Suggestion for the Roman Curia

Eamonn Clark

If you didn’t know, there is an ongoing breakdown in American comedy. It is increasingly censorious, politically biased, and generally unfunny. The most recent high profile example is the as-yet-unresolved Oscars hosting debacle… A very long list could be made of such things in the past few years, but the current content of late-night shows speaks for itself. Here’s a great interview on the subject (mild language warning):

Also, if you didn’t know, the papal court used to have a full-time comedian, or jester (a bit more than just a joke-teller), just like many other royal courts. Shortly after his election, Pope St. Pius V, of happy memory, suppressed the office of the papal court jester. Note that he did not just go find a less outlandish, less challenging, and less funny jester, but he removed the office. He had his reasons, and knowing Pius V, they were good reasons… The court has serious business to attend to, and also, having a jester makes the court look very much like a secular king’s court, which could be scandalous.

As everyone knows, jesters are to make people laugh (among other things). In doing so, they provide a little levity amidst the tension – no doubt needed these days in the Roman curia. But humor-based laughter is an overflow of the rational faculties into the senses based on some kind of dissonance being pointed to… In other words, the most important function of the jester (or comedian) is to say what everyone is thinking but nobody else will say because they are afraid to – or are perhaps unaware of the absurdity of some set of contradictory realities. He is supposed to cut right to the heart of the issue, albeit in a roundabout way that shows the ridiculousness of it all. How useful would this be today…

The jester is fundamentally a truth-teller. And to fire a jester for a biting joke would only make the joke all the more powerful… After the pope himself, nobody’s speech is more protected than the jester’s. He can say what needs to be said, and nobody can punish him without making himself look like the real fool.

453 years is enough seriousness. Ease the tension. Tell the truth. Get a jester.

Why the CDF’s latest document on hysterectomy is CORRECT

Eamonn Clark

It just came to my attention this evening that the CDF has issued a response to a dubium about special cases of hysterectomy. It will likely be a controversial document. Unfortunately, the current milieu in the curia has led to a general distrust of “official theology.” But despite the seeming laxity of the response, to me it seems correct.

HERE is the document, and HERE is the 1993 document it makes reference to.

Here is my first go at a written breakdown of the issue of the removal of a gravid uterus rendered permanently incapable of sustaining pregnancy to the point of fetal viability. If it seems a little rushed, it’s because it is a little rushed. Apologies in advance. And if you see that I’m missing something major, let me know in the comments. (But despite the current climate in moral theology, we should still gently err on the side of going along with the CDF, lest we fall into sinful temerity.)

First point: gestation is not part of the procreative faculty. The document does seem to use this language at one point (“no longer suitable for procreation”), but it is easy to explain this as an indirect or qualified use of the expression. There is no magisterial document teaching about this precise point about which I am aware, but it seems quite plain that procreation is the act of bringing a human being into existence through the reproductive organs. The object of gestation is a human being so conceived. Therefore, procreation occurs prior to gestation in the womb. (This also has ramifications for the licit treatment of frozen embryos, but we will not get into that debate here.) The procedure is aimed at the womb precisely insofar as it is an organ of gestation.

Second point: the subjective psychology of the act of hysterectomy has a definitive moral significance in this case. What one really desires to achieve by the action matters, and so provided that the principle of totality is respected (meaning a sum good is done to the human being), doing material damage, even directly causing the corruption of an organ that is part of a faculty one foresees using in some capacity later, is admissible, so long as the corruption of the faculty itself is not intended as such and no greater evil is occasioned outside of that substance (viz. the person being operated on).

Third and most important point: the procedure does sterilize the woman, but it is actually a choice in favor of preventing vain gestation rather than in favor of sterilization. If the sterility of this same woman is presumed upon in any future conjugal act, accidental material sterility becomes contraceptive sterility. (In other words, permanently sterile people must still retain a willful openness to the possibility of life in each sexual act, regardless of its actual possibility through natural means, and so too must procedures which happen to cause sterility be done only for non-sterilizing reasons if one is presuming to use his or her sexual faculty in the future.) If we presume that sterility is not a motivating factor in choosing to do the procedure, but is rather just a side-effect, we are left facing the question of implantation… To make this clearer, suppose a woman somehow discovers immediately that she has conceived. The embryo begins to travel toward her severely compromised uterus, where it may implant but will certainly not come anywhere close to term, dying after just 3 or 4 weeks. In the few hours she has, it is possible for her to have the procedure. (Perhaps this is the scenario which we can consider as paradigmatic, or else we are liable fall into the trap of turning the procedure into an act of contraceptive sterilization.) The hysterectomy will indeed prevent implantation, saving the woman some pain and suffering, but it will also cause the child’s life to be shortened by several weeks. The child himself is not positively or actively attacked, as in a salpingostomy or craniotomy, but rather he is prevented from reaching the temporary safety of the uterine wall by that organ’s removal; an action is done to the woman which causes an indirect abortion, such as might occur in a salpingectomy done in response to an ectopic pregnancy. It is then merely a case of weighing the goods, provided sufficient certitude has been reached about the condition of the womb and there is no possibility of saving the child by some other means (like an artificial womb). So, which is worth more – the possible few weeks of preborn life of the child, or the possible inconvenience of the mother, who will be mentally tortured the whole time about the impending doom of her child, in addition to other pains and expenses? It seems usually that the hysterectomy has the stronger case.

A final point for further consideration of this case… The foreseeable possibility of baptizing the preborn child could potentially change the moral decision. But because of the lack of a clear timeline for the child’s preborn death, among other possible medical complications, it does not seem evident that it should be high on the list of considerations. This issue also brings up other soteriological problems which are too much to explore here, so this will be it from me on this question for now.

Keep your eyes open for discussion on this text… Many are likely to see it as something that it is not. You heard it here first.

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

Shameless Plug #2

Eamonn Clark

I am helping to produce content for the brand new YouTube channel for the Thomistic Institute at the Angelicum. It’s great!

Minutes ago, we published a fantastic talk by Dr. Ed Feser:

The other talks from that conference will be coming in the next few days. (They are great.) We also have uploaded talks from the inaugural conference of the year, all available if you click HERE.

We also recently hosted Justice Alito, though no recordings were allowed. (I did help the Secret Service get a door open, though, so there’s that!) Much more to come after the New Year. Get yourself the best Christmas gift ever and SUBSCRIBE to the channel – and to this blog if you’ve not!

The New Battle for Canaan

Eamonn Clark

About 3,300 years ago, Moses died on Mount Nebo, as a symbolic punishment. I have been to the spot and looked out at the land of Israel from afar, just what Moses would have seen. (A picture I took is above.) It was a hazy day, making it difficult to see everything.

The death of Moses occasioned the rise of his disciple Joshua (Hebrew “Yeshua”) who was commissioned to lead the Jews finally into this mysterious land of Canaan beyond the Jordan, their inheritance by Divine right. Joshua leads a ruthless campaign against the pagan occupiers of the land. (Here is where many of those “difficult” passages of Scripture are found…) The point of the violence is to drive out idolatry from the new home of God’s Chosen People, lest they be tempted to go after other gods. The First Commandment is first for a reason: it is the most important. If you do not worship the one true God, your natural virtue comes to nothing – the fundamental orientation of your life is wrong. To safeguard from such egregious sin, Joshua is given this task of purification.

While Joshua destroys most of the idol cults, he does not succeed fully. A remnant of paganism remains, and this remnant will lead many Jews astray. The predominant goal of the Prophets is precisely to condemn this idolatrous activity, especially on the part of the Kings. Eventually, Israel’s unfaithfulness is so bad that the Temple is destroyed and they are kicked out of the land of Canaan, exiled to Babylon – a wake up call if there ever was one.

What does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?

With the end of the Old Covenants, the Old Law, and the prophetic tradition, characterized by the figure of Moses, there comes a New Joshua – Jesus. In fact, the name Jesus is actually just a different appropriation of the same name, Yeshua. The fierce battle cry of the mighty Joshua is no match for the gentle coos of the little Christ child. The pagan warriors of Canaan may have trembled at the one, but the demons trembled at the other.

When the mythological tradition of the Ancient Near East is recalling the death of the gods (winter), the God of Israel is being truly born. (Yes, I do think that December 25th is the correct date of the historical Nativity, just like Benedict XVI.) The one true God will later die in the spring while the pagan gods are rising, but He will rise too. He has conquered them. But sin continues… There is still a war to fight.

The ongoing battle of the new Joshua is not the exterior Canaan, it is the interior one. The Christ comes into our mysterious hearts and seeks to purify them of idols that lead us into sin and worldly attachment, even at the expense of our suffering. This war is fought with grace and love rather than swords and arrows, and if we do not surrender we will win a battle that condemns us to dwell on the Nebo of the hereafter, always looking at the real Promised Land, longing for it, and never being able to enter.

However, if we welcome the New Joshua to be born into the Canaan of our souls, and if we let Him do the painful work of purification, we will see the New Jerusalem clearly and enter in.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

St. John of the Cross, pray for us.

Practical Chastity

Eamonn Clark

“Oh Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”

The words of a wizened St. Augustine, reflecting on the prayer of his younger heart, are deeply insightful. They reveal us to ourselves, no doubt, and they give us a hint as to the path forward in our own journey towards sanctity: we must become chaste now. Not next week, not tomorrow, not this Lent, but right this very moment. 

Where to start? Well, first it will be helpful to recognize that lust is a sin which must be faced by getting away from the delight toward which the passion moves. As St. Thomas says, some sins must be fled from due to the sweetness of their object, while some sins must be faced by meditation on the opposing good (like how the slothful person should consider the goodness of spiritual things and thus be more drawn to them). All this is to say, the first step on the road to chastity is to step away from the cliff. In other words, remove the occasion of sin, or at least make the occasion as weak as possible. Here are just a few suggestions to consider.

  1. Put the computer by the window, or in a common area, or use some monitoring program.
  2. Take cold showers.
  3. Avoid “attractive” people who are off-limits.
  4. If you must associate with such people, don’t drink alcohol around them.
  5. When tempted to unchastity, pray a rosary, or sing a pious hymn, and then make a decision about whether you still want to sin… You are quite likely to be repulsed at the thought.
  6. Go to bed tired, but more importantly, get out of bed when you wake up. No lazing around.
  7. Purge your life from things which remind you of or move you toward unchastity… images, books, music, etc.

But sometimes this isn’t enough. Sometimes the passion creeps up, and the fire burns, and you’ve done nothing to occasion it. Then what? Well, run away. And I mean this quite literally. You see, the urge to the preservation of the species (the sexual urge) is strong, but the urge to self-preservation is much greater. To put it another way, make yourself uncomfortable by some kind of ascesis – recovering from pain is much more urgent than the pursuit of pleasure. The body will work to get back to “equilibrium” before reaching for a further good.

  1. Physical exercise. Nobody ever had an unchaste thought after a hard work-out. This also releases endorphins. And endorphins make you happy.
  2. Fasting. The old penitential manuals recommend it as well!
  3. Some other acute (but minor) self-affliction, like holding your breath, biting your tongue, etc.

Beyond moderate ascetic practices, generally making yourself (ideally keeping yourself) busy is helpful. Even simply getting up and moving around can distract the body and mind enough to drive out temptation. On top of this, here are some more “spiritual” remedies…

  1. Laughter. As an overflow of a delight of the rational soul into the senses, laughter is an extremely effective cure for lust.
  2. Cultivating humility with respect to an off-limits “person of interest,” such as realizing that they almost certainly don’t have the same feelings for you and never will, and that they would be horrified if they knew your desires. Seeing as the entirety of the natural “social” pleasure annexed to carnal pleasure is derived from the ego, this can be huge.
  3. Frequenting the Sacraments, especially confession, addressing struggles openly and with special resolution to amend your life in this regard.
  4. Prayer, especially placing yourself under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, even in an urgent moment of temptation.
  5. Resisting despair. One of the “daughters” of lust is a deadening of any desire for spiritual goods (which can become full-blown acedia in addition to serious violations of the 6th Commandment). The pursuit of chastity can also be very difficult, and therefore frustrating. This means that hope, as both the desire for the good of Heaven and the trust that the necessary help will be given to reach it, is a fundamental enemy of lust, and it should be cultivated through prayer, spiritual reading, healthy friendships, and an unwavering confidence in God’s mercy and desire to satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 4

Eamonn Clark

See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. We’ve looked at homosexual cliques and various kinds of cover-ups. Now we turn to the Second Book of Samuel to do some psychology.

2 Samuel 13

In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. [Incest is wrong, in part, because a general allowance for it would cause such intense love so as to blind the lover – and the beloved would be too frequently present. And how blinded Amnon becomes.]

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. [The exterior illness is a sign of the interior illness. His repressed feelings, which have not been dealt with by appropriate counsel and prayer, physically hurt him. How will this tension be resolved? We shall see…] She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. [Like the average creep, Amnon is a secret admirer, held back only by societal expectations. Unlike the average creep, his desire is for something particularly wrong in itself – relations with his half-sister. What does the perverse aspect of his obsession do but tend toward guaranteeing its severity? After all, perversion doesn’t usually “stick” with people who only dabble with it… They go “all in,” so that it might become normalized in their mind.]

Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. [As many therapists are, no doubt. But many times, therapists are sought when only God and His grace will suffice.] He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” [Confession of such deep, dark secrets can attach a person to the therapist. It creates an inordinate trust… Unless one is confessing to God, that is! But now, Amnon is in Jonadab’s hands.]

“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. 11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” [An appropriate intimate social situation – which is reminiscent, we should notice, of the Mass, despite clear differences – is distorted and turned into an inappropriate sexual intimacy through a violent exploitation of the victim… Does this sound familiar?]

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. [Tamar is the precursor to such saints as Maria Goretti – she is not only concerned for herself, but she is also concerned about the sin of the rapist and the glory of God in Israel, even going so far as to offer marriage as an alternative to this immediate gratification. She is a paragon of feminine holiness. Amnon’s desire is surely due in part to such devotion – and that goodness has been twisted in his mind from something to be enjoyed through spiritual friendship into a mere source of carnal and egoistic pleasure. The exertion of himself over Tamar is a pathetic and disordered attempt to revel in her own goodness and innocence.]

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!” [Tamar’s presence now represents Amnon’s egregious sin to him. His fleeting pleasure has passed, and now he is faced with the shame he has brought upon her and himself – and he cannot deal with shame upon himself through repentance, so he becomes zealous for “appropriate separation,” shall we say. Those who wonder how a certain former cardinal could have led the charge against sex abuse – while working to make sure that bishops themselves were not included as being held accountable – can perhaps find here a similar psychological phenomenon at play.]

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. [Here is a great symbol for victims of abuse, no doubt.]

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. [There is perhaps excuse for delayed action, as this all happens within the same family… Whatever the case, the analogy fails with clergy, who are not closely united by flesh and blood but rather by common offices and mandates. The diocesan bishop does not take the place of King David – he does not let “brother priests” behave in this way – nor “brother bishops.”]

23 Two years later, when Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there.24 Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?”

25 “No, my son,” the king replied. “All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing.

26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us.”

The king asked him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king’s sons.

28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. [Things ultimately do not end well for Amnon, who never repented, it seems, but rather presumed to be in good standing with his brother, going for cocktails after not speaking with him for two years. And yet, should we think that Absalom’s tactics were justified? He took justice into his own hands and murdered his brother – a member of the royal house.]

King David mourned for Amnon, and then Absalom ran away eventually tried to usurp the throne, ending with his own dramatic death. Those who are overly zealous to stamp out evil among their brethren are indeed running a similar risk as Absalom – to retaliate rashly, occasioning the swelling of pride and presumption which ends with spiritual ruin.

Thus ends our little series on “Scripture and the Crisis.” If you enjoyed, please subscribe and share! I will soon begin a similar ongoing commentary on the Gospel readings throughout the week – not necessarily Sundays, but just the ones I find particularly appealing to write on, specifically for the sake of showcasing the kind of theology which I am hoping to help revive and advance… Stay tuned.

Prophets in Israel

Eamonn Clark

A little prophetic history to mull over on your Monday…

When Israel entered Egypt, it took them 430 years to escape and get to Canaan. Solomon’s Temple is around for about 430 years. After the Exile, Malachi is the last of the prophets, for… about 430 years, up until John the Baptist (or arguably the ones giving us any of the Lucan canticles – but really John is the culmination of the prophetic tradition).

What does this mean? At least 3 things…

1 – God has a plan, and it involves patterns. Numerology is not necessarily “superstitious,” and it deserves serious consideration in the study of salvation history. God knows that we like patterns and that we are inclined to look for them and understand things by them, so it stands to reason that He would use them, just like other natural inclinations (like mythic archetypes, bodily communion, etc.)

2 – These ages are mirrors of each other in some way. I leave that for your own reflection… Deserts, places of prayer, spiritual patronage… and those things’ beginnings and ends.

3 – You can’t fake being a prophet in Israel. One would think that if you could, it would have happened at some point in 430 years. But it didn’t. Prophets were truly extraordinary teachers and preachers with the grace of God ensuring the success or at least the authority of their prophetic career.

The Ideal Seminarian

Eamonn Clark

With much discussion these days about seminary reform, here is a partial description of what the ideal seminarian is like…

He rises at 5 every morning, works and prays until midnight, and gets 8 hours of sleep.

He is in great physical health and has perfect hair, but he is not too concerned about his appearance.

He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Faith, but he takes rigorous notes in all of his classes.

He never crosses a superior, but he takes frequent initiative and always stands up for what he thinks is right.

He visits his apostolate more than he is required, prays two holy hours per day, never misses class, and does all of his assigned reading. He is studying at least one extra foreign language, reading a classic work of literature, and cultivating a hobby. He is frequently recreating with the other men, does overtime on his house job, and is always free to drive the rector somewhere.

His formation priorities are perfect: spiritual above intellectual, intellectual above human, human above pastoral, and pastoral above spiritual.

He has perfect Latin and loves the liturgy, but he is not “too traditional.”

He knows secular and ecclesiastical politics inside and out but has no opinion on any of it.

He is a connoisseur of fine wine and spirits, but he never drinks.

He never wears clerics when others are not, and he always wears them when others are.

He had an extremely successful career in the world, had a healthy and steady relationship with a beautiful woman, hit “rock bottom” in some way or another, recovered, and gave it all up to go to seminary. And he is only 25.

He follows the rules of the house perfectly and gently calls others to account, but he is not rigid.

He is handsome, manly, and sociable around women, but he is never hit on and is never flirtatious.

He is always nicely dressed, his car always works, he never asks the diocese for money, but he is just a poor seminarian who lives a life of simplicity.

His parents taught him everything he knows about being a Christian. So did his parish priest. So has the formation program.

Lessons for the Church from the Kavanaugh Debacle

Eamonn Clark

In the past few years, it has become evident that a vast number of people, including some average pew-sitting Catholics, do not understand the value of jurisprudence – that is, the principled examination and judgment on some matter of justice by a legitimately authorized party. The show-trial of Justice Kavanaugh is a wonderful case-study.

By now, there is a mountain of both negative and positive evidence against the claims of the main accuser. (The other accusers have all but been entirely discredited at this point.) To date, there is not a single significant piece of corroboration or verification, and if there were more holes in her story it wouldn’t even exist. (To me it seems like a jumble of “recovered” memories, but I digress.) But somehow this seems not to be enough for 49 U.S. senators, millions of Americans, and many foreign onlookers. To which I say: why?

“It’s not a trial, it’s a job interview – it has higher standards.” This is the claim. Well, fair enough… But we would never want our father, our son, our brother, our friend to be treated in such a way for any reason. We would want for them the presumption of innocence. In this particular case, there is not even probable suspicion (enough for warrants or subpoenas), to make no mention of a preponderance of the evidence, the step below what is necessary for conviction (“beyond a reasonable doubt”).

It is different with Kavanaugh because, despite his (appropriately) evasive answers regarding the matter, he is obviously not a champion of the pro-choice cause. It is this unwelcome ideology which primarily motivated the grossly unjust and immature tactics that are clear to all who don’t have a devotion to Roe and the DNC platform in general.

What does this have to do with the Church?

There are many, many bishops and clergy who have unwelcome opinions (whether heterodox or not). Some of them are very powerful and enjoy great public respect, and nonetheless they have been accused of allowing or covering up bad things (like… sexual abuse), or they have been accused of such things themselves. (Frankly, it is surprising that nobody tried to tie Kavanaugh to McCarrick, given that the former has been a prominent Catholic in D.C. for many years. Maybe that would have come eventually: “He knew someone who knew what McCarrick had done, therefore he was guilty of helping to conceal abuse! We must investigate!” Etc.) We are watching our own investigative debacle unfold with the Viganò accusations (and beyond) about similar issues… And we are facing a litany of coming grand jury reports in the USA.

Some accused clerics are guilty. Some of them are not. We all know this. What is challenging is some principles of jurisprudence, especially when applying them outside the courtroom. So perhaps this is a good moment for the Church to reflect on what we all just watched happen in the USA. There are many lessons to take from the Kavanaugh debacle.

Lesson #1: Truth is not the only value in investigations

We’ve heard that “if finding the truth is all matters” then the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh would have been open-ended (viz., endless, thus destroying or at least severely limiting his chances of confirmation). The problem is, prescinding from any partisan desires about what the truth is or when and how it should be found, finding the truth is not all that matters. Fairness matters as well, given that the truth must be found through a process. Sometimes, what must be done to find the truth, or to get as close as possible, involves unfairness. This is why, for example, evidence obtained by unlawful search and seizure is inadmissible in court, even if it could demonstrate the defendant’s guilt. Even though everyone knows the defendant is guilty, it’s impossible to convict him, because if that’s done, then the entire set of principles of search and seizure laws falls apart. But sometimes an unfair process is used against a person who is innocent.

All well and good for criminal convictions, but one can’t unsee incriminating evidence. However, a weaker version of the principle of the presumption of innocence should pervade the formation of our opinions of those accused of terrible crimes. We should, in fact, usually suspend judgment until sufficient evidence comes forward and/or the accused has a chance to speak. In the meantime, we don’t get to ruin someone’s life, either by publicizing our ill-formed premature judgments in favor of the accuser or by digging into every crevice of the accused’s personal life, especially if we are putting it on public display.

This includes priests and bishops and other church officials… Investigations need to follow a reasonable path of questioning which, at some point, needs to be terminated. The goal should not be to find corroboration/substantiation – because if there is no such evidence, the investigation will never finish…

Lesson #2: Reputation is extremely valuable

St. Thomas puts the value of a good name under the value of life and over the value of physical possessions. (By the way, his Question on Unjust Accusations is also relevant – and it is really dynamite.) Once taken away, a good name normally can’t be regained except with extreme difficulty.

I’ve linked to this article from Homiletic and Pastoral Review before, but here is a quick summary:

Publishing the names of clerics who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse is pointless, arbitrary, harmful to morale among the clergy, and, depending the standard used, egregiously sinful.

To take a diocese named in the HPR article, a current statement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore exemplifies the lamentable sort of tendency to put “accountability” above basic norms of jurisprudence. A document produced in response to a recent “listening session” in the Archdiocese lists several gravely problematic items, such as:

“Since 2002, the Archdiocese has disclosed the names of credibly accused priests at the time the allegations became known. Their names have been updated to the original list, which is posted on the archdiocese’s website.”

The central problem here is this: who decides what “credible” means, why is it that person or persons, and how do they determine that credibility? It is a mystery. I won’t go through the entire argument which the HPR article presents (it is really worth reading for yourself), but suffice it to say that this is a fatal flaw. It is especially absurd to say that the allegations are published as soon as they become known – taken at face value, this means that a judgment is made instantly about the credibility of an accusation, supposedly meaning that it meets the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, without even hearing the accused give any kind of defense or seriously weighing the available evidence before possibly helping to ruin a person’s good name unnecessarily. Perhaps Baltimore has a very thick and subtle manual of how to determine “credibility” which is meticulously followed and they are here overstating or poorly stating their approach, but no such manual is referenced. (This same document does mention a “lay independent review board,” but it is unclear about its role in determining “credibility.”) It leaves the impression that their process is astonishingly imprudent and grossly unjust. Beyond that, it is not even clear what good publishing these names actually accomplishes, which is in part why basically no company, anywhere, ever, has had such a policy for their employees.

“The Archdiocese hosts a public meeting when a priest or other minister of the Church in active ministry is credibly accused of abuse.”

Why? So that anyone with an interest in harming that person or the Church in general has a chance to capitalize on an allegation? (This is exactly what we saw happen with Kavanaugh… Publicity can encourage a dog pile if it’s the right person being accused. Wicked people see that this is their chance to get some money, hurt a cause, forward an agenda, draw attention to themselves, etc.) It seems outlandish to do anything other than launch a discrete formal inquiry among trustworthy people who might have relevant information and who can keep their mouths shut about the investigation.

“There is zero tolerance for anyone found to be credibly accused of abuse. Anyone who is credibly accused of child sexual abuse is permanently removed from ministry.”

Leaving aside the weirdness of switching from the extremely vague word “abuse” to the still vague phrase “child sexual abuse,” we return to the central question: who decides what “credible” means? And what if it comes out that the accuser was wrong? Surely, it would not mean a “permanent” removal then, right? If there is a process of appeal and reinstatement, why use such threatening language? It reads like a juvenile smokescreen at best, and a draconian strong-arm at worst.

Much like secular liberals’ use of the words “tolerance” and “equality,” so do some dioceses use words like “accountability” and “transparency” – if you are on the “wrong side” of someone’s desires or opinions, you will be made to pay dearly. There is then “zero tolerance” for you. But no mention will be made of “zero tolerance” for false accusers, or unfair investigative practices, or unnecessary publicity. St. Thomas’ take on false accusations is worth explaining briefly: basically, if an accuser is unable to prove what he says, he should be sentenced just as the defendant would have been if found guilty. Now, perhaps it should be subject to a slightly lower standard than a conviction (such as preponderance-of-the-evidence), but this is a serious suggestion from a serious thinker which seems entirely forgotten. It would deter frivolous accusations and opportunists.

At any rate, the approach of dioceses like Baltimore is more akin to Lady MacBeth washing her hands than to balanced self-policing. And I have seen this intemperate attitude cause serious harm. The righteous intention to protect the vulnerable is achieved by adopting a strategy which is something between ritual purity and a witch-hunt. And given that scandal-plagued Maryland is now facing a Grand Jury investigation, this is all the more relevant for poor Baltimore.

Note too, by the way, that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in fact did not attempt to give us a list of priests found guilty of sexual abuse, except indirectly. (Nor will any other similar report in the future.) It gave us a list of “church personnel” who were accused of “sexual abuse” (a vague term) in a way the investigators thought credible enough to include in their investigative report. That is quite a different thing. Consider, for example, the report’s inclusion of an allegation against Fr. Ganter, who was born in the 1800’s… The incident supposedly happened some 80 years ago. And yet his name is among those “credibly accused,” even though he’d been falsely accused in the 40’s by three kids who later admitted they had lied. Perhaps the Grand Jury conflated “realistic” with “credible” – an easy but disastrous mistake.

Lesson #3: The opinions of survivors are not sacrosanct

As I pointed out in another post, experience is not the same as wisdom, and this error is pervasive in the Left. (Experience is especially not partial-omniscience – as if being a survivor of sexual assault means you know what happened 36 years ago in an unknown house in suburban D.C.) Having been through some experience simply does not make a person an expert on the objective causes and effects of that kind of event. A child who grows up in a war may indeed be able to describe what it feels like to be afraid of bombs every night, but he might not be a wise counselor to a General fighting a war. In fact, his own experience might blind him to the broader picture. For example, he may be so empathetic to kids like him that his advice to forego an attack with a moderate risk of collateral damage would occasion the enemy’s victory, resulting in far more damage than what was avoided.

As we saw with the unending barrage of feminist activists in the news, this is not so popular a doctrine. Especially remarkable was the encounter with Sen. Flake and some women who accosted him in an elevator, which occasioned the supplementary FBI investigation. I suppose the argument is, “I was abused by someone once, therefore Kavanaugh is guilty of abusing this other person.”

It is surely important to give a forum for survivors to speak their mind, to tell their stories, and generally to feel heard and consoled. However, one need not have survived a sexual assault to know how to investigate an accusation of sexual assault. And sometimes people further removed from an experience of abuse have a clearer mind on the issue, as there is no projection of one’s own experience onto other cases which might be quite different in nature.

Lesson #4: We are not so holy

As I recall the story, one day, an elderly St. Francis of Assisi was praised by a man for being a living saint. His reply: “I could still father many children,” implying not that he still just might get married one day and have a big happy family, but rather that he still just might become a monster. The moral is twofold – don’t definitively praise a man’s virtue until he’s dead, and don’t presume that you are beyond stooping to any level of sin. A corollary would be to see another’s failings in light of one’s own experience of sin… (There was one senator in particular who was troubling in this regard, as he has admitted to groping a girl in high school while she was intoxicated.)

To expect absolute moral perfection from anyone other than God or the saints in Heaven is stupid. It is especially stupid, hypocritical, and sinful to find as many flaws as possible in a person’s distant past to smear his or her character. This is becoming more and more relevant – consider that there might be some young man right now saying dumb things on Facebook who will one day be elected Bishop of Rome.

Frankly, watching the Senate proceedings reminded me of Christ arguing with the Pharisees and scribes – trick questions, a clear ideological agenda, a double-standard, feigned or unjustified outrage, hypocrisy, the bastardization of the fundamental text at issue… But we could all become like that. And all of us would without God’s special grace.

Lesson #5: Tribalism is bad in rational discourse

If one were to remove the letters after the names of the senators involved in the investigations and hearings, and a nameless president had nominated an opinion-less judge, what sense could possibly be made of this whole affair? None, I suggest. Epistemic vice became moral error. An observer to such a politically neutral hypothetical fiasco following the outline of the Kavanaugh debacle would be astounded by some senators’ fanatical commitment displayed to investigating seriously dubious allegations, obsession over drinking habits and notes in a high school yearbook, deep concern about judicial temperament over mild expressions of frustration at being accused of running a gang rape/drug ring and raging alcoholism in front of millions of people without any corroborative evidence, etc.

Targeted anger, imbalanced presumptions, motivated reasoning, double-standards… It’s all very bad, and it’s all very easy to fall into, due in no small part to the fact that fights can be fun and give us a sense of meaning and belonging. We have to avoid it – for the Church, the party lines might be “conservatives” and “liberals,” or “laity” and “clergy,” or “bishops” and “everyone else,” or “my diocese” and “the Vatican.” Well, as it turns out, people are complicated, and so too is human conflict. Tribalism deadens the senses to this reality.

Advocacy groups are a good thing. Lawyers are a good thing. (Incredible, but true.) But mobs are bad. And when advocacy groups or lawyers are indistinguishable from the mob, that’s when you have trouble. There are certainly predatory clerics around, and they have been concealed by other clerics. For sure. But this calls for the use of scalpels rather than hammers – let alone torches and pitchforks.

Lesson #6: Abortion is worth everything to the Left

They are willing to weaponize practically baseless accusations to run a man’s good name into the ground and then some. (This might also include the accuser, who apparently wanted to remain anonymous to the public.) And anyone who does not realize that the whole thing was about Roe v. Wade needs a serious wake-up call. SCOTUS is now a majority pro-life bench… The Leftists are terrified, they are wounded, and therefore they are extremely dangerous. Whom will they come for next to safeguard the great sacrament of the Canaanites? Me? You? Your parish priest? Your bishop? The pope? Be on your guard.

Lesson #7: Sometimes it’s just not worth it

“Reception is according to the mode of the receiver,” goes the old adage. The screaming banshees near the senate gallery, the protesters pathetically clawing at the 13-ton doors of the Supreme Court, or even the folks chanting trite little poems out on the street, are not going to be convinced by reason anytime soon. (Although, to be fair, some of them turned out to be paid to protest, so maybe they could be reached.) They feel like such-and-such is true, and that’s enough for them. Or it’s politically convenient for such-and-such to be true, and that’s enough for them. It doesn’t matter what the actual evidence is…

These people are incapable of being reasoned with, at least for the moment. As St. Thomas would say, it is like arguing with a vegetable. So, what to do? Let the banshees scream, and just do what needs to be done. Maybe eventually they can be reached, but not right now.

Plenty of people are so unbelievably angry with the Church that it is just not the right time to reach them. Some people are angry with moderate jurisprudence for accused clerics. So be it – let them be angry, and meanwhile let’s focus on doing what is truly just. Justice, by the way, is one of three goods which allows for grave scandal, in St. Thomas’ mind, the others being life and teaching right doctrine.

Lesson #8: Beware of false friends

There are many snakes in the grass who are willing to hurt good people by lying about them or otherwise damaging their reputation… Some of them are or have been “friends.”

People who are counting on secular Grand Jury reports to “fix the Church” might be falling into such a trap. Remember that Judas was not only a traitor to his Friend, but he also trusted the government too much. The two sins went together.

It is His Church, not the country’s.

Enough said.

Lesson #9: Men are seriously vulnerable in the #metoo era

This is especially true for priests. I once heard of a bishop who had a policy when he was around kids (which I suppose for him would only be at major public events), which was this: at all times, have one hand on the crosier, and one hand on the pectoral cross… Thus he protected himself from accusations. And many good clergy live in this kind of fear, a fear which is becoming less and less neurotic as the moral panic increases among the laity. They need our support, and anything we can do to help protect them is good – help them retain plausible deniability (like appropriately reminding them of diocesan CYP policies, not putting them in situations where they could easily be accused “credibly” by a mischievous kid, etc.), encourage them to stay beyond all reproach, tell them you trust them. It all helps.

It might also be worth it for clergy to take a cue from Justice Kavanaugh, who has kept a rather meticulous personal calendar for decades (remarkable!) which he produced in favor of his innocence… Names, places, times, activities. Tell your secretary to keep all of it on file, and to correct it if there are any missed appointments, unexpected events, etc. by making a special note. I know I’m considering doing this.

Lesson  #10: God alone is the Just Judge

Any human justice system is going to be imperfect. There will always be procedural rules about due process which occasion the protection of real criminals. There will always be innocent people wrongly accused who are found guilty in a fair trial.

History, strictly speaking, can never be demonstrated. We will never be totally sure about what happened in some house in suburban D.C. 36 years ago. We will never be totally sure about the veracity of any accusation of a crime, as in the end it could always have been a carefully crafted hoax to get someone framed, or an unrealistic truth. And yet we need to do our best anyway.

God, however, does not investigate – He knows, and His judgment is always just.