A Liturgical Autopsy

Eamonn Clark, STL

There is so much to learn about liturgy from Moses and Aaron. What to do, and what not to do. For example, when Moses goes rogue and disobeys God in striking the rock, he makes the whole “liturgy” about him and Aaron, and their power and importance before the people – allegedly to appease them. And it comes about by his effort, his creativity, rather than the power of the word, as God had wanted. Instead of “crucifying himself” with the “rubrics,” Moses “struck Christ,” the bearer of living water, who only needs to be so stricken once, on the Cross… in the liturgy, He provides power in virtue of this singular act. (This symbolic act occurred previously, in Exodus 17:6.) Moses pays for this incident by being forbidden from entering into the Promised Land.

Earlier on, Aaron shirks his priestly responsibility when Moses goes up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 32) He blames the people for the golden calf which he created, after taking their gold to give them a religious experience which was “comprehensible” to them, which would allegedly get them not to abandon the camp. The people do love it, and they feel great. In Aaron’s zeal for numbers, his tribe, Levi, righteously put to death three thousand idolaters, and those who remained were stricken with plague and made to drink the ground up golden powder of the idol with water from the brook nearby.

These are just a few abstract observations of what NOT to do. It is good for reflection. Liturgical abuse, mind you, is a species of the vice of superstition, on St. Thomas’ account. “[F]alsehood in outward worship occurs on the part of the worshiper, and especially in common worship which is offered by ministers impersonating the whole Church. For even as he would be guilty of falsehood who would, in the name of another person, proffer things that are not committed to him, so too does a man incur the guilt of falsehood who, on the part of the Church, gives worship to God contrary to the manner established by the Church or divine authority, and according to ecclesiastical custom. Hence Ambrose [Comment. in 1 ad Cor. 11:27, quoted in the gloss of Peter Lombard] says: “He is unworthy who celebrates the mystery otherwise than Christ delivered it.” For this reason, too, a gloss on Colossians 2:23 says that superstition is “the use of human observances under the name of religion.” He continues, “On the other hand if that which is done be, in itself, not conducive to God’s glory, nor raise man’s mind to God, nor curb inordinate concupiscence, or again if it be not in accordance with the commandments of God and of the Church, or if it be contrary to the general custom—which, according to Augustine [Ad Casulan. Ep. xxxvi], ‘has the force of law’—all this must be reckoned excessive and superstitious, because consisting, as it does, of mere externals, it has no connection with the internal worship of God. Hence Augustine (De Vera Relig. iii) quotes the words of Luke 17:21, ‘The kingdom of God is within you,’ against the ‘superstitious,’ those, to wit, who pay more attention to externals.” How interesting that it is that St. Thomas accuses liturgical abusers of excessive attention to externals, when usually the accusation is just the opposite.

A video of a mass from a parish “cluster” has been making the rounds on the Catholic blogosphere. I usually don’t like watching such things, let alone commenting on them, but this one is singularly bad. It’s like the morbid curiosity of slowing down to look at a bad car crash. Usually, it might be better to just move along. But if you want to know just how bad the liturgy can be while still being valid (a point I will contest with another commentator), it can be informative to watch such things. Then picking it apart can be its own instructive exercise.

Here’s David Gray’s video commentary. He thinks the consecration was invalid. I do not. It feels like it’s almost worse that it was valid.

I don’t doubt there are many sincere souls who are “along for the ride” in this parish community. I don’t mean to be harsh with them. I also don’t doubt the sincerity of the pastor. He probably really does care for his people and wants their spiritual good, and he has probably been helpful for many people in difficult moments of their lives. But… this is the liturgy of Christ and His Church. It is not the personal property of any particular cleric (even of the pope, by the way…), so there is plenty of criticism warranted, despite any good intentions, which I am sure abound. Clergy don’t have plausibly have the option of pleading ignorance of the law of Christ’s Church, even though some of them should be cut a bit of slack due to terrible formation in seminary. Anyway, let’s get into it, with charity.

I don’t want to make this a big list of “things that I notice are wrong,” as it would be too repetitive, but immediately, at the 0:00 mark, one notices certain oddities which will serve as a kind of overture for the liturgy. First of all, the level of sound – it is LOUD and jarring, drawing attention to Father. He wants to talk to people and have a personal connection. It is about him, and it is about “us.” And the whole thing is not particularly serious, so, we’ll talk about the weather. Meanwhile, he is carrying a crozier (or something like one) – he is not a bishop, but he evidently thinks this symbol of authority looks nice on him. Cue the music….

Blech. Okay, we’ve reached the collect and kyrie, which are by the book. And then, homily #1 begins. Father wants you to know that he is really concerned that you understand what you are about to hear, so he is willing to interrupt the whole mass. Okay… not the worst, but it would be better to write a blog post ahead of time for people to read, or hand out something in the bulletin on Sunday, no? Notice too how “gender conscious” Father is, being sure to mention our “Jewish sisters” before our “Jewish brothers,” and then going out of his way not to imply that God is a “He,” lest some chick feel underrepresented in the Godhead. What ultimately animates such thinking is the refusal to accept both nature and revelation about the sexes. God is “He” because He says so, and because the male sex is archetypally related to act or force, and the female sex is archetypally related to passivity or reception. God is not passive or receptive in any real sense, except in Christ in His human nature – with sanctified humanity, by the way, being the Lord’s mystical bride, the Church.

First reading and Psalm. Fine.

11:42 – here comes homily #2. Father wants everyone to know he is being merciful by not using the long version of the difficult letter to the Hebrews. It’s too haaaaaard for you, you sheep of mine.

Second reading.

14:37 – homily #3. Instructions to be spiritual. Okay, not the worst advice, but without the foregoing interruptions and with better music and more reverent silence, that should be easy enough without the reminder.

Gospel, with some weird ad-libbing before and after. The deacon is vested with whatever strange garment Father is wearing it seems, and has a similarly low opinion of the intelligence of the congregation based on the way he proclaims the readings – like it’s story time in 3rd grade.

Homily #4, the main one. It actually starts out okay, a little too 70’s, but some decent points. And then, unfortunately, comes the whopper, at 24:58 – “Pro-life, pro-choice, whatever our values are, we want to involve others in that process…” Hmm. Seems evil. The homily is a moment to instill values, like warning that those who kill the unborn or support doing such do not inherit the Kingdom of God, which he seems to be really interested in promoting, which is good. Then we hear about a plane ride that Cardinal Cupich had and how people being concerned about a mom carrying her baby means the Kingdom of God is here. Weird. Then something about a birth by a swimming pool. Weirder. Then some navel gazing about the parishes in the cluster and asking for money for the capital campaign. Then some rambling. A story to end, which is actually a charming anecdote, but maybe not anonymous enough. Such homilies are almost like conversations, because the homilist struggles to understand that he is not merely a facilitator of reflection but actually a teacher. If such men were to stop inserting well-intentioned but ultimately condescending mini-homilies everywhere in an attempt to instruct people about what is happening and put all that energy into teaching during the homily instead, it would be better.

37:12 – petitions. A little fluffy but not terrible. I do like that they prayed for police. One kudo earned. Then the stupid sheep are reminded that they need to sit now while the gifts are prepared. Kudo lost.

I don’t think I need to address the impropriety of how the altar linens are… arranged.

Presentation and preparation of the gifts. Extremely casual, since, I think, the attitude deep down is that the main part of the liturgy is over. No fewer than EIGHT chalices, as if that is not excessive… but at least they are using precious metals. One kudo.

41:38 – offertory. Major ad-libbing, again with the needless didactism, to remind people of a point which could have simply been made once in a while in a decent homily on what the Eucharist is. Kudo lost. Oh, and the response makes sure not to make women feel excluded from the Trinity, again.

Homily #5, with a happy birthday wish in there. The point here is to make people feel that they are experiencing something spiritual, I guess. One wouldn’t have to try so hard were the liturgy which the Church demands simply executed to the letter, with more silence, better music, and reasonable accoutrements. Laying underneath of this might be some sort of vague Pelagianism – if we aren’t trying, and we aren’t feeling spiritually and socially included, then we aren’t really praying or worshiping God or “participating” enough.

Preface. Read from the book, but very dramatically, as if it is really about the “experience,” not about simply being present as a sacrifice is being offered.

Then – well, I’m not sure what to call this, it is made up. It is not the Sanctus. It is just a weird song, with WEIRD arm swinging. Back to the point about Pelagianism. Epiclesis, then into the Eucharistic Prayer…

Here, we are coming to the very heart of the Mass – usually, even the most liberal guys don’t mess around with this part. Father does, in this case, throwing in the word “friends” where it does not belong. This is egregious sin, but it does not invalidate the consecration – the Words of Consecration are what make or break the validity as to its form. Those words, “This is My Body,” and “This is the chalice of My Blood,” are said correctly. Even these could admit of some small changes without invalidating the sacrament, as long as the central meaning is clearly preserved (i.e. “This is the cup of My Blood”) – but not without committing mortal sin even worse than messing with the parts surrounding this critical moment.

A lot is going on here. There is again the weird didactism (“Let us bow before our God,”) which admittedly is half-necessary, given that the posture of the congregation and assisting ministers is totally inappropriate. There is the distracting – not engaging – looking around the room by Father. There is the – understandable – nonchalance of the one altar server who is visible (who bears minimal blame).

Then, again, the same stupid made up song with the weird arm movements, with some more minor ad-libbing. Then after an overly dramatic Per Ipsum, we get the same song and arm swinging AGAIN. Really painful. Tell me that this parish has produced a single priestly vocation in the past 20 years, and I would be shocked. Who on earth who grows up in such an environment would say, “I want to give up marriage, a career, and self-direction, to do THIS all day”? Maybe there are a few such people, but they are unlikely to be well-balanced emotionally – or psycho-sexually.

Our Father. At least they didn’t say “Our Parent.” One kudo. Then the “Sign of Peace,” which is supposed to be brief and, well, peaceful, lasts over a minute. Kudo lost.

52:54 – Agnus Dei. You will notice that Father is putting Our Lord into wicker baskets with fabric inside. How thoughtful to put the fabric in, so Christ is nice and comfy, and particles won’t fall out all over the floor. Remember, the main part of the liturgy is long over. And while we want money given away to the parish cluster to fix the floor or whatever, we will carry Christ around in what would be just barely fit to use at a picnic. Okay. The worst part is that they have real ciboria visibly available, made from a precious metal – it is out-and-out intentional use of an unworthy vessel. It’s one thing if you’re celebrating a secret mass in Auschwitz and need to pass around Holy Communion discretely. This is something else. And it shows, as the Gospel reading ironically mentioned, where the heart is, and where the treasure is… Not in the Eucharistic Lord.

Then homily #5, which consists of a bunch of ridiculous COVID stuff, including the insane request to carry the Eucharist back to your seat (because that is safer I guess). I won’t bother going through it. But it fits the bill – the temperament and ideological leanings of those panicked by COVID tend to be of the sort which inform the liturgy we are witnessing. Liberals tend to be stronger in the concupiscible part of their appetite, while conservatives tend to be stronger in the irascible part. Each tendency leads to its own challenges. A post for another time.

54:47 – Ecce Agnus Dei. Made up. Moving on.

Distribution of Communion. Here we find out what all those chalices were for, which was foreshadowed in homily #5. They are just there to look at from far away, with Extraordinary Ministers of – adoration? – picking them up so they can be reverenced. At least the thought of reverencing the Lord’s Most Precious Blood is a good thought, but… it is just a made up ritual and confuses people about what the Eucharist is. “Am I really receiving all of Christ?” (This is a very good argument, among several, not to distribute from chalices to the congregation at all, ever.) At 1:06:59, we get a rather brazen announcement that anyone who wants to waltz up to take Our Lord to someone can come on ahead. I guess as long as you have a wicker basket on hand, you are qualified… I don’t know, maybe the people who come up are legitimately deputed. We should give the benefit of the doubt, but… it is a bad look.

1:08:12 – homily #6. Short, but unnecessary.

Concluding prayer. Then homily #7, which is some kind of announcement about writing on a card that you will love, or something, and then more talk about money. Then a “living eulogy” of some woman in the parish who is not there but has worked there for a while.

Final blessing, made up. With the crozier. Dismissal, made up. Recessional. With a quasi-blessing, from the “crozier,” being put on people’s heads. Yes, you read that correctly. (I, for one, would encourage a return of the virgula poenitentiaria, or penitential wands, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.)

Well, that’s it. We made it.

I won’t do another post like this for a long time, maybe ever. The thing is, the more “creative” a liturgy is externally, the less creative it is internally. All that focus, as St. Thomas implies, on externals, distracts one from truly entering into the authentic prayer of the Church. Sin moves away from the infinite horizon of God and His love and moves toward finite creation, so sin is boring. So is bad liturgy, because it is sinful. Even if valid, such liturgy deadens the movement of the Holy Spirit, despite its normal intention to the contrary. Thus ends, then, my liturgical autopsy.

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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.

Apolog-etc. #3: Sola Scripture – a Reprise

Eamonn Clark, STL

I’ve done a few posts like this before (here and here), where I respond to other bloggers, but it is not normal for me. Please let me know in the comments or by “like” if you enjoy this sort of post. They are a little more polemical and therefore possibly of less lasting relevance, but hey, I need to keep the readership interested!

So one of my most popular posts ever is a post on Sola Scriptura. For some reason, in 2021 (years after it was posted) it got well over 5,000 hits. It still seems to get consistent hits on the daily. Anyway, it lists 7 reasons why the doctrine of “Scripture alone” is problematic. In brief, these problems are that Sola Scriptura is:

  1. Anarchic (no infallible interpreter, so everyone is a “little pope,” leading to countless divisions in doctrine and praxis)
  2. Innovative (in the bad sense, it is a “new doctrine” not from the apostles)
  3. Historically impractical (constructing and defining the Biblical canon took time, so how could it be that one must base faith on what did not yet exist?)
  4. Conceptually impossible (what counts as Scripture can’t be defined by Scripture, that is circular reasoning)
  5. Arbitrary (why not “popes alone”?)
  6. Self-Contradictory (a man, Luther, teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – authoritatively?)
  7. Contrary to Scripture (i.e. 2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Tim. 3:15)

You might be able to get around one or two of these. But when presented together, there is quite a bit of weight to the argument.

Let’s take a look at a response that I got (a few years ago) and go through it. In so doing we will tease out some subtleties to the arguments given above. But, alas, we will also conclude that Sola Scriptura is untrue.

My comments in bold. Some formatting adjusted, some content skipped. Go read the whole thing here.

IN DEFENSE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA

“All Christians believe that the Scripture is inspired by God, literally ‘God-breathed’. Protestants also believe that the Scripture is ‘self-authenticating’, as explained by 2nd century Church Father and philosopher Justin Martyr thus:

THE word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny of its hearers. But it would be believed for its own nobility, and for the confidence due to Him who sends it. Now the word of truth is sent from God; wherefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it were not fit that it should be required to produce proof of what is said; since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God. For every proof is more powerful and trustworthy than that which it proves;
Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection, Ch. 1

As the word of God, the Scripture derives its authority from God, not from man. Therefore, the Scripture is not subject to the proof or approval of man.”

Self-authentication is a very interesting claim. In some sense it is true. I recall to mind the beautiful encounter between Zosimus and St. Mary of Egypt in the desert beyond the Jordan, where she indicates that, despite never having studied the Scriptures, the Word edifies of its own power, giving her words the graced character which they possessed. This is true. However, the question is not whether the Voice of the Shepherd is ultimately able to be recognized within what is authentically Scripture, and much less whether God is trustworthy (of course He is) – His voice is recognizable in texts, by those with the greatest sensitivity to the Holy Spirit – but the question is rather what the mode is of the regula fidei, the rule of faith. In other words, how does God actually want people to know in general what is Scripture and what is not? Luther, for example, threw out a few books which were widely considered Scripture for over 1,000 years, but which were inconvenient for his doctrine. Trent said, “No.” Who is right? But there is the deeper problem, which is that, in actual fact, the Church considered canonicity a major issue from the early days, not only in affirming or denying texts from the apostolic age, but also clarifying that newer texts, like the apocryphal “Gospels” and other Gnostic writings, were not from God. In so doing, the Church “as such” exercised an important ministry for the salvation of souls. To say otherwise is to say that the debates over whether to include Hermas or 1 Clement – or even the Gospel of John, which was looked at with some suspicion in some places – were vain exercises, albeit with pious intentions… the masses ought to just be more spiritual and know for themselves, apparently. We are evidently all bound to be as holy as St. Mary of Egypt. But that is not the case, as evidenced not only by the historical fact of the crises over canonicity being allowed by God to occur within the Church in such a way as to seem important with an authoritative conclusion, but also by His own charge to the Apostles to teach in His Name in the Great Commission. This is a theme to which we will return as it shows that the Voice of the Shepherd is not a hidden voice, it is like a city on a hill, a lamp on a lamp stand, found within a visible, living, unified symbol of authority through which God Himself speaks. That is the mode by which the regula fidei comes to us, and so that is what needs to be recognized by the one who would follow Christ, not whether or not 1 and 2 Maccabees are inspired texts (etc.). However, now we turn to the signs of what counts as Scripture on the author’s reckoning. Maybe we don’t need to be that pious or intelligent in order to know what is Scripture and what is not?

“While we cannot prove divine authorship of the Scripture for the reason mentioned, we can find plenty of evidence of it. In other words, there are distinguishing characteristics that set the Scriptures far above other writings of men. When the early Church Fathers were challenged on this point, they gave the following evidence in support of their belief:

  1. The antiquity of the Old Testament, Moses in particular, predates all the ancient Greek and Roman writings.
  2. The prophesies in the Scriptures (both OT and NT) have been and are still being fulfilled.
  3. Jesus, manifested as the Son of God through the Resurrection, confirms the Old Testament, which prophesies about Him.
  4. The lives of people all around the world have been transformed for good through the teaching of the Scripture. This is unprecedented and unparalleled in history.”

No problem here; in itself, this is correct. However, it is hard to see how this would solve the problem. For instance, there are no prophecies to speak of in 2 John, or 1 Timothy, or many other texts of the New Testament. There was not yet time either for contemporary texts to have had the sort of influence we would expect of authentic Scripture, but once the arch-heretic Marcion put out his canon in about 140 AD, there was a crisis that needed to be resolved. And, just in general, these criteria go towards verifying as Scripture a collection of texts already considered as Scripture rather than serving as a rule for determining what ought to be so considered. Unfortunately, we aren’t given the citations from which these points are drawn, so the commentary stops here. But the problem very much seems to remain.

“Given that God is the author of the Scripture, it follows that He is also the ultimate Interpreter, without whom no man can comprehend the Scripture.”

Granted. But this does not mean that God cannot allow others to participate in that authority somehow.

“Christians believe that God dwells in each and every believer in the Spirit. This indwelling Spirit acts as an interpreter of God’s Word, and guides the believers into all truth.”

There is a lot to talk about here. I will limit my observations to two points. First, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is called “charity,” or “the state of grace.” This constitutes friendship with God – the Holy Spirit being God’s own Love for Himself. This is lost by mortal sin. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we, as individual believers, have the gift of infallibly interpreting the Scriptures on account of some perpetual indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Second, were it true that the Holy Spirit “acts as an interpreter of God’s Word” in the soul of each and every believer, we have two problems. First, a problem of circular logic: who counts as a believer? Isn’t being guided “into all truth” what the Holy Spirit does, thus making one a believer to begin with? Where is the entry point? Second, bracketing the question begging, there is the expectation that “believers” would then all interpret Scripture in a uniform way, at least in a way which is not mutually exclusive. Thus, we see, it is impossible to bracket the question-begging problem: who is a “believer”?

“The Church, i.e., the assembly of all believers, is the dwelling place of the Spirit. Therefore, the Church has the power to recognize the divine authority and inspiration of the Scripture, and to formalize, interpret and teach the Scripture.”

Now, of itself, this is correct. The Church does indeed have such authority. But in the context of the argument, he seems to mean that this can and does happen in any old way… But history does not bear that out. Rather, it is those who are specially charged with teaching who have the collective charism (gift) to know what is Scripture and its authentic meaning and have actually used that charism regularly. This would be the whole college of bishops, successors of the Apostles, in union with the Pope, the Successor of St. Peter, and sometimes even just the Pope. It is true that the whole Church, including laity, can “sense” a truth of faith (the sensus fidelium) with a subsequent definition when there is some true need or advantage (i.e. the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption) but this is neither a common occurrence nor does it easily escape the circular logic of “believer-truth” paradigm explored above, at least on a strict interpretation of that principle (which would seem to be required here due to it being the only leg to stand on). It very much seems one might err in what the Church “as a whole” knows without breaking faith. (For example, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception.) This leaves us without a principle to define faith and morals, including out of the pages of Scripture, except that visible hierarchical structure within the Church, which structure was instituted by Our Lord Himself.

“One common objection to sola scriptura is that the principle was unknown in the Church for the first 1500 years, and only brought into existence in the 16th century by the Reformers.”

Yes. Certainly, the apostles were not teaching it – they could not have, as there was no New Testament yet! Who then decided – somehow using Scripture itself, which has somehow been defined as Scripture – that this is now the whole regula fidei?

“For starters, to use an analogy, scientists didn’t formulate the law of gravity until the 17th century, but it doesn’t mean that the law didn’t exist in nature before then.”

The author seems to mean that Luther is theology’s version of Isaac Newton. There was already this principle before, and he and the other Reformers just articulated it. Let’s see…

“More importantly, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Church Fathers constantly applied the principle of sola scriptura when witnessing to the Jews of their time. They rejected tradition as the “tradition of men”. They didn’t and couldn’t appeal to the religious authorities, the chief priests and Pharisees who persecuted them. Consequently, they reasoned with the Jews using the Scriptures alone. Although the Jews compiled and transmitted the Old Testament Scriptures, early Christians did not trust the Jewish religious authorities with the interpretation, believing that the latter were not illuminated by the Holy Spirit.”

It should be easy, first of all, to find numerous references to such a principle throughout the patristic sources, despite the claim of the analogy with Newton. If Sola Scriptura is in fact THE way that Christianity is lived, THE way that theology is done, then surely, the Fathers will say so, over and over. But such references will be thin – I know of only two texts which indicate something like Sola Scriptura, and their authors, Hippolytus and St. Cyril of Jerusalem, would hardly agree with such an interpretation of their words. When the Fathers talk about doctrine, obviously they make copious use of Scripture to prove their points. However, nobody here is claiming that Scripture is not authoritative… Rather, the claim is that Scripture does not always interpret itself (let alone assemble itself), and sometimes an authoritative interpretation is called for due to some crisis, and this requires appealing to some visible, biologically living authority. Quite to the point, if Scripture interpreted itself fully, there would not be the tomes of exegesis produced by the Fathers. What is more, even St. Peter found the Pauline epistles to be difficult to understand, and a potential cause of division and doctrinal confusion: “Consider also that our Lord’s patience brings salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him. He writes this way in all his letters, speaking in them about such matters. Some parts of his letters are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard so that you will not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing.” (2 Peter 3:15-17) Additionally, the content of Scripture is itself affirmed by any other doctrinal content which can be derived from other sources, such as the liturgy. Neither I nor the Fathers would have any problem saying that all of the content of Christian faith and morals is found, even if only in seminal form, in the Scriptures, and that if it cannot be so found, it is not Christian. (This is not a controversial position. It is called the “material sufficiency” of Scripture, as opposed to the “formal sufficiency” of Scripture, as the latter would constitute Sola Scriptura.) This would even apply to something like the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which Pius XII explicitly stated when defining that dogma: “All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation.” Finally, there is a veritable plethora of patristic argumentation against Sola Scriptura, albeit indirectly (since nobody was really asserting such a principle until Luther – it would have been batting at the air). For more on the Fathers’ views on Scripture vis-a-vis the regula fidei, see Dave Armstrong’s wonderful compendium on “Church Fathers vs. Sola Scriptura.” Suffice it to say that it is a pretty good list, both offering positive evidence for the Catholic view and negative evidence against the interpretation made by some of certain Fathers in favor of Sola Scriptura.

The Lord and subsequently His disciples do not trust “Jews” to interpret the Tanakh (the “Jewish Bible”/Old Testament) because, quite simply, the Jews looked the meaning of their Scriptures in the face 2,000 years ago, argued with Him about the Law, and then killed Him. Yes, yes, “not all Jews killed Christ,” but if you don’t believe the Messiah has come, and you have had the Gospel announced to you, then you are an unsafe guide to the Old Testament, period. I wrote a post about that here – which polemic could be applied to another prominent Italian bishop as of recently, but I digress.

“There are some parallels in history between the separation of Christianity from Judaism, and Protestantism from Roman Catholicism.”

There are, but they are not particularly relevant, as far as I can tell. In the one case, the meaning of the Old Testament is fulfilled and constitutes a new and universal Covenant, an open door with the Blood of the Lamb upon the doorpost and lintel, into which the whole world can fit, thus being saved from the Angel of Death. In the other, you have a frustrated Augustinian friar who likely had serious trouble with the 6th Commandment, swinging from deep despair over his sins to deep presumption of his salvation, subsequently building a theology centered around protecting his frail psyche from having to deal with intolerable cognitive dissonance and the challenges of authentic Christian moral life, using other clergy’s moral corruption as a scapegoat.

“Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians say that the Scripture must be understood in the context of Tradition. I asked them in the forum what “Tradition” means and how one can relate to it in daily practice. After nearly a year of discussion, I remain as mystified as ever. I would submit that, because of its lack of clarity, Tradition cannot be a guiding, let alone authoritative, principle in the Christian life.”

Fair enough. Well, frankly, the best definition of “the context of Tradition” is the Liturgy, wherein we find not only the beginnings of the sensus fidelium about what counts as Scripture (which was extremely relevant, as St. Vincent of Lerins is keen to point out), but also through the prayers and practice of the Church in administering grace. For example, that the Church distributes Holy Communion to laity is not something taught directly or clearly in Scripture, but it is nonetheless rooted therein while being explicitly contained as a datum in the liturgical use of the Church. Same for baptizing infants, ordaining men alone, or petitioning the saints. These practices and their accompanying speculative doctrines are rooted in Scripture but are made more articulate by the Liturgy of the Church. Lex credendi, lex orandi – as one believes, so one prays. Tradition does not simply reduce to Liturgy, as it would also include the visible authoritative structure of clerical hierarchy as its own distinct point, and any kind of consistent teaching/preaching about faith or morals (especially among the Fathers) for a long period of time widely throughout the Church (the “universal ordinary magisterium,” for example, Catholic doctrine on abortion or contraception), perhaps along with revelatory teachings which, while not contrary to and which can be found dimly in the Scriptures, were passed on orally in the beginning before the whole of the New Testament was written, with such things ending with the death of the last apostle. (See the aforementioned 2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”) One might also include in “Tradition” the fact of the definition of what the Scriptures actually mean, such as through Ecumenical Councils or the occasional solemn papal definition.

“When an age of rampant relativism has run its course, people tend to gravitate toward authoritative figures, perhaps due to a deep-seated need for justification. In politics, it is the Supreme Court or the President, in religion, it is the Pope or the Patriarch, in academics, it is the most outspoken scholars. However, appealing to authority, apart from being a logical fallacy, is also futile, for authority figures are fallible and fallen men.”

Unless such fallen men are given the office to teach with participation in God’s own authority. Even if they are sinful, they retain that authority (to teach, govern, and sanctify, just as Christ with His gold, myrrh, and frankincense) until they lose the office. Just like Saul was really King of Israel, so too are bad popes and bishops really popes and bishops. On the natural plane, an evil governor or judge still exercises his office with the authority proper to it. Recall St. Peter’s words about Nero – that he ought to be honored – or St. Paul’s – that he ought to be obeyed and given his taxes. (1 Peter 2:17, Romans 13:1-8) This is the same Nero who would later execute them both.

“An Ecumenical Council might serve a necessary function in the life of the Church. It provides a venue for spiritual fellowship and rational discourse, a venue for resolving conflicts and maintaining unity, but it is not the ultimate authority of Christian faith.”

This is true, but the contrary is not being claimed, as should now be clear. Ecumenical Councils serve, in part, to define what the Scriptures actually mean – the Councils have the authority to interpret another authority, indeed a higher authority, if one wants to say so – perhaps it is better to say that it is a different kind of authority rather than a higher or lower one, as Scripture contains revelation (through inspiration) while Councils only enjoy protection from error in their solemn definitions.

“Another common objection to sola scriptura is that there are many different, even contradictory, interpretations of the Scriptures. Therefore, it is not a reliable approach to the truth.”

Almost but not quite. It’s more specific: many self-identifying Christians, who claim to believe the teachings of Scripture, and who believe those teachings are extremely important for salvation, have mutually exclusive interpretations of Scripture. Who cares what atheists think about Genesis, or what Hindus think about the Gospel of Matthew, or what universalist Unitarians think about 1 Corinthians?

“Firstly, as Paul writes, ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things’. It is only natural that Christians believe different things in different stages of their spiritual life. If they all believed the same thing, it might actually be a sign of brainwashing.”

If truth is One as God is One, then there cannot be contradictory truths. Therefore, believing “the same thing,” at least on matters pertaining to what suffices for salvation, is rather important. It is no less brainwashing than it is to believe God on His own authority, for that is what is being asserted to begin with: that Scripture is the Word of God transmitted through human language. So at least the fundamental matters, both speculative and practical (moral), ought to be communicated clearly enough to be believed by all who are attempting to approach God through Christ.

“Secondly, it is true that we tend to project our personal opinions into the things we read, the Scripture not excepted, which results in errors and even abuses. But, we can avoid falling into this trap by heeding Augustine’s admonition: ‘For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.’
(St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, Bk. XVII)

Augustine makes an important distinction between sola scriptura and the misuse of scripture. If one follows the principle of sola scriptura, he would uphold the whole scripture, not just accept the parts he approves and reject the rest; Origen, when he defends the doctrine of free will, examines all the relevant passages in the Scripture, including those verses that seem to contradict free will, and provides an interpretation of those verses that both make sense in context and are consistent with free will. This is the type of exegesis that we can all learn from.

Augustine also writes that there can be many valid interpretations of the same passage of the Scripture, as long as they don’t contradict the rule of faith and logic; Origen demonstrates that there are many levels of interpretations of the Scripture, literal, allegorical, moral and spiritual. These manifold interpretations are all valid and help us to grow deeper in faith and understanding.”

We should certainly follow the advice of St. Augustine. But his advice does nothing to solve the problem of circular reasoning, as mentioned above, nor the problem of canonicity. Leaving aside canonicity, how do I know that I am really and correctly taking into account all of Scripture, especially if others say that they are too but disagree in a mutually exclusive way with me on the same point? The interpretation of the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 is a great example. Is the Eucharist really, substantially Christ, or just some kind of unique symbol? The stakes are about as high as they get on that issue… And yet the Protestants jettisoned what had been settled doctrine since the 1st century, only meaningfully being first challenged by Berengar of Tours about a thousand years later (who was thankfully reconciled to the Church before his death). So, who is right? Are Catholics material idolaters, or are Protestants rejecting the greatest gift the Lord has left with us? It is one or the other. Same goes for whether faith alone, without “works,” suffices for salvation – that is not exactly a small disagreement.

“At the most basic level, sola scriptura is an approach to the inquiry for truth. It shares common characteristics with other approaches to inquiry, such as the scientific method. For it focuses attention on objective data, i.e., what is independently observable and verifiable, not opinions that may or may not be grounded in the data.”

Sola Scriptura is an approach, but it is a flawed approach. There is, in fact, an additional font of data which we can and in fact must use to interpret Scripture, which is the Church’s teaching office, the Magisterium (which, when functioning, is necessarily always in line with Tradition).

“Reading the Scripture is like reading the Book of Nature. God is the author of both. An interpretation is like a scientific theory. If any scientific theory contradicts known facts or experimental results, then that theory is falsified. Similarly, if any interpretation contradicts part of the Scripture, it is not a valid interpretation.”

Nature does not require faith to understand. The Scriptures do. The science of theology, which is primarily done out of the Scriptures (best done out of their original languages – or at least out of the Septuagint), takes God’s authority as its starting point. And as God is One, the truth is One as well. So, correct, no true contradictions are possible.

“As an inquiry for truth, sola scriptura aims at preventing people from elevating themselves above the Scripture, the objective standard of truth. In other words, it is a countermeasure against tyranny. It proclaims that everyone has access to the Truth, and everyone becomes accountable, being measured against the objective standard.”

Anarchy is just as tyrannical as despotism. However, Christ is no despot, He is a true King, and those who participate lawfully in His teaching office therefore do not constrain the mind except to bring it to the truth – which is a freeing act. One no longer needs to worry about so many questions, as they are already answered infallibly. But this in no way limits the horizons for Biblical exegesis – on the contrary, it expands them, opening one up to “all truth.”

END COMMENTARY

In the end, I remain unconvinced and stand by my original list of 7 problems.

If you like this style of post, do let me know with a like. They are fun but a lot of work. And be sure to subscribe if you haven’t!

My post on my trip to Poland is coming soon – apologies for the delay, I know I must feed the readership!

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.

Marital Sexual Ethics – An Analogy with Baking

Eamonn Clark, STL

Continuing on in articulating my developing thoughts in what increasingly seems to me to be a deeply neglected field, I would like to propose an analogy for understanding some of the basics about chastity within marriage.

There are some well-known Catholic authors, especially contemporary ones, who promote a sort of “anything goes as long as it ends the right way” approach, and they sometimes don’t even get that minimalist principle quite right. Instead, pulling from figures including the Salmanticenses and St. Alphonsus, let me offer the following example by which to understand some of the honest boundaries of the marital embrace.

The idea is to bake some bread with an oven and some dough. What is sure is that the oven should be pre-heated, which could take a while and may involve some adjustments. The dough might require some kneading as well, but probably not very much. Once the dough is ready, the kneading should stop, as it is now excessive and unproductive – and it is not really part of baking. The dough should certainly not be put in the sink or in the garbage, even if that might seem interesting and fun, as that would not really be baking, even if the plan is to put it in the oven later – just as it is really not baking in one’s own kitchen to use someone else’s oven for a few minutes with the plan to finish the bread in one’s own oven, so too it is not baking to put the dough in places not ordered toward making bread. Nor would keeping the oven at the right temperature without putting the dough in be baking; rather, it’s playing with the oven. And once the dough is baked, it is time to turn the oven off – to keep it running after the bread has been made is also not baking, it is also playing with the oven.

I hope this analogy can be especially useful for pastors and confessors in helping couples to understand appropriate and honest boundaries in the marriage bed. It is not easy to do so – but an image like this is probably one of the best ways. 99% of couples will get the message, at least. Certainly, the laxist doctrines ought to be condemned.

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What is the fixation…

…with rainbow logos…

The 2025 Jubilee Year logo.

Read the article here. Note the part about men embracing each other. Just the ticket to win hearts and minds!

This comes after the Synod logo… which I long to forget.

I don’t think it’s a secret code or anything. I think it’s tone deafness. But blindness often goes together with sin.

And yet somehow, despite the clown car, Christ will be victorious.

Ireland’s Metasynod

The Synod on Synodality has been rightly critiqued for numerous reasons. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the results of the local meetings…

Today I read a nice synopsis of the Irish meetings. Ireland has of course been in a cultural and ecclesiastical free fall for a while now. But still about 75% of people who live there identify themselves as Catholic, regardless of whether they actually believe and practice the Faith regularly (a much lower number to be sure, maybe around 15%). There might be some lessons to reflect upon.

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments. Did you go to a synod meeting? What was your experience?

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.

All of “Grandma’s Lace” – and More

Eamonn Clark, STL

So I was at the mass for the Sicilian clergy-pilgrims a little while ago. Before the bishops went for their meeting with Francis, where he decried the use of “grandma’s lace” in the liturgy, they had a mass at Mary Major. Let me tell you, lace is not the issue. A friend in the sacristy told me there were bishops who didn’t know how to put on an amice… I stood and watched many priests taking pictures during the liturgy. One guy, just in front of me, was wearing an alb whose neckline was hanging very low, almost halfway down his chest, and he had a tab collar shirt that was unbuttoned at the top, with the tab sticking out.

There are two points to lace in liturgy. First, in a place like Sicily, it is very functional: it breathes. Extremely hot weather begs for lace. Second, lace, like incense or chant or any number of things, indicates that something special is occurring… something out of the ordinary… something sacred.

Now, it can be overdone. “More lace, more grace,” goes the derisive mantra. I once was going to a shop to buy some vestments, including a surplice, and in the area of the store I ran across another shop with the same name – it happened to be a lingerie store! “I love lace, but this is too much, even for me,” I quipped. But, just as it can be overdone, it can be underdone. I would suggest that the Sicilians luck out with the heat, giving them the impetus to use fine albs and such; the fact that they aren’t bothering with other items and behaviors of liturgical decorum that are always due gives the impression that they just don’t really care very much about the liturgy, they just care about not sweating to death (this also perhaps explains the low hanging alb, the neglect of amices, etc.).

I was complaining yesterday again about the fake candle phenomenon in Roman churches – even papal basilicas. It’s cheaper and more convenient, but that sort of defeats the purpose. Likewise, wearing all the right vestments in the right way can be uncomfortable – but that is fitting when one is offering a sacrifice. On the other hand, if one is just having a ritual meal… comfort matters much more. It is beginning to dawn on me that one of the most significant changes made to the liturgy after the Council is the offertory… Formerly it emphasized the Mass is a sacrifice, but now it uses a modified Jewish prayer before meals. One wants to be comfortable at dinner… but at a public sacrifice? Maybe it’s worth being drenched with sweat to get it right.

But it also might be worth wearing lace!

Of Mollusks and Marble

I don’t normally do personal posts, let alone lifestyle posts, but… the past two days have been particularly Roman.

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Normally, it would be tomorrow, but it has been moved because tomorrow is Sacred Heart. So yesterday was the vigil, which means…

Snails.

It is an ancient Roman tradition – originally connected with the solstice and warding off ghosts, and now connected with the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist – to eat snails. So eat them I did, with several friends and several bottles of white wine, in the Monti neighborhood. Lumache alla Romana, at Osteria della Suburra. Great stuff!

Today I meandered down, for the first time in almost a calendar year, to St. John Lateran. The full name of the basilica, which is the cathedral of Rome, thus the “mother church” of all Christendom, is the Archbasilica Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. Despite the name there is no relic of either saint as far as I know – but John the Baptist’s head (at least the “Roman” contender) is at San Silvestro in Capito, where I did not make it today unfortunately.

Some details of the left transept:

That is Leo XIII’s tomb on the right. He looks a little camera shy – or just got out of the movie theater and can’t take the sunlight?

One of the most striking things about the basilica is the statues of the apostles. They are very large, lining the right and left sides of the nave. Many of them are depicted with the instruments of their martyrdom.

St. Bartholomew, skinned alive.
St. Simon (not Peter), with a saw.

You can see one of the dedication crosses on the right, which were smeared with oil at (I suppose) the re-dedication of the basilica after its last major renovation (under Innocent X, his name is everywhere). I really dislike the fake candles, as I explained in a post a long time ago. It is especially bad when it is a papal basilica… the things we offer to God matter, especially in formal worship and sacred spaces.

Ugh. Convenient, yes, but… that sort of defeats the purpose.

There was another curious statue, in a side chapel on the right. It’s a saint who looks like she is playing table tennis, and she is holding a snake as well. I guess it is supposed to be a mirror, but… I like to think saints liked ping pong. But I have no clue who this is. Anyone got any idea?

The gate to the chapel is its own great piece of art. I think the guys who made it would have eschewed fake candles, for what it’s worth…

Look at the detail, and the creativity… I would wager the thinking with these creatures is similar to the gargoyles of French fame… scaring away evil angels. (Wait – they aren’t snails, are they!?)

Grrrrr…

There was a little exhibit going on about St. Therese of Lisieux. I was especially interested in the fact that they had a whole section on Pius XI’s devotion and teaching on her, as he is the object of my doctoral studies. The posters are a bit out of date… I wonder if you can see why.

Pius XI: [she is] “the star of my pontificate”

Speaking of Pius XI, here is a plaque about him in the basilica:

My Latin is not good, but luckily I ran into a friend (whose monastery I will be staying at in Poland next week – yes, pictures will be forthcoming), and his Latin is excellent. Had I bothered to work out the date, I would have figured out what this was, but… I took a shortcut.

It is commemorating this chapel, which is where the young Achille Ratti was ordained a priest. I knew he was ordained in the Lateran, but I always thought it was at the main altar. It was not… it was here, in this small side chapel.

He was ordained December 20, 1879 by Cardinal La Valletta – who also happened to ordain Benedict XV a priest.

On my way out, I stopped by the baptistry. Constantine was baptized here – before the structure existed, which essentially serves to commemorate that blessed event.

Here is one of the famous obelisks of Rome. This one is Egyptian – one of 8. (Several others are Roman.)

It is the tallest in Rome, if one doesn’t include the base in the calculations. (With the base included the tallest is the obelisk at St. Peter’s.) This one weighs 330 tons, after reconstruction trimmed it down a bit, from 455 tons (quite a diet). It was in the temple of Amun in Karnak, near Luxor. It came over to Rome in 357 to be a decoration in the Circus Maximus.

The base.

And finally, a quick look in toward where the educational facilities are… including the main Roman diocesan seminary (I think Rome has about 30-40 seminarians of its own – incredible…), and the now-destroyed JPII Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. So sad. I think they have very few students. People vote with their feet – and their wallets. That includes candidates for the priesthood!

Well, that is it. Despite my rare “lifestyle” posts, another one coming up soon, from the Archabbey of Jędrzejów. But, with 5 likes on this post, I will do these more often!

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St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

-Eamonn