There Are Only Four Pro-Choice Arguments

Eamonn Clark, STL

Naturally, being a moralist who is active in western society, I have encountered and thought a lot about various arguments in favor of the “pro-choice” position. Summarizing all of the arguments, we find that there are really only four; while they can be mixed together, they are nonetheless discernible in basically every argument ever made in favor of the “right” to have an abortion, or that abortion is morally acceptable. And yes, they are each erroneous. Let’s go through them: they are the physical (or biological) error, the metaphysical error, the ethical error, and the metaethical error.

The Physical Error

The first error is that the fetus is not a distinct living organism. Any biologist can debunk this. If the fetus is not a distinct living organism, there is no such thing. It is true that there is a physical connection through the umbilical cord, but first of all, the zygote pre-existed this stage, and second of all, we acknowledge that the cord actually connects two organisms, each of which exhibit the standard signs of biological life: homeostasis, cellular organization, metabolism, reproductive capacity (actual in the zygotic phase when asexual reproduction can occur, potential in the fetal stage as sexual reproduction), response to stimuli, growth, heredity… There is simply no argument to be made here. The advocate of abortion who is taken by this error would be forced to admit that a pregnant woman has eight limbs, two heads, and maybe male reproductive organs, which she then ceases to have upon delivering a child. There is no point in arguing with someone who will not budge on this. However, if we say this is a distinct living organism, we admit that to abort it is to kill it.

The Metaphysical Error

The second error is that the distinct living organism is not a human (or a person). The advocate will say that eventually the organism will become a human, based on certain actions or activated capacities – cognition (but usually excluding sleepers, for reasons inexplicable), self-reliance (of a high-level, let it be noted), capacity to be a productive member of society (whatever that means)… These are signs of humanity, it is true. However, to say that these are constitutive of humanity is quite problematic. First of all, most would agree that we are human beings, not human doings – that is to say, we can do human things because we are actually humans first. (Agere sequitur esse, as the axiom goes – action follows being.) Second, if we define humanity based on certain kinds of actions, we must ask, why is it these actions which are characteristics of humanity and not other actions? And why should it be actions at all? Why not “traits,” like race or sex or eye color? Of course, some do in fact say that something as arbitrary as “3 months” or “being outside the womb” in fact turns the very same living organism into a human being. Plenty will say that it is a “capacity to feel pain,” sometimes mixed with “capacity for memory,” which typically ignores folks with congenital analgesia – the chronic inability to feel pain – and is also simply based on the emotional discomfort coming from an empathetic impulse). Strange… We can see the problem – once we detach the definition of humanity from “being,” as a substance, we are left with arbitrary values leading to arbitrary norms. (A substance is that which is not predicated of another – we do not say “human” of anything, but we do say “cognition” or “race” of a human.) So, to the point: it is the same being (the same living organism!) which is thinking and feeling and “self-relying” that is growing in the womb. What changes are traits and actions – size, strength, organ development, mental activity, mobility, etc. The “being” does not change – it is the same substance. It is a human being who is simply not doing the most human-like things at this moment. This error is the most prevalent and most difficult to get one to see the problems of. But if we admit the metaphysical reality of humanity in the fetus, we are forced to conclude that aborting the fetus is murder.

The Ethical Error

The third error – and perhaps the most repulsive – is that one is never bound to suffer for another individual human being. We’ve shown that biology says that the fetus is not “my body,” but why not still have “my choice” despite that? “So, it is a human being, who cares? This person is inconvenient for my life.” Well, it could be true. However, if a mother is not bound to suffer for her own child, and, what is more, in the precise way that the woman exists as such, namely, to generate life and gestate that life within herself, one could hardly ever be bound to suffer for another. This seems to eliminate all moral responsibility of any kind, or it at least comes very close. In the case that the advocate bites this bullet, he is simply a terrible person and is unlikely to be persuaded by anything one can say. The problem with the ethical error is grasped intuitively by most – this error is therefore quite rare in its pure form. It does show up in weaker forms, however, in the context of diminishing the humanity of the fetus, as described above. It is much easier to argue that one is not obliged to suffer for a pre-human than for a human…

The Metaethical Error

The final error is the rejection of the possibility of real moral obligations altogether. (“Metaethics” is the branch of ethics which asks or studies “what do we mean by ‘ethics’ in the first place?”) The error here is to relegate all ethical norms to the dictates of individual wills (namely, one’s own, or perhaps the “will of the people/government”). The only question then is about strategy – how to get what you want. Plato’s famous thought experiment in the Republic addresses this head-on… The one who wears the Ring of Gyges could get away with anything (yes – exactly like the One Ring to rule them all). Do moral laws really apply to such a person when he is wearing the ring? Let’s say yes, it is still “good” to follow the moral law. Then we can ask with Nietzsche, “Why be good?” The entire meaning of morality collapses in on itself. “Autonomous” morality is no morality at all. This includes every kind of utilitarianism and consequentialism in the strict sense. Who gets to determine what counts as “utility”? And how would we even know how to reach maximum utility anyway? These are the first problems. (Consequentialism is worth its own post.) At the end of the day, we are left with one’s own values being imposed on others, with nothing to do but play power games to achieve what makes us feel warm and fuzzy by making “contracts” and playing nice. And the unborn are powerless.

These four arguments can be combined in various ways. But they are always there. For example, the famous “violinist” example of Thomson commits the ethical error indirectly. Perhaps we don’t have to suffer for a famous violinist who is artificially connected with our body – but a mother does have to suffer for her own child who is naturally connected with her body by the very fact of womanhood’s intrinsic order, namely, generation of new life within the body.

The point of ethics is not merely avoiding wrongdoing, it is fundamentally about achieving happiness through flourishing – which entails the faculties of human nature striving moderately in accord with the order of reason toward their proper ends. Killing innocent children does not lead to such flourishing, as we are intrinsically ordered towards life in community in a common pursuit of the truth – it is one of the primordial precepts of the natural law. Abortion is immoral, and it will never make a person truly happy. And we see this validated by the fact that so few parents regret having any of their children, while the opposite claim does not hold.

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The Christian Film I Want to Make

Eamonn Clark

Years ago I had a post on the relationship between animation and iconography. The basic point is that the more “data” given by the artist, the more the mind has to overcome the falsehood of the representation. That’s why icons are good for devotion, while realistic images are not.

Ever since, I have been thinking about the Christian film that one day I would like to make.

It is easy to critique the “genre” of Christian film. It is worth doing so. The Church has the truth, so She should also have beauty, no? It is disgraceful that there have been so few good Christian films produced since the medium was invented over 100 years ago.

A few films stand out as masterpieces – yet to my mind, none really hits the mark, for reasons explained in my post on animation. About as close it gets to what I have in mind among color films can be found in the 1959 production, Ben-Hur.

Notice – no words, no face… And yet, it is just about right. In this scene, Christ is on screen for about 2 minutes, and later at the end of the film we see His shadow for a few seconds as He is carrying the Cross. But somehow the entire film is about Christ nonetheless, and it drives that fact home much more efficaciously than many films that portray the entire Gospel narrative. What if the Ben-Hur style of depicting Christ was used to tell the whole Gospel story? Food for thought.

So, to my dream-film. Would it be animated? No. “Moving iconography”? Closer.

I invite the reader to do an exercise. Take a quick look at any recent film about the life of Christ. (For example, this one.) Consider: how does it affect you?

Now, there is a website (here) dedicated to old Christian films – take a look at the film “No Greater Power” (skip to about the 18 minute mark). Watch it for a bit. Notice the difference?

Now rewind, turn the sound off, and play something ambient and mildly dramatic, like this, or maybe this.

Now go back to the first film.

Which of the three models did you prefer? If you are like me, it is the third. The selective realism allows freedom for the mind to move to God rather than focusing as much on the film itself. If the point is to make a movie, then maybe the first model is best. But “making a movie” would not be the point. Nor would it be making money – as is what unfortunately drives Hollywood and much of the Christian movie industry as well. Cheap budget makes big bucks if you have the “right message” – it is going to be picked up by millions of people to show their children, to show their youth group, etc. That’s the point. But they do not evangelize.

For anyone with a moderate amount of knowledge of the events of the Gospel narrative, I think my model could work, at least for many people.

So, the film would be black and white (or some version of sepia), silent (or mostly silent), with semi-ambient music designed to draw the viewer into the moment of the scene, and be very limited and obscure in the portrayal of Christ, especially leaving the full view of His Face just out of sight. All this helps to conjure – rather than replace – the memory of the real event and the real persons, allowing for a more authentic use of the medium of film for an encounter with God by freeing the mind from the burden of the senses. In a word, it’s contemplative, like an icon.

One day someone will be kind enough (and foolish enough?) to give me the money needed to do such a project. Until then, it’s nice to dream.

The Historical-Critical Exegetes: A Brief Summary of the Consensus in the 41st Century

Herman Von Voelkenhausen
Catholic University of Cologne
St. Benedict XVI Chair of Theology
April 12, 4019

+JMJ+

Before outlining the views of the majority of contemporary scholars on the historical-critical tradition of the 19th and 20th century, it is worth first mentioning the traditional view of that school from which our own views have arisen and evolved beyond.

Writers of the 22nd century onward who reflected deeply on the historical-critical phenomenon, scattered as such writers are, assume that the exegetical school was simply directly inspired by Spinozistic and post-Kantian ideals to re-envision the Scriptures in a radical way, breaking with the cumulative conclusions of the ages and the clear teaching of the Church. These exegetes supposedly became immensely popular, even holding chairs in the most distinguished theological faculties of Europe, where they would really speak and teach their students directly. Their lectures and writings were the real motion towards a culmination in the “Jesus Seminar,” the fullest expression of the movement, which was followed by a number of special disciples who gradually unpacked the wisdom contained therein in the midst of the larger academic community that turned to join the historical-critical movement in this final phase of critical scholarship.

We must now pause and admit that all of this seems rather childish to us, but to the majority of theologians and historians from the year 2100 until well into the 3800’s, this simplistic position was simply taken for granted. It is no wonder; due to the limited knowledge of the 19th and 20th century which was available to the early authors, we cannot expect very much accuracy on their part. The advent of the internet came only near the very end of the 20th century, and immediately afterward came that dark cloud of Fake News, which persisted well into the mid-22nd century. With such imprecise methods of research and communication, we should be inclined to go easy on those who first attempted to react to the historical-critical phenomenon. The tradition which took their analyses in good faith, it is true, has less excuse insofar as their means of investigation increased in quality, but those authors were hindered by the all-too-natural allure of continuity and the professional risk of speaking out too boldly.

The first point which nearly all authors now make is that of the difference between the “historical exegetes,” and the “scholars of faith.”

The exegetes are the real human beings at the center of the scholarly movement traditionally placed in the 19th to 21st centuries (although it seems increasingly likely that these early dates are fallacious). Many of them, it is granted, really did exist as human beings. But it matters very little what these men really were in their historical lives – it mostly matters that they existed. For instance, whether or not some sayings of Rudolph Bultmann were actually spoken by him is largely irrelevant; what really matters is that a tradition developed which sees him in connection with such sayings.

The “scholars,” then, are the writers in the minds of those who received their teachings and modified them. We encounter the scholars in the writings which are associated with them by name.

Immediately the question is raised – how were these writings produced? “The books bear the names of the authors themselves,” it is objected. As foolish as it sounds to us, it was once unthinkingly presumed that, since an exegete’s name was attached to a text that he must have actually written that text himself. The prevailing theory today is that while some writers did indeed exert a kind of influence over the writings that bear their names, in almost every case we see a kind of pseudepigraphy.

A fundamental body of writing in the historical-critical tradition will serve as a fine framework for an introduction to the methods we are using today to analyze this period of theology. This collection of books was traditionally presumed to be the work of a single author, but now the agreement is that it actually is an amalgamation of several written traditions under the redaction and collection of later theologians. First, there is the Kuenen source, or K. Next, the Graf source, G. Third, the Hupfeld source, H. Finally, the Reuss source, R. Over time, a careful redaction on the part of later German exegetes over the coming decades would piece these writings together to form what the historical-critical tradition, and those who uncritically write of its history, has called the collected works of Julius Wellhausen.

Perhaps there really was a Julius Wellhausen, but the “historical exegete” is, in any case, less important than the significance of the “scholar” represented in the popular imagination of the academy of the 20th century. For those first disciples of the masters of the historical-critical tradition, such as Wellhausen was to those who followed in that tradition, they really were seen as true scholars, important figures who somehow had advanced the theological milieu towards a new era.

It should be noted that the most recent quest for the historical Albert Schweitzer has come up largely empty. There is now, however, a broad consensus that he was not born in Alsace-Lorraine, but in Tübingen – to place his birth in an as-then recently annexed part of France was a clever narrative device used to broaden the appeal of the historical-critical movement beyond Germany in the long-term. That is to say, there was a value of a kind of “academic annexing” being imposed on the narrative of the Schweitzer character during the period of redaction of the earlier records of his life. It is well established that he did spend time in France, but to place his birth and childhood in anywhere but Germany finds no support except the primary texts themselves, which, as we have said, have changed the narrative to suit their own ideological agenda.

In the 19th century, the time for historical-critical exegesis was ripe, as there were expectations in the air for such a movement, after the Prussian myth of Schleiermacher had taken hold of the European imagination. (The Schleiermacher-myth was distinct from but related to the Prussian myths of Fichte and Kant, all of which were zealously absorbed and appropriated by the “Hegelian Community.”) Eventually, this all culminated in the well-known “Jesus Seminar” Event. While most scholars agree that there really was a Jesus Seminar, there is little consensus beyond three points: that the Jesus Seminar was formed around the year 1980, that it preached an apocalyptic doctrine about the coming end of traditional Biblical theology (with itself as a central catalyst), and that it ended in a shameful demise.

An example will serve us well to illustrate the attitude of current scholarship on post-Jesus Seminar thought. Virtually all historians of theology today recognize the minimal “historicity” of the writings of Bishop Spong, that is, Spongian authorship. Instead, various radical publishing houses collected the reports of various moderate pieces of scholarship on the part of Bishop Spong, and they published books under his name. Why? Clearly, these publishing houses had their own theological agenda which they were willing to advance, even in the face of such enormous ridicule. Their reflection on the meaning of Spongian theology prompted them to take a courageous attempt at promoting work largely inspired by his own teachings but which was itself a radical development of them. This is a standard model for the era.

The writings of all the post-Jesus Seminar theologians are typically dated to the late 21st to early 22nd century. It was a common pious mentality of devotees of the historical-critical exegetes, and especially those following the Jesus Seminar, to view the writings traditionally attributed to figures such as Bishop Spong, Bart Ehrman, and Paul Bradshaw as being written much earlier than they really were. It has been firmly established, however, that Bradshaw did indeed write his work first, and Spong and Ehrman based their writings on his, and upon other accounts of the Jesus Seminar and the tradition it represents. Furthermore, these three works draw on a common source, “Q,” (from the French, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” – “What is it?”) which links them together. They are altogether in a different tradition, however, than the Reza Aslan tradition, which is decidedly more “spiritual” than historically minded in its presentation.

Of course, as is well-known, current academics consider many of these texts to have been compiled by the communities which gathered around these figures. The Spongian community, the Aslanian community, and so on. (Bradshaw, it is true, perhaps did actually write his own works – but it is altogether clear that he himself could not have come up with the idea that John was unaware of an Institution Narrative – this was a later redaction by the publishing house.) The growing majority also views most of the writings attributed to Bart Ehrman actually to be complete forgeries – fully dishonest, albeit clever, pseudepigraphy. (Several editions and translations of his work have also left us wondering what the “true” or “original” texts were in the first place – the recent unearthing of hundreds of copies of the text “Jesus Interrupted” in what is thought to be a 25th century Siberian landfill may prove to be a crucial discovery to aid us in getting to the bottom of this vexing problem. My own forthcoming work “Misquoting Bart Ehrman” will investigate this data at length.)

The motivation for our project is simple: it is altogether unrealistic that such men would have really existed, taught, and written as they are traditionally have thought to have done. Their doctrines are too systematically bizarre and radically incoherent to have been the products of single authors; it is altogether unthinkable that, even given such bad scholarship, they somehow gained wide acclaim to the point of wielding true academic and intellectual authority. Therefore, what was at stake in the 19th and 20th centuries, and what was carried on by the disciples of historical-criticism in the centuries which followed, must be studied under a hermeneutic which takes the spirit of the tradition seriously while retaining the position that such fantastical theories themselves were not taken literally by those who first originated them. It was only later generations of devotees of historical-critical exegesis who, in their zeal, took these traditions to be literal works of Biblical scholarship.

Post by: Eamonn Clark (NB: Faith is a gift – let no man boast… Let us pray for souls who lack such a great grace to see and know the Living God!)

10 Extremely Practical Suggestions to Improve Priestly Formation

Eamonn Clark

Due to recent events, priestly formation is on the brain of many Western Catholics. Everyone knows we should improve education, ascesis, accountability, etc., etc., ad infinitum. How do we do it?

While I am certainly not an expert, I do have relatively broad experience with priestly formation from a variety of perspectives. Here are 10 extremely practical suggestions, which could be put in practice in seminaries across the Western world, probably with some success.

  1. Un-Judaize the structure of the weekend. For autonomous seminaries, there is simply no excuse to follow the secular – and Jewish – logic of the Saturday-Sunday weekend. What this structure currently means is that seminarians party on Friday afternoons and evenings, when penance ought to be done. Saturday becomes the main day of rest. Sunday is the day to catch up on homework and other obligations. Not good. By shifting the weekend to Sunday-Monday, not only is the penance-rest paradigm fixed, but those with parish assignments during the year (especially deacons) are more able to engage with them. The current model often means jetting off from seminary to the parish Saturday afternoon, waiting around until the Vigil, and then helping Sunday morning masses and maybe some special event that evening. With a Sunday-Monday weekend, he can show up for the Vigil, be around all of Sunday, then be around for most of Monday, a normal day for the parish, its office, and its school if it has one.
  2. Have college seminarians do manual labor in a parish for one summer. “My hands were made for chalices, not callouses,” goes the sarcastic saying. Many young men who have generously offered their younger years to a formation program need a good experience of “real work” – and there is plenty of it to be done in every parish. Cutting grass, waxing floors, scraping gum off of desks in classrooms… The entitlement which can come with being a seminarian, especially at a young age, will be kicked in the gut. It will also give the young man a sense for what “normal people” do, and it will bestow an appreciation of the dignity of the work of all of his future employees. On the side he can help with some ministry, but his daily work is following around the maintenance crew or something similar.
  3. Put each seminarian in the cathedral or the curia for one summer. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for a diocesan bishop – especially a metropolitan – to meet with each of his seminarians maybe only once a year for a real talk. If this change were implemented, that sad reality would be much less of an issue. No longer will the bishop have an excuse for not being familiar with any of his men – he will have directly overseen them for at least a few weeks. Furthermore, the seminarian gets a perspective on that crucial part of the diocese, a definite advantage.
  4. As a condition for ordination, demand that each man make an oath that he has read at least once all of Sacred Scripture and every infallible declaration of the Ecumenical Councils and popes. How humiliating it is for a priest to have to confess to a parishioner that in fact he has not read the whole Bible – and yet, how tragically common this reality is. The laity may be less demanding with regard to the latter condition, but this is for a want of understanding of the seriousness of the matter, not a righteous sense of mercy. It is the business of the priest to know the Faith – how can he even pretend to be a Master in Israel until he can say with confidence that he has at least passed his eyes over these basic writings at least one time?
  5. Find families to “adopt” each seminarian in the house. In most locations, it is not hard to find an adequate number of pious and stable Catholic families who would be interested in such a ministry. The idea is for a family to get to know a particular man (or perhaps a few), to pray for him, and to have him come for a visit once a month or so. This keeps the local community invested in the success of the seminary, provides a special set of eyes for the sake of formation, gets the man out of the house and into a “normal” environment, and also provides the spiritual benefit of prayer. A little involvement in the life of a good Catholic family can be a very healthy experience for a seminarian, to keep him realistic about family life, to keep him “hungry” for ministry, and to keep him sane.
  6. Avoid assigning ministries or jobs which force a seminarian to “pretend to be a priest.” The reality is that seminarians are not priests, they are “laymen with an asterisk,” as it were. (This strange role-playing dynamic can also be confusing to others about the role of the priest.) There is a reason that Trent did away with the apprenticeship model of formation. Good mentors were not the problem – bad mentors were the problem, and no doubt many bad mentors simply let their apprentices try to stand in their places, either due to laziness or due to some misguided thought about having their men “try out.” Even the Catholic Encyclopedia article on seminaries, written in 1912, foresees only minimal pastoral work on the part of the seminarian. At least until immediate preparation for diaconate, the seminarian should almost exclusively be watching and being watched during serious pastoral work. He usually possesses neither the education nor the security to perform the duties which are more appropriate for priests, and he never possesses the grace of ordination.
  7. Have an extraordinary formator. This sounds strange until put next to its counterpart, which already exists in every seminary, namely, the extraordinary confessor. This is not a priest who is really, really good at hearing confessions; the extraordinary confessor is a priest who visits the seminary about once a month to hear confessions – and pretty much nothing else. He provides a safe opportunity to confess sins about, for example, cheating on a test, lying to the rector, or making some other mistake which would be difficult to confess to a faculty member, and difficult for a faculty member to hear. “Father, I cheated on your sacramental theology test – I actually don’t even know how many sacraments there are.” “Well, that’s awful, but I can’t do anything about it. You are still getting 100%.” Not ideal. Thus, the extraordinary confessor. However, perhaps this isn’t enough. Perhaps there is space for an extraordinary “formator” as well, like an auditor, who shows up once a month… Someone to complain to about, well, anything that is not appropriate to complain about to a normal faculty member. He would be half-way in the external forum, half-way in the internal forum. The identity of the seminarian is safe – he can say what is really on his mind without any fear of being found out, or, if there is such a fear, he can note it and let the extraordinary formator deal with it prudently. Whatever the case, this individual will have the dirt on every single man in the house, seminarian or formator, and it is up to him to manage it by regular meetings with the normal faculty and staff: but without ever revealing the names of any vulnerable seedlings, at least until absolutely necessary… like in court.
  8. Remove WiFi and Ethernet from residential halls. There are a number of advantages to this. Among them are the encouragement to gather together to discuss classwork and assignments, the need to go to a place dedicated solely to academic work to get things done, and the extra help to avoid misusing access to the internet in various ways. Of course, some will abuse the ability to connect with their cell phones, but the men who want the system to work will make it work; the ones who don’t will find a way pretty much no matter what is done.
  9. Incentivize more serious study by attaching it to room choice. In almost every house, the choice of one’s room is a big deal – near the chapel, away from the loud central A/C unit outside, on the bottom/middle/top floor, the window with the best view, etc., etc. Many places use a system of age, years spent in the house, lottery, and other “unearned” things. While some of these could factor in, why not also use GPA, at least for the top scorers? Then good grades are helped along by a friendly competition which has meaningful results.
  10. Once a month, the rector and head spiritual director choose together a special ascetical practice for the whole house. The hot water is turned off for the day. Lunch one Friday is bread and water. One Saturday night is a mandatory 3-hour vigil. These common experiences are good for the life of the brethren… When you suffer together, you grow together, and this develops unity, even if it comes partially through complaining!

Well, that’s it. Surely there are plenty more, but those are mine for now. Do you have any practical suggestions? Keep in mind that adding “one more thing” is always a big deal – the current programs of formation are already packed to the brim with “stuff.” Here I tried mostly to avoid adding more obligations and duties and mainly tried to suggest changes to the character of pre-existing realities. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments – including if you disagree with any of my own proposals!

A final thought, somewhat related to formation, but a little outside… It could be worth investigating a split-model for diocesan vocation programs… Namely, a “vocation director” who gets men into the program, and then a “director of seminarians” who manages the men already in. A young guy deals with the rah-rah, come join us kind of stuff, and an older, more experienced, less vulnerable guy (even a “retired” priest) deals with the men already in. Some dioceses already do it, and basically every large religious order does something like this. Just a bonus thought.

Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!

The Other “Scandal” in the Vatican

Eamonn Clark

I was speaking with some confreres a few months ago right around the Youth Synod about a problem most have not realized exists. Do you remember the Youth Synod? How relevant has its work been to your life? Do you recall a single point from the final document? My guess is that you remember it happened, that it did almost nothing but cause concern, and it produced a rather milquetoast exhortation that was probably more or less written before the meeting happened anyway. Okay, fine. That in itself is problematic, but that’s not my point here.

Years ago, we had the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, followed by the Ordinary Synod on the Family. I won’t rehearse the issues there, but it is indisputable that we did indeed have these meetings here in Rome. Okay, fine.

We have another big meeting coming up in two days. (By the way, lower your expectations for that…) There are supposed to be presidents of Bishops’ Conferences from all over the world, plus some other folks from various locales, about 190 people in total officially attending. Okay. Fine.

Here is the big question. How much do these meetings cost?

For this meeting, if we more than generously assume that only 100 people are coming in from outside of Italy for 4 nights, where does that leave us with expenses for travel, room, and board?

Let’s just do the math for travel, and only for those officially attending (not counting any assistants inevitably brought along). A conservative estimate of the average round-trip ticket to Rome for the people showing up would be something like $1,000 in economy class, non-direct. My suspicion is that most bishops want to fly direct if possible, and in business class (arguably justifiable for many older guys, or for the ease of getting work done on the plane). But even giving the BOTD here, we have already spent $100,000. Just to show up and get home. Then 4 days of room and board and who knows what else (rental cars, extra nights, more travel, whatever). Then there’s all the work to prepare the meeting – the planning of the agenda, writing the press releases, getting the venue set up, communicating with attendees beforehand, etc. Let’s be extremely generous and say that the entire thing costs $500,000. (Which I think is a comical estimation – it’s probably deep into the millions.) What will primarily be happening at this abuse summit is listening to a few talks, some group conversations, and then a penitential liturgy with the Holy Father at the end.

The talks may be worth listening to. The group conversations may be worth having (although breaking them into “language groups” seems to encourage ideological incest, but, unfortunately, Latin has been lost, so we are pretty much stuck with this model). The penitential liturgy will surely be poignant.

But is it worth $500,000+ to have everyone there in person? Is it worth leaving the diocese for almost a week at minimum? Is it really worth the time, the money, the effort?

It might have been worth it a few decades ago. Today, there is not really an excuse. There is this new thing, called the internet, which can be used to communicate with many people very cheaply and quickly.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s a series of tubes.

Now, I live in Rome, and I know how slowly things move. I have no delusions that this model going to change any time soon. But it could and should change eventually, and change starts by pointing out the problem and a possible way forward. It is just ridiculous to be spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on these meetings when they could be done almost for free, and much more quickly at that, with a bit of tech-savvy engineering.

Of course, there are elements to a boots-on-the-ground meeting which are desirable. I’m not suggesting that it is never appropriate to come over in person, or that it isn’t important to be celebrating a liturgy in person with the Holy Father, or what have you. I am suggesting that we are seeing in the Holy See a decadent model of communication occasioned by an adaption to the availability of commercial travel without tempering it by an adaption to the availability of digital communications. We are not in 1875 anymore, it is true… We can fly to Rome and back without much trouble. But we are not in 1975 anymore either – we can have a lot of meetings online without much trouble.

Is there nothing better to do with that money, time, and energy?

St. Isidore, patron saint of the internet, pray for us.

Fake News, Real Vices: A Quick Take on CovCath

Eamonn Clark

On October 18th, 1925, Greece invaded Bulgaria. This event led to the death of nearly 200 people, including many civilians… But that’s not the whole story.

This November, the 100th anniversary will come of a treaty signed in my old neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine, which attempted to resolve some geographical disputes in the Balkan region after World War I. Suffice to say that it remained a point of contention, and a dispute between Greece and Bulgaria over the control of Macedonia and Thrace carried on. About six years later, a young Greek soldier stationed near the edge of Bulgarian territory ran into a clearing in a little mountain pass, perhaps totally unaware that he had even crossed the border. He had no intention of attacking anyone or taking any land – he was chasing his dog, which had run away from him. Bulgarian sentinels quickly determined it was a Greek invasion and shot him dead. The aftermath was several days of open violent conflict around the border. Thus is the event called the “War of the Stray Dog.”

While this narrative is somewhat disputed, whatever the case, after the League of Nations intervened it was admitted by Bulgaria that the whole conflict had been caused by a misunderstanding.

We seem to have just finished our own version of the War of the Stray Dog today. There was political tension (Left vs. Right), a border crossed (perceived mistreatment of a member of an historically oppressed group), a uniform (MAGA hat), an innocent misunderstanding (trying not to be provoked), and a catastrophic aftermath (nation-wide condemnation, death threats, etc.).

Calling out moral failures in this hurricane of off-the-rails virtue-signaling is like shooting fish in a barrel. So I won’t bother – you’ve no doubt read the headlines about Lefty journalists and celebrities calling for violence against these kids, and about the bishops and dioceses who trusted the mainstream media’s narrative and piled on. I just want to point out a few things.

  1. It might not have been better if the kid had walked away. The optics could have even been worse – it might look even more racist to turn your back on a Native American, right? So there was no winning.
  2. High-school kids are not typically models of serenity and prudence. Period. Ask anyone who works in secondary education or has teenage kids. So even if there were excesses or missteps, it seems beyond unfair to hold 16-year-old kids to a standard of foresight and self-control more proper to a 4-star general.
  3. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you and yours. So look out.
  4. “Officially” condemning people is unwise unless it’s your job to do so. I am thinking especially of several ecclesiastical persons/institutions who had no direct business with either the kids or the March for Life. Why is it necessary to comment at all? Are there not problems in your own house to attend to without jumping on the virtue-signal bandwagon?
  5. Every year now, for some time, when the secular media begrudgingly mentions the March for Life in passing, they will not mention the staggering numbers (500k+), the positive atmosphere, or the salient points of main speakers… They will dig up old footage of a high school kid in a MAGA hat and a Native American with a drum and talk about “angry conservatives” and “Trumpian politics” and “counter protesters.” Thankfully, that’s a sign of desperation which I think most reasonable people on the fence will see through.

I think this incident may have popped the media balloon. Time will tell.

St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, pray for us.

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.

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.

True Myth Part 4: Jesus and the Tricksters

Eamonn Clark

Jumping ahead quite a bit in Scripture in our “true myth” series, today we will look at an incredibly powerful relationship between Jesus Christ and the “trickster archetype.”

Fans of the Baltimore Catechism will recall that God “neither deceives nor is deceived.” How then, could God incarnate fit into this paradigmatic role of the Trickster, occupied by deceptive figures such as Loki, Hades, various coyotes, ravens, and other such creatures – including serpents – throughout the history of mythology? These figures use trickery in order to gain power… What does Jesus have to do with this?

Without a full exploration of the ins and outs of the trickster paradigm, we can point out just a few commonalities which apply to Jesus:

  1. He is, in many ways, in between life and death. (See Levi-Strauss on this characteristic of tricksters qua mediators of life and death for more… think of how the animals which normally portray trickster characters are neither herbivores nor hunters but eat already dead animals…) Here are some examples of this “in between” space:
    1. The Baptism in the Jordan – in between the Nations (death) and Israel (life), in between the Sea of Galilee (full of fish and where He calls the first disciples) and the Dead Sea (…dead…), in the midst of the flourishing jungle but in the lowest part of planet Earth, and in water (which both gives and takes life).
    2. His first act after the Baptism – He goes out into the desert (to deal with a real trickster) in between Jericho, the city of sin and death, and Jerusalem, the city of spirit and life… This same space will be the setting for the story about the Good Samaritan (representing Himself), who picks up the half-dead (!) sojourner (Adam), of which He is the renewal.
    3. He touches the unclean (symbols of death) and gives healing/life – For example, the raising of the little girl in Mark 5, or the healing of the leper in Matthew 8.
    4. The Resurrection – Did He actually die? Is He really alive? Whatever the case, it’s clear that our sense of the “in between” is tapped into… The psychology of the uncanny valley is maxed out.
  2. He normally dwells on the outskirts of society, frequently retreating to the wilderness for solitude. Much of the 3 years of the public ministry is spent camping just near the Decapolis and other such places. Bethany is another place worth mentioning, as it is not quite in Jerusalem, but it is near it, where he raises Lazarus from the dead (more “in between” life and death imagery) and prepares for Passover for the last time… Gethsemane and Golgotha are also just outside Jerusalem.
  3. He claims the role of a gatekeeper to the underworld. (Even more death-life ambiguity.) “I hold the keys of life and death,” He says in Revelation 1:18. Or take John 10:9 – “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved,” or John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  4. He is a shapeshifter.
    1. The Resurrection – He is the same, but different. (More ambiguity!) The disciples can only half recognize Him, though the wounds give testimony that it really is the same man they knew. But He is changed somehow.
    2. The Eucharist – Jesus literally takes the shape of bread and wine.
    3. God has become a human being – certainly a kind of changing shape, albeit in a qualified sense.
  5. He cannot be contained or caught by the power of opponents. He passes through the crowd, or He hides effectively, as seen in many passages in the Gospels, such as the rejection at Nazareth in Luke 4. Instead, only He has the power to lay down His life… and take it up again (John 10:18).
  6. He does not often give direct answers. Instead, He speaks in parables, riddles, questions, and ambiguities. He arguably only directly answers 3 questions of the over 100 put to Him, and He arguably asks over 300.

Other “trickster” characteristics might be noted as well, such as spiritual power, unclear origins, and a preference for working in the midst of obscurity and chaos. What are we to make of all this?

It is that Jesus goes to the most “uncomfortable” place in our psychology and asks us, nonetheless, to trust Him. So one of the deepest parts of our mind, which is intuitively inclined to see the brokenness of the world, is “cured” by His reversal of the trickster archetype.

God “deceives” in a way by becoming human (thus not “looking like God,” as He did on Mount Sinai with fire and thunder), in order to gain the power of persuasion or condescension. But also, and perhaps in a deeper and plainer sense, God is not only reversing the trickster’s goal-paradigm but inverting it as well… Instead of deceiving to become powerful, God becomes weak in order to tell the truth.

 

No, “pressure” to resign from the papacy does not make resignation invalid…

Eamonn Clark

Look. I’m not a professional canon lawyer. But two days in a row now even I have been able to point out some whoppers, both involving juridical validity.

It’s been irresponsibly suggested that “some canon lawyers” (who?) say that if a pope resigns due to scandals, he “cannot be said to have made his decision of his own free will – even if he insists that he is doing so.”

As the kids say these days – lolwut?

Even though the Holy Father apparently has said he has no intention of resigning, he is an unpredictable man, isn’t he. So let’s take a look at this important topic anyway.

Okay, so just a few questions to start us off… Since when is there a legal definition of “scandal”? And who determines whether there is such a “scandal”? And wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that a person who sees danger and ineffectiveness coming for him due to a scandal would truly want, as an authentic good, to leave office?

If it is true that scandal precludes the resignation of office, it would mean that the person is stuck there, even if due to his own sins and the real good of the Church requires his resignation. On what planet is this a juridic reality? The fact is that there are always scandals and pressures facing popes which would incline them to leave office, many of which are unknown to most people. So is every papal resignation therefore invalid?

No, of course not. As my own professor of canon law told our class, one of the important tools in reading and interpreting canon law is common sense. 

Let’s go through the text, shall we? My comments in bold.

Can. 187 Anyone responsible for oneself (sui compos) can resign from an ecclesiastical office for a just cause. Obviously, the pope is such a person. Note that mounting scandals and ineffectiveness due to pressure to resign would certainly constitute a “just cause.”

Can. 188 A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself. This means that, even if there is grave fear on the part of the office holder, that fear must be caused by a serious threat to that person which violates justice in its mode or in its end… We could quibble about exactly what “unjustly” and “out of malice” mean, (and it’s unclear to me if “out of malice” is its own clause – perhaps so) but at present, there seems to be nothing but serious complaints and demands for answers. No threats against the life or liberty of the person of the Holy Father.

Can. 332 …

§2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone. The key here is how to interpret the word “freely.” As we have seen, grave fear of being an ineffective pastor or of harming the Church through giving scandal would not suffice to inhibit freedom in the proper way, even for holders of a “normal” office. The office of the papacy, however, is not a normal office – it is the supreme office of the Church militant – and so even more stringent requirements would seem to obtain with regards to proving who seems to be the pope isn’t the pope or who seems to have left the papacy has not.

…ah but wait – let’s go back a few hundred canons…

Can. 14 Laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law. When there is a doubt about a fact, however, ordinaries can dispense from laws provided that, if it concerns a reserved dispensation, the authority to whom it is reserved usually grants it. So since there is at least a serious argument to be made that “scandal” and “pressures” do not of themselves suffice to render a resignation null when it is properly manifested, there is at least doubt about the law. This subjects the invalidating law, c. 332 §2, to a “stricter” interpretation. Any claim must overcome the arguments provided.

What, then, might actually render an attempted resignation invalid due to a restriction of freedom? Well, the pope could not be tortured to procure a resignation, for example. He also could not reasonably be presumed free when publicly and presently threatened with death or imprisonment by those with clear means to procure either. Anything like this, in which an invalidating pressure is manifest to all reasonable persons, when the Holy Father actually manifests an intention to resign it would indeed be invalid. Otherwise, we have at a minimum a doubtful application of law, which, especially given the importance of the office, should therefore be subject to strict interpretation, as explained above.

Therefore, the Pope is perfectly free to resign, no matter how bad the scandal gets.

Well, that’s my basic argument. Someone will have to show me where I’m going wrong, if indeed that’s the case. We didn’t even get into c. 17… That would be important too.

Text and context.