Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saint Thomas & Scholasticism, a Legacy of Orthodox Christianity

Underneath the glow of candles lit before icons of the Pantokrator and the Theotokos and the sweet scent of incense a current runs in Greek Christianity that says "We have never changed or thought about anything, ever." One deacon told a very confused congregation "We don't write things down, we just do what the people before us did," a remark which only further befuddled the befuddled. Any contrast with Latin Christianity draws buzz words like "legalism", "Aristotle", "juridical", "original", "mystical", "pastoral", and "the Fathers". What the faithful do not often hear is that Scholasticism and the forces behind it are as much or more integral to Orthodox Christianity than the writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian or Palamas.

A "Scholastic" is a "school man", a variation of the word schola, school in Latin. Schools were not centers of textbook reading, flag saluting, and learning how not to offend men in dresses in prior ages. A schola, East and West, was a center of instruction through dialogue and disputation, a system of purely Greek invention, one founded on Socrates' smart aleck ways and more coherently developed in the Dialogues of his student, Plato. Dialogue proved a useful oral tool in directing conversation to concentrate on crystallizing certain points of inquiry, in finding the finer points of a thing; similarly, dialogue was a useful written tool in answering objections as a point developed and in keeping the reader's interest rather than lugubriously lecturing him like a hipster, post-modern bore. Even when Plato waned in popularity his teaching methods remained in vogue in Orthodox and Latin culture until the end of the Middle Ages.

For as much grief as modern Orthodox writers give Augustine for his reliance on Plato and the Doctor Angelicus for his extensive use of Aristotle, Greek Christian history is plentiful with more notable example of applying the language of popular philosophy to contemporary theology and binding it upon future generations. The definition of a matter of theology in the language of philosophy is not a wholesale baptism of whatever that particular Greek said, merely that certain concepts were found useful to explain a certain elements of Christian truth for all time. In defense of ICEL's caterwauling over the translation of "consubstantial" in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the idea of substance very much belongs to Greek philosophy and not to any familiar thought in the last few centuries. Far from excusing our ignorance of "substance"—or prosopon in the case of Trinitarian theology—the Church is obligated to teach us about God using these very fitting terms. 

Similarly, the "legalistic" and exacting approach of Aquinas and the Schoolmen survives today only in courtrooms, yet for centuries was the acceptable means of settling a matter. When Leo III, Leo V, and Michael III stripped the holy images from the churches of Constantinople and rendered the Hagia Sophia as barren and dull as a Dallas church, Saint John of Damascus did not throw up his hands in objection and exclaim "We've always venerated icons! But why is a mystery, so let us do it and not discuss it!" In his third treatise against the iconoclasts, John taxonomizes numerous levels of veneration and their related sub-types:
  1. Veneration due to God, of which there are
    1. Worship
    2. Wonderment
    3. Gratitude
    4. Petition
    5. Repentance
      1. Repentance out of love
      2. Repentance out of fear for loss of love
      3. Repentance out of fear for punishment
  2. Veneration of persons or things through which God has worked
  3. Veneration due to things dedicated to God
  4. Veneration of types of God
  5. Veneration of God in other human beings
  6. Veneration of authority that comes from God
  7. Veneration of benefactors
In a like manner, Saint John examines specific ways in which something can be an image:
  1. A natural image, like God the Son is an image of God the Father
  2. A prophetic image of what is to come
  3. An imitation
  4. A Scriptural type
  5. A type of an event
  6. A memory
After a resurgence of iconoclasm in his own time, Saint Theodore the Studite got in touch with his inner-Plato and wrote a lengthy dialogue pitting the "Orthodox" against the hopeless "Heretic". Contemporaries would have read the names as the "True Worshiper" and "The One Who Chooses". Like the ancient Greeks Theodore uses his protagonist to propose his doctrine and the counterpart to present objections as each brick of teaching builds a wall of belief. 

During the same era the Roman Church produced relatively few notable theologians and no worthwhile movements of thought. Perhaps more genuinely in line with what modern would-be Hesychasts present Greek Christianity to be, the Romans did little else than what was given to them because much of their intellectual inheritance had been lost in the years following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The odd notable writer like Saint Gregory the Great or Saint Bede the Venerable relied heavily on Scripture for his terms and monasticism for his outlook.

"Do you like the Pope?"
"Great! You're in charge."
Amid disputes from the Greeks against the Spanish introduction of the Filioque and the "Azymites", as well as from Latins against the deteriorating relationship with the papacy, a renewed interest in theology emerged during Palaiologan Byzantium that did not preclude the Schoolmen. If anything the introduction of Saint Thomas Aquinas' writings shocked the Greek intellectual world. The Summa was probably first translated from Latin to Greek by Maximus Planudes in the early 14th century and quickly gained a following. Opinions of Aquinas and the established Latin theological traditions of Scholasticism and Scotism enjoyed a popularity irrespective of one's opinion of the Filioque, unleavened bread, and the pope. "As a star of the West, [Saint Thomas] illumined the Church of Christ" in the words of hymnographer Janus Plousiadenos (thanks, Marko!). Basilios Bessarion may not have been an outright Thomist, but Scholasticism certainly influenced his speculative theology. Among opponents of Rome, Mark of Ephesus (accomplished in many things and remembered only for giving Rome the middle finger on the eve of Byzantium's fall) criticized Aquinas' rejection of the Immaculate Conception from Scotistic grounds. 

Gennadius Scholarius recanted of his Scholasticism after leaving the Council of Florence without voting on any propositions to lead the separatist party back home. Yet, before Florence he sang Aquinas' praises:
"Would O excellent Thomas that you had not been born in the West. Then you would not have needed to defend the deviations of the Church there.... You would have been as perfect in theology as you are in ethics."
According to Hugh Barbour O. Praem, Palamite emperor John VI took an interest in Thomas and patronized Demetrios Kydones' translation of the Summa contra gentiles. Two other opponents of the Florentine Union quoted Aquinas' arguments for the Incarnation and consecrated virginity word for word and without attribution; these two opponents, Makarios Makres and Joseph Bryennios, were cited as examples of fidelity to Orthodox tradition in a letter of Athonites monks against the ecumenism of the Greek patriarch.

Why were Palaiologan Orthodox so fond of Saint Thomas when their descendants today are not? It seems likely that, aside from where Thomas "needed to defend the deviations" of Rome, the Greeks perceived him as one of the highest expressions of their own approach to theology, to argument, and to reasoning. There was no antithetical relationship between reason and mysticism, between logic and tradition; there was only truth and falsehood, and Aquinas enunciated the former more eloquently and with greater edification than any other writer centuries forward or backward, East or West; his imitators were less successful.

A separate Scholastic tradition would develop in Russia, firmly separated from Rome and independent of Constantinople after the events of 1453. Russia lacked an indigenous theological tradition, relying instead on sparsely available translations of Greek writers. There was a need for stability in both church and state which the Scholastic method supplied. Today some writers consider these centuries as the "Western Captivity of Orthodoxy."

Now that we have seen Greek Christianity's well rooted similarities to Latin Scholasticism and their amenable history with Saint Thomas, the question remains why Aquinas has fallen out of favor and into disrepute with Orthodox theologians. The answer is simple: because Orthodox Christianity, not unlike modern Roman Catholic theology, is under the intellectual domain of a small clique of thinkers who do not represent their tradition in its entirety. I will close with a quote from Patrick Reardon, a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church:
“What almost always passes for ‘Orthodox theology’ among English-speaking Orthodox these days is actually just a branch of the larger Orthodox picture. Indeed, it tends sometimes to be rather sectarian.
"The Orthodox Church is an ancient castle, as it were, of which only two or three rooms have been much in use since about 1920. These two or three rooms were furnished by the Russian émigrés in Paris between the two World Wars. This furniture is heavily neo-Palamite and anti-Scholastic. It relies heavily on the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Gregory Palamas (who are good folks, or course). Anything that does not fit comfortably into that model is dismissed as “Western” and even non-Orthodox.
"Consequently, one will look in vain in that theology for any significant contribution from the Alexandrians, chiefly Cyril, and that major Antiochian, Chrysostom. When these are quoted, it is usually some incidental point on which they can afford to be quoted.
"Now I submit that any ‘Orthodox’ theology that has so little use for the two major figures from Antioch and Alexandria is giving something less than the whole picture.
"Likewise, this popular neo-Palamite brand of Orthodoxy, though it quotes Damascene when it is convenient, never really engages Damascene’’s manifestly ‘Scholastic’ approach to theology.
"Much less does it have any use for the other early Scholastic theologians, such as Theodore the Studite and Euthymus Zygabenus. There is no recognition that Scholasticism was born in the East, not the West, and that only the rise of the Turk kept it from flourishing in the East.
"There is also no explicit recognition that the defining pattern of Orthodox Christology was formulated in the West before Chalcedon. Pope Leo’s distinctions are already very clear in Augustine decades before Chalcedon. Yet, Orthodox treatises on the history of Christology regularly ignore Augustine. 
"Augustine tends to be classified as a ‘Scholastic,’ which he most certainly was not.
But Western and Scholastic are bad words with these folks.
"In fact, however, Augustine and the Scholastics represent only other rooms in the larger castle.
"For this reason I urge you, as you can, to read in the Orthodox sources that tend to get skipped in what currently passes for ‘Orthodoxy.’ For my part, I believe the Russian émigré theology from Paris, which seems profoundly reactionary and anti-Western, is an inadequate instrument for the evangelization of this country and the world. I say this while gladly recognizing my own debt to Russian émigré theology.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Patron for the Age of "Amoris Laetitia"? The Glorious St. Peter Damian, Bishop, Doctor, S.R.E. Cardinal

St. Peter Damian: feast day, Feb. 23

At first blush, it may not seem that St. Peter Damian (d. 1072) is a good match for our troubled times. He knew real suffering as a boy and then voluntarily imposed severe penances on himself throughout his life, even after being created Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Much of his reforming work--visitations, embassies, and the like--was carried out under a holy and reform-minded Pope (Bl. Stephen IX). But even apart from his theological works (for which Leo XII bestowed on him the title of Doctor of the Church in 1823), which are profitable reading in any age, St. Peter's great treatise on clerical corruption (eventually styled Liber Gomorrhianus, The Book of Gomorrah), actually a lengthy epistle, is both shocking and comforting for those today who love the Church.

It seems shocking--to all except the very jaded, I suppose--because it's not our first thought regarding the Church of old, especially in the "Age of Faith," i.e., that it was riddled with cynical simoniacs and plagued by the unnatural vice, even in monasteries in the heart of Italy. Nevertheless, such was the case. St. Peter's book, though, is at the same time a consolation: mainly because the Saint shines forth as a lion of courage and resolve, unflinching in his indictment of the guilty and unapologetic in reviving the ancient canons (and enforcing them) against such wayward souls. For instance, he cites St. Fructuosus (d. 665) and his sanctions for monks or clerics guilty of simply "pestering" youngsters of the same sex:
"A cleric or monk who persecutes adolescents or children--or who is caught in a kiss or other occasion of indecency--should be publicly beaten and lose his tonsure .... his face is to be smeared with spittle, and he is to be bound in iron chains, worn down with six months of imprisonment, and three days every week to fast on barley bread until sundown. After this ... separated in his room for another six months ... he should be intent upon the works of his hands and prayers, and he should always walk under the guard of two spiritual brothers ...."
(This passage is taken, p. 119, from the fine translation of Matthew C. Hoffman in the recent edition of the Liber published by Ite ad Thomam Books and Media, a  project of the "Ite ad Thomam" website [], an excellent resource, by the way, for St. Thomas and his Commentators. Very highly recommended.)

Keep in mind that the Saint is appealing to a discipline that was about 400 years old at that point. It would be the equivalent of insisting nowadays on a revival of the disciplinary canons of Trent, with the obvious difference that we no longer live in Christendom, which St. Peter most certainly did, even if it was a Christendom that seemed on the verge of expiring.

Finally, to those erstwhile critics of St. Peter Damian, who maintain that he was too harsh or too uncompromising, we have to point out that over the next fifty or so years after his death, the twin evils of simony and sodomy were all but eliminated in the heart of Christendom. Without a St. Peter Damian and the great reforming Popes of the eleventh century, it is hard to believe that there would ever have been a "Thirteenth and Greatest of Centuries." Now, in the twenty-first, his protection and prayers seem to be needed more than ever, especially by those of us who are not so selfless and courageous as he was.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why Not Nineveh 40?

There's a new traddy-masculinist meme going around called Nineveh 90, a sort of exercise in group discipline for overcoming habitual sin and preparing for the centennial of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin in Portugal. It is being organized by a certain priest, Richard Heilman. I'm not one to look down on these "Let's build good habits together" movements, and the tie to the Fatima devotion is not a terrible way to set something up, but I couldn't help notice that the N90 Challenge begins Feb. 13, the day after Septuagesima Sunday, and ends May 13, the day before the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Now, I understand that the building of good habits takes time, effort, and repetition, but the 90-day commitment includes penances like avoiding alcohol, sweets, television, and non-uplifting music, whatever that means. (Why not include abstinence from the marriage bed—a popular medieval penance—while they're at it?) It's all well and good for Catholic men to be using the season of Lent for their penitential overtures, but Easter is celebrated on April 16 this year. Will they continue their penitential habit-building while the rest of the Church is feasting the Resurrection of Our Lord? Or will they be doing extra penances when Lent starts, and only cease those at Easter?

Compounding this confusion is the reference to God's judgment that the prophet Jonas preached against the wicked city of Nineveh: "In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown." I fear that Fr. Heilman has let the findings of pop-psychology get the better of him by ignoring the number of penitential days in the very text he bases this meme upon!

I would not care much about N90 if I didn't know many Catholics trying to talk me into joining them. It's disheartening that I cannot yet convince them that the liturgical year takes precedence over psychological trends and devotions to private revelations. Will they be doing penance during Eastertide? On Easter Sunday itself? Somehow, I do not think that Our Lady of Fatima would be pleased.

And besides, nobody's going to convince me to start wearing the miniature Carmelite habit again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"The Most Certain Rule of Christian Doctrine": or Why Every Rad Trad Should Aspire to Become a Thomist, Part I

“The most brilliant light of the Church ... the most certain rule of Christian doctrine"--S. Pius V
Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail (Francisco Zurbaran)
Why should a Catholic be confined to the "system" of a single thinker?
Let's set aside for now the question of theological systems and focus instead on the singular approbation and recommendation that St. Thomas has received from the highest earthly authority in the Church, namely various Popes throughout the centuries. For instance, there is this encomium by John XXII, unfortunately now only remembered for his heretical ideas about admission to the Beatific Vision:
"[St. Thomas's] doctrine could only be miraculous … because he enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors. By the use of his works a man could profit more in one year than if he studies the doctrine of others for his whole life.”
Benedict XIII was equally forceful in his approval:
"[St. Thomas's] works made the Church illustrious with wonderful erudition, since they march ahead and proceed with unimpeded step, protecting and vindicating by the surest rule of Christian doctrine, the truth of our holy religion."
 The Angelic Doctor is singled out, famously, by Leo XIII, who (as is well known) instituted the full-blown Thomistic revival initiated by Bl. Pius IX:
“This is the greatest glory of Thomas, altogether his own and shared with no other Catholic Doctor: that the Fathers of Trent, in order to proceed in an orderly fashion during the conclave, desired to have opened upon the altar together with the Scriptures and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas whence they could draw counsel, reasons and answers."
This list could be extended. No one is arguing, of course, that the theological works of other Doctors are somehow less Catholic or dangerous to the Faith (not to say there aren't troubling tendencies here and there in some of them--I'm looking at you, Scotists!). Rather, everything that may be said of the great lights of Catholic doctrine can be said of St. Thomas but with this addition: namely, that he alone is commended above the others as the surest guide for the explanation and defense of the Catholic Faith.

Furthermore, it's not being argued that St. Thomas is held up in this way because he represents a synthesis of the ancient Fathers and the (then) new Scholastic method: there were many representatives of this effort, not least among them the great St. Bonaventure, the Doctor Seraphicus. Nor does St. Thomas's distinction rest on his combination of rigorous thought with mystic prayer and great virtue: we could cite St. Bonaventure again, or St. Anselm, or even (at least by antiquity of cult) Bl. Duns Scotus. On the contrary! We are saying that St. Thomas's distinction arises from the singular profundity, rigor, and thoroughness of his thought. It was not for nothing that, when at long last Peter Lombard's Sentences finally fell out of use as the basic theology textbook, the Summa Theologica of Aquinas was taken up instead.

Thomism is often misused ...

Before anyone could reasonably be expected to sign off on the proposition that every Rad Trad should aspire to be a Thomist, we should address some of the difficulties surrounding the study (and emulation) of St. Thomas.

First, there is the issue of the misuse of the great Summa itself. I'm sure we've all observed this here and there in on-line Catholic discussions. Let me use a recent article. It was written by a very nice lady, with undoubtedly Catholic intent, to give a Catholic perspective on the brouhaha surrounding U.S. immigration policy and border control. She writes in part:
"St. Thomas Aquinas would seem to approach the issue of immigration from a different perspective [different, i.e., from the "perspective" of those shining lights of Catholic theology, Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Tobin]. In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas was careful to divide relationships with foreigners into two categories: peaceful, and hostile."
 So far, so good. (This is all coming from the Summa, the I part of the II part, Question 105, article 3. Significantly, the entirety of Question 105 is dedicated to the Law of Moses, and specifically to inquiries concerning the rationale--ratio--for the judicial precepts of that law.) However, the author then throws this in the mix:
"Among peaceful relationships, [St. Thomas] identified three types of encounter which the Jews might have with foreigners who entered their lands."
Precisely: "the Jews [i.e., the Hebrew nation of old]," not "nations in general." After all, the Saint is here discussing the reason for the judicial precepts of the Old Law, viz. one of the parts of the Law that passed away with the revelation of the New Law. So, we might draw back a bit when our author concludes her foray into Thomistic thought on immigration with this sententia:
"Aquinas taught that total integration of immigrants into the life, language, customs and culture was necessary for full citizenship."
 Well, maybe he did, and maybe he didn't. We won't know for sure just by looking at this particular article in the Summa. Aquinas certainly gives a rationale for why the Jews of old regulated immigration and citizenship--he even throws in the custom of certain pagan nations (using Aristotle as an authority)--but he nowhere expounds on the general principles of immigration and admission to citizenship, not here anyway.

I suspect, but can't prove, that most instances of this clumsy use of the Summa result from using some on-line version (such as at What those on-line versions (the best of which is, by the way) do not provide, however, is a list of the other places in the works of St. Thomas where the same or a similar question is discussed: e.g., in the Commentary on the Sentences, the Quaestiones Disputatae or Quodlibetales, or one of his commentaries on the Gospels or St. Paul.

...unappreciated and misunderstood ...

All of which brings us to the second issue at play here: Thomism is unappreciated and misunderstood. For one thing, there's a confusion of terminology: Thomism, Neo-Scholasticism, Neo-Thomism, and maybe others.

Let's clear it up a little, shall we? Thomism is fairly general; it refers to every theologian (or philosopher) who considers himself as abiding by the principles and theological doctrine contained in St. Thomas's writings. I say it's general because someone like P. Francisco Suarez, S.J., would have considered himself a Thomist--and others sometimes list him as such--but he is less than a faithful follower of all that St. Thomas taught.

Neo-Scholasticism, the Scholastic Revival, or the Thomistic Revival all refer to a conscious effort to revive Scholastic methods (incorporation of authorities, disputation, etc.) and to reintroduce authentic Thomism. (There were other Schools even in the revival, prominently St. Bonaventure, Scotus, and, unfortunately, the Molinists of the Jesuit School.) In some places, this revival was really quite effective and became a living tradition: the pre-Vatican II Lateran University and the "Angelicum," among others.

Neo-Thomism has nothing to do with the Thomistic Revival, as such. It is, rather, a term used to designate the melding of Thomism with certain, shall we say, more modern trends: Idealism, Hegelianism, Existentialism even. In its milder form, it was espoused by Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. In its less mild forms, it's barely recognizable as Thomism. Sadly, if a casual student decides to study the thought of St. Thomas nowadays, among the more accessible books are those by Maritain and Gilson. Said student is left with the impression that these works present an accurate picture of St. Thomas and that they actually present the principles and methods of Thomistic thought. Sadly, this is not the case.

No, the truth of the matter is that becoming a proficient student of St. Thomas is hard work. Pick up (and proceed to read), if you haven't already, his early work for the use of philosophy students, the De Ente et Essentia. St. Thomas intended this as a simple, easy-to-understand introduction to certain questions in metaphysics. (I found a handy English version on-line.) And please, don't just skip over the references to Aristotle or Avicenna: look them up if you can, since Aquinas' students would have at least known the sentence or sentences referred to. Better yet, read over St. Thomas's extensive and (for me, at least) exhausting commentaries on Aristotle (the Physics, the Metaphysics, the Posterior Analytics, etc., etc.). After all, a thorough study of "the Philosopher" was basic to anyone attempting to study the Sacred Page (theology) in St. Thomas' day (up until, oh, about 1965).

Step two: render the entire text into syllogisms. You may use any valid form of the syllogism, but for extra points, you will need to turn each one into the first figure. If you need to brush up on the figures and how they line up one to another, there is a brief overview here by way of the famous Barbara, celarent hexameters. It would probably be best to commit the entire "poem" to memory (or recommit it), since even ordinary students of the early and mid-twentieth century were required to render the main arguments (in the corpus) of the more important articles of the Summa into syllogisms.

Of course, prior to studying the Summa, one really should have a reasonable proficiency in Latin, even if only ecclesiastical Latin. (The only really difficult Latin in the Summa is found in the citations from Seneca regarding generosity. It's probably permissible to crib those from English translations.) After all, in English it gets confusing fast when one talks about being (noun), being (verb), and being (the state thereof). All of this is swept away by the elegant, precise Latin of the Scholastics. It will also be easier to correlate citations from the Scriptures (Vulgate) with the terms used by St. Thomas in one of his arguments; this is much more difficult with English.

... and therefore left untried.

Hopefully, you realize that the above section was written with a good deal of tongue in cheek. The fact of the matter is that it is no easy thing to undertake a study of St. Thomas. It certainly requires the things I've alluded to above and more besides. If anyone looks up "immigration" on the internet, coupling it with "Aquinas" and "Summa," one might get results; one might string a few thoughts together and come up with a conclusion; but the result will most likely be far from reflecting St. Thomas' own thought. A haphazard or lazy approach to something thought out and recorded as the result of so much thought, unremitting work, and single-minded prayer will of course fall far short. Nemo dat quod non habet, as the old Scholastic dictum has it ("No one gives that which he does not have"): and indeed no one can give himself over to the study of St. Thomas who does not have at least some appreciation of what this study will require.
An important preliminary to the study of the Angelic Doctor: the elevation of mind and heart to God and the things of God.

So much for the pitfalls when reading St. Thomas. How does one use his writings fruitfully, even if unable to devote years to an effort at preparation? (After all, Pope John XXII seemed to say above that one year dedicated to St.Thomas was better than nothing.) Well, I will tell you, but only in the next installment, since this article has already run on too long.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"The Good of Truly Diverse Pluralism"

Padre J.J.
Two months ago I made the mistake of visiting a local parish wherein the popular Pauline Novelty Mass is celebrated. This parish, advertised as St. Rita Catholic Community, and boasting a rather sizable campus, went somewhat beyond the banal and into the offensive in its celebration of newness and undeserved familiarity. I will not bore our readers with the details, since they are as common as they were repulsive, but I thought of SRCC when I noticed the publication of an opinion piece concerning our new bishop by its so-called pastoral administrator, Rev. Joshua Jair Whitfield.

Padre J.J.'s article, "Why the new bishop of Dallas matters, even if you aren't Catholic," is rather dull and generic piece of brown-nosing until the end, where he drops this whopper:
This is the sort of city I believe in, a city of genuine diverse voices both secular and spiritual. It's a city in which I may grow under the wisdom of the Torah as well as the insights of the Hadith, sanctified in the teachings of Jesus as well as enlightened by the precise beauties of science. A city in which these voices come together as one chorus, not in any sort of tired blurred syncretism, but truly symphonic. A city in which each person keeps his or her authentic faith and authentic voice, speaking and bearing witness to it peacefully; each sharing the wisdom and insights of his or her traditions for the good of all. A truly diverse city: this is my vision, my hope and my prayer.
And I believe this new bishop will add to this chorus beautifully. Dallas is a city of remarkable men and women, remarkable leaders of faith. It's a city of civic and political leaders of good will and good argument. A city that doesn't hide its differences, it celebrates them as it struggles to live an ethics of dignity and fairness for all. It's a great city, great because of this diversity. It's a city we love.
Quite an insult to Bp. Burns, to suggest that the man considers himself the spokesman for just one spiritual voice among many "genuine diverse voices," rather than the local shepherd of the One Church outside of which one cannot be saved. At least, I have no particular reason to suspect His Excellency of indifferentism. No doubt his response to Padre J.J.'s doctrinally confusing article will be swift and clear, but merciful—after all, the good reverend is a former Anglican minister, and has a wife and children to support.

A disturbing stained glass window Padre J.J. contemplates daily at St. Rita's, courtesy of Mr. Lyle Novinski.

Friday, February 17, 2017

1967 Revisions: Back to the Future

Bill Riccio's poignant reaction to recent proposals to modify the "liturgical books of 1962" (aka the "Mass of the Ages") brought to my mind the parallels with the reforms of the 1960s. It seems in the "liturgist" crowd reform can really be reduced to just a few unique features of Paul VI's new Mass and nothing else. Still, the proposals really are a flashback to the halcyon days just after Vatican II, when no one knew what the hell was going on. It instantly brought to mind a little hand Missal I saw in a used bookstore for a mere $6.00; I was tempted to buy the item for its historical value, not for actual use; the lack of any markings or wear shows just how useless this book was, of value for only two full liturgical years before the Pacelli-Montini revolution was brought to completion.

Popular participation, the be all and end all of worthy latria.

The reduced preparatory prayers, still with the double-Confiteor.
At first glance I wondered if the phonetic Latin text below the English
might be useful, but if one knows Latin is phonetic one need not
separate each syllable. The Fore-Mass has been rebranded "Liturgy of the Word of God"
and Mass is now assumed to be versus populum according to the decorative "art."

The newly translated Canon of the Mass, in direct contradiction
to the last vote of Vatican II. The translation, aside from being inferior
to those of many hand missals from the prior thirty years, looks remarkably like
what the Anglophonic world was given until 2011, and this two years before
the introduction of the new Ordo.

"I never knew a translation could be heretical." -Alexander Schmemann

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Legacy of Benediktuskirche

The recently published book-length interview with the Pope Emeritus, Last Testament: In His Own Words, goes far beyond the opening discussion about his resignation and retirement, also recapitulating the childhood, youth, and unexpectedly dramatic ecclesiastical career of Joseph Ratzinger. Some items from his memoirs and earlier interviews are revisited and clarified, and some controversies—like his falling out with the heretic Hans Küng—are discussed at length. Most interesting is the P. Emeritus’s continued identification as a theological progressive, and his belief that being such was always the right choice.

I do not intend to review the book as a whole, but I will share a few interesting selections from Ratzinger’s final interview. We need to be reminded, I think, of how little of a friend he was and is to the various traditionalist movements in the Church.

After the war, Ratzinger began his studies in Freising with his brother Georg, at a school that had been founded with a monastery by St. Corbinian in AD 716. He speaks of a retreat led there by a certain Professor Angermair:
He was a fresh, new thinker who particularly wanted to take us out of the cramped piety of the nineteenth century, and into the open. You sensed the new mood, and it was a breakthrough for me, so to speak. Accordingly, your curiosity then grows while you’re in university, even if everything wasn’t quite so convincing there. (Ch. 6)
This sense of moving out of a cramped spirituality and theology was a prominent aspect of the 20th-century Modernists and quasi-Modernists, although in many respects their accusations were true. There was a kind of tunnel vision when it came to theology and spiritual formation, especially as it was disseminated to the laity, and this sense of unjust confinement led contemporary thinkers to be careless when breaking off their shackles.

The topic comes up again when Seewald asks Ratzinger why he has seldom addressed the topic of Hitler and the Third Reich:
Well, the eyes are always looking to the future. And it was not specifically my topic. We had the experience within us, but to reflect further on it historically or philosophically was something I never saw as my task. For me the important thing was to conceive the vision for tomorrow. Where are we today? How will things proceed with the Church? How will things proceed in society? (Ch. 6)
From there the questions proceed deeper into his theological vision, and it is worthwhile to quote him at some length:
Well, I didn’t want to operate only in a stagnant and closed philosophy, but in a philosophy understood as a question—what is man, really?—and particularly to enter into the new, contemporary philosophy. In this sense I was modern and critical…. [I] didn’t simply want to learn and take on a closed system, I also wanted to understand the theological thinkers of the Middle Ages and modernity anew, and to proceed from this. This is where personalism, which was in the air at that time, particularly struck me, and seemed to be the right starting point of both philosophical and theological thought….
We were forward-thinking. We wanted to renew theology from the ground up, and thereby form the Church in newness and vitality. In this respect we were lucky that we lived in a time in which both the youth and liturgical movements had opened up new horizons, new paths. Here we wanted to press forward with the Church, so that, in precisely this way, she would be young again. At that time we all had a certain contempt for the nineteenth century; it was fashionable then. So neo-Gothic and those rather kitschy figures of saints, the narrow, somewhat kitsch piety and over-sentimentality—we wanted to overcome all that. We wanted a new era of piety, which formed itself from the liturgy, its sobriety and its greatness, which drew on the original sources—and was new and contemporary precisely because of this….
As mentioned already, I wanted out of classical Thomism, and Augustine was a helper and guide with this. In this connection it was worthwhile entering into a living conversation with contemporary philosophy. But I’ve certainly never been an existentialist….
I thought: we are young people, we have a point of entry. From this certainty that we are able to build the world anew, I was fearless before great things…. The personal struggle which Augustine expresses really spoke to me. Thomas’s writings were textbooks, by and large, and impersonal somehow….
It [the “Munich School”] was defined by the fact that it was completely biblically oriented, working from Holy Scripture, the Fathers and the liturgy, and it was very ecumenical. The Thomistic-philosophical dimension was missing; maybe that was its real benefit. (Ch. 6)
Neither I nor His Traddiness are great defenders of the Thomistic school, but the hubris of thinking that one can discard what had been a long-proven instructional tool for basic theology and exchange it for something which the beginners themselves were building from the ground up, is obvious. The theological legacy of Thomas of Aquino is no more disposable than the Fathers and Scriptures that the amatores aggiornamento supposedly respected. It is probably true that Thomism was in need of serious reform and correction, but the Summa has always been effective in its original intended use, as a beginner’s guide to theology. That is not something to be lightly dismantled.

(As a sidenote, it is interesting that at the end of this chapter, Ratzinger discusses the novels of Hermann Hesse, especially The Glass Bead Game, which ends with a spiritual-intellectual leader deciding to lay down his responsibilities and retire into a more humble life. I noted the similarities between the action of the novel and the P. Emeritus’s actions in a post last year.)

His thoughts continue as he hikes over the mountains and valleys of memory through his higher education:
In Munich we had of course grown up with a modern philosophy. Certain professors had taken us to pastures new and opened them up for us. I had taken this mood on internally, and tried to perpetuate it according to the possibilities at my disposal….
Only later was there separation between those who rejected the Magisterium and went their own way, and those who said that theology can only be done within the Church. [Meaning the supposedly divergent paths of the progressive school. -J] Then, everyone was still aware that theology obviously has its own freedom and task, that it cannot be completely servile to the Magisterium, but we also knew that theology without the Church would be theology in name only, and would no longer have any meaning. I was considered someone who is young, who opens new doors, treads new paths, so then persons who were just plain critical came to me. (Ch. 7)
He reflects later on many aspects of his experience during the recent Council:
During the period of the Council in Rome, did you sometimes stop for a couple of drinks with someone along the way?
Not as a pair, no, but as part of a small group. Especially in the theological commission. Then we often drank plentifully in Trastevere.
[The Pope laughs loudly.]…
Which theologians do you actually appreciate the most?
I would still say Lubac and Balthasar….
Which camp did you belong to at that time: the progressives?
Yes, indeed, I would say so. At that time progressive did not mean that you were breaking out of the faith, but that you wanted to understand it better, and more accurately, how it lives from its origins. I was of the opinion then that that was what we all wanted….
You were charged with that [freemasonry]?
[Laughs] Yes, yes, although I really shouldn’t be held in suspicion of being a freemason…. 
Was it a mistake to convoke the Council at all?
No, it was right for sure. One can ask whether it was necessary or not, OK. And from the outset there were people who were against it. But in itself it was a moment in the Church when you were simply waiting on something new, on a renewal, a renewal of the whole…. In that respect the time was simply nigh. (Ch. 8)
Presumptions of inaugurating a new dispensation in the Church was common among mid-20th century theologians, especially the Germans. The “new wine” apparently flowed freely across the Tiber during the Council, the same place where Fr. Bouyer famously penned the corrected text of Eucharistic Prayer II on a napkin.

It was also in Trastevere, on an outdoor table at a small restaurant in 2004, where I talked at great length with another recent American convert well into the night about the many troubles in the Church. I had barely been Catholic a full year, and already I was growing sickened by the theological and moral disintegration that most of my fellow Catholics were happy to willfully ignore or excuse. It is sad to see that Joseph Ratzinger is still so full of his youthful naïveté that he defends every principle he followed, even while weakly condemning their usual consequences.

The penultimate chapter of the interview, “Shortcomings and Problems,” is a far cry from the example of Ratzinger’s hero St. Augustine, who wrote a series of Retractationes. In here, the P. Emeritus makes a long series of excuses, and casts blame for some events (especially the “Williamson affair”) on others. He claims also that the “gay lobby” problem had been entirely taken care of before his resignation.

In the concluding chapter, he ominously describes the historical import of his papacy:
Do you see yourself as the last Pope of an old era or the first Pope of a new era?
Between the times, I would say. 
As a bridge, a kind of connecting link between the two worlds? 
I don’t belong to the old world any more, but the new world isn’t really here yet.
The new world is still being constructed around us, with the neverending “year” of “mercy” and “humility.” We can only pray that its reforms will be stopped before they are irreversible.

Sts. Benedict and Joseph, pray for us!