Sunday, July 23, 2017

Old Claimants

"Some would argue that the Austro-Hungarian Empire still exists, since Blessed Karl never lawfully abdicated," said my host during the post-dinner cigars last evening. "That's quite something," I quietly thought, "since when my grandmother left Hungary in 1925 she was accustomed to calling it Hungary."

Our sympathies for noble causes can sometimes distract us when they are too removed from reality to see the tinge of human fault, which would be more apparent were there any substance to them. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is very gone. 

This conversation led me to remember a strange tomb I saw in the Vatican basilica six years ago. I could not understand why it was there, ignorant of pretender history at the time, and was convinced the Latin must have been some sort of mistake, since England never had a James III. The "Karlists" may never have their chance, but the Jacobites did and made the least of it. The Hanovers and their descendants continue to supply English monarchs. Walter Scott's Edward Waverly failed to advance the Stuart cause, apparently. 



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mary, Quite Contrary [Repost]

[Unfortunately I have not had the leisure to study more deeply into the cult of the "Apostle to the Apostles" since writing this short overview last year. The uncertainty surrounding her identity—is St. Mary Magdalene the sister of Sts. Martha and Lazarus or another woman altogether?—does lead to devotional difficulties, not to mention minor ecumenical hardships. I tend to side with the Roman tradition on this matter, as on many others, but not nearly with the level of certainty I give to "Old" St. Joseph. The academic study of hagiography too quickly splits into schools of skepticism (the majority) and credulity (the clear but vocal minority), and Catholic intellectuals rarely approach these subjects with both thoughtfulness and reverence.]

The Quasi-Assumption of Mary (Giotto)
Last month Pope Francis promoted the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalen in the new kalendar to a feast, prompting a small flurry of discussion about the true identity of the Apostolorum Apostola. The western conflation of Magdalen with the sister of St. Martha has a long and noble tradition dating back at least to Pope Gregory the Dialogist, but in the east the Orthodox have long considered them to be distinct persons.

After finishing my Josephology series, I had considered writing a short series on the history of Mary Magdalen in liturgical history, but most of the books on the subject were written either from a neo-Gnostic or an egregiously feminist philosophical base. The few Orthodox sources I could find were polemically anti-occidental, so finding a sober consideration of this great saint was next to impossible. (Honestly, is it really so difficult to think that a woman from whom was cast seven devils might have been a great sinner?)

Personally, I find the scriptural argument for conflating the two Marys and the female “sinner” reasonable if not absolutely compelling. It would be strange if the women Luke and John describe as having anointed the feet of Christ with their hair were two separate people, and John’s Gospel suggests that Mary of Bethany indeed anointed his feet twice. “Mary who is called Magdalen” is named just after Luke’s narrative of the penitent prostitute, suggesting but not necessitating a connection. But it is reasonable that the Mary who had anointed Christ’s feet in preparation for his burial would also be the one to go out to the Holy Sepulchre to anoint his dead body.

Hugh Pope constructs this possible sequence of events for the “conflated” penitent and Marys:
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the “sinner” comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen “out of whom seven devils were gone forth”; shortly after, we find her “sitting at the Lord’s feet and hearing His words.” To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection—excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ’s feet—it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head—the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
The Protestant separation of the Marys was not ubiquitous even among the heretics. Although John Calvin explicitly separated Mary of Bethany from Mary Magdalen in his Gospel commentaries, the Lutheran and Anglican sects retained the Gregorian hagiographical tradition.

I cannot agree with Fr. Erlenbush that the Latin tradition and the common post-Gregorian papal opinion of Marian conflation easily proves the Roman martyrology correct, as if the eastern tradition was not worthy of account. Perhaps someday a future Council will consider this topic worthy of dogmatic clarification, but for now we must live with some measure of uncertainty.

The Greeks say that the Myrrh-Bearer Magdalen lived with St. John and the Blessed Virgin in Ephesus for many years until her death. The Latin tradition has her being cast into the sea on a small boat with Martha and Lazarus until their ship found the coasts of France. From there, Mary made her retirement as a hermit until her death. The medieval Golden Legend describes her desert life:
In this meanwhile the blessed Mary Magdalene, desirous of sovereign contemplation, sought a right sharp desert, and took a place which was ordained by the angel of God, and abode there by the space of thirty years without knowledge of anybody. In which place she had no comfort of running water, nor solace of trees, nor of herbs. And that was because our Redeemer did do show it openly, that he had ordained for her refection celestial, and no bodily meats. And every day at every hour canonical she was lifted up in the air of angels, and heard the glorious song of the heavenly companies with her bodily ears. Of which she was fed and filled with right sweet meats, and then was brought again by the angels unto her proper place, in such wise as she had no need of corporal nourishing.
The head of Mary Magdalen is believed to be held in La Sainte-Baume, in the south of France.

Mary Magdalen, feminist icon, pray for us!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Can I Depose a Pope?

Yes, of course I can! And you can, too! It just takes an army.

What was the difference between the deposition of Saint Liberius for archdeacon Felix and the deposition of Gregory XII (and Benedict XIII and John XXIII) at Constance? Why, that the latter stuck and the former did not.

Of course the election of Papa Bergoglio was quite uncanonical if we are to pay attention to the politicking of Messrs. Mahoney, Danneels, Kasper and the rest before the conclave, but there is the simple fact that Francis is a validly consecrated bishop who wears a white cassock and is recognized by the people of Rome as their bishop, whether they like him or not—all all signs point toward not.

The most common way to depose a pope, historically, has been murder. During the saeculum obscurum the strumpets Theodora and Marozia routinely gave birth to popes and, while nursing the future pontiffs, put old daffers on the Petrine chair until the pontifices reached age twenty. The reigning bishop would then suddenly die of old age and the new brat would be elected. It was during this time that the praegustatio entered the offertory (and canon, and Communion) of Papal Mass. This is not a method of deposition to be recommended.

The other two, more ethical manners are these:

  1. Throw him out
  2. Paralyze him
The first manner has only been done a handful of times, last during the lamentable third pontificate of Benedict IX. It is to raise a group of armed men and tell the pope to take a hike. The election of his successor would then follow. The fate of Benedict nearly befell John XI (who "turned the Lateran into a brothel"), but Alberic II merely decided to imprison his older brother in the palace rather than outright sack him. 

The other manner is papal paralysis, which is to say, to render a pope impotent despite the trappings of his holy office. The two papal claimants who visited the Council of Constance were theoretically voted out of office before they met the Council, but realizing that the Council could only be a true ecumenical council with the approval of a valid pope, both claimants had to convene the Council and then resign the Apostolic See. Both could have held on to their claims, but the Church at large had grown so tired of the Great Schism that they risked being ignored. Seeing the tepidity of their positions, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII resigned to make way for Martin V. This is the sort of forced resignation which is more violent than the former two, which merely used violence. Murdering a pope and firing him merely hurt the man in the Office (something that would not be possible were not the age spiritually sick already), but throwing aside the Office is a greater problem altogether, as it diminishes the prestige of the Office. Would there be a Borgia Papacy if not for the Great Schism? Or a Reformation if not for a Borgia Papacy?

The "solution" to the current papacy is not the wishfully wanted forced resignation with Cardinal Burke throwing the gavel at Bergoglio. Was not something to the effect done with Papa Ratzinger, who some now lament losing? 

Our age, spiritually, more approximates to the pornacracy and saeculum obscurum of Benedict IX and John XI than to the Christian Age in confusion that was the Great Schism. Monasteries planted the seeds for a restored Western Christendom without strife from the papacy precisely because they ignored it. It may not be plausible to turn off the computer and the iPhone when the archbishop calls, but the Church can be changed in certain places until one day Rome recognizes that the corrupt Church which allowed it to devolve to its current state no longer exists. Then will end the days of Capozzi and begin the days of Hildebrand.

Or you can just depose the pope. You just need an army....

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vietato Lamentarsi!


Few symbols can summarize the banality of the current papacy better than this "Complaining is Forbidden" sign on Pope Francis's apartment door. The sign was a gift from Italian self-help writer Salvo Noé, a man with the least sincere smile that side of the Atlantic. News outlets around the world are praising the sign as a sign (ahem) that conservatives are getting too whiny about the disregard The Francis extends to their half-baked heroes like Müller and Burke. It is certainly a sign that Papa Piagnone doesn't mind continuing his run of hypocrisy.

To be sure, there are plenty of whiners in the Catholic Alt-Right. Christopher Ferrara, Esq. never ceases to hiss at the Dubia cardinals, no doubt excoriating poor Cdl. Meisner even beyond the grave. Steve Skojec screams about beta masculinity at anyone who contradicts him on American politics. Frank Walker's barrel of sarcasm never runs dry. Louie Verrecchio and Ann "Crazy Eyes" Barnhardt boldly proclaim Long-Faced Francis an antipope. Anonymous traddy priests upload sermons about the dangers of gossip and Harry Potter while the world burns.

And yet...

Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing the marriage of two very close long-time friends. The wedding was beautifully (if novusorderly) done, the reception was full of decent food and fun dancing, and the send-off was cheerfully memorable. The world may be crumbling, but that is no excuse to forgo feasting and family, to ignore the good things God still gives us. Our pope is at least correct that joy is a necessary part of the Christian life, even in the midst of turmoil. The City of Man can never overcome the City of God.

While it is necessary to point out the nudity of the Emperor, it is unseemly to stare at it for any great length of time. Noe's prudent sons covered his nakedness in his drunken stupor, but if he had belligerently refused to be clothed, what could they have done but walk away? Francis doesn't want complainers near his door because he does not want any harsh truths being spoken in his hearing. No true prophets are desired in his presence.

"For the Lord hath mingled for you the spirit of a deep sleep. He will shut up your eyes, he will cover your prophets and princes that see visions. Wisdom shall perish from their wise men, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."

Papa Bergoglio no longer wishes to hear what his critics have to say. He wishes to have his ears tickled and his feet massaged. The only reason to criticize his words and actions is to remove the stumbling block that is Francis from the path of one's fellow Catholics and inquirers of good will. Let not the Bishop of Rome be a scandal against the practice of the Faith.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After the Reformation IV: Pauline Theology

(source)
One thing you learn when growing up Protestant is that you cannot understand the words of Jesus except as explained by St. Paul. The dominican words of the Gospels are too vague and symbolic, too emotional and hyperbolic, to ever be understood in their plain sense. Christ's admonition to perform good works and the threat of damnation leveled at the justified are simply too complex to be taken at face value. What the average Christian needs is an interpreter who is also speaking divine words: enter Paul the Apostle. Jesus, with whom the Christian supposedly has a personal relationship, takes a back seat to Paul, with whom he is not allowed to have active relations.

Supposedly one need only look at some of the crazy things Christ said—plucking out eyes and spinning yarns—to see that he was speaking simply and to simple people. For robust theology, one apparently must look elsewhere, and St. Paul's epistles are easy pickins for the would-be reformer. Not, of course, that any contradiction can actually be found between the words of Christ and the inspired writings of St. Paul, but in many ways his words are easier to to twist than Our Lord's. In his writings "are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (II Pet. 3).

These terrible warnings remained unheeded by Fr. Martin Luther, who was so bold as to flagrantly correct St. Paul's epistle to the Roman Church. The Apostle's theology of grace, justification, predestination, and law are highly complex. Because of the density of his writings, the average layman is relieved to rely on a commentary rather than slogging through the epistolatory swamp on his own. If the commentator appears erudite but still writes at a low level, he is almost certain to succeed in convincing many.

When Protestantism began to disintegrate into liberal movements, its overemphasis on St. Paul remained. These new perfidious theologians accused the Apostle to the Gentiles of inventing Christianity and of twisting the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This was nothing more than the flip side of the longstanding reliance on Paul—an inevitable exploitation of an interior imbalance. There has been some pushback among conservative Protestant scholars with a so-called New Perspective on Paul, but most consider this an unwanted compromise.

Throw a rock into a crowd of Protestant theologians, and you are unlikely to find one that specializes in anything but Pauline theology. Sometimes they possess a passing familiarity with the other books of Holy Writ, but much in the way one might remember the required reading of his youth (Homer and Virgil in a better age, Steinbeck and Salinger in ours), not in the way of an expert or a careful reader. They cannot abstract their heresies from the Gospels, and must of necessity find easier targets.

Like many of the theologian-saints who have graced the Church of God throughout the centuries, St. Paul has not been free from the indignity of misuse and exaggerated importance. He had a much more humble opinion of his own person and abilities, and a higher opinion of his office, than most of his commentators have bestowed upon him.

It is unseemly to cast aspersions upon any part of Holy Scriptures, but one does wonder if Protestants will ever be cured of their Pauline madness if they do not put down the Collected Letters of St. Paul and read just about anything else in its place. Their theological tunnel vision has been corrupting Catholic schools for far too long, and if only for our sake it needs to come to an end.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cut Chasubles, East & West

The history of the chasuble is well-documented on New Liturgical Movement. It is essentially common male clothing that covered the toga and provided protection much like a suit jacket or overcoat might for a well-dress gentleman today. By contrast, the dalmatic—the tunic worn by the deacon—was a uniform of state administrators adapted by the seven deacons of Rome who ran the bureaucracy of the diocese of Rome; Byzantine deacons preceded the Romans in using the dalmatic (sticharion), and their bishops eventually took up the practice in the middle of the second millennium.


Joseph Braun, SJ posited that around the 9th century deacons wore the chasuble during stational processions, but removed the vestment when entering the church. During penitential times they retained the chasuble rather than don their ornate officials' uniforms. The "folded" part of the folded chasuble shares an origin with the practice of lifting the priest's vesture during the incensations and elevations (not that they originated at the same time, they just originated because of the same problem). Chasubles were normally made of layered wool, often embroidered and layered with additional materials to create motifs, scenes, or ornamentation; some even carried heavy jewels and ivory veneers. The ample cuts that prevailed until the Reformation broke out combined with the heavy properties made movement very difficult. Since deacons and subdeacons did quite a bit of carrying things (lectionaries, the gifts, the chalice) they began to roll up the fronts of their vestments.

Good baroque: $$$$
What is fascinating is that the phelonion, essentially the Byzantine chasuble (yes, we can call it that, both originated in the same religion and the same Roman culture), shares its properties with the Western folded chasuble. Rather than rolled, the front is simply cut out for the priest to manipulate or carry books, the gifts, the spear, or to give Communion.
Sadly, the Western way of adapting the priest's vestments to his need to move was an inelegant one: cut off the sides. Silk, which does not breath as well as light wool or cottons, became the preferred material for vestments during the Renaissance and the age of exploration. At first they merely reduced the scope of the vestment, as with the "Borromean" and "Philippian" chasuble styles. Eventually, someone just cut off the arms and snipped the thing at the knees to create the sandwich board style we all know and don't love. It would be wrong to call the vestments most popular before Vatican II, and hence what it almost exclusively used in Traditionalist circles today, "Roman." Roman vestments were a bit more ample, almost like the Borromean and Philippian styles, and had the perpendicular inserts in the back, a continuation of the medieval parish chasuble style. The dominant pre-Vatican II style is really French: still material, bulging maniples, open fronts, no break in the back, and always a Cross on the back. As with most baroquerie, it can work, but only with the best and most expensive of materials. Otherwise, the chasuble becomes a canvass for kitsch.

In a fit of ludicrous regulation befitting an Italian bureaucracy, the Vatican decreed that traditionally cut Latin rite vestments should not be made without the permission of Congregation for Rites. Pius XI eventually dismissed this rule, but it ranks with some of the sillier things anyone has seen worthy of regulation.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

St. Augustine & the Single Life


"Ball and chain." That is the term we use to describe the wife in marriage these days. Before tying the knot we call the process "settling down." Contemporary society holds marriage in derision, and not without good reason. What was once a promise before God to care for the other and to provide souls for the Church is now a nod of recognition to preceding love, or lust, between two people with the option to leave at any time; children are optional. No wonder modern Christians are unable to contest the pseudo-unions of homosexuals. Today the single life reigns supreme. Even those in relationships treat them as expensive, voluntary associations: I will share the bed with you and split the bills till death do us part, or till something better comes along. It was not always like this for the married, and certainly not for the single. A clerk in a cigar store summed up the modern prescription when he advised me, "Don't get married, dude. Just get some and make money."

From ancient times until a century ago marriage meant many things: the promise between two people, the maturity and responsibility of the two, the man and woman coming into their independence, the creation of a family unit with its associated trappings of home and business, and the union of two other families. Marriage was the natural end to which a grown man aspired. To forfeit marriage was an unusual, even extraordinary act. And yet this is what St. Augustine did.

Augustine worked in Rome and Milan, then capital of the Western Roman Empire, as court orator primarily, while also taking students who wished to imitate his rhetoric and segue into political life. Augustine kept a concubine (today called a live-in girlfriend) and recalled his fidelity to her bed as God's way of showing him what a genuine marital union is not. His relationship bore him a son, a bright young boy named Adeodatus ("given by God). Still, Augustine's saintly mother, Monica, was embarrassed and sent the concubine back to Carthage after arranging a marriage with a woman of good repute.

Augustine declared himself a catechumen in the Church and intellectually assented to the Church's teachings, albeit with difficulty towards the understanding of evil, yet he could not accept Baptism while he "was in both the flesh and the spirit." More self-aware than the hedonists of today, pagan Augustine found himself a slave to sex and none the happier for it. "But it was my own doing," he wrote, "that habit gripped me so fiercely."

He founds some solace in the friendship of Alypius, another pagan of some natural virtue who, like young friends today, joined Augustine in becoming mutual bad influences on each other. Alypius and Augustine shared a villa outside of Milan where they made conversation and contemplated philosophical questions after working hours. It was in this villa that a local named Ponticianus brought St. Athansius' Life of Saint Anthony and read it aloud to them, as was the custom before St. Ambrose popularized sub-sonic reading.
"But as Ponticianus told his story, the more ardent the love I felt for those men who, as I was hearing, had been moved to such a wholesome frame of mind, in that they had entrusted themselves wholly to you for their healing, the more I loathed and execrated myself in comparison with them. Many years—perhaps twelve—had flowed away (and my life with them) since in my nineteenth I had read Cicero's Hortensius and been stirred up to a zeal for wisdom, and all that time I had postponed the decision to despise earthly happiness and leave myself free to hunt for wisdom instead."
Grief and regret overtook Augustine. He and Alypius sauntered through the villa garden until he had to be alone. It was in this solitary, twisting, gnarly moment that Augustine heard a child singing in a neighboring house "Tolle, lege." The African expatriate took the child's song to have a spiritual meaning; he looked down and found a binding of the Pauline epistles, he opened it at random and read, "Not in riotousness and drunkenness, not in lewdness and wantonness, not in strife and rivalry; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14). As would happen with the Angelic Doctor eight centuries later, in this moment God released Augustine from his fleshly temptations and enamored him with a life detached from all worldly cares, even those of the family.
"For, from the direction in which i had set my face, and towards which I hesitated to go, Continence was now revealed to me in all her chaste beauty. Serene she was, not full of dissolute mirth, and nor was there anything dishonorable in her alluring voice as she bade me to come and not to doubt, and her pious hands, as she stretched them out to welcome me and fold me to herself, were full of sheep of your flock, good examples for me. There were many boys and girls, men and women newly come to adulthood and of every age, grave widows and aged virgins; and in not one of them was Continence barren, but a mother of children."
It was precisely in this context—a lament over sexual sin and the prospect of a marriage for the sake of getting on with it—that Augustine took the book and read St. Paul's words. Augustine resolved to receive Baptism, which he did, along with Alypius and Adeodatus, from the hand of bishop Ambrose in Milan at the Paschal vigil in 386. Augustine brought the Italian phenomenon of continent men, ordained or lay, living in community back to Carthage and Hippo when he returned there. What had been the way of hermits and monks now became a common bond between men who wished to live singularly for God in an age still weaning off paganism and slowly embracing a Christianized outlook on family life. Augustine and his community lived apart from the world in plain sight.

How St. Augustine's liberation from sensual bondage and resolve to live for God contrasts with our modern view of the celibate parish priest as a limp-wristed eunuch! Before the 20th century, the continent life was viewed an nigh impossible, save for men with remarkable self control. The joke had been that "Father is a man and must be seeing someone in the rectory." Even Hitler perverted celibacy to his own end, hiding Eva Braun and presenting himself as a man whose sole purpose in life was the betterment of Germany.

Christian society has enough ground to make up merely in sanctifying the institution of marriage again that consideration of holy bachelorhood seems frivolous, but is it? A man or woman who has not castrated himself from family life, but rather who has found the world wanting and instead embraced the friendship of God is a sermon unto itself. A habited nun looks enough like a walking prayer to give pause. What of a man who does the same? What a contrast to the wisdom of the age... and to the clerk in the cigar shop....