Friday, March 23, 2018

Book Review: The Week of Salvation by James Monti

It’s been many years since I first came across James Monti’s voluminous Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week. I was still a student at Ave Maria College back when it was still in Michigan—the real Ave as us small band of brothers sometimes call it—when someone gifted me this book for Lent. I remember spending hours poring through it in the college library and common room, learning for the first time, as a relatively new practicing Catholic, about the rich history of Holy Week.

Monti’s book goes through Holy Week day by day examining the history and customs surrounding each. The breadth of his study is very exhaustive; chapters typically begin with an exegesis on the relevant biblical passages and then go on to examine the patristic writings, drawing on such rich and diverse sources as St. Cyrl’s Catechetical Lectures, fragments of ancient liturgies, and the diary of the pilgrim Egeria. They frequently discuss early medieval liturgical sources, including those outside the Latin rite, such as the liturgies of the Mozarbic rite and the Chaldeans. It also covers monastic usages during and after the Cistercian reform and draws on early modern travelers’ journals for its narratives of various celebrations in the 17th-18th centuries. It typically concludes each chapter with a section on how various Holy Week celebrations are conducted in the post-Conciliar era.

One thing I particularly appreciated about Mr. Monti’s book is the attention it gives to the now lost royal liturgies associated with Holy Week in former monarchical countries. In the kingdoms of old Christendom, the monarch and his family used to play a central role in the traditions surrounding Holy Week. For example, there is a beautiful passage explaining how the Kings of Spain used to wash the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday. The following account appears in the book; it is taken from the court of King Alfonso XII of Spain in the year 1885:

Following Mass at the Chapel Royal, the king and queen would proceed to the Hall of Columns. Arriving there at two o'clock in the afternoon, the king (Alfonso XII) entered in full ceremonial uniform, decked with all his medals of state, together with his queen (Maria Christina), who was dressed in a fine down and flowing train, with a white mantilla and a diamond diadem on her head.
In the center of the hall stood two platforms; on one twelve poor elderly men were seated, clothed in new suits provided by the king; on the other platform were twelve elderly women, likewise dressed in new clothing provided by the queen. Nearby stood an altar on which was placed a crucifix and two lighted candles. The bishop, who was Patriarch of the Indies, then went before this altar and read St. John's gospel account of Christ washing the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper.

Following the reading, a small gold-fringed embroidered band was tied around the king's waist, symbolizing the towel that Christ tied around His waist on this occasion. The king now mounted the first platform, accompanied by his steward, who brought a golden basin and ewer [jug]. He then knelt down before each of the men seated there and poured water over their feet, wiped them, and kissed them.
Reading about how the monarch’s family used to be integrated into the celebrations of Holy Week really helped flesh out in my mind what the civic culture used to be like in Catholic confessional states—and what was lost when such kingdoms passed away.

I don’t know whatever happened to James Monti. Week of Salvation was published back in 1993 and I am not aware of any other titles by this author, which is unfortunate since this was such a helpful and exhaustive study. The writing style is not always the most engaging; it sometimes feels like reading a dry historical chronicle. If you’re very interested in reading cultural histories, you might enjoy this. But it’s not very engaging for casual reading. You really need to set out with the intention of making it an occasion for serious scholarly study to enjoy the book.

Still, if that’s not a problem, I definitely recommend this book. I plan on revisiting some key chapters next week as part of my preparations for the Holy Triduum. Incidentally, though this book was originally published by Our Sunday Visitor, it no longer appears in their catalog. The only copies available are used editions.

May you all be blessed in your preparation for Easter.

Click here to purchase James Monti's Week of Salvation: History and Traditions of Holy Week.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St. Patrick was not named "Maewyn Succat"

Today is the Feast of St. Patrick, the day set aside for commemoration of the life and deeds of the grat Apostle to the Irish. Unfortunately, its also the day a lot of rubbish about Patrick get spreadall over the interwebs. For example, have you ever heard people asserting that St. Patrick's real name was not Patrick, but Maewyn Succat?

The theory is that St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat and only took the name Patrick upon his ordination to the priesthood. I first came across this bizarre assertion a few years ago when I overheard it on the Veggie Tales St. Patrick video. Since then, I have heard it with increasing frequency, especially from writers who have this smarmy "I know better than you" attitude about St. Patrick's Day; you know, the kind of articles that are like "Ten Things YOU Didn't Know About St. Patrick!" Number ONE...he was not Irish! (mind blown!), Number TWOOOO, his name was not actually Patrick. Number THREEEE...there were never any snakes in Ireland!!!! Whoaaaaa!

Reasons for Skepticism

The general tenor and scholarship of such articles obviously gives me pause, as well as some other facts. For one thing, I am very familiar with the writings of St. Patrick. He left only two authentic documents behind, the Confessio and the Letter to Coroticus. In neither of these does Patrick give any indication that his name is other than Patrick. He begins his Confessio with the beautiful and humble phrase, "Ego Patricius, peccator rusticissimus et minimus omnium fidelium", "I am Patrick, a sinner and a simple rustic, the least of all believers." Nowhere in the Confessio or his other letter does he give his name as anything else. So at least from primary sources, there is no justification for thinking Patrick's name was anything other than Patrick.

I also knew that it would not make sense for Patrick to have some sort of Gaelic name when he was clearly Romano-British. Patrick tells us as much in the opening of the Confessio. He gives his father's name as Calpurnius and his grandfather as Potitus, both ordained men and Latin speakers. The family came from the town of Bannavem Tiburniae - a Roman settlement. Remember, Patrick was born around 387 AD, about 23 years before the Roman legions left Britain. It was still a Roman province. He was educated in Latin and came from a Romano-British family. He was thoroughly Romanized. Some even say they came from Gaul originally, which would have made a Gaelic name even less plausible.

Given this, it is extremely unlikely that his birth name would have been the Gaelic Maewyn Succat while his father was Calpurnius and his grandfather Potitus. It would be like suggesting that  a German family where the grandfather is Hans and the father is Gunter would name the next in line Gomez. Is it possible? Certainly. Is it likely? Probably not. If I had to look at that genealogy and someone told me, 'The son is known as Heinrich, but some say his name was Gomez,' I'd bet my money on Heinrich. Similarly, it does make perfect sense that a father named Calpurnius would name his son Patricius since they were Romano-British, but it makes much less sense to think they would name him Maewyn.

Shoddy Research

The Maewyn Succat theory is characterized by shoddy research and the repetition of unfounded assertions. As I searched, I found that every article or essay which held to the Maewyn Succat theory did not cite any source for their assertion; or, if they did, they cited a source which itself was a secondary source and offered no primary reference or did not assert what the authors assumed. For example, the Wikipedia page or St. Patrick says Patrick was originally named Maewyn Succat and offers a citation. The citation leads to the website Sacred Space, run by the Irish Jesuits. The Sacred Space page cited on Wikipedia gives several details about St. Patrick's life, but does not include any claim that his name was Maewyn Succat. And even if it did, the Sacred Space article is not a primary source; it's simply a contemporary article written by some Irish Jesuit. So the Wikipedia claim that Patrick was named Maewyn Succat is a dead end. Most of my other attempts to track this down were as well. People are just repeating things without knowing where they came from.

But it did come from somewhere. People did not just start repeating the Maewyn Succat theory in a vacuum. Where was this coming from?

The Hymn of Fiacc

St. Fiacc, Bishop of Leinster (d. 520) was born from a Christian family who had been converted by St. Patrick. He had met the saint personally and is known for composing a metrical hymn in honor of St. Patrick. The hymn begins with the lines:
Patrick was born at Emptur:
This it is that history relates to us.
A child of sixteen years (was he)
When he was taken into bondage.

Succat was his name, it is said;
Who was his father is thus told:
He was son of Calpurn, son of Otidus,
Grandson of Deochain Odissus.

The relation between "Emptur" and Bannavem Tiburniae is uncertain; notice also that grandfather Potitus has become Otidus, and an additional relative Odissus is added. This is an example of what I would call the extreme elasticity surrounding Patrick's genealogy that anyone who has seriously studied the saint will acknowledge.

If there is an argument that Patrick's birth name was other than Patrick, I think Fiacc's poem would provide the strongest evidence. Yet even so, I do not think this is conclusive.

The interesting thing is that even though Fiacc had known Patrick, his knowledge seems to be from hearsay. Patrick was born at Emptur which is what "history relates to us"; Succat was his name, "it is said." By the time of Fiacc's old age, Patrick had been dead for almost sixty years and a substantial body of oral tradition had sprung up around him. One would think if Fiacc had first-hand knowledge of Patrick, Patrick's birth name would have been known to him from sources other than hearsay.

Fiacc's tentative naming of Patrick as Succat based on hearsay I think reflects not so much what Patrick was actually named by his Romano-British parents as much as what he was called by the Irish or by others. This is not an uncommon occurrence when a missionary or visitor comes to anew culture; for example, St. Isaac Jogues was called Ondessonk by the Hurons. Cortez, despite all his fame, was not called Cortez by the Aztecs; they called him Malinzin.

I believe this is what we have in the case of Patrick as well, at least in the first generation. The reasons for this will be explained below, but  think Fiacc is giving an authentically contemporary account of how Patrick was referred to by Irish converts in the early 6th century, not the name Patrick was baptized with.

Notice also that even if we grant the birth name Succat, we do not see any use of the name Maewyn in Fiacc's meter. Where did we get Maewyn Succat?

Tírechán Collectanea

Through a twisting academic goose chase the details of which I will not bore you with, I eventually found myself with the Latinized version of Maewyen Succat, Magonus Sucatus. This in turn led me to the writings of Tírechán (c. 684), Bishop of Connacht in County Mayo. Tírechán produced a work known as the Collectanea, which was a loose collection of stories about St. Patrick based on oral traditions. These oral traditions were gathered from the work of Tírechán's mentor, Ultan of Ardbraccan (d. 656) who had himself written a book on St. Patrick.

The Collectanea is interesting because it is written in first person, as if Patrick himself were speaking.

In the introduction to the Collectanea, we find the following passage:
"I have found four names for Patrick in a book written by Ultan, bishop of maccu Conchubair: the saint was called Magonus, that is, famous; Succetus [Succat], that is, the god of war; Patricius, that is, father of the citizens; Cothirthiacus, because he served four houses of druids" (Tírechán, Collectanea, 1).

Thus, we have four names given for St. Patrick. Notice right away that Maewyn Succat ("Magonus Succetus") is not one of them. Magonus and Succetus are two different names, as well as Cothirthiacus, which, presumably it is so cumbersome, is usually omitted by those who want to insist Patrick's name was not Patrick. Maewyn Succat is just an arbitrary mishmash of two separate names. We might as well call him Magonus Patricius, or Patricius Cothirthiacus, or Succeus Corthirthiacus or any other combination. Ludwig Bieler, the German Hiberno-Latin scholar who first translated Tírechán in 1951, noted that there was a "dubious selectiveness too often practiced in Patrician studies" when it came to Patrick's nomenclature (source).

So the name Maewyn Succat is just an arbitrary combination of two different names. But are Magonus or Succetus even proper names at all? This is hard to discern; clearly they are given in the same list as Patrick's given name, Patricius, which seems to imply they are. If Patrick is a proper name, then the others in this list may be as well. Then again, perhaps not. These other names may be titles or nicknames. For example, Succetus, god of war, according to Tírechán. Why would Patrick's Christian family - several of whom were members of the clergy - name him after a druidic war god? More likely than not, this was a title the Druids themselves may have given to Patrick. Similarly, Magonus, a corruption of Magnus (great), means famous and could have distinguished St. Patrick ("the famous Patrick") from others of similar name.

Thus, Tírechán's list is most likely not referring to Patrick's actual proper name (as if he were really named Magonus Succetus Patricius Corthirthiacus); rather, it is a amalgamated list of all names Patrick went by, both his proper name, as well as nicknames or titles given to him by others. Not to mention these might not have been nicknames used for Patrick while he was alive; Tírechán wrote in the late 7th century and these could have easily been titles that Patrick accrued posthumously.

Muirchú's Vita sancti Patricii

A generation after Tírechán wrote, a monk of Leinster named Muirchú wrote his own Life of St. Patrick. Muirchú's Vita sancti Patricii is based on Patrick's own Confessio as well as several oral traditions. Muirchú's work exists only in fragments and his not given too much historical credence as an actual biography of Patrick.

In the introduction to Muirchú's Vita, we see the following:
"Patrick, also named Sochet, a Briton by race, was born in Britain. His father was Cualfarnius, a deacon, the son (as Patrick himself says) of a priest, Potitus, who hailed from Bannauem Thaburniae" (Muirchú, Vita sancti Patricii, I.1).

We note right away that "Calpurnius" has been butchered to become "Cualfarnius." "Sochet", however, is spelled the same in Muirchú's Latin text; presumably this is the same title as Succat-Succetus in Tírechán's work. Muirchú is repeating an oral tradition here, as he says elsewhere he is unaware of any other biography of St. Patrick, other than that of Cogitosus (which does not mention the name Sochet or Succat). So clearly Muirchú is not simply copying Tírechán.

At any rate, this obscure passage "also named Sochet" from a hagiography c. 700, almost two and a half centuries after St. Patrick died, is of very little value in determining what Patrick was actually named by his family. He may have been drawing on the meter of Fiacc; but if so, are we to believe that Patrick's Christian parents - one of them ordained - baptized him in the name of a druidic deity?


Why do I seriously doubt Patrick was named Maewyn Succat? Just to be clear, I have no stake in Patrick not having a Gaelic name or something. It's really neither here nor there; I don't care if Patrick's real name was Maewyn any more than I care that St. Peter's real name was Simon. The reason I oppose this theory is because it is based on shoddy research and arbitrary nomenclature promoted by ignorant people looking for click bait. Just to review my reasons for opposing this theory:

(1) There is no primary source evidence that Patrick was named anything other than Patrick. Zero.
(2) Fiacc's meter, written 50-60 years after Patrick's death, mentions the name Succat but tentatively, suggesting "it is said" but gives no first hand knowledge of the fact. And he omits any mention of Maewyn.
(3) It makes no sense culturally or linguistically that Patrick's Roman family would give him a Gaelic name. But it makes perfect sense that he'd be named Patricius.
(4) It makes no sense that his Christian family would name him after a druidic war god.
(5) There's no documentary reference to Patrick's ordination, let alone that he changed his name on the occasion. Stories of Patrick's ordination (sometimes said to be by St. Germanus, sometimes by Pope St. Celestine) come from later hagiographies.
(6) The only other names given for Patrick do not appear in history until over two centuries after Patrick's death.
(7) These names may not be proper names at all but titles or nicknames given by the Irish or the Druids.
(8) These names may have been given posthumously.
(9) "Maewyn Succat" is not one of the names mentioned in either source; it is an amalgamation of two other separate names (Magonus and Succetus).
(10) This amalgamation is totally arbitrary because it omits the third name, Corthirthiacus.
(11) Bieler, the translator of Tírechán, also thinks insisting on this nomenclature is selective and arbitrary.
(12) Even if Tírechán and Muirchú were actually insisting that Patrick's given name was Maewyn Succat, this comes from two 7th century hagiographies which are generally not regarded as historically reliable sources of information about the historical St. Patrick.
(13) Nobody - or at least very few people - who assert the Maewyn Succat theory bother to track down its source. They just copy and paste and move on.

No, St. Patrick was not named Maewyn Succat, and I am fairly certain it s safe to insist on this.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Christians Offending People

I know is one week late, but I wanted to offer a reflection on the epistle readings from last week's liturgy, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Novus Ordo. The epistle reading was taken from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 10. St. Paul writes:

...whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1)

The Douay-Rheims has it this way:

...whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. Be without offence to the Jews, and to the Gentiles, and to the church of God: As I also in all things please all men, not seeking that which is profitable to myself, but to many, that may be saved. Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ. 

What does St. Paul mean when he says "avoid giving offense", and that he tries "to please everyone in every way"? He wants to "be without offence" and hence strive "in all things to please all men."

A cursory reading of this passage might suggest that he means we should avoid doing anything a person might find offensive. That, if a person is subjectively offended by something we are doing or saying, we have an obligation to cease that offensive behavior. Now, since there are all manner of things people could be offended by, this would include a very broad spectrum of human behavior and would necessitate a very intimate knowledge of the attitudes and preferences of the people one comes in contact with. It's mind-boggling to think of the degree of egg-shell-walking we would have to perform to keep St. Paul's command understood this way.

In the minds of our progressive friends, this passage would mean we ought not to speak about the truths of the faith to somebody who might be offended by some aspect of them. These days, speaking about Catholicism to someone who is in disagreement with it is often considered inherently offensive.  For example, speaking to a Muslim about Jesus Christ. Understood this way, the passage "avoid giving offense" is utilized in the same sense as "judge not" and "do not do your works before men" - that is, as objections to any vocalization of the faith which may be even remotely confrontational.

However, St. Paul does not mean "avoid giving offence" in this sense. Let us look at three relevant Scripture passages. I think there are probably more, but three should be sufficient to make our case.

First, if St. Paul meant that Christians are forbidden from ever subjectively offending anybody, it would be ridiculous for St. Paul to  write in Romans 9:33 (citing Isaiah) that Christ is "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence." If it is always wrong to give offence, then in what sense can Christ Himself be a "rock of offence"?

Second, if the sense of Paul's words is that we ought to always make sure we are pleasing to men, how can he say in the Epistle to the Galatians, "do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). Clearly St. Paul does not believe we are to always make certain we never offend anyone if he identifies a disposition of man-pleasing contrary to the servanthood Christ requires.

Furthermore, when delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt. 11:6). Now, how can Christ admonish His listeners not to be offended by Him if, according to our progressive friends, it would be the responsibility of the speaker to make sure his hearers are not offended? This passage would make no sense; Christ acknowledges no responsibility on His own part to make sure His hearers are not offended by Him. Rather, He simply speaks the truth and tells His hearers it is their responsibility to not be offended by it.

Given all this, how can St. Paul say "avoid giving offense"? Of course, the answer is that when St. Paul admonishes us to "avoid giving offence", he means we should avoid doing actions which are objectively worthy of offence. He does not mean that it is always our problem if somebody is subjectively offended by our words or deeds.

Moderns forget that offense is not a totally subjective thing, even if they want to treat it as such. There are some things one is right to be offended about, other things one is wrong to be offended about. The objective cause of offense matters. One who is offended because of evil is rightly offended and has a kind of just anger; one who is offended because of the truth is in error, of which their offense constitutes a sort of evidence of their blindness. When St. Paul says we must avoid giving offense, he is essentially saying, "Do not commit evil deeds that people are rightly offended by."  He is not saying, "It is your job to make sure no person you interact with is ever offended by you in any respect." That would be unworkable practically and contrary to the meaning of other scriptural passages that mention offense.

This is related to St. Thomas' distinction between various types of scandal. We have an obligation to avoid scandalizing individuals through our sinful behavior, but it is not our concern if people are scandalized by righteous behavior, as the Pharisees were scandalized by the healings of Christ. In that case, such persons are actually guilty of their own scandal due to hardness of heart.

Incidentally - and time for a little crass self-promotion - I have two chapters in my work Book of Non-Contradiction on similar arguments where progressives take passages and try to interpret them in ways to suggest Christians should keep their faith quiet or keep their opinions to themselves.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

St. John of the Cross Academy Building Appeal

Blessings and grace!

The following is some information about Saint John of the Cross Academy, a classical Catholic academy in the vicinity of Lafayette, Louisiana. They are fundraising to construct some new facilities and asked me to promote the project, which I am happy to do.

Saint John of the Cross Academy was founded in 2015 by Tim and Nick  Trosclair and Peter Youngblood with the express purpose of implementing a truly classical and Catholic education. The three had a collective twenty years of experience in diocesan, public, and independent schools, and were frustrated by the insurmountable obstacles to actually teaching anything, let alone to implementing either a true Catholic or classical education. These obstacles resulted from at least four of the following causes: First, pure bureaucratic sloth and lack of any idea of subsidiarity, coupled with a daily dose of garden variety incompetence. Second, class sizes that demonstrate an overemphasis on financial stability (usually resulting from a board that does not understand the principles of education and prefers wealth to wisdom). Third, a clear lack of understanding of what a classical education means. Fourth, a clear lack of understanding of what a Catholic education means (these last two are the most damaging).

For this reason, we decided to remove ourselves from the modern system and place our families and pupils deep within the traditions of Holy Mother Church, as well as the classical heritage of our own western civilization.

The Academy follows four guiding principles:

● First, the Academy must set as its highest end the worship of God in the Traditional Latin Mass.Closely connected with this is praying the Divine Office, which tills the soil of the heart to better receive the infinite graces flowing from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (as of now we are able to daily pray the little hours from Prime to None).
● Second, the Academy must be rural and utilize the land in order to incarnate the Benedictine principle ora et labora so that the pupils may be truly immersed in the prayer and work of God.
● Third, the Academy must remain small, allowing the tutors and pupils the ability to learn from one another and grow in virtue. This is why our bylaws state that the Academy can operate at a maximum tutor to pupil ratio of one to eight.
● Four, the Academy must be classical in its very essence. This means that both the content (fundamentally the Latin and Greek languages) and the method of teaching must comply with the content and methods of those who have taught in this tradition--from Socrates to St.Thomas Aquinas and beyond.
The successes of the program have necessitated a plan for growth to get out of their current quarters (a converted garage) into something more conducive to the Academy's vision. With that in mind, the families of St. John of the Cross Academy have purchased 14 acres of land in rural Sunset, Louisiana in hopes of realizing their vision. They are trying to fund raise $40,000 to build a modest school building. 

Here is the land they have already purchased and hope to develop:

Since Tim Trosclair is a friend and long-time patron of this blog, I told him I would help spread the word about the work of St. John of the Cross Academy. I encourage you to review their materials and their appeal and consider making a donation for this worthy cause. Saint John of the Cross Academy is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Tax ID: 47-4658860.

Website of St. John of the Cross Academy

Click here to read more about the Academy's appeal

To make a donation, please click here.

Please share this with anyone you know who might be interested in supporting this pious endeavor, especially those who live in Louisiana and might have the prospect of getting acquainted with the project in a more personal way.

Pax et bonum

Friday, February 09, 2018

Quiet Grace

The other night, I unexpectedly had to drive my eldest daughter to her ballet class. I rarely do this as I'm usually working in the evenings and this is something that her mother is much more engaged in. But I always relish the chance of spending more time with my eldest and so set my evening plans aside to drive her to her class.

Her class was a few towns over, across about fifteen miles of open country. She has the last class of the evening, so it was already quite dark when I dropped her off at 8:30 PM. What would I do with myself for that free hour? Lately I have taken to jogging whenever I have free time, which is great for clearing my mind on top of the obvious health benefits.

Though it was only about 8 degrees, I started jogging around the town. It's a very small town; those who are from the Midwest will recognize it's type intuitively in my description. An old, Victorian era settlement with all it's historic buildings clustered along one main strip. Tall, two and three story stately brick structures with their Italianate facades, ornate cornices, and oversized rounded-arched windows, all running together. The side streets filled with imposing, Victorian homes of equal splendor, but still quaint in their own small-town USA sorta way.

I started jogging down the main strip, my breath a vaporous fog in front of my face as I moved. I passed by the dark windows of boutiques and resale shops, offices of lawyers and insurance agents, and flower shops - by now all closed. The town was still and quiet. I have always found a certain kind of loveliness in the stillness of a cold, winter night, a beauty that even the ridiculously frigid temperatures of a February winter night in Michigan cannot efface. The snow, the ice, the cold...there has always been a sort of purity about it for me.

I passed under the eerie flash of the town's solitary blinking yellow traffic light. Presently I passed out of the main section of town and saw ahead the looming spire of a church. Upon getting closer, I saw it was an incredible old neo-Gothic structure made entirely out of fieldstone. In the old days it used to be a custom that when a rural congregation was ready to construct it's permanent church, farmers would all contribute stones from their fields to the building of the church. The resulting structure would be neo-Gothic stylistically but constructed entirely out of raw, rounded fieldstone instead of brick. This is somewhat common in rural communities around the Midwest; I assume there are similar traditions elsewhere.

I was pleased to see it was a Catholic church, and even more pleased when I spied warm, yellow light glowing inside the windows. Could they possibly be open, I wondered? In this desolate, cold little village could the Catholic church alone have its doors unlocked at this time of night? I jogged over to the parish steps, huffing, and walked up. Sure enough, not only was the church unlocked, but they were having Eucharistic Adoration. Two older gentlemen were reading and praying quietly. Of course! It's a First Friday, I said to myself.

I was pleasantly surprised with the interior of the church (the pic atop this post). Sure, it had a table altar and the original high altar had been removed. But at least the tabernacle was in its rightful place. Sure, some of it had been modernized.  But by and large it was very aesthetically pleasing. And when the Lord is on the altar, everything is more beautiful.

As I walked in and crossed myself, I noticed the confessional light was on and door ajar. Could I be so fortunate? Yes, indeed! A priest was waiting in the confessional...and there was no line! I had not planned on making a confession this night, but I wasn't about to pass this up. I ducked right in there and did the best I could to make a spontaneous confession. I could tell from his voice that the priest was African. Considered naturally, how very out of place, an African priest in a town like this! But in the order of grace, it was just as it should be. I made a decent confession, received some very consoling words from the warm, slow voice on the other side of the screen, and walked out with my soul lighter.

I knelt in the pew and spent some time adoring the Lord and thanking Him for this unexpected, quiet moment of grace He had made for me here, in this unexpected place. But that's all how the beautiful things in life are. It is easy to point out the ugly, the wicked, the cold, the disappointing...these things manifest themselves easily to us and require no labor to search out. But the beautiful, the good, the unexpected little quiet moments of grace...these things are found only by the diligent who search for them, who are willing to labor on their behalf. The beautiful things in life do not yield themselves up easily, but when they do, they compensate for the ugliness fourfold.

After sometime I meandered back down the main street to my daughter's ballet studio. I was able to spend some time warming up before she came out. She's old enough now that I was able to slump into the passenger seat of my truck and let her drive me home - deo gratias!

Yes, the quiet simple moments of grace are always there. They might not always be a little Catholic parish with the Blessed Sacrament exposed and an open confessional, but grace is always there for those who are disposed to see it. Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear.


Saturday, February 03, 2018

Boniface hath returned from exile

Peace and grace in Jesus Christ our Lord!

As you may know, I have been on an extended vacation since November. When I decided to take some time off, I was stressed out, overworked, and had to rectify a lot of chaos in my personal life. It's been almost three months, and a lot has changed since then. Am I still stressed? To some degree. Still overworked? Oh yes. Still a lot of chaos? Yes, but much less so. I feel things are much more ordered now than they were in the fall and I am feeling a lot happier about life in general.

Ergo, I'm going to announce my official return to blogging - tentatively at least. I offer no promises on how frequently I will post, but I definitely am starting to feel the bloggy itch again.

What have I been doing with myself these past three months? A lot. Living life. In many respects, I've been doing things I should have been doing a long time ago. I do not want to go into a lot of detail out of fear of sounding virtuous, but essentially I've been working on just trying to be a better Christian in the ever-changing circumstances of my life. I've been able to spend more time with my children; I've made unexpected friendships with people I never would have probably been open to befriending before; I've stepped outside my comfort zone and engaged with people suffering from all manner of problems, sometimes being able to offer valuable help, sometimes having to stand by helplessly while I watch them destroy themselves. I got caught up writing letters to old friends. I've been able to attend to my health more and am in the best shape of my life. Rectified a lot of issues in my personal life that needed attention. And I've learned many valuable lessons about grace, honesty, love, and humility.

Professionally, things are going better than they've ever gone. Spiritually, I suppose I am responding to the continuing crisis in the Church by enfolding myself further in my own spiritual life - on letting Christ be formed in me, and worrying less and less about following up with the latest cluster at the Vatican. Earlier this month, a certain neo-Catholic apologist contacted me and asked me to participate in a debate with a well-known theologian on Amoris Laetitia and whether Francis is a good pope or a bad pope, in which I would represent the "traditionalist position." Aside from noting that what constitutes a "good" or "bad" pope can be riddled with subjectivities, I had to tell him I was not interested, because I had not even followed the debate. I haven't read Amoris Laetitia, and not following the controversy around it, I am not competent to argue about it. I'm just...past the point where I see what is going on in Rome as vitally connected with my own day to day walk with Christ.

Yes, my friends, I know the big stuff matters. I'm not suggesting it doesn't. But I do think the best we can do in times like this, if we are not to go mad, is to keep our hearts focused on the truth, maintain our integrity, perform our duties, and cling to the cross. Ultimately, my faith does not hinge on what happens in the Vatican. In the Middle Ages, there were plenty of Catholics in places like Ireland or Poland who, by virtue of their distance, might not even know who the current pontiff was, let alone be following what was going on in Vatican politics. That's what I have been as if I was a Catholic in Greenland circa 1150 AD. And living in Michigan in the winter, it might as well be Greenland. The picture atop this post is one I snapped of my yard and the field across the road last month.

So yes, dear friends, I am back and happy to bring Unam Sanctam Catholicam into its 11th year. Bless you all!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Best Posts of 2017

Well it's time for my belated annual Happy New Year post! Another year has passed us by; 2017 was a very crummy year for me that saw a variety of personal and professional challenges. I regret I was not able to give this blog more attention, which means my annual "Favorite Posts" list is unfortunately small this year. I think I posted like twice a month on the blog and barely did anything on the sister site.

I was very busy writing for one thing, and 2017 saw the publication of two very successful books for me, first, the self-published The Book of Non-Contradiction, which is my magnum opus on reconciling discordant biblical passages; second was Heroes and Heretics of the Reformation, available through TAN, which tells the story of the 16th century through the lives of the men and women who lived through it.

That being said, 2017 was an amazing year in the life of the Church and I am happy I got time to write that which I did. I'm still on sabbatical but have some great ideas for upcoming articles. In the meantime, here are some of my favorites from the year.

Reflections on Magnum Principium: On the Holy Father's motu proprio calling for a further extension of vernacular in the liturgy.
Benefit of the Doubt Presumes Doubt: To give the "benefit of the doubt" in the face of plain evidence to the contrary becomes no longer a benefit accorded to a doubt, but rather wishful thinking of the most fantastical sort.
The Many Faces of Catholic Social Teaching: It's amazing that Catholics can have such divergent opinions on what Catholic Social Teaching actually is.
The Black Hand of the Madonna: The hand of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima has turned black. 
Pope Francis & Populism: It is astonishing how Pope Francis speaks of populism as if he is totally unaware that he is the world's most eminent populist.
The Transitory Nature of the Mosaic Law: Sequel to an older post on our Lord's comment that He did not come to abolish but fulfill the Law of Moses. Explaining the "temporary" nature of the Mosaic covenant.
Current Events Round Up: Francis and the death penalty, the Institute on Marriage and Family, Burke, football players kneeling, the Filial Correction and more!!!
Political Freedom Would Make Our Parishes Stupider: In the absence a coherent Catholic social ethos, lifting the ban on political activity by churches in the USA would cause each parish become a tool of the Democratic or Republican parties, and we would see the politicization of parish life in the basest manner. Catholic social life, already anemic, would become that much stupider.
Chris Cornell (1964-2017): One of my favorite posts of the year, exploring the faith of musician Chris Cornell, who tragically died in spring of 2017.
"God cannot be God without man": In which, just for the record, I defend one of Pope Francis' confusing statements about the relationship between God and man.
Scientists Executed by the Catholic Church: Historical apologetical article deconstructing the myth of the Church killing scientists for their beliefs. 
Muller and Ladaria: Reflections on the replacement of Cardinal Muller by Ladaria at the CDF.
St. Maria Goretti: Martyr to Chastity: Reminding everybody that St. Maria Goretti is a martyr because she shed blood to preserve her chastity, not because she forgave her attacker.
"That the seat of Peter might not be dishonored by the occupancy of two bishops": The very idea of having two bishops or two popes was abhorrent to the early Roman Church. It was seen as a sign of discord.

Man-Pandering: What to do about men? If we are not de-masculinizing them, we are going to the other extreme - appealing to the silliest masculine stereotypes about them.
The Duty of the State to Honor God: An original USC video explaining the Catholic idea of the state's duty to honor God.

Thank you to everybody who has ever helped me, linked to me, read my articles with interest, corrected me, commented here, or wished me well. God bless you all.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Rosary To The Interior: For the Purification of the Church

Greetings friends! While I am still technically on vacation, my friend James Larson asked me to post the following article to promote the prayer of the Rosary on February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the intention of the purification of the Church.

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On February 2, 2018, which is the day celebrating the double Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there will occur throughout the United States the gathering of faithful in their parish churches to pray the Rosary for the intention of the Purification of the Church, and the Triumph of the Light of Christ over all sin and error.

While being inspired by the Rosary on the Borders in Poland, this Rosary event – titled Rosary To The Interior: For the Purification of the Church – does indeed have a different and very specific intention. Recognizing that the Catholic Church alone in this world was blessed and commissioned with the Light of Christ necessary for triumph over the Darkness of sin and error, and that this Light has now been severely obscured by the sin and errors of its own members, this Rosary asks us to turn our eyes inward in order to effect that interior purification which alone can once again make Christ’s Light manifest in its fullness to the world.

A website has now been established, which offers a more complete explanation of both the nature and structure of this event; it also a Comment forum for communication between those who are participating.  It is found here:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I'm on Extended Vacation

So, I pretty much suck as a blogger. I remember the good old days when I used to post three times a week. Ah, yes, the blogging possibilities are endless when one does not have a life. 

But alas, life changes, and as mine has changed I have less and less time for this labor of love. I haven't even been able to write anything for over a month. I barely have time to be doing this post. I'm so swamped I don't know when I can get to this...I have books I am under contract for that are unwritten or behind, proposals piling in for more, Power Point presentations by the dozen that I have to get ready for next semester...meanwhile, my firewood sits uncut in a dreary pile in the yard, I haven't replaced the tail light I busted out two weeks ago, I haven;t yet reattached the gutter that fell off my house last summer, my inbox is full of emails I have not responded to, in addition to a whole host of other personal issues that need my attention.

I am going on extended vacation from blogging. I don't know how long it will be. I need to focus on making some space for myself and getting my priorities in order. This blog has been here for ten years and its not going anywhere; I am not retiring, but I am stepping away to bring some order to my chaos. In the meantime I will continue to monitor comments and update the USC Facebook page from time to time I can be reached at uscatholicam[at] if you need me.

Please pray for me, that the day may swiftly come when I have time to attend to this amateur passion again.

God bless you.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Duty of the State to Honor God

In honor of the traditional Feast of Christ the King, we present this original video on the duty of the Christian state to honor God, produced by Unam Sanctam Catholicam. 

This video was originally produced as the final section in a five installment series addressing the problem of the state's recognition of homosexual so-called marriage. For the other four videos, please see the links below; Part I and II have been featured here before, but Parts III, IV and Part V (above) have never been published.

Part I: Homosexuality and the Bible
Part II: The Ends of Marriage
Part IV:  Why Homosexual Marriage is Not a Civil Right
Part IV:
Christians and the Material Cooperation in Sin

Thursday, October 12, 2017

October 2017 Current Events Round Up

There are basically two types of articles I post on this blog: articles where I talk about how I don't feel the need to keep a running commentary on everything going on in the Church, and then articles where I offer just such a commentary.

And if such commentary is needed, it is today. My, there is a lot going on, isn't there? Let's review some of the wild events that have occurred in the past few weeks.

Pope Francis Reboots the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family

On September 19th, Pope Francis signed a motu proprio which effectively retooled the John Paul II Institute For Marriage and Family; well technically he abolished it. The text of the motu proprio Summa familiae cura states that the new entity, the John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family, will effectively "substitute" for the prior entity, annulling St. John Paul II's 1981 motu proprio.

The new institute for studying the "sciences" of marriage and family will have a broader mission than the old institute. Whereas the old institute was largely grounded in theology and philosophy, the new institute will incorporate the social sciences—in fact, elevating them to be the primary focus of the new institute. Philosophy and theology are not even mentioned in Pope Francis' motu proprio. Thus, we can assume the work of the new body will be more influenced by secular sociology. Francis has stated he wishes the new institute's focus to be primarily scientific, “expanding the field of interest, both in terms of the new dimensions of the pastoral task and the ecclesial mission, as well as in the development of human sciences and the anthropological culture in such a crucial field for the culture of life" (source). The reason for this is "to fertilize the vast field of engagement...effectively contributing to make it fully correspond to the modern needs of the pastoral mission of the Church” (ibid).

The purpose appears to be to institutionalize the teachings of Amoris Laetitia. St. John Paul II essentially did the same thing when he created the institute in 1982 for the purpose of promoting the teaching of Familiaris Consortio, a much worthier document. He hopes the new institute will work towards making Amoris Laetitia a more permanent fixture of Magisterial teaching. At the September 19th press briefing at which the change was announced, Archbishop Paglia called Amoris Laetitia the "Magna Carta" of the new institute.

Two interesting things here: First, Pope Francis said the purpose of the change was so that the teachings of St. John Paul II on marriage and family could be “better known and appreciated in its fruitfulness and relevance” (ibid); Familiaris Consortio "finds its realization" in Amoris Laetitia (source).

Of course, there is reason to fear that some of the implications of Amoris Laetitia are in fundamental conflict with the teachings of John Paul II. We are left with the irony that the teaching of St. John Paul II is being potentially undermined in the name of making his teaching more widely known! It's like a retirement party that is ostensibly to honor an employee's service but whose real purpose is to simply shove them out the door.

Second, if you are one of those people who believes Amoris Laetitia and Familiaris Consortio are in agreement with one another, then why is a new institute needed? If Amoris Laetitia is not a break in continuity with tradition, why dissolve an institution empowered to carry out that tradition? It gives leverage to those who suggest Amoris Laetitia is a document of rupture.

The Filial Correction

On August 11th, the document now known as the "Filial Correction" was delivered to Pope Francis at his residence in Domus Sanctae Marthae. This document was made public on September 24th. Originally signed by 62 scholars, that number has now ballooned to around 100 at the time of this post.

It would take too long to summarize all of the nonsense surrounding this document, both by those for and against it. Those who are ridiculously enthusiastic about it as well as those who are writing it off as insignificant are missing it, I think.

The document itself is very beautiful. I read it in its entirety the day it was released, along with the addenda. It is a splendid explanation of the Catholic tradition on marriage, reception of the sacraments, and the moral nature of our actions. I personally thought the tone of correction was very charitable and humble. It extended to Francis the benefit of the doubt, taking the "Sire, evil counselors are doing bad things in your name" sort of approach, and it made clear that the signatories did not claim any sort of jurisdiction to formally accuse the pope of anything. The title "Filial Correction" is somewhat of a misnomer; it is more a deep, impassioned plea for clear, decisive action.

The mainstream Catholic media is shrugging this off and saying none of these people have the authority to issue any sort of correction (despite the precedent of Europe's theological faculty correcting John XXII in 1333). I saw one apologist whose response to this was to impugn the signatories by trying to dredge up snippets of other comments they'd made over the years which he found objectionable, as if that somehow was relevant to the arguments put forward in the text of the Filial Correction itself.

Others are viewing this in terms of a political power struggle. "The Correction won't amount to anything because the signatories are not really clerical heavyweights." Ultimately, the Church is not a political movement; its fortunes are not measured in terms of the "power" wielded by different factions. And the fact is, to the degree that the Filial Correction speaks God's honest truth, it will bear some sort of fruit. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:10-11). God will bring some good out of this, even if it is nothing else than to edify the authors and signatories.

But...(and this is a major "but"), it may not be the good traditionalists are expecting. While I think the content of the Filial Correction needs to be considered in and of itself apart from the signatories—and while I have faith that God will use this for good and that it may be part of a larger puzzle—we are kidding ourselves if anyone thinks this is actually going to do anything. The Filial Correction's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, the same weakness conservative Catholics have been making for fifty years: it offers a beautiful and honest exposition of the faith, but ultimately, in this struggle, words do not matter. Yes, God will not let them go unrewarded who speak His truth, as I said above.

But for fifty years conservatives have been deluded into thinking that if they just clearly, patiently, and charitably explain the truth that their efforts will prevail. That is simply not true. It's why honest, orthodox scholars who see Vatican II only as a series of documents are fundamentally missing the point. The progressives don't care what you write or how eloquently you explain it. As long as they can keep you shut out of diocesan leadership and out of important positions, you can say whatever you want. Conservatives view this in terms of speaking the truth; the liberals view it as a movement or progression of action. Conservatives have seen Vatican II as sixteen documents. Liberals have seen it as a moment in history with that moves the Church on a new historical trajectory. Whether one is right and the other wrong is sort of irrelevant because the liberal view is more dynamic. Merely saying what the truth is - especially in the face of a pontificate like Francis - is not really going to have any substantial effect in the temporal order.

Also, the historical precedent for this is a little over argued. The scholars who corrected Pope John XXII in 1333 were the most eminent theologians of Christendom, the heads of theological faculty at Europe's premiere universities. Many of them were eminent clerics. There is a marked contrast between the credentials of the men of 1333 and those of 2017. Save for a few notable names, most of the signatories of the 2017 document are obscure men, at least in the big picture. And in many cases their objection to Pope Francis' behavior comes as no surprise. Roberto de Mattei disagrees with Pope Francis! Bishop Fellay thinks the Franciscan pontificate is confusing! Call out the press! Are we supposed to be surprised by this?

Am I writing off the signatories like I just complained others were doing? No. I am not. What they are doing matters. But honestly, it would matter more if the signatories were cardinals and bishops who were not already known opponents of Pope Francis. It's true; the document would matter more if the signatories were more eminent—just like it would matter less if the signatories were merely a bunch of bloggers. A smattering of parish priests, religious brethren, and isolated professors and authors is not tremendously impressive, even less so given that Bishop Fellay is the sole representative of the episcopate on the list. They couldn't even get Athanasius Schneider to sign.

Am I belittling the effort? No. It was a worthwhile effort, the document is very well put together, and the objective ambiguities swirling around the subject made such an effort necessary. Maybe—hopefully?—it will encourage other, more eminent men to do the same. But at the same time I would like to see this in perspective, for what it really is. It's not some groundbreaking beginning; much less does it merit any sort of "So now it begins!" revolutionary gravitas. A bunch of the pope's critics got together and put together a very cogent, well-argued piece calmly explaining the truth of the faith. Effort applauded. Next.

The Reappointment of Cardinal Burke to the Apostolic Signatura

Earlier this month Cardinal Burke was reappointed to the Apostolic Signatura, although not to his previous post as prefect. From a personnel standpoint, this makes very little sense. Personnel is policy, and a leader's appointment or dismissal of personnel is a strong indicator of the leader's policy. When I was in political office, I appointed many people. And I refused to reappoint people as well. One thing I never did was dismiss somebody and then reappoint them. That just...never happened. I understand that the Church doesn't operate along the same guidelines a political body would, but the principle "personnel is policy" is true across the board for any organization, political, business or ecclesiastic. I can't understand why the pope would have reappointed Burke to the Signatura save as some sort of compromise he felt compelled to grant, probably against his own preference. It seems it was a kind of bone tossed to some faction in the Church to rehabilitate Burke, but without restoring him to his previous level of influence.

Of course, some are calling to mind the famous line of line of Vito Corleone; however, I do not think this is why Francis has reappointed Burke. I doubt its a secret plot to undermine him. I suspect it was more about making a compromise with some other faction or individual. I think, if Francis had his way, he would not have reappointed Cardinal Burke whatsoever. But who knows.

Pope Francis and the Death Penalty

In remarks commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church - a book which specifically says "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty" (CCC 2267) - Pope Francis announced that the death penalty is "in itself contrary to the Gospel." The pope went on to explain that previous historical applications of the death penalty only "seemed" logical, but weren't really - this was followed by an apology for the use of the death penalty within the Papal States.

Francis did not offer any explanation as to how something that is "in itself contrary to the Gospel" can be affirmed by the Catechism as "the traditional teaching of the Church." It apparently did not strike him that this would need to be explained. I am not certain what is more troubling, that Francis says something taught in the Catechism is contrary to the Gospel, or that he feels that no explanation is needed to explain how this is possible.

Of course, the pope's homily does not supersede the Church's official teaching. But it does muddle things.

And by the way, before the situation changes, can we all go back and find articles from mainstream Catholic apologists defending the use of the death penalty and screen shot them before they try to pull them down and pretend like they never happened? After all, we are no longer at war with Eurasia. We are at war with East Asia. We have always been at war with East Asia.

Some are reporting that the pope is "changing" the CCC. This is not true. The Vatican, however, is releasing a new "commented" edition of the book in which will feature a running commentary on certain sections drawn from the preaching of Pope Francis.

Football Players Kneeling

Does anyone actually care what these football players actually think about anything? Are they not solely valued in terms of how well they throw, run, and catch? I'm serious here - does anybody actually give a damn what their opinions are about anything whatsoever? I think celebrities get this weird sense of self-importance where they think that people care them outside of their area of professional expertise. We don't. Or at least we shouldn't. Someone doesn't get a platform just because they are well known.

By the way, in case you are interested in following the things I spout off from my platform, follow Unam Sanctam Catholicam on Facebook

Friday, October 06, 2017

Massimo Faggioli's the problem. This line of reasoning suggests that some theological views once were Catholic, but are no longer so. That's blatantly erroneous. Obviously, if a theological view was ever "Catholic", then it remains so today and forever. This is not a complex idea...its like, basic ecclesiology. "What is believed everywhere, always, by all," to quote the famous formula of St. Vincent of Lerins.

It's ridiculous that this individual should have ascended so far in the Catholic world and attained so much exposure while holding such a stupidly errant view of Catholic theology. But, such are the times we live in.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reflections of Magnum Principium

So...the Holy Father has issued a new motu proprio, Magnum Principium on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy. I've spent this afternoon reading the motu proprio and reflecting on the document, the Latin language, and what the motu proprio means for the Church. I'd like to offer the following considerations. These are very confusing times. God grant that I have written well. As always, I am open to your charitable correction. May God bless us and never fail to show us mercy. 

1. Canon law is something I am not extremely familiar with, so I admit possibly error here - but, as far as I can tell, the essential canonical change made by the motu proprio is that responsibility for promulgating vernacular liturgical translations has been devolved to the Episcopal Conferences, who not only are to carry out the translations, but also make the judgment call as to when such translations are necessary. Essentially, the onus of fidelity has shifted: whereas before it was the job of the particular commissions of the Holy See to ensure a text's fidelity to the original Latin, Magnum Principium amends canon 838 so that responsibility to fidelity to the Latin is on the shoulders of Episcopal Conferences, the Holy See's role being now reduced to merely confirm such translations. If I am wrong in this understanding of the major canonical change, please graciously correct me.

2. Whether or not I am understanding the canon law correctly, the biggest innovation here is not the specific canonical change but the principle, the "great principle" (Magnum Principium) from which this motu proprio takes its name. This principle is that the comprehension of the laity "requires" that the further expansion of the vernacular in the Mass. The motu proprio acknowledges that this means the loss of Latin as the primary liturgical language, but essentially says the Church was willing to make this sacrifice so that the people might "become the voice of the Church." Basically, it is a kind of liturgical supersessionism, where the demands of the times require the vernacular supersede Latin as the Church's sacred language - that "it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language." The communication in Latin has been definitively superseded and replaced by communication in vernacular, which "often only in a progressive manner" will eventually "be able to become liturgical languages, standing out in a not dissimilar way to liturgical Latin." Liturgical supersessionism.

3. Of course, as the villain Syndrome says in The Incredibles, "When everyone's super, no one will be." When every vernacular language is a liturgical language, then there in effect is no liturgical language anymore. The essential root of the word sacred, the Latin sacrum, denotes something set apart from everyday use. It is reserved for divine usage. Sacred objects are not treated like profane objects; sacred places are set apart from profane places by special behaviors and taboos - hence, why holy places are called sanctuaries. Sacred persons have a dignity that sets them apart from others. The very essence of the sacred is to be set apart. In Roman times, there was a sharp distinction between the sacra and the saecula, the former denoting people, things, and spaces set aside for worship, the latter signifying that which was for common use. Now, nothing is more secular than the vernacular language, the language people cuss and argue and do business in. Not to say that vernacular never has any part in the liturgy, obviously; Aramaic, Greek, and Latin were all once vernaculars. But it is one thing to say vernacular languages can have a part in the liturgy and quite another to say that vernacular languages essentially are sacred languages by virtue of their very vernacularity. That is the real innovation of the motu proprio. Every language is a sacred language! Everybody gets a trophy! You get a car! And you get a car!

4. The ridiculous irony here is that, while the opening statements of the motu proprio invoke the Second Vatican Council, Magnum Principium actually contravenes the vision of the Council Fathers and the Council documents, which stated that the use of the Latin in the Latin rite was to be preserved as normative, with vernacular only envisioned as applying to the readings and some of the prayers - not the Canon of the Mass (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1). Of course we know that these texts from the Council opened the door to the mess we are discussing right now. Texts like SC 36 are examples of the timebombs Michael Davies so famously spoke of. Even so, in asserting that the vernacular usage become normative, essentially replacing Latin, Francis is in fact contravening what the Council documents seemed to have envisioned. Well, though it may be a strange twist on the documents of Vatican II, it can't be denied that it is a totally victory for the Spirit of Vatican II.

5. When reading Magnum Principium, one cannot but be struck by the document's pragmatism. The focus is entirely on the practical "needs" of the laity. The consideration of the issue proceeds from a point of view that is entirely "horizontal." There is no mention about the historical role of Latin in the Church's liturgy, no talk of the communion of saints, nor even of the practical role of utilizing a single language for the life and worship of the Church. In 1962, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII had written:

[The Church] values especially the Greek and Latin languages, in which wisdom itself is cloaked, as it were, in a vesture of gold. She has likewise welcomed the use of other venerable languages, which flourished in the East. For these too have had no little influence on the progress of humanity and civilization... 
But mid this variety of languages a primary place must surely be given to that language which had its origins in Latium, and later proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity throughout the West. And since in God’s special Providence this language united so many nations together under the authority of the Roman Empire — and that for so many centuries — it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See. Preserved for posterity, it proved to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe.
Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity” makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.
For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.” She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more easily with Rome and with one another" (Veterum Sapientia, 1962).

It seems that any discussion of the Church's liturgical language would have some reference to history, to the "so many centuries" mentioned by St. John XXIII, to the glorification of God and the sanctification of the language used by so many saints, not merely dwell on alleged practicalities of this current place and time. That's not surprising, though; the contemporary talking Church is so enamored with the idea of "proclamation", "word as mystery" and "announcement" that its hardly a shock that the motu proprio takes an extremely pragmatic view of liturgical language. It's so ironic, however, that even considered pragmatically, it makes a lot more sense to have a universal liturgical language "to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples" than to not.

6. Speaking of practicality, I have to say practically speaking, I am not sure how much of a huge difference this is going to make. For one thing, I want to ask the Holy Father what planet he is living on. In what part of the world is "not enough vernacular" really a problem? Is there anywhere where the reign of Latin is so absolute that vernacular needs a broader usage than it already has?? As to the quality of the translations, I think there might not be any substantial change. Episcopal Conferences are notoriously untrustworthy in so many respects; I chuckled to myself when I saw the new document's admonition that Episcopal translations must be faithful, knowing how that worked with the New American Bible. But at this point, is there confidence that the Magisterium would do any better? It's really a pick your poison sort of situation. I honestly don't really trust anyone to do vernacular translations. Translation is policy, and whenever there is a chance to make a translation, the folks in charge will make those translations according to whatever the theological zeitgeist demands. And that's true whoever is in charge of it. So, I'm not sure I am worried that new translations will be qualitatively worse. Once you open the door to all these vernacular translations, it's just what's going to happen. The day of Pentecost has been undone; we have returned to Babel.

That's all for now. I'm sure there's more to say. But obviously, if you don't want to have to worry about translation and all the nonsense attendant upon relying on vernacular editions of the liturgy, just come to the traditional Latin Mass. In the Latin Mass the Church, "by providing splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws", thankfully avoids all such worry.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Faber's Hymn Disfigured

On our Unam Sanctam Catholicam Facebook page, I recently shared a story about a Catholic school in California that had decided to remove images of Jesus and Mary in order to be more inclusive. It made me remember G.K. Chesterton's definition of a liberal as someone who is so open minded their brains have fallen out. The virus of "inclusiveness" and "tolerance" has infected the Catholic soul to a degree unfathomable a few decades ago. In the wake of the events of Charlottesville, this insanity seems to have reached a fever pitch. For example, the sportscaster being pulled from an event for being named Robert Lee, or the Memphis movie theater that withdrew a planned showing of Gone With the Wind.

I was taking these thoughts with me to Mass this morning. We were singing "Faith of Our Fathers" by Frederick W. Faber. I couldn't help notice a new verse smooshed into the middle of the song. The annotation at the bottom of the hymn page noted it was a new alternate verse added in 1994 by progressive liturgist Mike Hay. The verse said:

Our mothers, too, oppressed and wronged
Still lived their faith with dignity;
Their brave example gives us strength
To work for justice ceaselessly

The only way this verse could have been added is because Hay thought the song as written by Faber was unjustly excluding women from the roster of the Church's faithful. It was irking to see how the value of women's example is found, not in the salvation of souls or the glory of God, but in the "strength to work for justice ceaselessly." Women in the Church are social justice warriors, in Hay's vision.

Given this, I wonder in what manner they were "oppressed and wronged" in Hay's vision. The context of the song as a whole is about the oppression of the Church by her persecutors. But since the value of the women's suffering is in inspiring us to work for social justice, I can't help wondering if there is a secondary meaning implicit in Hay's lyric - that the "oppression" is the oppression of "patriarchy", and the admonition to "work for justice" also refers to pushing for alleged "women's equality" within the Church (in terms of female ordination, etc).

Of course referring to our "Fathers" doesn't mean to exclude women. The entire first centuries of the Church are called the "Patristic" era, but obviously that's not meant to deny the role of many holy women in establishing Christianity - women like the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Agnes, or St. Monica, whose feast we celebrate today. More generally, in English referring to the "days of our fathers" or "the faith of our fathers" and similar such sentiments simply means "the past." As if when we sing about the faith of our fathers we are some how meaning to exclude the possibility that any female also had faith! It's ridiculous. But of course, liberals have never been able to stomach the male universal to refer  to humanity as such.

"Everything's political," says the obnoxious Marxist character Perchik from Fiddler on the Roof. This is real sad thing about progressive ideology. Everything is only political all the time. It's always about power struggle. Not even the martyrdoms of Catholic history can be considered without inserting a political narrative about women's oppression and social justice. In the liberal mindset, there is no refuge from political interpretation; no "safe space", to use a popular progressive phrase. Social justice (rather than the glory of God and salvation of souls) becomes an interpretive meta-principle - a filter through which everything else must pass.

As an aside, it's interesting that this would not be the first time this hymn was added to or redacted. The original third verse of the hymn invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the conversion of England:

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.

It was the Protestants who altered this verse, such that "Mary's prayers" became "faith and prayer", "our country" became "all nations", and "England" replace with "mankind" or "we all" or something similar. The result is that an impassioned plea to the Blessed Mother for the conversion of a particular country becomes a very generic prayer for the conversion of the world. Hmm...that reminds me of something else...

At any rate, it's not surprising Protestants would have edited the hymn in this regard, but what is astonishing to me is that Catholic hymnals have adopted the Protestantized version of verse 3. I have never encountered a Catholic hymnal that actually used the original Catholic version of the song as penned by Faber. I'm willing to bet many of these Catholic hymnal and missalette producers are not even aware that the version of the song they are printing is Protestantized.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam+

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Story of the Canaanite Woman

Today in the Gospel readings, we heard about the story of Jesus healing the daughter of the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15:21-28. The text of the Gospel reads:

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon." But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us." He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me." He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

It is unfortunate that in the wake of the Charlottesville violence we have to endure more violence - violence to the text from pastors whom I'm sure are taking this story about Jesus encountering a person outside His own ethnic group and making it a story about racial harmony. I guess such an interpretation certainly fits with the zeitgeist, but I don't think that's what this story is really about. Just because Jesus talks to a foreigner doesn't mean this story is about racial harmony. 

Not that the fact that the woman is a Canaanite is inconsequential; it's actually central to the meaning of the story, but I am wryly amused that people can often find no other way to understand this apart from contemporary paradigms about ethnicity and inclusion. 

Let's dig in to what's going on here.

This story has a lot in common with another tale in the Gospel of Luke - the healing of the centurion's servant:

After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well (Luke 7:1-10).

The two stories have three things in common:

1) The one petitioning Jesus is a Gentile
2) Both the Canaanite woman and the centurion use an analogy to make their case
3) Jesus marvels at the faith of each before granting their requests

In the tale of the centurion's servant, the centurion is no less a Gentile than the Canaanite woman, yet nobody makes this story about racial harmony. That's because it is so clearly about faith. The centurion uses an analogy of military command and authority to demonstrate his faith in Christ's ability to affect a cure by merely pronouncing the words. This is very clearly about the nature of faith. 

This Gentile, who was not part of God's covenant with Israel, has a more authentic understanding of faith than the Jews. "Not even in Israel have I found such faith!" This is really the heart of the story. Contrasting the disposition for faith found in the Gentiles with the kind of hard-hearted unbelief of the Jewish community. This story both prefigures the inclusion of the Gentiles into the New Covenant, as well as incites the Jews to envy by casting the Gentiles as a foil.

I have two other places in Scripture I can cite in defense of this. First, Acts 13, where St. Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Pisidia. Notice how the faith of the Gentiles is contrasted with the unbelief of the Jews, and how this arouses the Jews to envy when St. Paul mentions it:

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles, for so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. (13:44-51).

St. Paul publicly praises the faith of the Gentiles, which incites the Jews to envy. This is the same thing Jesus does when He praises the faith of the centurion and says "Not even in Israel have I found such faith!"

But more pertinent to the discussion of the Canaanite woman is my second text, which comes from St. Paul's epistle to the Romans, where he basically spells out the strategy I have explained above and says that provoking the Jews to jealousy is a means of saving at least some of them:

I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:13-15)

The "ministry" St. Paul is glorying in is his apostolate to the Gentiles. He says specifically that he magnifies the successes of his work among the Gentiles "in order to make my race jealous", with the end result of hopefully bringing some of them to faith.

If this verse sounds familiar, it is because it is paired with the story of the Canaanite woman in the liturgy; you heard this passage at Mass today alongside the story of the Canaanite woman. This tells us that the Church would like us to interpret the story of the Canaanite woman in light of St. Paul's teaching in Romans 11.

What are we left with then? What is actually going on in the story of the Canaanite woman?

Jesus' ministry was initially to the Jews; He left ministry to the Gentiles for the Apostles after the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is why He initially refuses the Canaanite woman's request for a healing. This is the meaning of His comment, "It is not right to take the little children's bread and throw it to the dogs."

However, like the centurion, the Canaanite woman grasps the true nature of faith. She responds "Even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master's table." This is what causes Jesus to marvel at her faith and grant her request. The "bread" referenced by our Lord is like the grace of God. Sanctifying grace had hitherto only been made available to the Israelites through the Old Covenant. Jesus essentially tells the Canaanite woman, "The special graces of the Old Covenant are not yet available to the Gentiles, only the faithful of Israel." The woman responds that even foreigners eat the scraps of bread from the Master's table. The substance of her response is, "Even the common graces available to all mankind are sufficient for me, lowly as I am, to understand my utter dependence upon my Creator. The smallest of things depend on God just as much as the greatest." Jesus marvels at the woman's intuitive understanding of her dependence on God's goodness. Moved by her great faith, He grants her request.

Thus, the story is really about the nature of faith and how pleasing faith is to God. It's just that the Canaanite woman's metaphor takes a little more thought to unpack than the one used by the centurion, but they are both essentially the same message.

We could also cite an event from Luke 4. In Luke 4, Jesus is preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum; this is the famous episode where Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah and identifies Himself as the Messiah. When He sees that His detractors want Him to perform a miracle to back up His claims, He says:

“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city" (Luke 4:23-29).

Here our Lord refers to the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha and contrasts the unbelief of Israel with the faith of the Gentiles, who were granted miracles. This is the exact same context as the healing of the centurion's servant and the daughter of the Canaanite. It should also be noted that Mark 7:24 said that the episode with the Canaanite woman occurred "in the region of Tyre and Sidon"; in other words, the Canaanite woman was most likely a Sidonian, just as the widow of Zarephath Jesus references in the Gospel of Luke. This further reinforces the interpretation I am proposing.

The Old Testament law was particular to the biological children of Israel. But the rule of faith is greater than the law. It is before Moses (St. Paul traces it to Abraham in Romans 4) and has the capacity to be universal. That's why the faith of the Church is catholic. Just as the prophecies of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Old Testament foreshadow this, so do Jesus' healings of the centurion's servant and the Canaanite woman's daughter. This foreshadowing is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

Thus, the healing of the Canaanite's daughter is about the nature of faith, the universality of God's covenant, and how pleased God is with the humble, childlike faith of His people.

One final note: People often comment on how "mean" Jesus is to the Canaanite woman. "He calls her a dog!" they say. How demeaning! Is it racist? Is it sexist? Is it both? How rude!

This is a reflection more of the mindset of modern people than of any rudeness in the behavior of our Lord. When our Lord uses a metaphor of a dog, people cannot but assume our Lord is calling the woman a dog. However, this is more about the way eastern cultures talk. In the Middle East, there is a very common manner of speech whereby the speaker uses a metaphor to make a point. We do this in the west too, obviously, but in the east it is much more common. Entire conversations may be carried out this way, and the prevalence of metaphor increases to the degree that the conversation becomes more delicate.

This is very common in Semitic, Bedouin, and Arabic cultures. I recall one time years ago reading the authorized biography of Lawrence of Arabia by Jeremy Wilson. The book describes in fascinating detail how T.E. Lawrence often worked out his tactics with his Arab allies. Sometimes, the entire discussion would take place in metaphor. Lawrence might propose striking an Ottoman railroad at a certain point, and the Arab sheikh would smile and say "Ah! The snake bites the horses heel!" or something similar. The book describes how frustrating it could get when complex arrangements had to be hammered out.

The thing is though, the sheikh was not actually insinuating that the Arab armies possessed the characteristics of snakes. Yes, there was a metaphor. But it wasn't exactly a simile, which is making a positive affirmation that one thing is like something else. Simile is a more refined type of metaphor. Jesus was not saying that the Canaanite woman has the negative characteristics of a dog - cringing, smelly, animalistic, etc. Rather, in typical Semitic fashion, he was using a colorful metaphor, the purpose of which was to explain a complex idea simply. And the Canaanite woman understands. She doesn't miss a beat. She's ready with the proper metaphorical response.

Jesus does a similar thing when He says "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:58). He's not suggesting any character similarities between Himself and stereotypical foxes or birds. He's just using a colorful analogy to draw attention to His itinerancy without meaning the parallel to be taken in any moral sense. Not every metaphor Jesus uses is like this, but I think this example of the Canaanite woman certainly is. He's not making any sort of moral judgment about her. He's merely engaging in some colorful Middle Eastern metaphor.

Yes, Jesus is willing to do a miracle for the Canaanite woman even though she is not an Israelite. But it was because of the nature of her faith, not because Jesus wanted to teach us a lesson about ethic harmony and racial inclusiveness.