Friday, December 31, 2010

To those who still think the battle is between objective and subjective truth

...nothing else than the personal mystical experience of the individual Christian constitutes the cornerstone of Tradition: Tradition cannot be truly Orthodox if it is not founded upon a personal encounter with God; those who try to oppose a formal and rationalized “tradition” (held by the majority in the church) to an inspired “mysticism” (of individual enthusiasts) fall into error without understanding the very essence of Tradition. The true mystic is not the one who considers his own personal experience superior to the Tradition of the church, but he whose experience is in agreement with the experience of the church.
~Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, "The Patristic Heritage and Modernity"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A runny thought on theological speculation

There's a lurid wanderlust in the spiritual speech of many Western Christians, roots of which go way back. Imagination, speculation, and sentimentality are the basic hallmarks of this non-ascetical approach to theological reflection. Some find grand allegorical meaning in the mysteries of astronomy and calendrical science; others in musicology, paleoanthropology, linguistics, mathematics or any intricate body of knowledge. What unifies them all is a spirit or mind that finds some solace or satisfaction in special, secret knowledge that is not accessible to the common man. Without a prior fragmentation of Catholic truth, such speculation would be close to impossible. But the Catholica has been shattered and become a buffet. We're now at liberty to pick our favorite pieces of the Truth and fetishize them, always licensed and sometimes emboldened by the enforcement structure of the institutional Church to rebut any criticism with an indignant "Well, it's true." It's not the same spirit as the allegorical style of the Fathers.

From Opuscula Theologica
Yesterday was mid-winter, the shortest day of the year. From now on the days will become brighter and longer, reminding us of the Light of the world, born in Bethlehem, and of the never ending day of His Second Coming.

“Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar (cf. Ex. 14:20). The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge (cf. Isa. 9:6). Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new (cf. I Cor. 5:17). The letter gives way; the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away; the Truth comes in upon them. Melchisedec is concluded (cf. Heb. 7:3). He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people (cf. Ps. 47:1), because to us a Child is born, and a Son given to us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with it the Cross is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father (cf. Isa. 9:6).”

- St. Gregory the Theologian
No carelessly inflected slogans/truisms here. All pure theologia, not academic, pedantic, or esoteric knowledge. St. Gregory's speculative imagery and allegory (eg, solstice) is grounded directly in the spirit and mind of Christ, not just in "objective facts" about his existence or coming. May we attain to this spirit/mind of our Doctor Fathers. We effectively deny and spit on the (personal) Spirit of Truth when we speak with emotions, attitudes, or poses that diverge from Christ's very own. The eyes of the Sacred Victim turned on Peter (us), at his denial should convict us more and purge from us the filthy bile that spews from our bowels whenever we engage in theological banter. It's not what we profess that matters as much as how we profess it. It's not even what we believe so much as how we believe. Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life is directed at the HOW, not just the what.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Would you like that soul with honey or vinegar?

I was looking up what Googleland has to offer on involuntary sin because of a discussion I had with a good friend and stumbled on this wonderful, very Patristic-minded passage from Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi.
33. Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”. Augustine refers to Saint Paul, who speaks of himself as straining forward to the things that are to come (cf. Phil 3:13). He then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined[26]. Even if Augustine speaks directly only of our capacity for God, it is nevertheless clear that through this effort by which we are freed from vinegar and the taste of vinegar, not only are we made free for God, but we also become open to others. It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.

Advent wrath [sic]

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
~Matthew 3:7-10, from the Gospel reading for 2nd Sunday of Advent
Who are we to "flee from the wrath to come"? The Forerunner speaks of God's wrath not as something we're saved from, but as the very thing that will save those who repent. The Eastern church is right about this. The West views God's wrath mostly as vindictive, retributive punishment which we are saved FROM by some forensic transaction in which Christ's blood is merely the payment. This is why Catholics have so few concrete teachings or examples of a LIFE of repentance since we think of repentance as a transaction for the confession booth. Repentance as transaction renders John's call into little more than a pro forma hat tip or a weapon to be used on the Other (Jews, Muslims, non-believers, non-Catholics, everyone but ourselves). As Protestant and Catholic, I always felt repentance seemed superfluous to those who are already saved or absolved; if we're saved from divine wrath, what do we need to repent for?

But to the Eastern church, God's wrath is simply the hard edge of God's light, but it is not modeled after human, pagan wrath. God's wrath exposes, chastens, purifies, cleanses, cauterizes, heals, emancipates, even deifies. Like all of God's energies and operations, God's wrath is Good because it is of God who loves mankind, as the Eastern church prays over and over again. No epistemological voluntarism here: God's wrath is not good just because God says so, as if divine cruelty and bloodthirst are good by arbitrary definition. It's good because it's not cruel or bloodthirsty because God is not cruel or bloodthirsty. The only thing that makes divine wrath so hard and terrifying to us is sin in us. The West has made God's wrath into the problem we must solve or be saved from, when in actuality His wrath is the solution. Sin as that which alienates us from the divine life in us experiences God as wrath. So wrath is the enemy of sin. So if the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then divine wrath is my friend.

Divine wrath calls us to repentance because that's the natural human response to it. Flight from divine wrath is flight from God right back into the arms of sin. A life of repentance unites us with the good wrath of God, separates us from the life of sin, liberates us from slavery to our passions, not to remove a juridical sentence hanging over us, but to prepare us for deification, to restore the image and likeness of God in us, to make us men in full again. To be Christian is to incline one's heart to the wrath of God like leaves incline towards the sun. How much more are we to anticipate the coming of the Sun of Righteousness? This is why ascesis is necessary in Advent. The West has lost all sense of ascetic preparation and anticipation for the Nativity because the modern Church has watered down John's call to repentance into a nice story befitting pastel-colored candle wreaths, sentimental dioramas, and cute kids dressing up as Joseph and Mary like it's Halloween.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Peepees

Fr. Tom Hopko has often spoken of the Peepees as a neat summary of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness that we must renounce if we are to follow Him: power, prestige, position, possession, and pleasure.

I see another set of adjectival Peepees lately infecting me and a lot of today's uber-Catholics: priggish, peevish, petulant, polemical, pedantic, pretentious, and pompous. These are not cute peccadilloes or personality flourishes that can be laughed off as the marks of a Chesterbellockian curmudgeon-saint. They just make us pathetic. Hey, there goes another peepee.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"I grew up Catholic, and I was going to church hungry and I would leave starving."

I used to respond to these sorts of sentiments with dismissive slogans and nerdy references like "crappy catechesis" or "Christ in the Eucharist is the True Bread from which we will no longer hunger" or "Americanization of Catholics" or "Robert Bellah's Sheilaism," etc. Now I realize how I had it all wrong. The more honest I am with myself, the more I have to agree that this line sadly but aptly describes my experience of the modern church ever since I converted.

Not that I deny or reject the content of any of these slogans or concepts. But I have come to realize they do not speak for themselves or stand alone apart from the human person. Christian truth is not a slogan or a proposition existing in some alternate Platonic realm of ideas or even in some "mind of God" separate from our reality. The truth that sets us free and truly heals us is found in this reality, in persons who are personally in Christ, in those who personally partake in Christ from within the heart. The truth comes from the inner being of a man, so it's just as much the vibe, energy, aura, subtext, and emotion we give off as it is in the content of the ideas or words we communicate. As the Fathers implied, the truth is enhypostatic.

So I disagree when I hear Catholicons quip, after they've privately and with self-congratulatory pomp thrashed the arguments and sentiments of non-Catholicons, "I'm being a bastard, but it's the truth..." It's as if St. Jerome and Chesterton at their most pugnacious have become the model of Catholic orthodoxy.

There really can be no separation between the ideas or words we profess and who we are as persons in Christ. If I am a cruel or arrogant man or speak in a cruel or arrogant manner, all the doctrinal orthodoxy I profess intellectually alone is rendered null and void. If the demons can know and speak the truth about Christ, then perhaps I should be more careful with my grip of the truth of Christ lest I join their ranks.

So when Christ says "I am the Truth," it means we abide in the truth only to the extent we are personally dying Christ's death in order to live Christ's life, not just ritually (often confused for sacramentally) but actually. If we act in an un-Christlike way, that's not just another forgivable offense or charming foible (moralistic attitude towards sin). We're not just being "who we are" with all our imperfections which God loves anyway because His Son paid the debt already (quasi-heretical Christology). To act in a un-Christlike way may be unavoidable in this valley of tears, but it is NOT human, or more precisely, it's not humanizing or masculating. When we do so, we're choosing to live outside of Christ. We're turning against our true nature which is Christ. We're inclining ourselves towards Death. I am betraying myself, for my identity does not begin with ME in some pre-graced state outside of Christ. My true identity IS Christ Himself and Christ in me. Yet we hear so much psychotherapeutic identity talk among Catholics, which is partly Rahner and the Jesuits' great achievement and which is why I almost always leave Mass starving these days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ex sese et non ex consensu Ecclesiae

For not from his Apostolic Confession does he glorify his Throne, but from his Apostolic Throne seeks to establish his dignity, and from his dignity, his Confession. The truth is the other way.

~Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns," §11, 1848

Catholic polemics

From A Word From the Desert:
The man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them, will never know the grace of God.

St. Silouan the Athonite +1938
Catholics tend to moralize exhortations like this, as if he's saying God merely wants us to be more charitable ideally or by force of will, like our moms wanting us to eat our vegetables. Then the legalistic approach kicks in: God's justice may punish us for not being more charitable but God knows we're nothing but sinners (in this life) and has waved the magic wand of forgiveness from the Cross because He loves us, so we don't have to sweat charity too much (in this life), especially when "speaking the truth to power" (in this life) demands forceful protest against evildoers (like that "bastard Obama"). Sometimes we have the further gall to presume Purgatory voids out all negative spiritual consequence (in the afterlife) from our lack of charity (in this life) because what's the Great Laundry Room in the Sky for if not to clean up our little sins like not being charitable enough to enemies? Often this is accompanied by giggly joking about how "I'm so going to hell." (Catholic irreverence is more often than not a disguise for cognitive dissonance.) Usually it goes completely unnoticed that this attitude is patently un-Scriptural and un-Patristic and that it's all quite cloyingly blasphemous, not to mention sophomoric. I'm not even going to get into the "two-storey universe" this attitude implies.

But St. Silouan spoke his words quite literally and without any guile. We render ourselves incapable of receiving, knowing, experiencing, becoming, participating in God, if we, like the "godless anti-Christs" we criticize, cry out against evil but never pray in the heart for evildoers. Bearing hatred on the inside for anyone is to commit murder, literally in the Kingdom. Even worse, it is murder of our own very souls because it reinforces our slavery to hatred and its many vicious kinsmen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sobriety and novelty

When speaking to gung-ho Western Christians today, it's hard to avoid being smacked in the face with their passionate enthusiasms and hobbyhorses, whether it's the latest church plant, the latest papal encyclical or book, the latest theological speculation or cultural fad, the latest activist, collectivist, do-gooder "movement of the Spirit."

Whether Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, in much of Christian America there's a certain lust for the spiritual high, a yearning for a special knowledge or experience of God that only the select few are granted, a grasping for a liberation from mundane, commonplace existence, a longing to be swept up to the heavens by some new group identity. Nothing new here. Academics call it gnostic elitism or something like that.

But I've grown to appreciate the Eastern Church's emphasis on vigilant sobriety of the mind and heart. I'm deeply drawn to their quasi-instinctive resistance to fads, a resistance which, it is important to note, is not new and intimately tied to the plain teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Western traditionalists are resistant to fads only to the extent they can distinguish an old fad from a tradition, which is to say not very resistant.

At any rate, it's always good to watch Eastern Christians practice what they preach. From Orthodox media, I've heard mostly enthusiastic praise for Fr. Seraphim Rose, who has been touted as the Eastern Thomas Merton (never sure if we're supposed to take that as compliment to Rose). So it's encouraging to see intellectual sobriety applied by one Orthodox towards a specifically Orthodox phenom.
I do not promote Fr Seraphim Rose because he represents a very rigorous form of Orthodoxy that is also committed to excessive speculation, especially about the afterlife. His ideas fuel a kind of Orthodox elitism which causes people to look down on others as being not truly Orthodox.

Fr Seraphim's ideas also are taken up by those who feel they must live as radically Orthodox as possible, and startle the world with their extreme expressions of otherworldliness.

For me, the heart of Orthodoxy is Christ, and the life in Christ is the Orthodox way, following behind the Master, doing what we see Him doing, saying what He says.


I said “I do not promote” Fr Seraphim Rose, and neither do I condemn him. Whether his ideas are false or true, our good and loving God knows, who holds us all tenderly and forgivingly in His hands. As for the man, I hope he is what all who follow Christ are.
His note against condemning Fr. Rose is crucial as well. The typical traditionalist will be vigilant against all deviations or extrapolations from the tradition, but he will usually be quick to judge and condemn, invariably causing an equally forceful defense and digging in of heels from the innovators.

The sobriety comes into play when we refrain from impassioned, unilateral judgment and condemnation, which only has the appearance of vigilant defense of the tradition, but remains lacking in vigilance towards one's own ego. Fidelity to tradition must be in the first place vigilant and sober against oneself.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Un-"American Beauty"

There is a different sort of beauty in the faces, places, sounds, and spaces of ancient Christians. They seem to be clothed with a different aura in contrast to the glossy, corporate smiles, the vacuous eyes, the manicured coifs, and the adulterated children of American Christianity. For a long while I've suspected the American Jesus to be Anti-Christ. We who have been baptized into the American Jesus have put on the American Jesus from whence comes "American Beauty."

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Thy Will Be Done

The remedy is severe, but it needed nothing less to free us from ourselves and to storm the defensive walls of our pride.  We want to die, but to die without any pain and in full health.  We want to be tested, but only while looking on with conscious superiority to the trial.  It is a saying of the old lawyers with respect to donations: You cannot both give and keep.  We must give all or nothing when God asks it.  If we do not have courage to give, at least we can let him take.  ~Archbishop Francois Fenelon
We cannot give and keep.  But it's not a choice between the two for the Christian either, for even if we cannot give, we still cannot keep.  Refusal to give leaves only one option: to allow, to suffer, to accept, to say "Let it be" to His takings, which effectively raises "letting God" above "giving to God."  And so we honor the Blessed Virgin, not for giving God her womb as a grandiose, ego-filled gesture of "self-sacrifice" but for the smallness of her Fiat.  So we honor Christ's Fiat at Gethsemane, for his self-offering is really giving to God the Father an unconditional license to take all.  How easy and light is this burden, and yet how difficult and heavy!  The mystery of Fenelon's observation is that it may require more, not less, courage to let him take.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Political performance art

The typical way of having one’s cake and eating it too here is to say that we need to think about both government help and self-help. But in practice this too often becomes a handy way to focus on the comforts of underdoggism while genuflecting to the obvious but undramatic logic of self-direction. Wax usefully asks: “Is it possible to pursue an arduous program of self-improvement while simultaneously thinking of oneself as a victim of grievous mistreatment and of one’s shortcomings as a product of external forces?” To the extent that our ideology on race is more about studied radicalism than about a healthy brand of what Wax calls an internal locus of control, her book provokes, at least in this reader, a certain hopelessness. If she is right, then the bulk of today’s discussion of black America is performance art. Tragically, and for the most part, she is right.  ~John McWhorter in TNR
 Exhibit A:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Velimirovich on Gandhi

 Pearls wasted on swine (modern Western Christians):
Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles [fasting, prayer and silence] are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means.
 via Salt of the Earth

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Identity crisis: church or state?

I used to find no contradiction in the concept of the Vatican being both a globally-recognized independent state on the one hand and the headquarters of the Catholic Church on the other.  The Vatican state is not the Church, nor even is the Vatican as religious institution the Church.  But with the outbreak of hostilities in Europe over pervert priests and their coverup, I'm beginning to see the huge cracks. 

The indomitable vaticanista Sandro Magister simply ignores the cracks in his coverage of the Belgian raid on Church records, without even blinking:
The searches ordered by the Belgian judiciary – called "brutal" by no less than the country's justice minister, Stefaan De Clerck – are not at all reassuring. There the Church has been considered on a par with a gang of criminals.
I guess one should expect this sort of irony when your hymnography has been emptied of pieces like "Criminal on the Cross," or has gutted the sanctoral and liturgical cycle of any significant veneration of St. Dismas.

So let me get this straight: we worship a God who did not see it beneath Him nor cried of injustice to be crucified "on a par" with vile criminals for being perfectly God and perfectly man, but we His latter-day disciples are offended that the mighty Roman Empire the Belgian police scourged and crucified without due process of law searched and seized diocesan records via judicial process on the grounds that we innocently and bravely preached the Gospel abused children in the name of Jesus Christ and have consistently covered up for our pervert priests.  If only Jesus were treated so kindly for being such a criminal perfectly righteous and blameless. 
Not only in Belgium and the United States, but a little bit everywhere, there is a growing tendency to judge the nature and organization of the Church while ignoring what it is and its unique original organizing principles, which nonetheless have entered into the best legal culture and have been recognized by internationally valid pacts. 
I almost got whiplash reading that last line.  Magister sets up a nice teaching moment with "while ignoring what it [the Church] is and its unique original organizing principles."  I was ready for a clear-eyed exposition of eucharistic ecclesiology or something.  Instead we get awkward flattery about "the best legal culture" and "internationally valid pacts."  Right.  Cuz that's precisely what Jesus purposefully availed himself of when he faced Pilate and the Sanhedrin. 

The rest of the Magister's post goes on to lecture us about the principle of sovereign immunity.  The simple syllogism here is: Vatican is a State; States have immunity; therefore Vatican has immunity.  Period, cuz international law says so and the Church has always taken shelter under the Patronage of St. Ius Gentium the Archangel.  It's like playing Truth or Dare.  Church or State?

Related: If this Wamp is Christianity in the public square, who can blame anyone for going with ardent public square secularism?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Fruit of the Beat/Hippie Generation

#1,432: "There are no more old people, only decrepit youths.

Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, p. 242

Unity vs. Obedience

But the anti-canonical practices that are bewailed in "unity rhetoric" go beyond mere inconsistency: if there is any inconsistency, it lies in the fact that some jurisdictions are better at complying with the Church Canons than others. If I saw this list for the first time, without having read it first in the context of unification, I would have said, in my untutored "the-emperor-has-no-clothes-on" wit, that this list of problems must have spilled out from a departure from Tradition, or a failure of apostolic leadership – not disunity. If a funeral service in one Temple ends up with a trip to the crematorium, administrative unity is not what is needed: obedience is.
~Fr. Jonathan Tobias
I wish Catholics would get this distinction straight. Do we seek liturgical/doctrinal conformity for unity's sake or is it to grow in unity with the Fathers? Is unity from without or within? On both Catholic left and right, it seems the former is more important, hence our endless carping and strutting over what does the Pope or the prayer "really say." Administrative or jurisdictional unity is so illusory. Catholics (and apparently many Americanized Orthodox) have come to believe that unity is something that can be established, enforced, and extended by institutional, impersonal power. I now realize how this is the mind of Anti-Christ.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Story of Having No Story

From a lecture by my (and, it seems, every other Catholic's) favorite Protestant theologian Prof. Stanley Hauerwas back in March.
Of course the problem with the story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story is that story is a story that you have not chosen.
Thankfully, Hauerwas elaborates:
But Americans do not have the ability to acknowledge that they have not chosen the story that they should have no story except the story they choose when they had no story. As a result they must learn to live with decisions they made when they thought they knew what they were doing but later realized they did not know what they were doing. Of course they have a remedy when it comes to marriage. It is called divorce. They also have a remedy for children. It is called abortion.

The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story obviously has implications for how faith is understood. The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story produces people who say things such as, “I believe Jesus is Lord — but that is just my personal opinion.”
Via Ochlophobist

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Belgian waffling

As Catholics all over the blogosphere are sharing a collective conniption fit over Belgian raids on Church records and property, I hope in vain to hear a Catholic voice that can address this crisis with the sobriety and humility of the Eastern Fathers

Via Mystagogy:
by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

St. Mark the Ascetic said: 'Whoever desires to eliminate future tribulations must bear the present tribulations with joy.' Men consider slander as a great tribulation and there are few men who bear this tribulation without grumbling. O beautiful is the fruit of kindly endured tribulation! Tribulation is given to us for good spiritual commerce and we are missing the opportunity thus remaining empty-handed at the market place. Behold, even Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Macarius, Sisoes and thousands of other followers of the Most-Slandered One were themselves slandered. But God, Who orders all things for our salvation, had so ordered that on the thorn of slander would sprout fragrant roses of glory for all those who are slandered for His Name. Had Stephen not been slandered would he have seen the heavens opened and seen the glory of God in the heavens? And the slander against Joseph the Chaste One, did it not serve to his greater glory?
Catholics shame our Holy Apostles, Martyrs, and Fathers with our whiny protestations over the political consequences of our sins as a Church. We have NOT been chaste, innocent, or even penitent, yet we dare complain about the comparatively light treatment we're getting from those who are seeking basic accountability and justice for OUR sins. If we truly acted like a Church that looked to the ancient Tradition for guidance, we'd seek more chastisement, humiliation, insult, and injury. If our holy forebears won sanctification through persecution for proclaiming the Gospel, how much more persecution don't we deserve for scandalizing Christ's little ones? We need to pray for more persecution so that we may be saved from our own hypocrisy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


What Kind of Catholic Are You?
Your Result: Orthodox

resultYou follow the teachings of the Pope and the Magisterium. You prefer a liturgy that is reverent and beautiful, not tacky and "inclusive." You realize that humble piety is the best approach to God, and practice this in your daily life. Incense, gold, exquisite vestments, massive candles, and cloistered nuns are your cup of tea.

What Kind of Catholic Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I was struggling in a class to prove the existence of a God in whom I do not believe. ~Fr. Stephen Freeman
What more needs to be said about the atheist's terrifying challenge? As a bonus, it makes that bumper crop of apologetics books look like a heap of wasted trees.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Got the story already, thanks

What Really Happened In Fr. Murphy Case? (Jimmy Akin)

The NYTwits at the New York Times have been guilty of some really sloppy reporting.

But they've done us the service of putting online a big cache of primary source documents regarding the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy and the sexual abuse he committed.

These documents paint a very different picture of what happened with the Vatican--and what Cardinal Ratzinger's role was--than what the Times and other outlets are suggesting.

So what are the real facts of the case, drawn from the documents themselves?


What Pope defenders seem oblivious to is the fact that public opinion accurately reflects the credibility of the Church, even after you factor out the anti-Catholic bias. There's a good reason why the media and the public no longer give the Church any benefit of the doubt. We may be right on a handful of selected facts that happened to have received sloppy treatment by aggressive journalists, but to stand on this is a lot like the makers of the Titanic taking pride in dispelling specific errors by reporters over precisely how their great ship sunk. The point is, sloppiness in reporting and documentation notwithstandng, the unsinkable ship sunk. Catholics should just accept this as a sunk cost, pardon the pun.

Otherwise, we just look like we're still only interested in convincing ourselves the Church cannot do wrong. This is the opposite of repentance and humility, which the Fathers teach is the unceasing, unyielding posture of the Christian. This is no time to be counting pennies when we owe a mountain of debt to God and to victims for our sins as a Church. So no, I don't think I'll "get the story" when the story has already been laid out repeatedly for those who have eyes to see it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pope Benedict Let a Known Pedophile Work in His Diocese in Germany

Leon Podles:
March 12th, 2010

As the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger let a pedophile work in his diocese. The London Times reports
The Pope was drawn directly into the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal for the first time tonight as news emerged of his part in a decision to send a paedophile priest for therapy. The priest went on to reoffend and was convicted of child abuse but continues to work as priest in Upper Bavaria.

The priest was sent from Essen to Munich for “therapy” in 1980 when he was accused of forcing an 11-year-old boy to perform oral sex. The archdiocese confirmed that the Pope, then a cardinal, had approved a decision to accommodate the priest in a rectory while the therapy took place.

The priest, identified only as “H”, was subsequently convicted of sexually abusing minors after he was moved to pastoral work in nearby Grafing. In 1986 he was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence and fined 4,000 marks ($2,800 in today’s money). There have been no formal accusations against him since.

The church has been accused of a cover-up after at least 170 accusations of child abuse by German Catholic priests. The scandal broke in January but the claims, which continue to emerge, span three decades. Critics say that priests were redeployed to other parishes rather than fired when they were found to be abusing children.

The archdiocese of Munich and Freising said there had been no complaints against the priest during the therapy at a Church community in Munich. It said the decision to allow him to continue work in Grafing was taken by Gerhard Gruber, now 81, and then Vicar General of the archdiocese.

The Vatican noted in a statement that Monsignor Gruber had taken “full responsibility” for the priest’s move back into pastoral work but did not comment further.

Monsignor Gruber said the Pope, who was made a cardinal in 1977, had not been not aware of his decision because there were a thousand priests in the diocese at the time and he had left many decisions to lower level officials.

“The cardinal could not deal with everything,” he said. “The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake… I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologise to all those who were harmed.”

However, he did not indicate whether the convicted paedophile would be allowed to continue working in the Church.

The Pope was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982, then moved to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a post he held until his election as pontiff five years ago after the death of John Paul II.

“H”, the priest, went on to work in an old people’s home for two years after his conviction then moved to the town of Garching where he became a curate and later a Church administrator. In May 2008 he was removed from his duties in Garching and was not allowed to work with your people, but he still works in the diocese, according to the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which broke the story.
In the cases in Germany I have studied, I have noticed that German courts give far lighter punishments for abuse than American courts do (this is true of all crimes).

Also note that the abuser was allowed to work in a parish until 1998 and is still an active priest. The rules about Zero Tolerance that American bishops made in order to save themselves (and their bank accounts) do not apply outside the United States.

It would be astonishing if Ratzinger had delegated such a sensitive decision to an underling. That alone would indicate a failure to take responsibility.

As Edward Gibbons, no admirer of the clergy, recounted, Pope Gregory the Great took responsibility for the poor of the city of Rome. When a poor man was found starved to death in the streets, Pope Gregory suspended himself for a period as public penance for his failure.

John Paul and Benedict both failed to punish bishops who tolerated and enabled abuse. Perhaps Benedict could start by making an example of himself - and then proceed against other bishops. It would be a striking and historic confession of responsibility - it might redeem Benedict’s papacy, which is being tarnished almost beyond redemption by the continued revelations of sexual abuse by the clergy.

What so-called "conservative Catholics" in America continue to willfully ignore is the ONGOING impotence of Catholic faith in the face of something as fundamental as sin. Look at the consistent response of bishops to known pedophile priests: therapy, always "therapy," usually some variation on Freud and Dr. Phil. Not much Catholic about it.

No clear-eyed, gut-level, commonsensical recognition that a priest who rapes a child has absolutely no business wearing a collar of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, much less touching with those same perverted hands the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. No serious penitential, ascetic, or monastic rehabilitation. No serious recourse to the Tradition or the Fathers. No serious engagement with the soul of the perpetrator. They were just "sick," strictly a SOMATIC dysfunction, not spiritual or even moral; something for "science" to take care of. The Church conveniently wipes its hands clean of the matter by passing the buck over to Science.

It's typical technocrat-bureaucrat mentality, coming from the heirs to the Holy Apostles, of all people. Look at how the same mentality crosses national borders and oceans without concerted coordination from the Vatican. We can't achieve liturgical unity and coherence despite all the papal statements and gesticulations and "new liturgical movement" light shows, but we effortlessly achieve unity and coherence on sheltering pervert priests and murdering the souls of thousands of children. And now we see this pattern of thinking go right up to the top. I'm not surprised, since I now see the same cancer of cynical, functional secularism and atheism everywhere in our crumbling Church. But I don't blame the bishops alone. We who take pride in the Church's glories must also take shame in her atrocities. WE ARE TO BLAME.

It's the same attitude by which we excuse in ourselves for what the Church used to take seriously as the Deadly Sins. Now stuff like pride, vainglory, gluttony, lust, avarice, sloth, etc -- they're just personal "imperfections," "part of our crosses," an aspect of "our woundedness" that makes us "who we are," part of our "faith journey," "under the mercy," and other such delusional, self-flattering, pietistic bullshit. The Deadly Sins are plastered all over the Catholic blogosphere, liberal and conservative. And conservative Catholics still pride ourselves on being members of an "objectively true" church. It's insanity.

Radical repentance and humility in individual Catholics is the only way out. Anything else from Catholics is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We've become a church that doesn't fear sin, death, or judgment anymore; it's no wonder Catholic Lent is a joke. I AM TO BLAME.

It's only in the Eastern Church that we find doors to repentance and humility that actually open and close. Fr. Freeman nailed it when he commented obliquely on the plight of modern Catholicism:
Richard John Neuhaus has written frequently of returning the Church to the public square. I think the problem is far deeper. In many cases we have to speak about returning God to the Church. In cases where practical atheism is the faith of a goup of “believers,” their presence in the public square makes no difference. Who cares?

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Nothing so feeds self-conceit as believing that you are completely devoted to others and never self-seeking, that you are quite free from self-love and always generously devoted to your neighbors.

But all this devotion that seems to be for others is really for yourself. Your self-love reaches the point of perpetual self-congratulation in the mistaken belief that you are free from self-love itself. All your anxiety is fear that you might not be fully satisfied with yourself, and this is the root of your scruples.

If you thought of nothing but God and his glory, you would be as keen and sensitive to the losses of others as to your own. but it is the self that makes you so keen and sensitive. You want God as well as other people to be always satisfied with you, and you want to be satisfied with yourself in all your dealings with God.

You are not used to being content with a simple good will. Your self-love wants a lively feeling, a reassuring pleasure, some kind of charm or excitement. You are guided too much by imagination, and you suppose that your mind and will are inactive unless you are conscious of their workings. So you depend on a kind of excitement similar to that which the passions or the theater arouse.

Because of your excessive refinement, you fall into the opposite extreme -- a real coarseness of imagination. Nothing is more opposed to the life of faith and to true wisdom.

There is no more dangerous opening to delusion than the false ways by which people try to avoid delusion. It is imagination that leads us astray. The certainty we seek through imagination, feeling, and taste is one of the most dangerous sources from which fanaticism springs.

This is the chasm of vanity and corruption that God would have us discover in our own heart: we must look on it with the calm and simplicity that belong to true humility. It is self-love that makes us so inconsolable at seeing our own imperfections. To stand face to face with them, however, not flattering or tolerating them, seeking to correct ourselves without becoming peevish--this is to desire what is good for its own sake and for God's sake, rather than merely reating it as a self-satisfying decoration.

So turn against this useles search of yours for the self-satisfaction you find in doing right.

~Archbishop of Cambrai, Francois Fenelon, The Royal Way of the Cross

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Cure

Many Western Christians, parched wayfarers in these dry and thirsty times, have become totally disillusioned as their Churches have joined the latest whims and infatuations of the surrounding culture in an attempt to be "relevant" and experience worldly glory. Moreover, they have come to understand that their secularized Western Churches have succumbed to Christ's three temptations in the desert instead of overcoming them, and that they belong to a Church that crucifies instead of being crucified. As one individual who became Orthodox expressed it, Western Christianity was "too outward" for him, "not inward." It was "too comfortable, having accommodated itself to the world and taken its lead from the world" [Fr. Damascene Christiansen]. As he and countless other converts to Orthodoxy have observed, the Western Churches offer only easy, trivial and shallow solutions to the deeper questions that confront all people on their journey through life. As a result, those Churches can only spread disappointment and despair to all who try to find something deeper and more essential. ~Steven Kovacevich

A faith is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is a true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. ~Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rowan Williams' Orthodox & Catholic coup

I confess a little reverse snobbery when I read Ochlo's take on Abp Rowan Williams' recent pat-on-the-head from Orthodox and Catholic institutions, but he puts an empathetic finger on my bitterness towards academic theology and its rotten fruit. So much Catholic theology and spirituality over the centuries has been concocted in ivory towers, not in monastic cells, choir stalls, or inner prayer closets. This is the real problem with the Jesuits and the "education" orders (and Orthodox seminaries insufficiently wary of Western "ideas of the university." As a young convert and divinity school chump, I was fed a fulsome diet of Jesuit(ical) boasting over their unique release from the requirement to communally pray the Divine Office as a liberating thing. At the time, I went along: oh yes, what beautiful clothes you emperors wear!
when I was in the world of academic antiquarian bookselling I had the misfortune of dealing with a considerable number of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox seminaries and came to have a very low view of such institutions - so often intellectually inbred, a magnet for spiritual and intellectual hubris, a hodge-podge of second and third rate social science, history, and philosophy which truly believes itself to be cutting edge and struts itself with an adolescently false confidence, a playground of egos (once you add the religious factor to the already megalomania inducing mechanisms of academia you are doomed). Generally speaking, the best seminary profs I have known have been those most forthright about their regular disdain of seminaries and seminary life. What I dislike the most regarding seminaries is the faux humility which so often abounds at such institutions and which is inculcated in so many of their students - obvious that the profs and the students are proud of what is going on there, but then such speak of seminary affairs in that slightly hushed toned slowly paced "pious" voice which always gives God the glory, etc., etc, even as it is utterly clear that they can barely restrain their glee at being in a position which (they think) commands respect in both the Church and the world (on the last count they are decidedly wrong, but the myth continues, because, you know, any given seminarian could be the next Reinhold Niebuhr public intellectual, or at least that much is intuited, not realizing that Niebuhr's place has been taken by Rick Warren, and that in Niebuhr's day most Americans wanted American pastors to be smarter than they were, but today most Americans want American pastors to be just slightly dumber than they are, and mildly funny, and with an extremely comfortable personality and preferably a hot wife - in other words, pastors are to be politicians within the niche of a religious political ordo). Thus the students coming out of seminaries can be roughly divided into two camps (which corresponds to sem profs as well): the best come out of seminary with a healthy degree of cynicism about seminaries, and the worst come out of seminary proud of their seminary experience, and thinking that it actually means something in the real world, and even more fanciful, thinking that it is academically respectable in the real academic world.
What amazes me is that for all the Apostolic and Patristic prophylactics of the Orthodox, their institutions remain vulnerable to the follies of secularist, modernist, elitist think. Wiser Orthodox souls are not amazed by this at all, of course, but it is a good reminder to romanticizing chumps like me that adherence to the Apostles and Fathers is still only a means to purity of heart and mind.