Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Non-Contradiction

Back in February, our modest publishing outfit Cruahcan Hill Press released a book entitled The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures by Phillip Campbell (erm, me).

This book was written to confute the ubiquitous assumption of modernity that the Bible is a book full of contradictions. We would expect such a faith-destroying proposition from seculars, but since the 19th century, this thesis has found its way into Christian pulpits as well thanks to the school of "Higher Criticism."

It is no secret that the Bible contains difficult passages. Any Christian who has ever seriously read the Scriptures knows there are parts that are hard to understand, or that it is hard to see how they fit in context with the rest of the Bible. Biblical exegesis from antiquity to the 19th century, motivated by a spirit of faith, generally sought to reconcile these discordant passages, focusing on how the verses illustrate different theological truths. The golden thread that wound the Scriptures together was the totality of God's revelation, which was able to harmonize the entirety of the Bible. Different books, stories, and passages - even those which looked radically different - were no more fundamentally contradictory than different colored pieces of glass making up a single stained glass image. This beautiful harmonization was made possible because of the spirit of faith.

It should be mentioned, this thinking was common to both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Though obviously Protestant thinkers took certain biblical passages in a different light than Catholic tradition, they still assumed the harmony of the Scriptures. That is, even if Protestants posited a radical rupture with Catholic tradition, they at least assumed the Scriptures were consistent with themselves.

But beginning in the late 19th century, the school of "Higher Criticism" began to take a different approach. Anti-supernaturalist in its assumptions, the Higher Critics implicitly denied the very idea of a unifying body of divine revelation. The golden thread was cut. Instead of working to show how various passages were unified, the new critics focused on the differences among them, even positing that they were in plain contradiction. This view has found its way into seminaries and pulpits around the world. It is an errant and faith destroying proposition that leads to a loss of faith in the veracity of the Scriptures and a relativizing of Divine Revelation itself.

The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures attempts to fill this void by looking at several of the "problematic" passages of the Old and New Testaments and explaining their theological unity in light of the fullness of God's revelation, and demonstrating that there really are no contradictions in the Bible.

Long time readers of this blog will know I have written on this topic substantially. You may be thinking, "This is just some of Boniface's old essays dressed up like a book." Well, there are some previously published essays in here. Long time readers will recognize the sections on Samson's suicide, the genocide of Joshua, and the resurrection appearances of Jesus. But is also a fair degree of new, never before published work in the book, including essays on:

  • The historical practice of reconciling/harmonizing discordant biblical texts
  • Understanding different Creation accounts in Genesis
  • Reconciling God's providence and free will in the episode of the hardening of pharaoh's heart from Exodus
  • The differing accounts of the census of David in Chronicles and 1 Samuel
  • The genealogy of Jesus Christ

Even previously published essays have been reworked and added to, and everything has been orchestrated in chronological order. The result is an easily readable, faith-building book that really digs into the Scriptural texts and applies classic principles from our Catholic theological tradition to demonstrate the beautiful unity of the Scriptures.

For what it's worth, I got a nice little review from Mike Aquilina. I shipped him a copy of the book, and he wrote:
"This is a book that needs to be written anew for every generation. Eusebius wrote one in the third century, and he was already drawing from more ancient sources. The enemies of Christianity always grasp at the same rhetorical straws, and it’s our duty to be ready with the best response. Phillip Campbell makes that easy for Catholics today."
I also want to point out that, while this book is obviously written from a Catholic perspective and draws heavily on Catholic theological sources (such as the Catechism, Aquinas, and Leo XIII), it would also be very edifying to any Protestant or Orthodox who takes the Bible seriously.

The Book of Non-Contradiction is 202 pages, $17.99 + shipping. Available at Cruachan Hill Press but also on Amazon; however, for readers of this blog, I have set up a special Paypal link below for you to get the book at the discounted price of $16.50.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

St. Louis de Montfort and the Drunkards of Roussay

The following incidents from the life of St. Louis de Montfort is an apt illustration of the biblical precept, "there is a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:8). It also exemplifies the great balance that a saint has in his disposition - excelling in prudence, St. Louis knew exactly when to use gentleness, and when to come with a rod (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21). The story begins when St. Louis arrived in the French village of Roussay, in the vicinity of Tours, on a preaching tour.

The sick old priest arrived at Roussay to preach a mission. He mounted the pulpit in the parish church, and after a brief prayer, began to speak. This tiny town in the west of France consisted of several dilapidated buildings, most prominent of which was this church with a rowdy bar right next door. As the preacher raised his voice, the drunkards could hear the sermon, and the parishioners could hear the raucous noise coming from the bar.

Knowing this, the denizens of the bar tried to disturb his sermon by screaming insults at the congregation and mocking them for their cleaner habits.

The priest very calmly finished the sermon, gave the people his blessing and exited the church. As he left, though empty handed and alone, he walked directly into the bar. An eyewitness describes what happened next:

"Father said nothing, except with his fists. For the first time since he came to Roussay, men had a chance to see how big, and to feel how hard, those fists were. He struck them down and let them lie. He overturned tables and chairs. He smashed glasses. He walked over the bodies of stunned and sobered hoodlums, and went slowly back up the street."

The men of Roussay were stunned. They now knew better than to so crudely interfere with the mission of the saint.

On the second day of his mission in Roussay, a drunk man burst into the church and stood in the aisle screaming insults at St. Louis. St. Louis calmly left the pulpit and approached the man. Everyone was expecting him to react as he had the day before, giving the man a beating he would not soon forget. To their great amazement, Father de Montfort knelt before the man and begged pardon for anything he had done to offend him.

The man was stunned and nearly collapsed before running out of the church in sadness. Saint Louis calmly returned to the pulpit and finished his sermon as though nothing had happened.

This story, and more about the  life and spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, can be found here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pope Francis and Populism

Earlier this month, the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis gave an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, in which he sounded off against the rising tide of populism in western democracies. He said, among other things, that "populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century showed."

I assume that what Francis has in mind when he condemns populism is the populism of the political right, a kind of nationalist populism. One can have varying opinions on this. But what strikes me is that he speaks of populism as if he is totally unaware that he is the world's most eminent populist.

Populism is a very broad idea that can encompass many political movements. But, just going by the Wikipedia definition of the term, populism "proposes that the common people are exploited by a privileged elite, and which seeks to resolve this...Its goal is uniting the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated "little man" against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the established politicians) and their camp of followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals). It is guided by the belief that political and social goals are best achieved by the direct actions of the masses."

Jorge Bergoglio's entire worldview has been forged in the furnace of the populist politics of Latin America. His fundamental approach to problems political and ecclesiastical is populist in its appeal. In July of 2015, he addressed the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, where his statements were more saturated with populist rhetoric than anything Donald Trump of Marie Le Pen has ever said. He joined his voice to  "cry of the people", calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters", the "excluded" of Latin America. He separates the world into two classes, the greedy elitist oppressors and the marginalized common man:

Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable. We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems.

All the poor commoners oppressed by "the system"! The global masses locked in a Marxian struggle against the Man in his various incarnations.

The Pope senses a rising surge of popular fury against the world order: "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world...people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns." He appeals to the downtrodden to rise up and actualize the change they long for:

You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart! You are sowers of change.
And lest we conceive of this surge towards change in purely ideological or rational terms, the Pope reminds us that this movement is more akin to a passion or a raw emotion than anything else:

...we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

The poor of the world oppressed by corrupt elites. The downtrodden encouraged to rise up and take their destiny into their own hands. The great leader, the pope, urging them on and joining his voices with those of the oppressed. A call to translate the popular emotional anxiety and social angst of the poor into community action. Is this language not dripping with populist rhetoric? And this speech is just one example; these types of statements from Pope Francis are legion. 

The point is not whether Pope Francis is correct or not. In much of this, he certainly is. The poor of Latin America are oppressed. There is an elitist global cabal that would like nothing more than the economic enslavement of the downtrodden. That's not the issue. The issue is that Pope Francis' appeal is absolutely, definitively, without a doubt populist in nature.

Pope Francis is fundamentally a populist. It's so intrinsic to his worldview he doesn't even realize it. He recognizes demagoguery and populist appeals in leaders whose agenda is in conflict with his own, but fails to identify populist rhetoric in his own appeals. Steeped in the neo-Marxian populism of Latin America, his brand of Argentine populism does not seem like populism to him - to him it's just, well, it's just the way leaders speak.

Again, this is not a critique of the pope's ideas or his initiatives. But it does demonstrate that his assertion that "populism" is essentially evil is untenable, for he himself is a populist, and populism cannot be "evil" when used by one's opponents but Christlike when done by the pope - and Pope Francis is the world's most prominent populist.

Friday, March 17, 2017


That there is a crisis of masculinity in the Catholic Church is well known. While liberals busy themselves fretting about the inclusion of women in Catholic ministry, the truth is for the past several decades it is men who have been left behind by the Church - left spiritually adrift in a religious culture that has systematically demasculinized worship and spirituality.

This demasculinization obviously has grave consequences in terms of male practice of the faith in general, but also in vocations to the priesthood in particular. It has been well documented that in many dioceses the priesthood is considered an essentially gay vocation and seminaries are stocked with homosexuals and effeminate men, while well-balanced, straight, orthodox men are shown the door. Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men is the must-read study on this problem.

I am happy to say that this is not the case in my diocese. My diocese has always had many more vocations than average, with fair numbers of ordinations on a regular basis (although still not where we would like them to be). Several of my former students are in seminary here, people I know to be of excellent character. A survey of priests in our diocese would show a large number of them to be on the younger side. Our bishop overall does a good job; he is a talented homilist who himself occasionally says the Traditional Latin Mass. Could things be better? Sure. But all in all, I consider our diocese to be fairly well off regarding seminarians, especially relative to other dioceses I have heard about.

Still, that leaves the question of the best way to reach out to Catholic men in general. It seems that if we are not demasculinizing men, we are going to the other extreme - appealing to the silliest masculine stereotypes about them. You know, the man as a beer-guzzling, sports-watching, barbecue-consuming, blue collar simpleton - a rugged, simple man who needs only to be drinking a cold one with his bros to find contentment. Like, men must either be assumed to be sensitive metrosexuals or else they are Hank Hill, Tim Allen, or Al Bundy. I personally find the latter approach as silly as the former, though perhaps not as destructive.

We recently had an men's conference in our diocese. I have no problems with men's conferences or anything; the Diocese of Lansing actually puts on some really good men's conferences, but look at the marketing piece for the event:

It seems to me that this promotion takes the approach I mentioned above -pandering to men through a kind of "pleased-by-beer-and-munchies" stereotype. When I saw the flyer, it kind of triggered the following thoughts:

I'm being a little bit facetious and over the top, but you know what I mean? It seems like the Church in general is just not quite sure how to market itself to men. If its not an overly emotional, feminized emasculated approach, its a kind of crude, stereotypical man-pandering, appealing to some alleged universal man impulse to thump my chest and drink a brewski.

Paradoxically, I believe the best way to market the Church to men is to...not try to market it to men. It has always seemed to me that the content of the Faith is such that it perfectly appeals to both the masculine and the feminine parts of humanity. As soon as we try to reduce what it means to be a man to certain cultural indicators - like BBQ, cold ones, and tattoos - we kind of miss something essential.

What do you think? What has happened to the Church's appeal to men? What is the answer?

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Transitory Nature of the Mosaic Law

Two years ago I did a post entitled "Not to Abolish, but to Fulfill" (July, 2015) addressing the question of what Jesus meant when He said he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfill, it. The post can be summed up in the following excerpt:
Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. He came to fulfill its precepts, obligations and prophecies to the last letter. He fulfills the function of all the sacrifices, He lives a perfect life and keeps the essence of its commandments flawlessly, and brings to fulfillment all its prophecies - the greatest being His atoning death on the cross, which ushers in the New Covenant...and brings the Old Law to its natural conclusion.Yes, the Old Law is obsolete and has passed away. No, our Lord did not "destroy" it or "abolish" it; rather, like so much else of the Old Testament, He took it up, transfigured it, ennobled it, and fulfilled it.
Recently I received this inquiry from a reader on the question of the Law of Moses:
How do we refute the Jews' assertion that the Law of Moses is permanent...interpreted by the rabbis and those in the Sanhedrin leading up to the Talmud? And also how do we demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah when they have a doctrine that the Messiah must be a political leader? Traditional Catholicism may claim to have unbroken tradition, but the Jews will respond that we broke from their tradition, therefore making us heretics in their view. I know this is an old blog post, but these thoughts keep bugging me.
The fulfillment of the Old Covenant by the coming of Christ is one of the most important teachings of the Christian faith. Understanding the relationship between the New Testament and the Old is essential for grasping how the claim of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The question of the impermanence of the Mosaic Law is a very broad question that cannot be exhaustively answered in a single post. This question was of pressing concern to the Church Fathers, however. Judaism was a powerful rival of Christianity in the late Roman Empire; Christians felt an urgent need to answer Jewish attacks on the claims of the Church to be the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. We refer the reader to two important patristic works on the subject: Dialogue with Trypho the Jew by St. Justin Martyr, and Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews by St. Cyprian of Carthage. These lengthy works give a very systematic exposition of the early Church's understanding of the transitory nature of the Mosaic Law and the Law's fulfillment in Christ. These works a very dense, but essential reading.

That being said, I think there are a few points we can make to help address the question.

Part I: The New Covenant is Distinctively Different from the Old Testament Law of Moses

One first must realize there is nothing you can say to the Jews that will suddenly convince them. There is no "gotcha" verse or argument that will make them stop and think "Whoa...he's correct. Our thousands of years of tradition is wrong." That should not be the aim here. It sometimes happens that over time the accumulated weight of many arguments, coupled with a charitable example and the grace of the Holy Spirit, can win someone over. But in presenting the following points we are aiming more towards edifying Christians rather than building a case against the Jews.

Second, it seems the question is making the assumption that an unbroken tradition is inherently good. To the Jews, we are the heretics because we broke with their tradition. That may be true from the Jewish viewpoint. But remember, Christ taught that the Jewish traditions had actually obscured the revelation of God:
"For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition" (Mark 7:8-9).
The tradition of Judaism actually is a hindrance to understanding the truth about God. St. Paul teaches that the Jews interpret the revelation of God in a "fleshly" manner, thinking sanctity consists in washings, keeping of certain feasts, ceremonial purity, dietary rules, circumcisions, etc. He says their reading of the Old Testament is skewered, and he draws a parallel between this and the veil that Moses put over his face. Just as Moses wore a veil to hide the glory of God that came off his face, so the Jewish traditions constitute a sort of "veil" over a right understanding of the Scriptures:
"Their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the old testament, remains not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). But even until this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. But when they shall be converted to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away" (2 Cor. 3:14-16).
So we ought not be given pause by the fact that Christianity is viewed as a Jewish "heresy" by the Jews. The Jews have ever rejected the truth when it is given to them. They wanted to stone Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. They killed the prophets and persecuted the righteous. Christ laments over their hardness of heart when He cries for Jerusalem:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:34-35)
Of course, ultimately, they killed the Messiah Himself because their tradition had blinded them to the truth about who the Christ would be.

The Jews' own law testified that the dictates of Moses' law would one day give way to something more perfect. Moses himself testifies to this when he says:
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Deut. 18:15-18).
God had spoken to the Israelites at Mount Horeb, but they had begged him not to speak anymore to them because they were terrified of His presence. Moses, His messenger, they rebelled against when they sinned and made the golden calf, as well as at other times. Thus Moses promises them that in the future God will raise up a prophet whom they will listen to. Thus the Israelites were awaiting the coming of a new prophet from among their brethren who would speak with the power and authority of Moses and whom they would heed. This prophet would reveal God to them in a way they could draw close to, not like the fiery cloud on Horeb.

That the law would be impermanent, we see in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, where God says:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LordBut this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34)
In this passage, God says He will make a new covenant with Israel. Note that this new covenant is "not like the covenant" He made with them through Moses  - i.e., it is not just a rehash of the Mosaic Law. It is of an essentially different character altogether. The law will be written on their hearts, not on tablets of stone. It is a kind of interiorization of the Mosaic Law.

In Ezekiel too, God promises that a new kind of covenant will come where it is not the hands but the heart that is washed, and that this washing will come from God Himself:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezk. 36:22-28).
This washing is essentially unlike the ritual washings proscribed by Moses. It consists of giving a "new heart" and a "new spirit." The washing is not a fleshly washing, but an interior renewal, such that the law of God will be able to be kept in a new manner, not like the Old Law.

These passages show us that God will indeed inaugurate a New Covenant that will be fundamentally different in nature from the Old Covenant. Besides being different in nature, it will also be geographically universal - this is found in the prophets as well. This is beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend the essay "Epiphany in the Prophets" (USC, 2013), as well as "Old Testament Typology: Epiphany" (USC, 2015) for the biblical background of the universality of the New Covenant.

Thus the New Covenant is prophesied in the Old Testament, it is markedly different than the Old Testament Law of Moses, and will be geographically universal.

Part II. The Messianic Age

This is all well and good, and Jews would acknowledge that all these things will come to pass in the Messianic age. The real difference between Jews and Christians is in when the Messianic age will come. For Jews, the Messianic age has not happened yet and the Law of Moses is still in effect. For Christians, the coming of Christ has definitively ended the Old Testament and we are now in the Messianic era, though before the definitive realization of His kingdom at the end of the age.

It is well-known that the Jewish conception of the Messiah was fundamentally political, and that they expected with his reign the overthrow of Roman and Gentile dominion in the political order. This was not entirely unreasonable. Many Old Testament Messianic prophecies speak of the Messiah as destroying or ruling over the nations, notably Psalm 2, Psalm 110, Daniel 2 (as well as other prophecies of Daniel), Isaiah 9, Isaiah 11, and many other passages. 2 Samuel 7 says that the Messiah will be of the line of David and Solomon and will rule over a kingdom whose duration is eternal. It stands to reason that the nature of this kingdom would be like the Davidic kingdom.

The problem is not misinterpreting Old Testament passages that make the Messiah a kingly figure; it is clear that this is taught. The problem is in traditional Jewish understanding of passages that show another side to the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 53 which speaks of how the Messiah will suffer and be humiliated, Zechariah 13 which states that the Messiah will be struck and his sheep scattered; Psalm 22, which prophesies the details of the crucifixion minutely, and Wisdom 2, which also foretells the suffering of the righteous Servant of God at the hands of the wicked.

The Jews did not have a clear way to reconcile these passages. They tended to attributed the glorious passages to the Messiah and the suffering passages to some other character (this is the so-called "Two Messiah" theory). One will note upon reading the New Testament that the Jews were not only awaiting the coming of the Messiah, but another character called "the prophet":
"And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:19-22)
The "prophet" is probably the prophet referred to in Deuteronomy 18. Notice that according to the Scriptural exegesis of the Pharisees, this prophet is distinct from the Messiah (as well as the Prophet Elijah, whose return the Jews were also expecting). This is an example of the division of Scriptural prophecies about the Messiah into two distinct classes, whereas Christian revelation as always seen the suffering/meek and glorious/reigning prophecies about the Messiah all reconciled in the person of Christ.

Jews, however, did not make this reconciliation. It was quite impossible in their understanding that the Messiah should suffer. This is why St. Paul says "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews" (1 Cor. 1:23); the idea that the Messiah could suffer the death of crucifixion at the hands of Gentiles was as abhorrent to the Jews as the idea of a resurrection of the flesh was to the Greeks (cf. Acts 17:32). The crucifixion of the Messiah was the fundamental issue Jews took with the Gospel. Of course, the suffering of the Messiah is not in opposition to His glory. The entire paradox of the mission of Christ is that in His suffering He has His triumph. He finds His glory through meekness and submission to the will of God.

This was not the only stumbling block, though. Anyone who has attentively read the Book of Acts, or the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews knows that the Jews - even Jewish Christians - were deeply scandalized by the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church without imposing upon them the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law. In the eyes of many Jews, Gentiles were second-class humans, to be excluded from the commonwealth of God. The glory of the Messiah would be that He would destroy the nations, not that He would include them in a transfigured, reconstituted Israel. But reviewing Old Testament prophecy (we refer the reader above to the links about Epiphany) we see that the full inclusion of the Gentiles was always part of God's saving plan. Those who were not God's people would become God's people (Hos. 2:23); and they do not become God's people because the Messiah will destroy them in a military sense and reduce them to subservience, but because "the knowledge of God will fill the earth as water fills the seas" (Hab. 2:14). God will give the Gentiles to the Messiah as a gift, as a token of His favor towards the Messiah and His will to save all men:
"It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth"(Isa. 49:6).
Traditional Jewish understanding of the Old Testament did not seem to grasp that God did not will for the Gentiles to be destroyed and brought prostrate to the Jews; rather, He wanted to elevate them and make them brothers with the Jews in a single family of God that would be a kind of reconstituted Israel, the "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16) composed of Jews and Gentiles both following the teaching revealed by the Messiah. And we can see this Jewish misunderstanding in the way the Jews react to the full inclusion of Gentiles into the Church throughout the New Testament.

By the way, it should be pointed out that some Jews, notably of the Reformed or more moderate branches, do away with the concept of a Messiah altogether and interpret the suffering Messianic passages as referencing Israel itself. Thus, for example, when Isaiah 53:4 says "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted", they apply the passage to Israel allegorically, such that it is Israel as a people who are suffering - and that Israel's suffering is somehow redemptive of the human race. This concept illustrates the trouble Jews have traditionally had with the suffering Messiah passages.

Part III. His Coming in Glory

What are we to do with the passages that do predict a glorious triumph of the Messiah over the nations, such as Psalm 2? God wills to establish the universal dominion of the Messiah, but He does not wish to do it without the cooperation of mankind. Therefore He has left a period - whose duration is known only to God - where mankind will come to know and love God through the work of grace, not through force, for "the son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them" (Luke 9:56).

But though God is patient, He has appointed an hour when He will judge the living and the dead through the Christ, at which time all the glorious prophecies about the Messiah will be fulfilled in the triumphant everlasting reign of the Son of God.

Thus, the Jewish confusion about the nature of the Messiah's reign has to do with (a) their reluctance to attribute the suffering passages and the triumphant passages to the same individual, and (b) historical failure to see that the plan of God was the full inclusion of the Gentiles into His family; it is this full, voluntary inclusion which makes the "Church age" necessary and accounts for the gap between Christ's first and second advents.

Part IV. Impossibility of Keeping the Old Law

One last point to emphasize: God not only sent the Messiah to establish the New Covenant, but in establishing the New, He allowed the Old to pass away. St. Paul discusses this in the Letter to the Hebrews, where he notes that the New Covenant has made the Old obsolete:
"Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second...In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:6-7, 13).
With the coming of the  perfect, the imperfect passes. The Mosaic Law was like a teacher that God's family needed in its youth; but with the coming of Christ, God's people reaches maturity and no longer needs a teacher (cf. Gal. 3:24).

The fascinating thing about the Old Law is that since the coming of the New Covenant, it is actually impossible to keep the Mosaic Law. I will not pretend this is my observation; others have commented upon it before, including Fr. Ripperger, among  others. The Mosaic Law requires animal sacrifices. No animal sacrifices are currently being carried out. The Law - at least since the time of Solomon - required a centralized worship in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is no longer possible. The keeping of the Mosaic Law requires a High Priest and Levites, who cannot merely possess the title but must be biological descendants of Aaron and Levi respectively. The genealogical trees of the Jews have long been lost.

Thus, as Fr. Ripperger states, there is no such thing as a practicing Jew. To be sure, the Jews have invented justifications and exceptions to why the current Synagogue system of Jewish worship is acceptable, but these are circumlocutions to get around the problem that the actual keeping of the Mosaic Law today is impossible and that the Synagogue system exists as a kind of "replacement" Judaism due to the fact that actual Judaism died out in the year 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple and the priesthood.


None of this will convince a Jew. But it should give certainty to a Christian. Yes, we are "heretics" from the Jewish point of view. But that is ultimately irrelevant. How do we know the Mosaic Law is not permanent? The Old Testament itself tells us that one day a New Covenant will come that will be fundamentally different than the Old. Thus, the Mosaic Law itself attests to its impermanence. It comes to an end with the advent of the Messiah, who will be both meek and glorious - in His meekness He will draw all the Gentiles to Himself, and in His triumph He will crush those who refuse to submit. Jews have not understood this; indeed, as St. Paul says, a "veil" is over their interpretation of the Law. The fundamental disagreement with the Jews is on when the Messianic age begins; Jews historically have not valued the full inclusion of the Gentiles into God's family and hence see no reason for a "Church age", which explains the distance between Christ's first and second advents, a distance which exists to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19). With the advent of the Messiah, the Old Covenant passed away, not only in its obligations, but in the very possibility of its observance.

Thus, in the New Covenant, both Jew and Gentile are all called to obey the Messiah, as Moses prophesied (Deut. 18:15); it is this family of those who believe in Christ that is called the true "Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Old Timey Catholic Muscle

Have you heard that the Auxiliary Bishop of Newark was assaulted and punched in the face while celebrating Mass in his cathedral last week? If you missed this it is not surprising - the media was dominated that week by Trump news and this really fell though the cracks. Apparently Bishop Manuel A. Cruz of Newark was celebrating some sort of commemorative Mass when, according to the report:

"...a man wearing a white robe over a red suit shambled up to the altar from the crowd, reached Bishop Cruz and struck the 63-year-old in the face, knocking him backwards until he fell on the altar...several Essex County's Sheriff's police officers [who were present] ran onto the altar and handcuffed the man. One officer at the scene who saw Cruz after he was struck commented to another officer that several of the bishop's teeth had been loosened in the attack."

The incident is documented here at TAP into Newark, a local news outlet who actually had reporters present at the attack.

It sounds like the attackers was probably mentally deranged or something. But what really struck me about the story was this little detail from the above mentioned article:

"Inside the cathedral immediately after the attack, the shock of the assault stunned the crowd. Many in the pews ducked when Cruz was first struck, not knowing what further to expect from the assailant. Others among the approximately 75 people assembled stood and screamed."
I understand not knowing whether the assailant had a gun. But the statement that many of the people "stood and screamed" seemed indicative of the weakness of contemporary Catholicism in the face of aggressive anti-Catholic violence. Gray-haired parishioners standing and screaming helplessly as the successor of the Apostles is pummeled. The modern Church wringing their hands helplessly as radical Islam continues its anti-western jihad unabated. The Christian west everywhere standing and doing nothing as civilization is dismantled. It is a very apt and powerful symbol.

There was a day when the very approach of a threatening stranger to the altar would have been greeted with a rush of angry Catholics eager to defend the bishop. To lay hands on the bishop himself or any sacred item in the Church would have been to risk one's life. Three hundred years ago, if this would have happened, the bishop would have had to forcibly restrain his flock from lynching the assailant from the nearest tree.

Catholics used to take physical attacks on their faith very seriously. In 1099, the event that finally gave the Crusading army the impetus to storm Jerusalem was the rage caused by seeing the Muslim defenders of the city desecrating crosses upon its walls. This insult was too much for the Franco-Norman army to endure, and their subsequent berserker assault upon the walls led to its downdall.

In 1131, the iconoclastic heretic Peter of Bruis was burning crosses in a gigantic bonfire near St. Gilles in France. At the site of the Lord's cross being profaned, the locals were so incensed that they picked up Peter and tossed him into his own bonfire. And that was the end of that.

In 1844, when anti-Catholic "Know Nothings" went on a riot in New York City and threatened to burn down the city's Catholic Churches, Archbishop John Hughes hastily assembled a mob of rugged Irish-Catholic laymen armed with bats, chains, and all sorts of maiming instruments and had them stand shoulder to shoulder around St. Patrick Cathedral (these are the sorts of fellows that we would say "had balls" in modern parlance). Then he threatened the Mayor of New York that if one single Catholic Church was burned he would turn the city into another Moscow - a reference to how the Russians burned Moscow rather than let it fall into the hands of Napoleon's army.

I know Cardinal John O'Connor of New York was not always the best exemplar of a traditional Catholic bishop, but I will never forget his bold stand against the homosexual lobby when the latter insisted on representation at the St. Patrick's Day parade; what a contrast to Cardinal Dolan's jovial collaboration with the gay lobby and Bishop Barron's sad acquiescence to the new norm.

Old timey Catholicism was not afraid to flex its muscles when threatened with blatant thuggery.  Vandalizing a church or punching a cleric was likely to get you whacked in the skull with a board or taken out behind the church and roughed up by a group of half-sober Irishmen with big faith and bigger fists. But now white-haired Q-tips stand in place and scream.

I am not saying the people who witnessed the attack are blameworthy; in the moment of confusion, you don't know if the assailant has a gun or what. Good thing he didn't though, because this congregation would have been useless. But I do think this scene of parishioners standing there helplessly yelling while the successor of the Apostles is assaulted at the altar is an apt symbol for the current impotence of the west.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Used Book Sale & Fundraiser

Over the year I have accumulated a tremendous amount of books - last time I counted I had around 1,200. Like most book hoarders, I always pick up books with the best intention to read them some day but then never get around to it.The time has come for me to clean out some of my collection. I was thinking I could get some of these books out there into the hands of people who would appreciate them and maybe fundraise a little money for the site (just to pay for the annual hosting fees and stuff for the domain name, etc).

Below are some books I am wanting to get rid of. If you are interested in any of these, please email me at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com and just tell me which book(s) you want. I will respond and send you a customized PayPal link to purchase the book. First come, first serve. As the books are taken, I will mark them "sold" on the blog.

Shipping prices are rolled into the list price. All books are in great condition. I will ship international, but you're gonna have to pay extra for it.

The prices are roughly equivalent to what you would find on Amazon; I know some might be a tiny bit higher than Amazon (only by a few dollars) and that you might be able to find some of them cheaper elsewhere, but please remember part of this that its a fundraiser.

St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, translated by John P. Rowan, preface by Ralph McInerny (Dumb Ox Books, 1995). ISBN: 978-1883357610. 870 pages paperback (yes, 870 pages). This is one of those books I have had sitting around forever, always meant to read, never got into it. It's in great shape. $42.00 SOLD

Historical Dictionary of the Third French Republic, Vol. I and II. by Patrick Hutton and Amy Staples (Greenwood Publishers, 1986). ASIN B01A0C556Q (Vol. 1) and B01K2QPFKG (Vol. 2). These two hardcover encyclopedias of the Third French Republic (1870-1940)  have been great resources for me, especially researching the anti-clerical laws of the early 20th century and their Masonic influence. $47.00

The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by Etienne Gilson (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994) ISBN: 978-0268008017. 502 pages, paperback. Great work on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Been meaning to read it again for a decade by its clear I will never get the time. SOLD

Julian the Apostate by Abbot Giuseppe Ricciotti (TAN Books, 1999). ISBN: 978-0895556325. 300 pages, paperback. This is a great history on this enigmatic Roman Emperor; I used it for this article I did in 2016. Excellent read. SOLD

Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult
by Nevill Drury (Harper-Collins, 1985). ISBN: 978-0060620943. 288 pages. I have used this book several times for reference when writing on matters relating to neo-paganism or the occult. It's a great research tool. I won't judge you if you buy it. $8.50.

by Ernst Breisach (University of Chicago Press, 1995). ISBN: 978-0226072784. 489 pages, paperback. Historiography is the study of historians and their methods. This is a neat introduction to the various schools of thought on the meaning and interpretation of history, including classical, medieval, and modern. SOLD

If you are interested in any of these books, email at uscatholicam[at]gmail.com and just tell me which one you want and if its still available I will send you a Paypal link.

Thank you for your generosity and interest. God bless you.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Benefit of the Doubt Presumes Doubt

A lot has been going on in the Church in the past few weeks. Most of it has happened too fast for me to event digest let alone have any sort of cogent commentary on - and that's okay, because I don't feel any need to keep up with it all. As God lives, I rejoice that I don't. I recently posted an article on the sister site on the history of Eucharistic Adoration from the apostolic age to the year 1264 and that was much more edifying.

The other day I waded onto social media to see what some of the chatter-boxes were saying about a lot of these developments. It was very disappointing. I have never seen so many otherwise faithful and intelligent people sticking their heads in the sand about the present pontificate. "Maybe he is being misreported" they say. Ugh...I've been hearing that line since the days of John Paul II and I am so sick of it. It's been repeated ad nauseam for three pontificates. If the popes are so constantly being misquoted, you would think that once - just one time in three pontificates - at least one of those popes who are always being "misquoted" would have stepped up and corrected the misquotation.

"Hrum hrum...I would check the Vatican website. If it's not in an official publication of the Vatican, I wouldn't believe it", says the guy who didn't believe John Paul II said "May St. John the Baptist protect Islam!"...until I showed it to him on the Vatican website.


"Well, we always have to give people the benefit of the doubt." You know what, this is certainly true, and a very solid piece of Christian advice. We must always first seek to give someone the benefit of the doubt and interpret their words in the most charitable way possible. But the other day I heard an interesting corollary of this: instead of "always give people the benefit of the doubt", a priest said, "I can always find a benefit of the doubt." The difference is subtle but important. "Always give people the benefit of the doubt" means that before assuming the worst, we assume the best. Only if the best proves incorrect do we then assume the worst.

But saying "always give the benefit of the doubt" also implies that sometimes the benefit of the doubt is the wrong assessment of what is happening. Any rational judgment of a situation requires that we reserve the right to simply see what is going on - to acknowledge our first impression, while charitable, might be wrong. To say "I can always find a benefit of the doubt" seems to say "No matter what the truth of the situation is, I can always find some way to spin this to avoid confronting the truth." It is the difference between saying I will always offer a benefit of the doubt and "I know I can find a beneficial way to interpret this" - you see?

I admire people who seek for the truth and understand offering benefits to facts that may seem unflattering. I despise it when people have already determined they have found their narrative when it runs counter to everything else that we know. I will always extend our pontiff or any other clergyman the benefit of the doubt - but hell, sometime the facts are so manifest there is no more doubt. If some local politician says "African Americans commit a disproportionate amount of crime in our city," that comment could be interpreted in a racist manner (blacks commit more crime because they are inherently disposed to violence), or it could be interpreted in a non-racist manner (conditions of poverty and lost opportunity disproportionately affect black neighborhoods and result in a cycle of crime); in such a scenario, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant it in the latter sense. I can do this precisely because there is a doubt about what he means.

But sometimes there isn't a doubt. If the same politician (sorry to be crude) were to say, "Damn, I seriously hate those niggers"..well, there would really be no "doubt" left to give him the benefit of. In such a case, one must simply accept the truth, unpleasant though it is. The guy is racist. That's all there is to it.

However, suppose one of our brightsiders approaches the problem with characteristic head-in-the-sand logic. "Perhaps when he said 'niggers' he wasn't referring to black people", or, "Well, yeah, he says he hates 'niggers', but if you ignore that one statement and look at all the other non-racist statements he made, you'll see he's not really racist at all", or "Maybe all those media outlets misquoted him when he said he hates niggers, even though neither he nor his office have offered any clarification suggesting otherwise" or "Well, reality is very complex and I am sure there was much, much more to the story than just saying he 'hates niggers' and since I don't know every single last fact I can't possibly make any judgement."

In other words, 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.

Please, I am not referring to any one issue or statement or action of the pope or anyone else. I just talking about...the same stupid ho-hum-fingers-in-the-ears-nothing-to-see-here-twelve-things-to-know-and-share-nobody-can-know-all-the-facts-nothing-new-who-made-you-judge? sort or nonsense.

Ugh. I am so sick of it.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Favorite Posts of 2016

Happy New Year everybody! We have wrapped up another 365 days at Unam Sanctam Catholicam, and my what an interesting year it has been!

It has become cliche to say that 2016 was awful. I didn't find it such at all. For me it was a year of amazing new things and wonderful opportunity. But I was also busier than I have ever been; I was so busy blogging kind of fell by the wayside. I barely published on the sister site all year and my movie reviews lapsed totally. 

Part of this was working on some personal projects; I published an excellent little edition of The Life of St. Columba by St. Adomnan. with a new 30 page introduction and an appendix containing all the hymns and prayers attributed to this great saint. I also put out an ebook on Laudato Si, with 40 concise chapters on various questions relating to this encyclical (here is a brief review of the ebook from "Musings of a Pertinacious Papist"). 

But what kept me most busy was some mainstream writing work that I have been blessed to have obtain recently; 2016 saw the publication of the first volume of my middle school textbook series from TAN, as well as the publication of TAN's Manual on Marian Devotion, which was written in part by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist but which I edited and compiled most of the citations.

Beside the busyness, I was also relieved to be able to just step back a bit from trying to keep up with the craziness coming out of Rome. I often chime in on current events, but I don't want to be part of the professional 24-7 commentariat who consist entirely of following and commenting on the events in Rome (see "I Give Up", April 22, 2016). Not that there is not a place for that, but I have always valued the freedom to not post if I don't want to or can't, as well as to post on obscure things that are probably outside the pale of current events. 

Anyhow, thanks again to everyone who helps with this website. Noah, John (both Johns), Chris, Amanda, and all the others. May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord make His face to shine upon you! May the Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.


Now...my favorite posts of the year! 

Deaconess Commission: Building the Momentum: The push to study women's deacons is dangerous - and not because we might actually get women's deacons.

NCR Firings: Martyrs or Loose Cannons? The NCR firings of Shea and Simcha were not martyrdoms for unpopular political opinions but the responsible termination of loose cannons.

The Woman Caught in Adultery: What were the Pharisees trying to do when they brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery?

Alien Civilizations: Statistics prove there have been over a trillion alien civilizations? Not so fast.

Miracle at Mont-St. Michel: A short, sweet little story about the Blessed Mother saving a pregnant woman from drowning in the Middle Ages.

The Phantasm of Fiat Continuity: Continuity does not exist merely because someone says it does.

On Avoiding Servile Labor: My thoughts on what is and is not proper on Sundays and Holy Days.

Pope Francis and the Sin of Saul: Pope Francis says the sin of Saul was that he was afraid of novelty. It's more the opposite.

Identity Based Outreach Ministries Blur the Line Between Overcoming Sin and Celebrating It: Ministries catering to "the LGBT community" walk a very thin line.

Doubt and Christian Faith: The relationship between doubt and faith.

Tradition On the Ground: Conservative Catholic naive trust in the power of documents while ignoring what is happening on the ground.

Julian the Apostate and Religious Liberty: One of the weapons that Julian the Apostate used to attack the Christian Church was religious liberty.

Francis and Kirill: Smoke and Mirrors: The strong ecumenical statements between Francis and Kirill are much ado about nothing.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Ox, Ass, and the Master's Crib

The birth of Jesus Christ has been a favorite theme of Christian artists throughout history. And no wonder; the birth of the incarnate Word of God was the beginning of God's ultimate work of salvation. It was the beginning of the long journey that would end on Golgotha.

Christian artistic tradition has developed a standard manner of depicting Christ's birth in art, based on the accounts of the Gospels. The details may vary, but we recognize the different elements - a manger, the star, shepherds, angels, and of course, Mary and Joseph. In this post, I would like to focus on one of the more humble and overlooked elements of traditional nativity art: the animals.

In modern nativity scenes, we usually see a lot of sheep associated with the shepherds - camels show up closer to Epiphany to signify the journey of the Magi. But in traditional depictions, the ox and the ass are the default animals that always show up. You may not have noticed this - we don't often pay attention to the animals - but it is so common that constitutes its own particular design element. Consider the following examples, taken from the East and West:

The last image is particularly striking; taken from the Fresco of the Nativity At the Church of the Holy Cross in Palermo, Italy, this image omits St. Joseph but takes care to include the ox and the ass!

This is very interesting given that neither the Gospel of Luke nor Matthew mentions the presence of animals at the Nativity, although they both mention St. Joseph.

Of course, the fact that no animals are mentioned does not mean they were not present;  St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate renders Luke 2:7 as: "et reclinavit eum in praesepio," which the Douay-Rheims version renders as Mary "laid him in a manger." The Greek text for St. Jerome's praesepio is phatnei, which is the Greek word for a manger, a feeding-trough for animals. It is certainly no stretch to assume animals were present.

However, the presence of the ox and the ass in particular are not explained by the datum of the New Testament, but by the prophecies of the Old. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read the following, in which God laments the infidelity of Israel:

"Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children, and exalted them: but they have despised me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood" (Is. 1:2-3).

 The immediate context of this prophecy is the rebellion of Israel. God notes to the prophet that even a dumb animal knows who its master is. Anyone who has ever had livestock knows this - if you go out to the sheep with a bucket of grain,  the sheep will come right to your hand. They recognize their owner and come to him for their necessities. God notes this to Isaiah as a form of irony; a dumb animal intuitively recognizes its master and comes to him for his needs, but the very people God has called for His own are unable to recognize Him and refuse to come to Him!

Thus, when the ox and the ass are depicted at the manger of Christ, it is an allusion to Isaiah 1. The people of Israel did not recognize the Messiah when He came to them, but the ox and the ass are depicted reverencing Jesus as their Master. The fidelity of these simple animals to the Incarnate Word is contrasted to the infidelity of Israel, which the ox and the ass foreshadow. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood."
It is true that no animals are mentioned in the infancy narratives. But the ox and the ass in depictions of the Nativity were never meant to infer the historical presence of these creatures at the birth of Jesus. Rather, they are iconographic symbols - rooted in the Old Testament prophets - meant to tell us something about the divine identity of Christ and call us to humble submission to Him.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Identity-Based Outreach Ministries Blur the Lines Between Overcoming Sin and Celebrating It

I want you to take a good, hard look at this advertisement for a Jesuit-sponsored retreat in - where else - California:

I have not wasted my time on this, but if I were to contact the organizers and object to this event, I am fairly certain they would respond very charitably with some line about reaching out to the margins, "the Church is a field hospital", Jesus ate with sinners, I have not come to call the just, go to the peripheries, reach out to the lost, and so on and so on and so on.

And this response would be very frustrating because, all those things are true - I would not be able to object to any of those statements individually. But I would still know that this event is very, very wrong.

Over the years I have gone round and round with people who argue in favor of a kind of "identity-based outreach ministries" for persons with same sex attraction. I have consistently argued that this is a bad idea, because it inevitably leads to a situation where a group of people are categorized according to their sins and disorders. And there is a fine line between going out to sinners and affirming sinners. There ought not to be a fine line; it is actually a very easy distinction to make - but our stupid generation makes it a fine line. 

I vehemently disagree with identifying groups of people by their sins - and this is not just true for sexual sins. I have multiple people in my family who have struggled with alcoholism, but I do not think of them as the alcoholic members I my family; they are regular, fallen humans struggling with a particular vice. I think of them as just...my family, my family where everyone has their own problems, just like any other humans.

I've known people who do drugs; I don't define them as "the drug addicts" - they are sons and daughters of Adam whom my Lord died for, who are fighting - sometimes winning, sometimes losing - a war against a painful addiction. But these addictions, vices, and sins do not define who they are. Part of me feels like it would be an insult to the grace of God to allow them to be defined by their failures.

There is always a danger in making more of these sins than what they are, or turning people into little "communities" where one is identified and understood in terms of their vices. That's certainly not to say there is no place in the Church for ministries geared towards people with particular challenges - support groups for divorced, for substance abuse - I know of one young men's group that is organized to provide mutual support for its members to stop masturbation. This is all fine and well. But nobody speaks of the "Divorced community" or the "Masturbators Community", nor would we think of our friends by those identifiers. "Hey, it's Cheryl my divorced friend", or "Look, there's Joe the Masturbator!"

LGBT persons will respond, "Exactly. And I do not want to be identified as Michael the Homosexual or Julie the Lesbian." I agree 100%. But if that is the case, let's stop with this "LGBT community" nonsense. There is no LGBT community just like there is no masturbators community. There are just people struggling with various problems. If LGBT people do not want to be identified by their sexual activities, then stop perpetuating that identity by insisting on the "LGBT community."

I think when the Church starts adopting the identity based assumptions of the secular world, we risk shifting from the traditional Christian view of helping sinners overcome their sins to a more modern sociological view of "celebrating" the "gifts" that each distinct "community" brings. This is very dangerous - not because, say LGBT people don't have gifts, but none of the gifts they have are because they are LGBT. An LGBT person might be intelligent, have a great singing voice, be good with accounting, or whatever, but none of those gifts are grounded in their sexual disorders. 

One might object that a sinner can bring a particular insight as a result of struggling with their sin. Perhaps. But if I am a recovering alcoholic, I certainly may be able to speak more eloquently to the struggles of other alcoholics, but this gift of insight comes not from my alcoholism, but from my victory over it. It comes from the virtue developed in successfully overcoming a vice.

On the other hand, if I am not a recovering alcoholic - that is, if I am still down and out and drunk continually - then I have no business being in any ministry at all till I get my life together. Ergo, either one has a gift to share by virtue of overcoming their vice, or if they have not overcome it, they shouldn't be in any "ministry" - but in no case does a "gift" arise from possessing the vice itself.

No authentic "gift" to the Church can come directly from a person's sin or disorder. But if we insist on speaking of how these disorders can "enrich" the Church's experience, we end up with a kind of "affirmative action" approach to things. For example, what qualities do we look for in a lector? Well, he must be articulate, have a pleasant voice, be able to speak loudly and clearly, and read with the proper intonation and stress. If those qualities happen to be possessed by a man who incidentally is a struggling (chastely) with same sex attraction, then of course there is no problem with him serving as a lector. In this case, we want certain gifts and talents suitable to the office and the person who fills them happens to be struggling with homosexual attraction. His struggle is incidental; everyone struggles.

But suppose we took the approach that there was this LGBT "community" that we needed to reach out to in order to be more "inclusive." Now suppose we need a lector. Instead of looking for the right qualities suitable to the office (voice, projection, etc), we begin with the affirmative action mentality of "This is a great opportunity to showcase how inclusive we are. Let's recruit a gay man to fill this office", and all of the sudden his homosexual tendencies become not incidental, but essential to why he is chosen - because the parish wants to showcase its token homosexual to prove how inclusive they are. In such a case, how can anyone escape the conclusion that the man's same sex attraction is being celebrated, since this is the reason he was invited to lector?

Looking again at the retreat advertised above, do we get the impression that the LGBT persons will be helped to overcome their vices and live chastely? Or do we get the impression that the LGBT identity is being celebrated and mainstreamed?

In my opinion, identity-based ministries that create "communities" centered on a particular sin are counter-productive to helping people overcome that sin because they end up creating "communities" out of these persons where their "gifts" are celebrated, rather than their souls cleansed.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Is there a Catholic nationalism?

The media is rattling on about a "populist" or "nationalist" movement sweeping the western world. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are the movement's most notable victories; the defeat of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's referendum this Sunday is another. Whether we look to Viktor Orban's Hungary bucking the EU and building a border wall to deter refugee traffic, or the surge of Marie le Pen's National Front in the upcoming French elections, or the mainstreaming of the Fascist Golden Dawn in Greece, everywhere we look the media are seeing nationalist bogeymen.

I do not mean to lump all these disparate movements together; the bloc of U.S. voters who elected Donald Trump is very different from the environmentalist, E-Democratic Five Star Movement that took down Renzi in Italy; and the British voters who opted for Brexit have little in common with the Nazi-sympathizing Golden Dawn in Greece. Many of these folks aren't part of any "movenent"; they are just average people who are sick of getting screwed over by the globalist economy.

But all the hubbub about nationalism begs the question of whether there can be an authentic Catholic nationalism in the modern world? Many of my Catholic acquintances on the Right of the political spectrum see these nationalism movements as manifestations of a crude statism, patently opposed to the subsidiarist model proposed by Catholic tradition; my Catholic acquiatances on the Left (mostly Canadians and Simcha fans) are simply mortified by the alleged "xenophobia" of nationalism, which for them, means essentially taking a harder line on immigration than that proposed by the USCCB. On both sides of the spectrum, Catholics seem uncomfortable with a nationalist political platform.

This is not surprising, as "nationalism" is an extremely broad term. Depending on how one takes it, it can be either something perfectly in line with Catholic political thought, or totally repugnant to it. Thsi is because "nationalism" is a term that is often used as a point of reference to compare it to other ideologies; it is something that is necessarily opposed to some other -ism, and as such tends to take on meaning relative to whatever it is contrasted to.

In the 19th century, nationalism was opposed to the last vestigates of provincialism-feudalism that characterized the waning days of Christendom. The nation-state was unknown for most of Christendom; men thought of themselves not in terms of what national group they belonged to, nor what language they spoke, but to whom they owed fealty to. Political bonds were personal, not national. Thus Christendom was always a polygot concept, with many ethnic and language groups living together under multiple jurisdictions that were primarily local or regional, bound loosely together not by any national identity, but by personal loyalty to a particular family dynasty - but nevertheless all united in their shared Catholicity under the government of God.

19th century nationalism was in intentional antagonism towards this system. In place of dynastic loyalty is substituted national identity. It elevated the state over the Church, prefering the nation-state to be the ultimate expression of culture. It's guiding principle was the rather arbitrary assertion that   

people of a single language group should constitute their own political entity. France for the French, Germany for the Germans, and so on. The nation was the expression of a certain "folk" or unique culture. Localism and regionalism had to be suppressed in favor of centralized bureaucratic management. Tradition had to be dismantled and replaced with a more scientific, positivist approach to government. And the Church, to the degree it stood in the way of the centralization of the nation-state, had to be opposed. 

In the this sense, I do not think a Catholic can be a nationalist. That sort of nationalism was the kind of ideology that ushered in the destruction of the medieval synthesis. It was the nationalism of Bismarck; a kind of political reaction against the Catholicity of the Christian religion. By emphasizing ethnic and linguistic considerations as essential to the idea of the state, that kind of nationalism actually undermines the Catholicity of Christendom, which is composed of men of "every tribe and tongue and nation" (Rev. 7:9). 

Now, this was nationalism understood in contradistinction to the older, regional-localist systems traditionally associated with Christendom. But that is not necessarily the only way we could interpret nationalism. To put it in the tired old contemporary paradigm, 19th century nationalism was a movement for "big government" and statism, which is hardly what most Brexit voters or Trump supporters wanted. Indeed, the Brexit was a repudiation of the bloated, centralized bureaucracy in Brussels; the Trump bloc was pushing back against the outrageous government overreach that has characterized the Obama years. Clearly, the nationalism of 2016 is much different from the nationalism of 1848.

Broadly speaking, the nationalism we are seeing surge across the west could be defined as a desire for the independence of one's country - political, economic, and military independence. It would include an emphasis on promotion of its interests as opposed to those of other nations, and would approach policy issues on whether they value the interests of the nation-state over and above other nations. But most importantly, it is a reaction against globalism

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the origins of globalism and the agenda of the globalists, but by understanding contemporary nationalism as a reaction against globalism, we can begin to construct a spectrum to place nationalism on. The subsidiarist-regionalist structure of Christendom is preferable to the modern nation-state, but the modern nation-state is much more preferable to globalism. And what nationalism is exactly depends on what it is being opposed to.

Understood as a reaction to globalism, I think there is room for an authentic Catholic nationalism. If patriotism is a love of the fatherland, I think nationalism is the affection for the fatherland translated into a positive, political will to see it protected, strengthened, and extolled. Of course, I am talking about a nationalism that is in accord with right reason and the Catholic tradition (preserving it from a blind jingoism). If nationalism is understood in terms of a rejection of the principles of globalism and pluralism, it certainly can be a very Catholic impulse.

It could be asked, "If one wants to reject globalism, why not adopt subsidiarism instead? Why opt for nationalism?" I honestly do not think nationalism and subsidiarism are opposed to one another. I think one can have an authentic Catholic nationalism that is subsidiarist. But did I not above argue that 19th century nationalism was antagonistic towards the subsidiarist systems of Christendom?

Yes, I did, but I also argued that nationalism has many forms, and that it is often defined by what it is opposing, and that there is no necessary reason why nationalism must include, for example, a mono-lingual society or a bloated, centralized bureaucracy Nationalism has to do with how a nation fends for its own interests relative to other nations; subsidiarism has to do with how a nation organizes itself. As I see it, I don't get why a nation cannot have a fundamentally nationalist foreign policy but a subsidiarist domestic policy. This seems like common sense to me; the virtues, industry, and wealth generated by a robust regional economy could be put into a strong, nationalist foreign policy.

In the contemporary situation where the world's elites are enamored with a globalist vision, I will absolutely take a nationalist foreign policy any day over a globalist one, either of the neo-con or liberal variety. And I don't think such a foreign policy need necessarily conflict with subsidiarity at home, or a Catholic political ethos.