Original sin as good news

From Juan Donoso Cortes’ Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism:

Reason, which revolts against the transmission of sin or of penalty, yet receives what is transmitted to us without repugnance, notwithstanding the sorrow which accompanies it, if in place of being designated as sin and penalty it is called inevitable misfortune.  It is not, however, difficult clearly to prove that this misfortune could not be changed into happiness, except with the condition of its being a penalty, from which we necessarily conclude that the rationalistic solution in its definitive results is less acceptable than the Catholic solution.

If our actual depravity is only a physical and necessary effect of the primitive corruption, and the effect must last so long as the cause remains, it is evident that since there is no means whatever of removing the cause, neither can there be any by which the effect may be prevented.

…For it is worthy of remark, and in opposition to what at first sight would appear, that it is not justice but mercy which is especially conspicuous in that solemn condemnation which immediately followed the commission of sin.  If God had refrained from intervening with this condemnation when this tremendous catastrophe occurred, if when He saw man separated from Him He had withdrawn Himself from man, and entering into the tranquility of His repose had no longer vouchsafed to think of man, or, to express all in one word, if God in place of condemning man had abandoned him to the inevitable consequences of his voluntary disunion and separation, then the fall of man would have been hopeless, and his perdition certain.  But in order that this disaster might be repaired, it became necessary for God to draw near to man in another way, uniting Himself to him anew, though imperfectly, by the ties of mercy.  Punishment was the new bond of union between the Creator and the creature, and in it mercy and justice were mysteriously joined, mercy being the connecting link, and justice vindicated in the penalty assigned.

If we cease to view suffering and sorrow in the light of a penalty, we not only deprive them of their power to reunite the Creator and the creature, but we also destroy their expiatory and purifying effect on man.  If grief is not a penalty, it is an unmitigated evil; if it is a penalty, it still remains an evil through its origin, sin; but it is also a great good, on account of its freeing from the defilement of sin.  The universality of sin renders necessary the universality of purification, in order that all mankind may be cleansed in its mysterious waters.

…Regard the Earth throughout its length and breadth, consider all that surrounds you, annihilate space and time, and you will find among the abodes of men only what you here behold–a grief without intermission, and a lamentation which never ceases.  But this grief freely accepted is the measure of all greatness; for there can be no greatness without sacrifice, and sacrifice is only grief voluntarily accepted.  The world calls those persons heroic who, transpierced with a sword of grief, freely accept their suffering.  The Church calls holy those who accept every grief, both the the spirit and of the flesh…

Mankind has unanimously recognized a sanctifying virtue in grief.  This is why, though the ages, in every zone, man has rendered homage and worship to great misfortune.  Oedipus is greater in the day of his calamity than in the days of his glory…

Academic Freedom Means . . .

For those not following the case, Marquette University has decided to attempt to fire one of its tenured professors, John McAdams, for, well, something.  The letter by which the university informed McAdams of its plan is here. McAdams’ response to the letter is here. In summary, an undergraduate student was enrolled in a philosophy class which class was being taught by a graduate student, Cheryl Abbate.  The graduate student instructor asserted, one day in class, with little or no discussion, that gay marriage is an example of something that John Rawls’ Justice Principle protects.  After class, a student objected to her claim, counterclaiming that gay marriage is potentially harmful and thus not necessarily protected.  As their discussion unfolded, Abbate unburdened herself thus:

Ok, there are some opinions that are not appropriate that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual?  . . . Ok, well, actually you don’t have a right in this class, as –especially as an ethics professor to make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments . . . This is about restricting rights and liberties of individuals. Um and just as I would take offense if women can’t serve in XYZ positions because that is a sexist comment . . . You can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments will not be tolerated. If you don’t like that you are more than free to drop this class.

There is no debate about what Abbate said since the student recorded the conversation.

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Our Ecclesiastical Revolutionaries

I thought I’d toss out some impressions of those who have made the current mess in the Church. I have no special knowledge of any of this, but these are indeed my impressions, so other views would be welcome:

Walter Kasper is basically a German engineer. He likes systems that have been thought through and work smoothly and predictably in accordance with well-articulated basic principles. He accepts as a basic reality the German social welfare state that looks after all human concerns and turns the German bishops into well-paid functionaries with large budgets to use as they wish, and he wants to fit the Church seamlessly into that model. Hence the radical disjunction he makes between “praxis” and “doctrine.” By turning doctrine into a sort of decorative accessory, like the British monarchy, that move is the most simple, practical, and reliable way to unify the two in all practical respects. (Germans like thoroughgoing coherence, so it’s not surprising Cardinal Marx has openly suggested changing doctrine as well.)

Francis is quite different. Continue reading

October 5, 2014: the demolition of Catholicism begins

From this morning’s first reading:

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?  When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?  Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard:  I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed;  I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.  I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there.  I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”

Today begins the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the official beginning of what promises to be a two year campaign to destroy what little of the Catholic Church has managed to survive thus far the dark and terrible springtime of Vatican II.  Nothing that lay Catholics can do will influence the outcome of this process, even if that outcome hasn’t been rigged from the beginning (and the quite striking omissions in Instrumentum Laboris do nothing to allay my worries on this).  Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a strange urgency to say something.  I keep thinking that years from now I’m going to look back on this time, and that it will be some comfort to know that when the Gospel was under assault from the hierarchy itself, I didn’t fail to…I’m not sure what exactly.  So I’ll do what I always do:  remind people of the stakes.

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Talk, talk, talk

Courtesy of the USCCB:

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reasserted their commitment to dialogue with other religions and Muslims in particular in a statement developed between October 2013 and its release August 19. The committee, which is chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, listed tensions between Christians in Muslims in different parts of the world as a primary reason for reaffirming the need for dialogue.

“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten to disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”

And that harmony, the fruit of 20 years of interreligious dialogue which must not be disrupted no matter what, has given us (they claim with wonder) “documents on education, marriage and revelation” — documents which no one outside the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has read (I’d certainly never even heard of them until just now) and which in no way impact the lives of ordinary Catholics or Muslims. It’s theological realpolitik, but worse than that, it’s talk talk talk, talk as an end in itself, talk with no visible fruits, talk in the interests of which the speaking of actual truths (including the charitable correction of errors and forceful denunciation of outrageous abuses) is far too often made to defer. It’s mere chatter and noise to fill the silence and desolation created by the modernist’s much-vaunted doubt. One begins to wonder if this isn’t all just a makework scheme to enrich otherwise-unemployable Georgetown graduates.

Oh, and then there was this:

The bishops expressed sadness over “deliberate rejection” of the call to engage in dialogue with Muslims by some Christians, Catholic and not. They noted that the call to respect and dialogue comes from the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) and has been reaffirmed by subsequent popes.

Why are people still talking about Vatican II? Who cares what it had to say? The ecumenical dynamic which it inaugurated was a product of the facile optimism of the 1960’s, hardly applicable or relevant to the brutal and dark postmodern world of 2014.

Get with the times, guys!

Dietrich von Hildebrand on reverence and being

Writing (disapprovingly) in 1966 on the then-nascent reforms to the Roman rite Mass:

Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei (ed: “capable of receiving God”). Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values. …

The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred. 

Which jives rather nicely with my earlier diagnosis of modernity as “the institutionalization of rebellion against the order of being,” either birthed by or leading to a kind of spiritual autism, a “pervasive insensibility to the sacred”:

Without a sense of the sacred, reality becomes meaningless, senseless, and incomprehensible; the human condition becomes one not of citizenship and duty but of imprisonment and injustice. Rebellion against that order results, with predictable consequences.

60 years ago, we were told the Mass, that “gobbledegook of Latin ritual” pregnant with “obscurantism” and “magic” (to quote the execrable Paul Blanshard), had become incomprehensible to modern man, and that, far from trying to communicating its riches more effectively, we had to open it up to his appreciation by cutting out much which was worthy of appreciation. Now, it’s marriage that’s up for similar treatment. We’re all spiritual autists now.

A Tale of Two Popes

My Catholic columns this month discuss a call for tradition by Pope Saint Pius X in his encyclical against modernism, and a call for–God knows what?–by soon-to-be-blessed Pope Paul VI in his speech closing the Second Vatican Council.

The speech is fascinating and should be read. Paul VI appears to have been a man with considerable intellectual and spiritual gifts who was unable to take seriously how perverse, obstinate, cruddy, stupid, and downright evil people can be. The problems he saw all around him didn’t make sense, so they must all be a big mistake that would dissolve if we only showed sufficient intelligence and good will so the mistake could be cleared up. That’s how he seemed to come out, even though as an intellectual matter his account of the modern world in the speech was quite astute, as a Catholic he should have remembered that superstrength measures were needed to overcome the world, and in any event he was obviously aware of problems with the Council itself. (Otherwise why talk of its “real and deep intentions” and “authentic manifestations”?)

Reading him reminds me that we’ve had a run of pontiffs who were major figures even though they might not always be perfect or make the right decision. The run seems to have come to an end, and the uninspiring day-to-day reality of the post-Vatican II Church has caught up with us at all levels. That’s no fun, but I can’t say we deserve better.

On other fronts, I have a shorter piece at the Catholic World Report weblog about why the Church should keep making natural law arguments on sexual matters even though nobody can make sense of them (they present essential aspects of the Christian view of reality). There’s also a longer piece at the International Journal of Architectural Research on the architectural theorist Christoper Alexander.

Cardinal Kasper’s mercy

St. Paul, picking up on several of Jesus’ allegories, acknowledges in his epistle to the Ephesians that marriage is a type of the Church — that is, that marriage, while real in itself, also symbolically alludes to or foreshadows some greater reality. He thus admonishes wives to be subordinate to their husbands, as the Church is to Christ, and husbands to love their wives, as Christ loves the Church.

Yet the Church, we know too, is made up of sinners, and our sins are acts of adultery — literally, of infidelity — against our Lord and the covenant he has made with us. We are always cheating on him, rebelling against him, hiding from him, spurning, mocking, casting longing glances to the world, the flesh, and the Devil. And is our Lord not a faithful lover? Does he not continue to withstand our abuses and admonish us to be and do better? Is he not always wooing us?

I suppose we should be glad, then, that the Father is not so merciful as Cardinal Kasper, that he would spare his only-begotten Son the difficulty of our continued company.