"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter: basta!

I've seen one Harry Potter movie and haven't read any of the books. I'm not buying the present one which, alas, appears to be the fastest-selling in the history of publishing. Unless I get to work with teens and/or pre-teens fairly soon, I don't plan to. I agree with the Pope and with this author about the phenomenon.

If that makes me a stick-in-the-mud, I don't care.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The wisdom of the children of darkness

This vocations article in the Raleigh News and Observer is headlined in the usual, predictable way. But I found it worth a look for two reasons. One was that Michael Brown found it worth linking to; the other was that I know some quite spiritual people in that diocese, having spent some time there for several purposes, one of which was to pursue church jobs, unsuccessfully, in 2002 and 2004. Sure enough, I found in the article a golden nugget of that wisdom which unbelievers sometimes pick up faster than many churchgoing Catholics.

Here's the passage that caught my attention:

In the Diocese of Raleigh, which spans 54 counties from Chatham to Dare, there is one priest for every 1,791 Catholics. Nine small parishes have no priests, and mega-parishes strain at the seams with round-the-clock masses every weekend to accommodate an ever-burgeoning Catholic population.

Since Bishop Burbidge arrived in Raleigh last year, he has added a monthly service to pray for more priests. To encourage teens to consider the priesthood, he even refereed a basketball game of seminarians versus students from St. Thomas More Academy in Raleigh. So far, eight men have responded to the call -- an impressive feat that brings the number of seminarians in the diocese this coming school year to 21.

"I'm thrilled with how the awareness has been heightened," Burbidge said recently.

Scholars say that might not be enough. Dean Hoge, a leading expert on the priest shortage, estimates that efforts by bishops such as Burbidge might result in a 10 percent increase in priests at a time when the church needs a 100 percent increase.

"A 10 percent increase is fine," said Hoge, a professor of sociology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. "Is it going to solve the problem? No."

But there is a curious thing about the new crop of Catholic priests. Many of them, such as Burbeck, who is 23, have a passionate commitment to the Catholic Church. At a time when many Catholics blame their priests for the horrific cases of sexual abuse of children, Burbeck said that in embracing the church, he felt not qualms but clarity.

"That's the reason I was created," Burbeck said referring to his desire to become a priest. "That's the meaning of my life."

Bishop Burbidge ordained eight new priests this year, which isn't enough to compensate for both retirements and deaths among priests and the inexorable burgeoning of the laity. But if Michael Burbeck is any indication of the attitude of incoming seminarians, Burbidge will be ordaining priests at an accelerating rate in the future. I found myself pumping my fist after reading this story.

The spiritual commitment of the Michael Burbecks in the Church is infectious. They do not aspire to the priesthood so as to escape anything. They do not seek it out as a career or as a mark of social status. They don't even see it as a "vocation" in the generic sense, which could apply just as well to mothers, doctors, or first responders. What's happened in the American Church over the last several decades makes the inadequacy of all such motivations painfully evident. No, they enter the seminary because they recognize that what they're there for is simply to become who they are in Jesus Christ, their chief love in life. They choose it not because it's something they'd like to do, but because it's simply who they have been created, in love, to be. The choice is so clear that it's hardly a choice at all.

I've known a few other guys like that. They are now terrific priests. The Holy Spirit is calling many such men. I resist my temptation to envy them by exercising the priesthood of believers: offering my own sufferings partly for them. I have no doubt that is efficacious, especially in conjunction with adoration of the Eucharist outside Mass. It sustains and augments the clergy, especially the higher clergy. Indeed, if more bishops like Michael Burbidge are appointed, more seminarians like Michael Burbeck will keep coming to the fore across this country and become terrific priests in their turn. They will do so despite massive incomprehension and resistance, not just from the world but including and especially from within the bosom of the Church. Such is the leadership we need; if we pray, love, and believe as we ought, such is the leadership we will get.

"Cautionary Tales" for actual and wannabe converts

Mark Shea tells them well.

I can think of several people who either left the Church or wouldn't join her because, in James Joyce's words, she's "here comes everybody." As is so often the case, what they take to be evidence against Catholicism, I take to be evidence for it.

Why I'm a natural theologian

Most people who meet me for the first time are surprised to learn that I am interested in theology. Some who have known me for a number of years think me misguided when I indicate that, at this point in my life, it is my chief interest. The former group assumes that I am, and the latter that I ought to be, a lawyer or a salesman, or at least somebody whose energies should be devoted mainly to acquiring money, prestige, and sex. But those who care to know me for who I am know that I am a natural for theology, where 'theology' is used as a name for an academic discipline, as distinct from that speech about God which only the truly holy can efficaciously utter. Of course I'm not considered qualified to teach theology at the post-secondary level, even though I have taught at several seminaries and touch on theology whatever and wherever I teach. That's because I have never taken any graduate-level course in theology; for reasons having to do with academic and ecclesiastical politics, I chose in youth to pursue the slightly less unmarketable discipline of philosophy. But the philosophy is my point.

When I call myself a natural theologian I mean that I am a practitioner, fitfully, of that branch of metaphysics, and therefore of philosophy, which is known as natural theology. The aim of natural theology is to acquire some knowledge of the divine that does not, logically speaking, require data of special divine revelation (if any) as premises. Here I want to explain, in terms anybody can appreciate, why I made that choice and why it is so worthwhile.

Alluding to Romans 1:20, the First Vatican Council defined: "If anyone denies that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty in the natural light of human reason through the things that have been made: let him be anathema." Accordingly, as a Catholic I take the Church's word for it that natural theology, as a way of acquiring some real knowledge of God, is possible. But that is reliance on authority, not just on reason. It is not why I originally took up the discipline. I took up natural theology as a student for three reasons.

The first was that I could find no other honest way to decide whether it was rational to profess a religion, and rationality was something I prized given the physically and emotionally chaotic environment in which I was raised. By the time I was 15, the faith of my childhood was no longer adequate for me; I needed to find some basis for an adult faith if I was to have faith at all. And it seemed to me that an adult faith entailed making not only a "reasonable" choice but a "rational" one. What's the contrast?

It is reasonable for some people to cling uncritically to the religion in which they were raised, simply because they lack either the leisure, the inclination, or the native ability to think critically enough to arrive at an adult faith. If they live long enough, life will probably challenge them to go beyond that; and it would be unreasonable for them to refuse the challenge if they're up to it. But some people never experience the challenge, and others who do aren't up to meeting it. Who's to say they are unreasonable for having, or even losing, a childish faith in such circumstances? Not I. But neither did I have the luxury of not knowing better than such people.

I had had Catholic catechesis, accurate as far as it went, and I had a good mind. But I came to need a worldview that was objectively rational, not merely reasonable given my limitations. That was because I had ceased being able to believe that what mattered to my parents, teachers, and friends, or even to myself, mattered period. I could no longer believe that life was worthwhile just because I had a sanguine personality, or because I had been taught it, or because everybody around me assumed it. For a time that left me in something of a void, depressed and rudderless; my mother, whose values were entirely conventional, worried that I studied and brooded instead of dating; but I didn't want to spend my spare time working a boring, menial job in order to get money for dating when I wasn't even sure that life was worthwhile. I read voraciously and worked diligently on a project I would now describe as trying to find sound arguments that that life is worthwhile. Otherwise there was no reason to prefer reality to the drugs that I couldn't afford any more than I could afford the girls.

What ended up convincing me that life is worthwhile was a deceptively simple point: in the final analysis, it's more rational to try to make overall sense of reality than not; whereas the various forms of nihilism, such as atheism and French existentialism, did not make overall sense of reality, and indeed argued that it was irrational to try. Thanks to an English teacher who happened to be a Jesuit scholastic, I had read as much of C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, GK Chesterton, and Dorothy Sayers as I could get my hands on. As much by the power of imagination as by logic, they convinced me that theism made much more sense out of who and what people are than atheism. My high-school religion classes, fashioned just after Vatican II when so many priests and religious were shucking tradition, seemed sterile and pointless by comparison. Yet the salient point has been put well in the context of the current debate about "the new atheism:"

Atheists and theists seem to agree that human beings have an innate desire for morality and purpose. For the theist, this is perfectly understandable: We long for love, harmony and sympathy because we are intended by a Creator to find them. In a world without God, however, this desire for love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature — imprinted by evolution, but destined for disappointment, just as we are destined for oblivion, on a planet that will be consumed by fire before the sun grows dim and cold. This form of “liberation” is like liberating a plant from the soil or a whale from the ocean. In this kind of freedom, something dies.

I was, to be sure, prepared to accept the death of what is thus said to die; what I could not accept was the earnest belief of the atheists that it was somehow more rational to see reality that way than to be a theist. The theists had a reasoned answer to the question why the world, and we, exist; the atheists could only try to persuade me that the question is unanswerable. But proving a negative is notoriously difficult. It seemed to me then, and still seems to me, that the atheists had only one argument: unlike religion, science has a consensual, publicly accessible method for testing claims to knowledge; therefore, it is more rational to accept a purely scientific worldview than a religious one. But the argument struck me, and still strikes me, as a non-sequitur. From the fact that only science gives us such a method, it does not follow that science is the only reliable way of acquiring knowledge. All that follows is that we should rely on science to evaluate the kinds of knowledge-claim that science, as a method, can evaluate. But that supplies no reason to believe that only what can be known scientifically can be known at all, i.e., the thesis now called 'scientism'. Given the inner world first limned for me by the British writers in question, I was compelled to believe that true empiricism had to be wider than the advocates of scientism allowed. And I could find no argument for atheism other than scientism.

So, I was now a rationally convinced theist, and that itself involved the doing of natural theology. I was relieved because I now had reason to participate actively in life; I was also challenged, because the Hound of Heaven was still after me. Thus the question for me became what sort of theist I should be. As a college freshman, I decided to double-major in philosophy and religion largely in order to answer that question. Since ideas have consequences, and wrong ideas about ultimate things have very bad consequences, the question struck me as vastly more important than that of what career such disciplines could equip me for. (My father was pleased by my choice, since he thought the intellectual discipline I would learn would equip me to follow him in a career in law. I didn't have the heart to disappoint him by telling him I was much more attracted to the clergy; in any event I didn't have to tell him, since I could never interest the Catholic clergy in accepting me into their ranks. Indeed, several of the priests I later consulted about the matter seemed much more interested in my body than in my mind or soul—a fact which itself turned out to be a grave challenge to my ongoing intellectual project.) But I had gradually become convinced that only monotheism, as opposed to pantheism or polytheism, was philosophically defensible. The question then became what sort of monotheist to be.

The three major monotheistic religions are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It didn't take me long to decide for Christianity. Having arisen from the Judaism that preceded it and persisted despite the Islam that came after it, Christianity seemed incomparably fuller and richer than either, incorporating even what seemed true in the various pagan religions. It seemed to me that, if the one true God did reveal himself to humanity, this was more likely to be the full story than the alternatives. So then the question became what sort of Christian to be.

I couldn't help noticing that the two main Christian alternatives to my native Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy, didn't seem to put much stock in the discipline that had helped convince me that life is worthwhile. As best as I could tell at the time, most of their representatives held that we cannot arrive at any knowledge of God without already being committed to the truth of Christianity. In other words, natural theology is an illusion, and to persist in the illusion is to corrupt the Faith. Of course, I gradually learned that the picture is more complicated than that. Some Protestants have done, still do natural theology explicitly, and I have read a good many of them; some Orthodox, including some of the Eastern Fathers, have done what is in effect natural theology, but without characterizing it as that; and I've read some of them too. But even having learned all that, I find no reason to abandon my youthful impression that only Catholicism explains why natural theology is both possible and worthwhile. So, once I decided to remain Catholic for that and other reasons, I had further reason to do natural theology, if only so as to deepen my acquaintance with my own tradition.

But the third and clinching reason I kept at it came from the political philosophy I also studied and debated in college. It seemed to me, as to nearly everybody else at Columbia, that the West in general had only learned relatively recently the social importance and the moral necessity of religious freedom. The Catholic Church herself had only acknowledged it within my lifetime. Yet for reasons I explained yesterday, secularism as a political ideology also seemed to me untenable—a conclusion that set me sharply at odds with my professors and most of my fellow students. So the question for me then became: How can one expound a basis for the moral legitimacy of the state that is neither theocratic nor secularist, i.e. that required neither imposing a particular religious tradition on people nor dispensing with God altogether? The only answer I could find was the sort of thinking summed up in Thomas Jefferson's phrase "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God"—in other words, the natural law as promulgated rationally by the Higher Power, the God, knowable to some extent by human reason. Only in the Catholic tradition was that notion seriously and systematically developed, and it depended in part on that natural theology for which the Catholic tradition had always maintained an important place. And so my chosen discipline bore, at least for me and for some Catholic thinkers, considerable political significance. Given the challenge of Islamism today, it retains that significance.

I don't expect this little autobiography to convince my readers to become natural theologians. But I hope to have exhibited why that discipline is both a reasonable and an important one to pursue.

Damned either way

One of the reasons I decided in college to remain Catholic is that many of the criticisms of the Church, from both non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians, seemed to me to be of the damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't variety. I always and instinctively sympathize with the object of any such criticism, even when the criticism turns out to be correct. Today the genre seems as robust as ever.

A case in point lately is one reaction from an Orthodox Christian blogger, the Ochlophobist, to Summorum Pontificum, the new papal motu proprio granting a universal indult for the Tridentine Mass. Refreshingly, he openly recognizes that his criticism is of the variety in question; regrettably, he thinks that exposes a problem with the Church, not with his criticism. I don't agree with him because, as a cradle Catholic, I am convinced that his prognostications about the future effects of the indult on the liturgical culture of the Church are too idiosyncratically pessimistic. But his pessimism about the Catholic Church is not always idiosyncratic. For instance, in more than one combox on this blog, the Ochlophobist has complained that the papacy reduces its credibility by failing to excommunicate more heretics and depose more bad bishops. He is far from alone in making that criticism; in my time, I've heard it from many quarters, including some Catholic ones. But as emotionally satisfying as I might find a massive housecleaning, I remain deeply skeptical. For if the papacy were to undertake what the critics want in that regard, many of them would join the ensuing media chorus denouncing the new Reign of Terror, the return of the bad old days of papal absolutism and the Inquisition. The more sophisticated critics would cite the issue as telling evidence that the Catholic Church is not the Church; for if she were, so the argument would go, she would not have to choose between anarchy and tyranny. Indeed, I've noticed that that is already a somewhat popular criticism of the Church in the Orthodox blogosphere.

The ironic thing, though, is that much of what restrains the papacy from attacking imagined anarchy with real tyranny are features of Catholic ecclesiology that many Orthodox complain are honored more in the breach than in the observance. Such Orthodox complain that, in the Catholic Church, there is only one bishop with many auxiliaries; but historically as well as today, Rome has exerted much less de facto authority over local ordinaries than popular notions of papal supremacy would suggest; and given her official ecclesiology, that is as it should be. The applicable considerations are well explained in an article by Fr. Robert Johansen. I wish I had seen it sooner. It's not just the Orthodox who need to hear it; the truths he expounds are lost on many loyal Catholics too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Defining our enemies

Most serious Christians are what Luther said: simul peccator et justus, at once sinners and justified. I know I am. Luther's error was to hold, in effect, that that's the best we can hope for. By contrast, the more ancient traditions of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy maintain that we can and ought to be truly and progressively sanctified, with our free cooperation, by that grace which is nothing other than the Trinity's self-communication to us. But Luther's point helps to remind us that, once we are beyond childhood, our chief enemy in the spiritual life is ourselves. Our external enemies, chiefly Satan and his minions, have only as much power over our souls as we choose, consciously or no, to give them. The same goes, I believe, for what's left of Christian civilization today.

Pace the callow evasions of our political and academic élites, our chief external enemy today is militant Islam, which is committed to our destruction as a civilization and has openly said so. I shall not debate whether, in the final analysis, Islam can be anything other than that. I think it undeniable that it is not. For one thing, whether the means employed are violent or not, Muslims as such are committed to the "struggle" (jihad) to win the world for Islam. That follows from Islam's being an essentially missionary religion. But the same could be said of Christianity, which is also a missionary religion; hence militancy, in the sense operative in the phrase 'the Church Militant', is not what distinguishes Islam from Christianity. The distinguishing feature of Islamic militancy is that it seeks to make Islam, precisely as such, the explicit basis of political authority wherever it is the dominant religion. For a long time, to be sure, Christians were wont to do the same with regard to their own religion; but save in a few isolated pockets, that approach has been given up, as it should be if Christianity is true. We've learned our lesson. Yet the Muslim world, the Umma, has not learned the lesson. Nor do I think it can. That is the main, underlying reason why the Umma has such a hard time repudiating al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It is the main reason why "Islamic" parties are gaining ground even in ostensibly secular states such as Turkey and Indonesia. All over the Muslim world, we hear more and more calls for imposing sharia, even on non-Muslims when possible. Even now, Christians in Iraq are reduced to the options of oppression or flight; Sunnis and Shi'ites, who seem to agree on little else and continue fighting each other, seem to agree on that much. That's the attitude which is steadily gaining the upper hand throughout the Umma.

Such a totalitarian and ineradicable feature of Islamic militancy is the polar opposite of the ideology that now dominates the Western world: secularism. The core principle of secularism is not the separation of church and state as institutions; most of us believers in the West agree that such separation is good for both. I for one am glad that the papacy no longer has temporal authority and that I live in a country whose constitution ensures religious freedom. For when religion is not adopted freely, according to individual conscience, it is to that extent an obstacle to human flourishing; and that's why people brought up in any given religion ought to think critically about it if and when they can, so that they can make their choice in an informed and adult way, consistently with their God-given dignity. But I object profoundly to secularism. For the core principle of secularism as an ideology is what I call autonomism: the proposition that man himself can and ought to define the basis of the state's legitimacy, without any necessary basis in or reference to a moral law higher than himself. From that standpoint, appealing to any "higher law"—such as what the Declaration of Independence terms "the laws of nature and of nature's God"—as the basis of the state's legitimacy is an unacceptable infringement on freedom of thought and conscience. Of course it is rarely explained why we should consider that moral judgment binding if we happen to disagree with it; the few explanations I've seen are patently inadequate even on their own terms; for they can be and have been used to justify the worst sort of tyranny—always, of course, in the name of "the majority," or the Volk, or the oppressed, or something like that. Secularism is worthless as a political ideology because its autonomism reduces in turn to moral relativism, which can justify anything and therefore nothing. We cannot truly secure the dignity and freedom of the individual unless we acknowledge the Authority, the "Higher Power," that they come from, and why we have no right to defy that Authority.

Indeed, relativism is why the secular liberals of the West, especially in Europe, have such difficulty coming to grips with the challenge posed by militant Islam. As relativists they are reflex multiculturalists; as such, they instinctively believe that if we would just be nice to the Umma, giving ground and money here and there while fighting only the most violent of the terrorists, then the threat would gradually fizzle and we could all resume enjoying our comforts and gadgets. Such an illusion, if indulged long enough by enough people, is fatal. It undermines the will to resist, and that's just what our militant Muslim enemies are counting on. They are right to hate secularism—and right to believe that Islam is stronger than secularism. The former has a spiritual energy and motivating force that the latter cannot sustain. Resurgent, militant Islam is indeed the just scourge of the secular West.

Our primary enemy, therefore, is within: our desire to set things up for ourselves independently of that God who can be known in the natural light of human reason. That is true on an individual level; that's why we're sinners, to the extent we are, and we all are. On the collective level, it is that God, and only that God, who must be acknowledged as the basis of the state's legitimacy. Although the God of divine revelation is infinitely bigger than that, he at least that—and only respect for the laws of that God, the God of "ethical monotheism," suffices to preclude tyranny. But secularism won't even allow us that much of a foundation. Only if we defeat that enemy within can we find the will to resist our chief external enemy, our just scourge, for the right reasons.

The passion and the patience

Today's Gospel in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite was Luke 10: 38-42, the story of The Lord in the middle of a minor domestic issue between two sisters, Mary and Martha. I've always loved this passage. Not only does it present a very human situation; a given person's reaction to it says a great deal about where they are spiritually. I've heard many ostensibly good Catholics say that the Lord was being unfair to poor Martha. Since the thought of Jesus doing something wrong is intolerable to them, they conclude that the story was either the writer's own invention or that it had somehow got garbled in oral transmission. Once, I even heard a prog nun say that the story was made up to discredit Martha in her later roles as preacher and prophet, because she was getting to be too much of a threat to the Apostles' authority. You know, the personal is the political, and all that. Not knowing where to begin, I just rolled my eyes.

I believe that the Catholics who reject this story are wrong. Many preachers, exegetes, and spiritual writers—including most of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church—have produced meditations on this Gospel. I've read a fair number of them, and from my readers I welcome references to those you have found most helpful. What I want to do here is synthesize what I've learned so far.

Part of my stock material is an ever-lengthening list of Yogisms, which I must someday make a post out of. One of my favorites is: "Progress entails deterioration," a fact I see confirmed every day in the business world I am obliged, for the time being, to work in. In the typical MBA mind, for example, "improving productivity and efficiency" means either making employees work harder for the same pay or, what amounts to same, firing some of them and giving their work to those who are left. (I recall the term 're-engineering' being used for that back in the '80s.) In my observation, however, that only works when the work process itself is also streamlined, which rarely happens unless what's being implemented is sheer automation, which it usually isn't. Most of the time, all that happens is that the people who are left take longer to get the job done and are even unhappier about it than the customers. So, all that's served is the short-term bottom line; consigned to irrelevance, the long run gets awfully slow. Management's lack of patience—which, in public companies, is driven largely by stockholders' impatience—can end up killing the passion behind the business, thus killing the business over time. I've seen it happen firsthand, more than once. It's the sort of thing that happens when Martha wins out over Mary. Whether it's business life, personal life, or even political life, our society is replete with examples of people who undermine their own goals by pursuing them without due regard for the less tangible but more important side of their reality.

Another Yogism of mine is: "A prayer for patience is the one prayer that God can be counted on to grant immediately." As you Latinists will have noticed, the words 'patience' and 'passion' come from the same root: the Latin patior, whose broadest meanings are "to undergo" and "to endure." To have a passion for something or someone is to undergo a powerful attraction, hard to resist, and quenchable only by something stronger than and incompatible with it. To be patient, by contrast, is to undergo something instead of acting when one might, and doing so for the sake of a greater good—even if the greater good is only that of avoiding the cost of refusing to endure. Now the "Passion" of the Lord was both. He loved us so much that endured even a horrible, shameful physical death in order to save us, by his presence in our darkness, from horrible, shameful spiritual death. By his "obedience unto death, even death on a cross, God highly exalted him" through the Resurrection and Ascension; our hero now has "the name above every other name, at which every knee shall bow" when all is fulfilled. Baptized into him, our vocation is to emulate that pattern in our own lives. Our passion for the Lord must take the form of sharing his cross with joyful patience; only if we die with Christ will we live for and with him. When we ask for that gift in love, we will get it before we know it. For in the life of the spirit, passion and patience can and must go together.

Martha's sister Mary had both the passion and the patience. She had the same passion for the Lord that Martha did, but also had the patience to sit at his feet and contemplate his words and his person. It did not occur to her that splitting the chores with her sister was more important at the time; I somehow doubt she would have complained if Martha had joined her rather than getting dinner on the table right away. We can safely infer that the Lord himself would not have complained either. Mary represents people more concerned with the meaning of things than with practical affairs, those of us who want to sit at the Lord's feet rather than dash about doing things to earn his approval or, short of that, to forestall his displeasure. But our society encourages us to be Martha. We must always be doing things or we're "good for nothing;" and by doing things, we can assure ourselves of the Lord's good fortune in having people like us doing things for him. Sort of like Martha.

But that is not the life of grace. As Abbot Placid reminded us today at Belmont Abbey, the message of today's Gospel is that it is by grace alone that we are saved. Whatever good we do that also avails for our salvation, it is God who is doing it. That doesn't mean we are to do nothing but wait for him to act; it is our actions, as much as our prayer, that serve as the raw material by which God shapes what he is re-creating us, and the world, to be. We need to be Martha as well as Mary. But the priority of the latter over the former, the unum necessarium, must always be kept in view. Love of God begins with openness to him, not in trying to gain his favor. If we make that openness our chief priority, only then will our actions be his. The passion must begin with patience.

Another response to the Responsum

Altlhough I lack time to canvass all the more intelligent responses to the new CDF document—such as the one presented here—I think it would be most useful to discuss one that, in its candor, is probably typical of how most Protestants feel about it, or would feel if they thought about it.

In its accompanying commentary on the document, the CDF observes:

The fifth question asks why the ecclesial Communities originating from the Reformation are not recognised as ‘Churches’.

In response to this question the document recognises that “the wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist”.[13] For this reason they are “not Churches in the proper sense of the word”[14] but rather, as is attested in conciliar and postconciliar teaching, they are “ecclesial Communities”.[15]

Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress in the communities concerned and even amongst some Catholics, it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of “Church” could possibly be attributed to them, given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church.

In saying this, however, it must be remembered that these said ecclesial Communities, by virtue of the diverse elements of sanctification and truth really present in them, undoubtedly possess as such an ecclesial character and consequently a salvific significance.

To me, the interesting question here is why "they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense." Experience has led me to find the following commentary from a prominent ex-Catholic, Roland Martin of CNN, most revealing. It is not the most theologically sophisticated, but it is common enough to exhibit the operative ecclesiology of most Protestants.

You can read the whole thing for yourself, but here's the heart of it (emphasis added):

...what ticked folks off was his assertion in the 16-page document by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the only denominations that can call themselves true churches are ones that can trace their roots back to Jesus Christ's original apostles. He even suggested they suffer from defects.

This is nothing but a naked attempt by Pope Benedict XVI to "own" Jesus by virtue of the Catholic Church considering the apostle Peter as its leader. He refuses to acknowledge the reality that Jesus didn't consider a church to be most important. What was? The Great Commission.

The Bible records in Matthew 28:16 that Jesus called his 11 disciples (the other, Judas, hanged himself after betraying Jesus) to Mount Galilee and decreed, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (New International Version).

It doesn't matter what Pope Benedict XVI has to say, or for that matter, any other religious leader. A Christian believes in Jesus Christ and what He had to say, not what a man of God has to say. This is not an attempt to completely dismiss religious leaders, but is further evidence of what happens when ego is more important than the work of Christ.

John 14:6 says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Nowhere does it say that Peter, Pope Benedict XVI or anyone else can supplant Jesus as the leader of the church.

It is these kinds of missives by Pope Benedict XVI that do nothing to support or build the community of faith. All it does is divide.

Leaving aside the insulting suggestion that the Pope, one of the most distinguished theologians of the age, is just an egotist, the interesting thing here is Martin's vision of what it is to be church. It is typically Protestant. In that vision, the Church is not the Mystical Body of Christ in which, among other things, his headship over her is embodied by an ordained hierarchy to whom he has granted real authority direct from himself. No, a church is only a voluntary association of people who follow and proclaim, or believe themselves to follow and proclaim, Christ himself. Now a church, whatever else it may be, is at least that. On that much, the Pope can agree with the Roland Martins of the world. But if church is understood to be only that, then it is at bottom a human creation. The constitution or polity of such a church is a creation of its members, and the leaders within such a setup hold and exercise only so much authority as the membership chooses, explicitly or tacitly, to permit them. If what such "men of God" have to say does not, in the view of some or most members, match what Jesus Christ has to say, then those members should ignore or replace such leaders—or, if necessary, bypass them by founding a new "church" with leaders more faithful to what is deemed to be the truth. Any leader who pretends to a greater authority than that is the victim of their own ego, and as such accomplishes only division among the brethren.

Ironically, however, it is a corollary of such a vision that every man, in Luther's words, has "a pope in his belly." If there is no God-given authority within the church to tell us infallibly and irreformably what Scripture means and what the deposit of faith accordingly is, then we are each left to something less than the Church to determine what Scripture means and what the deposit of faith accordingly is. A given "church" may say it acknowledges the authority and infallibility of divinely inspired Scripture; many do just that; but the endless fragmentation of Protestantism amply demonstrates one of the Pontificator's Laws: "When Scripture alone is one's authority, Scripture ceases to be one's authority." Thus and ultimately, the only authority for resolving disputes about faith and morals is what Newman termed "private judgment," which can be purely individual but which, more typically, is that of a party or local church over against the church catholic. I do not, because I cannot, believe that that is what characterizes the church founded by Jesus Christ. For private judgment yields only human opinion, not the virtue of faith; hence it precludes the assent of faith as distinct from opinion, thus precluding the only appropriate response to divine revelation and the necessary attitude of the member of the Church as such. A church based on private judgment, and thus on mere human opinion, is not only a sign but a guarantor of disunity—the opposite of that unity which it is the special charism of the Petrine ministry to ensure. It is not the Church founded by the Lord himself.

True ecumenism requires Peter. Otherwise it's just a negotiation.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Why I love Jesus

This one is a meme started by The Curt Jester who tagged, among others, Teresa Polk of Blog by the Sea, who in turn tagged me, among others.

I confess to some reluctance. For one thing, the theme reminds me that I am a sinner, which I am already reminded of rather more than I care to be. Thus, not only do I not love Jesus as much as he loves me, which is a given and inevitable; I don't even love myself as much as he loves me. In fact, I sometimes find myself questioning his judgment for loving me as much as he does; he's a fool for me, with a wisdom greater than I can fathom, let alone muster; and so the truth that I ought to love myself more—or at least more genuinely—than I do is an obligation I need him to help me meet. Then there's the all-too-evident fact that I don't love others as I ought, largely because I don't love him as I ought. It's all quite embarrassing, really. Adding to the embarrassment is a prejudice I acquired as a cradle Catholic old enough to remember the days before Vatican II. In those days, only women and clerics spoke sincerely of their love for Jesus and got away with it. Or so it looked to me: tacitly but unmistakably, I got the message that any lay male who talked that way was—well, in today's atmosphere, I don't even want to say it.

But I find myself unable to turn down such an invitation from Teresa Polk. She's a person of quality: a fine, noble, and smart Christian woman; and while I'm not made of stuff quite so fine, I am no cad. So she wins.

1. I love Jesus because he chose to save me from what I would surely end up being if he hadn't given his life for me.

2. I love Jesus because he is the friend I need day by day: supremely good and bound to stay that way. That makes him better than any other human being; just as delightfully, he doesn't rub it in; it's just so, and that's that. (Notice I did not say 'human person'; I don't want any distracting corrections from you Chalcedonians out there). And all that holds irrespective of how he views or feels about me in particular.

3. I love Jesus not only because he is God Incarnate, which you can't beat, but as such embodies God's sense of humor. How, after all, did God save us? The supremely good King of the Universe became a man among us, going about doing only good, and for his trouble got himself tortured and executed as a serious public nuisance. Beyond my gratitude for being saved, I love the huge, subtle, and ironic style of it. The style comes through even in the characteristically Jewish sense of humor: "Foxes have lairs, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

4. I love Jesus because he makes sense of life. He is indeed The Point of Everything. One of my biggest problems with people, including myself sometimes, is that our priorities are often so distorted. We get all hung up on things that are either objectively unimportant or, when they are objectively important, rarely mean what we think they do. We carry on as though what matters to us matters period. But the two are not the same at all. There is often a connection, to be sure, but it's not guaranteed and it's often not what we think. And yet to the extent we conform ourselves to Jesus, by obeying his commandments, joining our sufferings to his, and thanking the Father for everything, we will make the connection secure and thus make the only sense out of life that matters. That also helps me appreciate the fact, which I feel keenly, that the sort of mentality which is habitually concerned with the ultimate meaning of things is generally ill-equipped for success in practical affairs.

5. I love Jesus because he willingly takes countless insults himself but won't let the demons say a word against his Mother. What a mensch.

I tag: Jonathan Prejean, the Crimson Catholic; Aimee Milburn at Historical Christian; Scott Carson at An Examined Life; Robert "Gagdad Bob" Godwin at One Cosmos; Paul Hamilton at Ascent to Mount Carmel.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Kicking against the goad

Barbara Nicolosi has an excellent fisk of arch-prog Fr. Joseph O'Leary's attack on the new universal indult for the Tridentine Mass. Though I rarely comment on it these days, enjoying less time than he seems to have for controversy, I still find O'Leary's stuff useful because it is an almost perfect negative illustration of how intelligent Catholics should think and argue. For that reason, I intend to use his mega-review of the Pope's new book as the foil for my own, more modest review. But at least one vice of his, that of accentuating the negative, is so common across the spectrum as to be almost funny in its studied ignorance of reality. The general reaction to the new CDF responsum on ecclesiology is a case in point.

Most of the reactions I've encountered, both in the MSM and in person, have been negative. Some of them evince the sort of outrage reserved for the misconception that, according to the Church, only the formally Catholic can avoid hell—a misconception that many Catholics indeed used to hold, but which the Church never required them to believe and now explicitly rejects. Some of the negative reaction is more level-headed, if more radical, than that: e.g., relativists and universalists merely object to the suggestion that Catholicism has something needful to offer that other religions, including other forms of Christianity, lack. Very unPC of the Church, that. But to me the oddest thing is that, outside the rather narrow circles of Catholic "traditionalism"—at which, I suspect, the document was chiefly aimed, given its timing right after the liturgical motu proprio—hardly anybody has noticed how one of the document's points qualifies the sense in which the Church is said to be catholic.

I say "hardly" anybody because, with his usual eye for the unremarked, Tom Kreitzberg of Disputations has noticed and, rightly, approved. I begin with the point that drew his attention:

...because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.

That was said just after the CDF had indicated that certain other true "churches"—meaning mainly the Orthodox—are deficient insofar as they lack full communion with the See of Peter. So, while said churches lack one of the "internal constitutive principles" of any true, particular church, that Church in which the Church of Christ "subsists" as a unitary whole—i.e., the Catholic Church—also lacks "full realization in history." From that, it can only be concluded that the Catholic Church fails to manifest catholicity fully. I find that rather bracing in a magisterial document. It's not something you would ever have heard Rome say before Vatican II; it certainly bespeaks a development, and a humility, that has been largely ignored amid the cavilling. A few of Tom's commenters seemed to get it; but for the most part the combox focused on a tiresome debate about centuries-old views of sexuality and birth control. Of course the underlying issue there is the usual one, indeed the same one typically raised about the development of official ecclesiological doctrine: the Church's present teaching on certain is said to be discontinuous with that of the past, in such a way as to call into question teachings which have not in fact changed at all. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me that the examples given have to do with sex—a topic which, after all, is sexier than ecclesiology. But even some of the Orthodox, who could choose to be reassured by the quoted CDF remark, look right past the obvious.

Here's an Orthodox hieromonk in California, reacting to Tom's post:

I wish the document used the opportunity this point presents of really "hosing" the Catholic Church for its responsibility for the divisions. Of course this responsibility is only partial, but there is plenty of precendent for popes and other Catholic leaders professing sorrow in recent times for the role our Church has played in creating these divisions. But the way this paragraph is formulated, the divisions need not have anything to with actions by Catholics. They could just be an accident of history, or the work of aliens from outer space, or even....those dissident easterners themselves!

In other words, what's deficient in the responsum's point at issue is that the CDF didn't take the opportunity to reassure the Orthodox by detailing the Catholic Church's due portion of blame for the schism. Well, of course the CDF didn't do that. Vatican II already had done it in general terms, more than forty years ago, in Unitatis Redintegratio §3; Pope John Paul II expanded on that move in his landmark writings Orientale Lumen and Ut Unum Sint; and such words have been backed with many deeds of fraternity and respect by all the popes since Vatican II, including of course the present pope. Indeed, one of the standard trad complaints against Rome since Vatican II is precisely that her ecumenism is too accommodating toward non-Catholics, including non-Catholic Christians. In any event, I can attest by experience that positively inviting a new round of the old blame game is not going to end up reassuring anybody—which is probably as good a reason as any why owning up to the Catholic Church's due portion of blame for the schism (whatever that was) was not among the responsum's purposes. That document was meant only as a brief clarification of settled Church teaching, and that chiefly for Catholic consumption. But for some Orthodox, apparently, that's not enough. No, the Church must "hose" herself in far lengthier and more concrete terms if she expects to placate other "true, particular churches" with her clarifications. Merely acknowledging that the Catholic Church fails to fully manifest catholicity itself fails to convince the anxious that the bad old days are over.

This is one sort of thing I mean by "accentuating the negative." Whenever the Catholic Church misses a putative opportunity for breast-beating, the specter of her triumphalism is raised anew. I had to deal with that sort of thing a lot as a graduate student in a secular university during the 1980s, when the chief topic of conversation whenever the Catholic Church came up was why Pius XII merited condemnation and further suspicion for not condemning the Nazis publicly while they occupied Rome. My usual response was that, no, he didn't beat his wife. Subsequent work has vindicated my dismissiveness. And I'm inclined to be equally dismissive here.

This default tendency to accentuate the negative, which is to be found as much in intra-Catholic Internet controversy as among Orthodox or anywhere else online, is a way of kicking against the Spirit's goad. God is goading us toward unity. If we stopped kicking against it and each other so much, we might move in that direction. It is, after all, the direction in which most of us admit we are obliged to go.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

That spirituque show

A subset of my vast readership follows my posts on Trinitarian theology with considerable interest. My main effort has been to construe the Catholic dogma of the filioque in such a way that its compatibility with the monarchy of the Father is made clear, so that the chief Orthodox objection to the filioque is thereby obviated, and the compatibility of the Eastern and Western traditions is thereby clarified. Yet the most interest seems to have been drawn by a logical corollary of that effort: what I called the spirituque. On my account, just as there is a certain real sense in which the Holy Spirit can be said to come forth from the Father and the Son, there is another sense in which the Son can be said to come forth from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the attention to that corollary has been from Catholics, and most of that attention has been negative. I find that ironic in a way. The purpose of my effort has been to show that the filioque, as a doctrinal development, is compatible with what has always been affirmed in common by East and West; yet the main objection to my effort seems to be that the spirituque corollary, as a candidate for doctrinal development, is incompatible with what the West in particular has affirmed. Obviously I don't agree; it seems to me that the spirituque, which is not the main focus of my proposal anyhow, is being misunderstood to say more than it really says.

That's why it comes as a relief to me that Jonathan Prejean has now "got it." The amateur triadologists among my readers out there would do well to read his post. If you want to resume the discussion, we can all do it here, where its background is more easily accessible.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It ain't over

The clergy sex-abuse scandal, I mean. Nor, I might add, should it be.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has just agreed to "settle" the sex-abuse lawsuits pending against it for at least $600, 000, 000. That's 600 million, folks. And that's on top of the $114 million that's been paid out so far either by the Archdiocese or by other Catholic bodies within its jurisdiction. That ought to be a cure for scandal fatigue; if I were a significant financial contributor to the Church, I'd be doing a slow burn. A lot of the payout will come directly from the pockets of the rank-and-file laity, as have the ever-higher liability-insurance premiums that will probably have prevented the Archdiocese—unlike a few other dioceses—from going into bankruptcy. We are paying for the sins of the fathers, indeed.

I've seen that from both sides. As an adolescent victim of the sort of abuse in question—the vast bulk of which was committed against adolescent boys, even though it's considered impolitic to bring that up much—I was psychically damaged. I was not as damaged as some, whose lives were thereby too blighted to yield any significant success; nor have I ever seen fit to make a legal issue out of the matter. But I have gradually come to realize how much my spiritual and psychological growth had been inhibited, and how important a factor that was in my failures. But it was not the chief factor. At my age, the chief cause of my problems is not the priest who abused me, not my parents, not even the IRS or the state Child Support Enforcement Agency. The chief cause is myself; and it started way back, when I was more interested in God as a resource for attaining success and admiration than as my suffering Savior calling me to take up his cross and follow him. It was doubtless to cure me of that illusion that I was allowed, in due course, to crash and burn. Thus, even though I have never sexually abused anybody, I have learned in my own life just how great the cost of letting one's spiritual life be hollowed out can be. In a clergy that, for way too long, included too many men who were psychosexually immature, unprincipled predators, or both, such hollowing out was what allowed the crimes in question to happen. It also explains why far too many of the bishops covered it up for far too long. The financial costs both signify and are dwarfed by the spiritual costs of the underlying complacency, infidelity, and arrogance. I know because the costs of such attitudes in my own life, both as a victim and as a sinner myself, have been very real.

But the financial costs will have been helpful if they jolt enough people into grasping the true malaise of the American Church: we have become so assimilated and comfortable that we have largely lost our spiritual identity. For the past several generations, Catholics as a whole have become less and less distinguishable from people in the culture at large. It is human to get into a state of denial about certain problems, but we've gone beyond denial. It's become a matter of principle with many Catholics to believe that both the example of the saints and the constant, irreformable moral teaching of the Church can be ignored with spiritual impunity. As long as the leadership of the Church allows that belief to persist, the Church in this country will not have learned the deeper lessons of the sex-abuse scandal. And we'll keep paying bills we never thought we'd never incur.

The real Samaritan

I've stumbled on a passage from the homilies of Severus of Antioch, an important theologian of the sixth century, that serves as an illuminating commentary on a famous parable contained in today's Gospel in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite: that of the Good Samaritan.

“A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho." Christ did not say, "somebody went down" but " a man went down", because this passage concerns all humanity. For humanity, as a result of Adam's sin, left Paradise, our tranquil home on high, where there was no suffering and which was filled with wonders; this place was rightly called Jerusalem, a name which means "God's Peace ". And all mankind fell towards Jericho, a hollow and low country, where the heat is stifling. Jericho is the feverish life of this world, a life that separates us from God... And once humanity had thus turned away from the right road towards this life, a troop of wild demons came to attack us like a band of robbers. They stripped us of the clothing of perfection, and left us no trace of the strength of mind, purity, justice, or prudence, or anything else which characterizes the divine image (Gn 1:26); but striking us repeatedly by the blows of various sins, they knocked us down and finally left us half dead...

The Law given by Moses passed by, but it lacked strength; it did not lead humanity to a complete cure; it did not raise us up from where we lay… For the Law offered sacrifices and offerings "which could not make perfect those who practised this worship" for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins" (He 10:1.4)...

Finally a Samaritan came to pass. Christ deliberately gives himself the name Samaritan… For he himself came to us, carrying out the intention of the Law and showing by his acts "who is our neighbor" and what it is "to love others as oneself".

The key point in this rather typical example of patristic-era exegesis is that the Good Samaritan is to the wounded man what Christ is to us. I can attest to that by my personal experience.

About fifteen years ago, I chose what I now realize was the wrong spiritual path. The roots of that choice had taken hold years before, manifesting themselves fully only at a time of crisis in 1992. Thereafter, I lived in rebellion against God despite telling myself that I was doing his will. That situation was untenable. By 2000, and thanks also to my genetic predispositions, I had what used to be called a nervous breakdown. Spiritually, I had been stripped of "strength of mind, purity, justice, or prudence, or anything else which characterizes the divine image"; realizing that I had abandoned God along with my professional vocation, I fell into profound depression requiring months of intensive mental-health treatment. Then and thereafter, I encountered many good Samaritans who helped to sustain me amid a ghastly array of temporal challenges; ever since, I have been eking out a marginal existence as one of "the poor," working essentially menial jobs so as to keep up with child support. I see that existence as one of recovering by penance what I had lost by sin. I had to be stripped of everything, left half-dead by the side of the road, in order to be set again on the right path after being succored by Jesus Christ, both through the confirmed members of his Body and through "the Samaritans": those who, to human eyes, seem to be anything but members of the Body. I don't think I'm kidding myself any longer about being on that path; while it has yet to yield temporal fruit, I know now where I'm walking to.

Of course it's not enough to individualize the insights afforded by the parable of the Good Samaritan. If and when we truly do let ourselves be succored and transformed by Jesus Christ, we must do and be that for others. The two are of a piece. Just as "God is love," so too we must love our "neighbors" as he does, even and especially when it hurts. That is what I now see as my vocation. I am called to use my gifts, whatever is special and unique to me, to love those who have been put on my path to love. I know I do some of that in this setting, but it's not enough: the thing is too much at a distance, too gratifying to the ego. My prayer is that I be eagerly disposed to receive more of what's already on offer: the fidelity and courage to love in the flesh all those whom it has been given me especially to love, in the ways I have hitherto failed to do, thus failing them.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Culture of Charity

The title of this post is a link to an interview with Prof. Arthur C. Brooks, author of Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. According to Brooks—or rather to the Wall Street Journal's summary of Brooks—"four distinct forces appear to have primary responsibility for making people behave charitably: religion, skepticism about the government’s role in economic life, strong families and personal entrepreneurship."

Surprising to many, to be sure; but not perhaps to readers of this blog.

HT to Siris.

The image at left is courtesy of xsitems.com, which has quite a good selection.

What do you think of this vocations video?

I can't vouch for its effectiveness as a recruitment tool. But I lived in Manhattan for fifteen years during the 1970s and 80s, and wish I had seen something like that.

The Pope's new book

I've seen several complaints in the Catholic blogosphere, most notably here, that the Catholic blogosphere is largely ignoring the Pope's new book Jesus of Nazareth. Well, I can't speak for others, but I for one one have not been ignoring it. I ordered it last month, received it a few weeks ago, and have actually been reading it. I am impressed. It resolves several intellectual puzzles I've had about the question how the "Jesus of history" relates to the "Christ of faith."

When I've finished it over the weekend, I'll have a lot more to say about two sets of issues: the ones that most concern me, and the ones that seem to exercise the critics the most. In the meantime, I look forward to receiving comments on this post that might enrich my next one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The new CDF document on ecclesiology

The CDF has just issued a helpful set of RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH. Just as when Dominus Iesus was issued seven years ago, most of the responses in turn protest against its clear implication that other ecclesial bodies lack, in varying degrees, the fullness of the Church of Christ. Such reactions are only to be expected from non-Catholic Christians; after all, if they agreed with the doctrine in question, they'd either be or swiftly become Catholics. But I've also noticed that the hermeneuts of discontinuity take it as confirmation of their position too. That I find mighty puzzling, as I always have concerning this nest of issues.

Since the new document is brief, I shall quote its main content in full. Next I shall offer an explanation of the key phrase 'subsists in' from Vatican II that, while explained in the present document, will no doubt continue to be widely misunderstood. Third, I shall append a representative discontinuant critique of the document that's been forwarded to me by e-mail. Finally, I shall offer a defense of Catholic ecclesiological doctrine against that critique and, by extension, to similar critiques from some traditionalist Catholics.

First, here are the questions and answers:

First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council[1]. Paul VI affirmed it[2] and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: "There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation"[3]. The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention[4].

Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

Response: Christ "established here on earth" only one Church and instituted it as a "visible and spiritual community"[5], that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted.[6] "This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him"[7].

In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church[8], in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.[9] Nevertheless, the word "subsists" can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the "one" Church); and this "one" Church subsists in the Catholic Church.[10]

Third Question: Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity"[11].

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church"[12].

Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term "Church" in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. "Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds"[13], they merit the title of "particular or local Churches"[14], and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches[15].

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature"[16]. However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches[17].

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history[18].

Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery[19] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense[20]

The questions answered above are no ad hoc inventions of the CDF but are ones that many people have. The answers say nothing new; yet the first three go some way toward clarifying points on which many people have remained confused.

When the Magisterium ceased to say that the Catholic Church simply "is" the one true Church of Jesus Christ, and began saying that the one true Church of Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church, the aim was not, as many trads charged, to negate the older teaching but to clarify the the status of non-Catholic ecclesial bodies. For the fact is that there are countless millions of people who belong to Christ by a form of baptism always recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, but who are not Catholics; thus as individuals, they enjoy an "imperfect" communion with Christ and the Catholic Church; but until Vatican II, there wasn't any clear and widely disseminated answer to the question how the ecclesial bodies to which they belong relate severally to the Catholic Church. Hence Vatican II's and the CDF's use of term 'subsists'.

That term comes from the same Latin root as the noun "substance." In Catholic theology, a substance is ordinarily understood to be a unitary whole of a certain kind that perdures, and thus "subsists," through various activities and changes, which can include the sort of damage that consists in the loss of certain parts. Every human person, e.g., is a substance in that sense; one's bodily organs and cells are only parts that can remain alive (at least for a time, by nature or by artifice) while detached from the whole, but which have their full and proper reality only as parts of the living substance that is the person. Now the one true Church of Christ, as is clear from both Scripture and Tradition, is the universal "body of Christ" and thus, by analogy, a substance in the above-defined sense. Her high-level constituents are like organs or limbs: local churches, as the term 'church' is defined in the CDF document. Her base-level constituents are like cells: those individuals who belong to Christ and the Church by valid baptism but who might or might not belong either to some true, particular church or to an "ecclesial community" that doesn't quite qualify as a church. To say, therefore, that the one true Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church is to say that the Catholic Church is where the one true Church of Christ exists as a perduring whole, containing all the parts necessary thereto. To refuse to speak thus of other true but particular churches, such as the Orthodox, is logically equivalent to saying that they are properly parts of that subsistent whole which is the Catholic Church but exist to some extent apart from that whole, which is detrimental to both the whole and the parts themselves. It is detrimental to the whole inasmuch the whole, while still functioning as that integral whole which is "the" Church, does not fully embrace some of her proper parts. The whole remains what she is, but wounded. It is detrimental to the parts inasmuch as, while still being true churches and means of sanctification, they are not fully integrated into that subsistent whole of which they are proper parts, and thus can no longer manifest Catholic unity.

That seems clear enough to me and to many other educated Catholics. It indicates how the newer teaching is compatible with the older while refining and clarifying the older. But we hermeneuts of continuity are a minority both within and outside the Catholic Church. The following reaction from a non-Catholic heremeneut of discontinuity, which I received by e-mail forwarding is not at all uncommon among Catholic traditionalists too. (I have added the emphasis.)
It would seem that these Responses are directed primarily at "traditionalist" Catholics whether within the canonical boundaries of the RC Church or without (e.g. the SSPX). While these Responses will be reassuring to the more traditionally-minded within the Catholic communion, I shall be surprised if they prove to be very satisfactory to the SSPX types.

I am convinced that there is in fact no continuity between the pre-Vatican-II ecclesiology of the RC Church and the ecclesiology of Vatican II -- in particular the assertion of the Council that the Orthodox Churches are (in RC terms) "true particular Churches" (and note that this is a positive teaching of the Council, not a figment of the post-conciliar "hermeneutic of discontinuity"). If the term "true particular Church" means anything, it means a local Church in the Ignatian sense, where the faithful gathered about their bishop in the Eucharistic assembly are a manifestation of the fulness of the Catholic Church. And if such a community can exist even though in schism from that visible body wherein the Church of Christ is said to "subsist", that is an admission that the body of Christ can be divided while remaining (on both sides of the divide) truly the Catholic Church. That flies in the face of the creedal insistence on the unity of the Church, and if that is not a change in RC ecclesiology, I cannot imagine what would constitute such a change.

The teaching of the Council that the Orthodox Churches are, in fact, true particular Churches rather than simply schismatic conventicles fundamentally compromises Papal supremacy and universal ordinary jurisdiction. If a Church may be an authentic manifestation of the Catholic Church without in fact being in communion with Rome or subject to the Pope's universal ordinary jurisdiction (or, indeed, having repudiated any sort of Papal jurisdiction at all), then such a Church has not forfeited its ecclesial status nor paid any price whatever for disunion with the Pope. Nor does submission to the Pope buy it anything it does not already have (since it already has Catholic fulness). And note that, with respect to the Orthodox Churches (unlike the Protestants), the Council does not take a stance of Khomikovian agnosticism and declare that God *MAY* be at work among the Orthodox. The Council makes the positive statement that "In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation ...". A far cry from Unam Sanctam.

I cannot see this (together with the re-emphasis on Ignatian ecclesiology generally, and the renewed emphasis on collegiality) as anything but an act of repentance by the Council for the RC Church's previous attitude towards Orthodoxy, and the introduction of a deep contradiction in the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church. And there is certainly nothing in today's Responses document that makes me re-think my view on this. As a non-Catholic, I see that repentance as good and necessary; but I can certainly understand it if traditional Catholics (again, whether in communion with Rome or not) see such repentance as not only ill-advised but ecclesiologically impossible.
In my experience, that is not at all an uncommon attitude, even though it's not the one you'll typically hear about in the media. Two things about it are very striking to me.

The first is its clear implication that those responsible for the responsum, who explicitly include the Pope himself, do not understand or appreciate the logical status of their own position. The ecclesiology evinced in the responsum is no different from that of Vatican II as presented in Lumen Gentium, which document is itself quoted in the responsum. How can it be that all the orthodox Catholic theologians and bishops who did approve and do approve the ecclesiology of LG, such as Joseph Ratzinger, fail to grasp that they are contradicting the older, definitive teaching they claim to profess, by believing that their ecclesiology is in full harmony with that older teaching? Either they aren't terribly bright, or they're doing quite a spectacular job of kidding themselves.

In fact neither is the case, because they are not contradicting themselves. Neither Vatican II nor the present responsum claimed or implied that those "true, particular churches" which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church manifest what the critique's author calls "the fullness of the Catholic Church." It is made abundantly clear that they fail to manifest said fullness precisely insofar as they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, which alone is where "the" Church of Christ "subsists" as an integral whole. So, why interpret LG and the responsum as though there were some contradiction here?

The other thing I find so striking about the critique is its key argument, which explains why
the aforementioned sources are taken to be contradicting themselves. I quote again:

If the term "true particular Church" means anything, it means a local Church in the Ignatian sense, where the faithful gathered about their bishop in the Eucharistic assembly are a manifestation of the fulness of the Catholic Church. And if such a community can exist even though in schism from that visible body wherein the Church of Christ is said to "subsist", that is an admission that the body of Christ can be divided while remaining (on both sides of the divide) truly the Catholic Church. That flies in the face of the creedal insistence on the unity of the Church, and if that is not a change in RC ecclesiology, I cannot imagine what would constitute such a change.

The adjective 'Ignatian' used by the author alludes to the teaching of Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop and martyr who wrote at or shortly after AD 100. St. Ignatius was quite keen on helping Christians distinguish the true faith from the two prominent heresies of his day: that of the Judaizers, and Docetism. The content of those heresies is irrelevant for present purposes; what's relevant is St. Ignatius' emphasis on loyalty to one's local bishop as essential for the unity of faith and of the Church. For the bishops in communion with each other across the Christian world at the time just were the successors of the apostles and the vicars of Christ, who together and as such held and taught the true doctrine. So, St. Ignatius was writing at a time when a Christian could be reasonably certain that her loyalty to such holders of office meant that she was orthodox and belonged to the "Catholic" Church—a term which St. Ignatius was the first writer we know of to have actually used. But does it follow that belonging to a church presided over by a validly consecrated bishop would always ensure that one was in full communion with "the" Catholic Church? Of course not. There were later times in Church history, such as the mid-fourth century, when the majority of duly consecrated bishops were actually heretics, whom it was the duty of true Christians to reject as such, if and when they knew better. Hence, according to Catholic theology, belonging to a true, particular church is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for full communion with "the" Catholic Church. A given church may remain a "true, particular church" in the sense described above in the CDF's answer to the "Fourth Question," without thereby manifesting the "fullness" of the Catholic Church. It can be a living part of that Church, belonging properly to her, while being detached from the subsistent whole and thus deficient, with many consequences. And so the critique's argument is fallacious.

I have been amazed over the last few years how much misunderstanding of Catholic theology there is out there. Ecclesiology has been a particular victim of such misunderstanding. As I've said before, the work of the hermeneut of continuity never seems to be done. I don't think that's because the continuity isn't manifest for those disposed to see it. It's because so many seem to have reasons of their own not to see it.