Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

The one true church of the Apocalypse, or the harlot of Revelation? You decide.

When the Social Justice Warriors Get in Their Own Way

As the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is doing:

The Church’s wooing of the SNP is largely to blame. It started when Cardinal Winning clashed with the then Labour Executive over their social liberalism. Winning and many of the other people in charge convinced themselves that the nationalists were going to be more onside on issues like abortion. There was absolutely no evidence that this would ever be the case, as the Catholic community are about to find out. Instead, they have been played for useful fools by Salmond et al, whose entryists have done the necessary spade work from within.

There’s no evidence that the SNP will champion causes near and dear to the RCC such as being pro-life.  But both the people and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, with Anglophobe memories running half a millennium deep, allow their emotions to think that an independent Scotland would further the cause of the RCC and its flock.  (They should have first remembered that it was an independent Scotland that broke the RCC in the first place, long before the Union or even James I/VI.)

The SNP’s goal is a Scotland that is independent of England and part of the EU, and there’s nothing particularly Christian in that agenda.  And letting the BDS people run hog-wild during a football match just plain stupid on many levels.

But that’s what happens when you have SJW’s who act before they think.

Note: the Spectator article mentioned the Scottish Catholic Observer.  When I was in the UK forty years ago this summer, I read an article about the appalling treatment beggars got at Westminster Cathedral, something I attempted to make a dent in the following Sunday after Mass.  The paper’s downfall is really sad indeed.

Women Deacons in the Catholic Church? Not the First Time They’ve Thought About It

My mother used to tell her unretentive sons that geese “get up in a new world every morning.”  While I can’t speak to geese, that’s certainly a problem with our press:

Pope Francis has created a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church, following up on a promise made last May in what could be an historic move towards ending the global institution’s practice of an all-male clergy.

The pontiff has appointed an equal number of male and female experts as members of the commission, which will be led by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, a Jesuit who serves as the second-in-command of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.

Seven years ago, I quoted this article:

The question of women deacons has been before the commission for at least 20 years. The original study on women deacons, requested by Pope Paul VI, was suppressed. While that document remains unpublished, an article published in Orientalia Christiana Periodica in 1974 by then-commission member Cipriano Vagaggini concluded that the ordination of women deacons in the early church was sacramental. What the church had done in the past, he suggested, the church may do again. Other scholars, before and after Vagaggini, have reached similar conclusions, but the current document only refers to the debate and strenuously avoids concluding that women ever received the sacrament of holy orders…

The big difference is now that we have a Jesuit Pope.

Pro-Life Democrats: If You Knew the Priorities…

@timothypomalley is lachrymose for his party’s call to repeal the Hyde Amendment:

I had hoped for this. Until this week. Like many pro-life Democrats, I had been dispirited by the inclusion in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform of the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which has previously disallowed federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of incest, rape, or the life of the mother. Here, a seemingly reasonable way of making space for us pro-life Democrats was being closed. Before the convention began, I was considering that it was time to leave the Democratic Party. To find an alternative way of building a politics of human dignity in my local community.

Having grown up at the upper reaches of this society and not the lower ones, I can say with confidence that our elites, under all the gaudy rhetoric, have two basic priorities in life: getting laid and getting high or drunk, which facilitates Priority #1.  Look at what’s been at the top of the agenda: contraception, abortion, the LGBT movement, the transgenders, all of it.  It’s all about sex.  That’s why real economic equality (and the economic development that makes it possible) has taken a back seat.  And it doesn’t hurt that a society where wealth generation is held back tends to concentrate what’s left at the top.

O’Malley and his ilk in the pro-life movement have always spoken of a “culture of death.”  But that’s not what this is really all about.  It’s about a thrill-obsessed culture that’s ready to sacrifice anything, everything, anyone and everyone to kill the pain of its own worthlessness.  The Democrats’ lame attempt to frame the issue on the timing of children was just that, as O’Malley justly points out.

That being the case, it’s only a matter of time before this kind of obsession will take command on both sides of the aisle.   In light of that O’Malley’s closing bears repeating:

I have left the Democratic Party this week. And the last gift this Party has bestowed upon me is a sense that the present political system is so broken, so obsessed with death that the rebuilding of the structures will not occur within the present structures of American political life.

Politics are about stories. And it’s time to tell a new one.

Texas A&M Newman Association 1975-6

I’ve alluded to my years in the Catholic Students Association in pieces like this.  Now you can get a little more flavour of what that was like in the following video.

Thanks so much to Jeanne Geidel-Neal for the music for this video.

As noted elsewhere, the “straight outta Irondale” folks won’t like this, but that’s true of a great deal on this blog.

The “Arabs” of Thomas Aquinas Weren’t Arabs At All

Returning to the site Ite ad Thomam, I saw an advertisement for the “Annual Fall Workshop on Aquinas and the ‘Arabs'” at Marquette University (not, these days, an ideal venue for such a traditional Catholic conference.)  For someone like myself who started the Summa as an undergraduate and finished it as a PhD candidate, it looks to be interesting.

The two main scholars from the Islamic world that Aquinas cites are Avicenna and Averroes.  The first thing the conference needs to establish is that neither of these two worthies are Arab, although they certainly wrote in Arabic.

Avicenna (Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Sīnā) was Persian.  Having spent five years with Persian scholars, I can tell you that they’re a world apart from their Arab counterparts.  I’ll go a step further: if there is an “Islamic Civilisation,” it’s Persian, not Arab.

Averroes (ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd) lived in Moorish Spain.  His family was prominent under the Almoravids, a Muslim dynasty of Berber origin, from North Africa.  Some Berbers at least are very defensive about being called “Arabs.”

As an aside, Averroes’ chief opponent, Al-Ghazali, was also Persian.  About ten years ago I dealt with the difference between Al-Ghazali and Aquinas; it remains an often visited piece on this site.

So perhaps this will be the first order of business of the conference.   Such differences may seem trivial, but if they and others were better understood–especially by those making the decisions these days–our world would be a better place.

When One Steals From A Church, One Sins Twice

Never gave this much thought, but from the “Ite ad Thomam” site:

So stealing from a church is actually two sins, theft and sacrilege? Or is it still one – sacrilegious theft?

Two sins.  And both have to be confessed.  In other words, it’s not enough to say merely “I stole something from a building,” or “I committed sacrilege at the church”; one has to confess having stolen from the church, both theft and sacrilege.  And so with other acts that involve multiple species of sin, as when one does one bad thing for the sake of another.

Something to think about…

Sometimes It Pays to Think

Like in this, from A.B. Bruce’s The humiliation of Christ, about Eutyches, the Monophysite fanatic:

It is plain from those representations that Eutyches had no distinct definite conception of the constitution of our Lord’s person. He felt rather than thought on the subject of Christology. He did not pretend to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation, but rather gloried in proclaiming its incomprehensibleness. He knew that God and flesh were altogether different things, and he believed that Christ s flesh was real; but the divinity bulked so large in his eye, that the humanity, in comparison, vanished into nothing. And if compelled by fact to admit that the humanity was still there, not drunk up like a drop of honey by the sea of the divinity, he refused, at all events, to regard it as on a level with ordinary humanity: reverence protested against calling Christ s divine body consubstantial with the bodies of common mortals.

The result of this was a mess:

It would have been well had the course of events permitted such a man to pass his life in obscurity. But it was otherwise ordered. Eutyches became the representative of a theory which engaged the attention of three Synods ; being condemned by the first, approved by the second,  and re-condemned and finally disposed of as a heresy by the third, the famous (Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon…)

The criticism Bruce levels against Eutyches has also been directed against the Orthodox in general.  Unfortunately Eutyches’ approach has its counterparts in other parts of Christianity.  And, in this emotionalistic age we live in, even the “rational” places are driven by the same kind of lack of thinking.

My “Journey” with Jürgen Moltmann

Diving for stuff in a discard bin isn’t the classiest way to spend one’s time, but for the academic diving in the free book bin at the used book store can be a true adventure. (Diving in the dumpster may be a necessity for the adjunct academic, and the new overtime rules don’t help a bit.) As I have mentioned from time to time, I count seminary academics as friends, and they have introduced me to authors (especially Protestant ones, although Henri Nouwen keeps coming up) I hadn’t read before. So it was an opportunity when one of those authors—the German Jürgen Moltmann—turned up in the bin. I couldn’t resist picking it up and taking a look.

Moltmann is a Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University Tübingen. But he has also spent time on this side of the pond: he was the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He studied, however, at Göttingen University.

Göttingen! The name rings clear with people in mathematics and the sciences. It’s hard to conceive of a greater single explosion of scientific brilliance and advancement than that at Göttingen. The names of those who studied or taught there are legendary: Gauss, Riemann, Hilbert, Dirichlet, Born, Oppenheimer, Planck, von Neumann, Pauli, Dedekind, Courant, Dirac, Fermi, Heisenberg, Prantl, Runge, Teller, Weisbach, and so on. The Nazi purge of the place was the beginning of the suicide of the Third Reich. So how does their theology result compare with this one?

The book I found, Religion, Revolution, and the Future, came from another one of his forays onto this continent. Not a true, cover-to-cover monograph, it is a series of his lectures at various institutions in the late 1960’s. This is not meant to be a comprehensive book review or synopsis of the work, but some observations at his idea and how he shows (or more accurately doesn’t) its implementation.

He makes some pithy observations that bear repeating. His thought about revolutions (and by those we’re primarily looking at the Marxist ones) is that they are more about trying to recreate a past ideal and not to create a future reality. That’s not easy to see; it certainly wasn’t when Moltmann delivered these lectures, although those of us who have spent time in such societies got that feeling. He is also aware that these revolutions, far from bringing the freedom that they promised, often ended up with results no more satisfactory than those in capitalist countries. That’s a major concession that needs to be recalled, especially in these days of people “feeling the Bern.”

If there is one idea that he wants to get across, it’s his “theology of hope,” derived from Ernst Bloch. Now you’d think that eternal life in Jesus Christ would be hope enough. But Moltmann doesn’t find this satisfying; indeed, he finds it escapist and decidedly “retro.” What he wants to do is to focus this hope on the improvement of the world, and thus turn the attention of Christians toward the future and away from just the past. To be fair, he’s not the first Christian thinker or theologian to deflect the centre of attention from the eternal goal; N.T. Wright does much the same thing, albeit in a different (and, IMHO, a better but not ideal) context. Although it’s self-focused for its adherents, you could say that prosperity teaching is another way of channeling Christian emphasis on this world. Moltmann isn’t unique in positing that modern (for him, the book comes before the advent of post-modernity) man cannot be swayed solely by eternal reward, it has been the pre-occupation of Christian leaders for a long time now.
The problem comes with Moltmann’s assumption that the Christian focus on hope and improvement for this world would come with Christians cooperating with other, more secular people to achieve the goal. This is one of the key weaknesses of liberal theology, that Christianity is a universal philosophy only to the extent that it meshes with those systems of thought and being around it. What happens is that, the process of this coöperation, Christianity loses its distinctive advantages and purpose. This has resulted in Main Line churches bleeding membership on both sides of the Atlantic; they become waystations for those headed for some form of secularism. In that respect Roman Catholicism, with its own self-contained universality, is in better position to endure this kind of then than Main Line Protestantism, although it’s perfectly capable of throwing away the advantages it has.

He also, to use the Liberation Theology phrase, wants the church to take the “preferential option for the poor” in its life and work. As I’ve discussed before, the “preferential option for the poor” and “preferential option of the poor” aren’t the same, and Moltmann (along with many in his day and even now) is blindly unaware of that fact. In conjunction with that, his world is totally Main Line; he totally ignores the rise of Modern Pentecost, which specialises in the latter. He wasn’t alone; Harvey Cox had to backtrack and write Fire From Heaven: The Rise Of Pentecostal Spirituality And The Reshaping Of Religion In The 21st Century after The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. Here is a place where Christian social action can be both distinctive and more effective than its secular counterpart.

One place where Moltmann should read his own stuff is the issue of theodicy. On the one hand, he sighs that the terrible wars of the last century have put the issue of theodicy out of reach. That’s been a common sentiment of Europeans who went through these wars; it has been a big push in the decline of Christianity in Europe. In the 1980’s my mother had an English S.O. who became an atheist because of his experience in World War II; the effect was different over here. On the other hand, Moltmann points out that modern man is now the master of his own destiny. Then why did he allow these wars to happen? Why were humans out to lunch on this? This may not answer the theodicy issue to Moltmann’s satisfaction, but it should (usually doesn’t) give humanists pause as to the superiority of their idea.

I think it best to skip a detailed analysis of his theology, which is wanting at many points. Seminary academics are notorious for dense prose of very limited meaning, and Moltmann is certainly up to that task. To be fair, some of his talks are easier to follow than others. One is never sure with such people whether they think they are dealing with objective reality or not, or even whether they fully grasp the difference.

One place where Moltmann’s theology could use some help from the mathematicians is the issue of imminence vs. transcendence, which is a favourite occupation of theologians. Since the days of Dedekind and Cantor (who was inspired by mediaeval theologians) we’ve had reasonable ways of describing the infinite which could be very helpful in this matter. Moltmann is aware of this but is either unable or unwilling to avail himself of this kind of thinking.

Overall, I found going through his talks an education. It made me look at liberal theology in a different way, if not in a more favourable one. As far as Göttingen people are concerned, I’ll stick with the list I gave at the start and leave Moltmann to the liberal seminary academics.

Pope Francis and Two-Way Ignorance

Pope Francis isn’t much of a fan of things American these days, but his visit to this country was a revelation:

Prior to his election Francis had never set foot in the United States, making him the only pope in the last eighty years other than St. John XXIII who had never been to America before taking office…People close to Francis also say his U.S. trip last year helped him to better distinguish between ordinary Americans and “the system.”

But when another world leader discovered something, the evaluation was different:

Latin Americans also tend to have long memories, and many still recall moments such as Ronald Reagan’s famous reaction upon returning from a 1982 trip to the region: “You’d be surprised … they’re all individual countries.” The fact that national differences could strike a U.S. president as a revelation still rings in Latin American ears as proof of our capacity for condescension.

What I think we’re looking at is two-way ignorance.  There’s a lot that people in the U.S. need to learn about Latin America, but the converse is also true, as we see with His Holiness.

The relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the U.S. has always been a complicated one, from stuff like this to this.   And the rise of obsessively sex-driven liberalism will only make it worse.

You Really Can Do Biblical Preaching From a Lectionary

Recently my wife and I ventured to Regent University for me to deliver a paper.  While there we got the chance to view one of the University’s new acquisitions, namely a Torah scroll from Yemen.

torah-regentThe fact that a Christian university could acquire such a donation is a sign of the times: Evangelicals are about the only reliable Gentile group the Jews have for support, in spite of the attempt by BDS types to worm their way into the system.

A New Testament passage that prominently features a synagogue reading (not from the Torah) is this one:

Coming to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, Jesus, as was his custom, went on the Sabbath into the Synagogue, and stood up to read the Scriptures. The book given him was that of the Prophet Isaiah; and Jesus opened the book and found the place where it says– ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, For he has consecrated me to bring Good News to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and restoration of sight to the blind, To set the oppressed at liberty, To proclaim the accepted year of the Lord.’ Then, closing the book and returning it to the attendant, he sat down. The eyes of all in the Synagogue were fixed upon him, And Jesus began: “This very day this passage has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 TCNT)

The curator noted that, when Jesus was asked to read from the scroll, the reading was not of his immediate choosing, but came from a cycle of readings–a lectionary–that the synagogues employed.  He was told what to read, he read it and then interpreted it (not entirely to their liking, I might add…)

Lectionaries are the stock in trade of liturgical churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican/Episcopal churches, Orthodox churches and the like.  But Evangelicals avoid such constraints like the plague.  A good example of this came to me when I was in undergraduate school at Texas A&M.

One of the nice things that ministerial associations promote is pulpit exchanges, where ministers from different churches preach in other places.  For a Catholic church, this can be problematic, but in the 1970’s things were easier.  Our exchange was with a Baptist church; the Baptist pastor and our priest were good friends, shown by their mutually swelling waistlines.  (Gluttony, I might point out, was a sin for the Catholic, but a way of life for the Baptist.)

So the time for the Gospel reading came, and the Baptist preacher got up and, ignoring the fancy three-year lectionary cycle introduced by the Novus Ordo Missae, read from John 15.  His subsequent sermon on “love one another” was different: he observed that “the Aggies love the Aggies and the Catholics love the Catholics, but the Baptists don’t always love the Baptists.” (Subsequent experience would bear that out.)  That alone was probably worth the side trip from the lectionary, but it still was a side trip.

As was the case here, Evangelicals are loath to follow any kind of lectionary or reading pattern for the Scriptures. There are two main arguments against the practice.

First, some will say that it smacks of “formalism,” which is their objection for the liturgical concept.  But there’s no evidence that using a lectionary is a more “formal” way of doing things than doing it ad hoc every Sunday.

Second, Pentecostals and Charismatics will argue that it “blocks the move of the Spirit” if they are forced to preach out a set pattern of the Scriptures.  However, if it was good enough for Our Lord to not only read from a lectionary but to proclaim the fulfilment of prophecy, are we any better?

The major downside of doing it without a lectionary–assuming, of course, the lectionary is comprehensive in its coverage of the Scriptures–is that our ministers tend to develop a very limited repertoire of scriptures and sermons.  And didn’t Our Lord having something to say about repetition?

And, of course, special occasions pretty much demand a lectionary type of choice.  The first funeral I ever helped preach was for a former employee down in Georgia.  We got to the graveside, and the credentialed minister actually asked me what scripture to use.  (The answer can be found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.)

So my advice to Evangelicals and Pentecostals is this: don’t disparage those who follow a lectionary, it just might improve what you are doing.