Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

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

A Little Lesson in Subsidarity

One of pot shots that Hillary Clinton and her operatives made at conservative Catholics is that they used terms like “subsidarity” that no one understood. Since they may be right about that, I think an illustration is in order.

Many of you know that I teach Civil Engineering. Six years ago, my department head (who is from Kenya) and his first assistant (who is from the Cameroon) sat me down and asked me to obtain my PhD so I could teach more courses. I agreed and six years later, as W.H Auden said about Tolkien, at the end of the quest, victory.

In the course of the conversation, my department head brought up the subject of why potholes don’t get fixed in Africa the way they do here. (I know we have issues here.) His explanation was this: here, the local authorities (city, county, state) maintain the roads and, since they’re closer to the problem, they have greater incentive to fix it. Back home, decisions are made in the capital, and since they’re far away from the roads, they don’t have a pressing interest, and the potholes remain. That’s probably the best illustration of the concept of subsidarity—which seeks to push decision-making down to the lowest level—that I’ve heard.

Roman Catholicism—especially in its Ultramontane form, which has been the norm since the Restoration—is not the most suitable vehicle to promote the idea of subsidarity. It’s a good theological concept, but the structure of the church works against it.

As far as Hillary Clinton is concerned, truth be told, her problem with subsidarity isn’t that she doesn’t understand it. Her problem is that she doesn’t like it. Her idea—one that has been obvious since Arkansas’ educational “reforms” in the 1980’s—is that power and decision-making be concentrated at the top. People who support subsidarity are political enemies, which is a big reason she wants a “Catholic Spring.”

As far as how two Africans got a Palm Beacher like me to pursue a PhD, it’s another sign that, in engineering, we really do have change we can believe in.

When Catholic Academia Bails on Philosophy, We’re All in Trouble

Which is what some of it, at least, has done:

A similar crisis has shaken the philosophical estate within the church. Before 1970 philosophy enjoyed an enviable prominence in the curriculum of Catholic colleges. This Neo-Scholastic philosophy was certainly structured around the perennial questions—Does God exist? What is virtue?—but it was an odd, manual Thomism in which students never actually read Aquinas. A smug catechetical certitude seemed to lurk behind the paint-by-numbers proofs and the gleeful one-paragraph refutations of modern “adversaries.”

That world has disappeared; its chastened replacement in the Catholic academy bears the stamp of marginality: minimal curricular presence, hyper-specialization, incoherence among the squabbling philosophical factions.

This cultural recession of philosophy has encouraged some Catholics to abandon philosophy as a central component of the church’s discourse. The issue has become especially neuralgic in the dispute over the formation of clergy. But the project of a nonphilosophical Catholicism is fraught with peril.

In some ways, the greatest blessing God bestowed on me in my Christian formation was to dodge education at one of these institutions, which enabled me to take in Aquinas and the like on the side.  Not only did it avoid the problems there, but inculcation in philosophically structured Christianity has helped me to avoid some of the sillier–and more dangerous–trends in Charismatic and Pentecostal thought.

Catholic theology in particular is pretty much toast outside of a philosophical framework.  And that throws away one of the major advantages that Catholicism has.  That’s a pity, the rest of us need the discipline.

The blunt truth is that Evangelical theology is an oxymoron precisely because it rejects any philosophical framework.  The Bible, however, was written in the flow of human history and experience, where we live, and was intended to address that experience directly.  Sooner or later, however, the question of “why?” will come up, and without a philosophical framework that question is unanswerable.

Today Pentecostal and Charismatic theology is at a crossroads because it inherited Evangelical theology’s basic thought structure without its limiting assumptions.  The result is that some in the academy (and elsewhere) are about to take the leap outside of Christianity without knowing it, and we all know where that ends.

There are problems with philosophy too; I tackled that issue some time back here.  Some of the problems we have now could be avoided by jettisoning much of modern philosophy altogether.  But throwing out the baby with the bath water isn’t the answer, for Catholics or anyone else.

“Garbage In Garbage Out” Works for the Soul, Too

From Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, IV, 8:

To correct the abuse and distraction of our wandering and dissipated imagination, it is necessary to fill it with holy images. When our memory fills up, it will only take us to those religious ideas. The water wheel pushed by the flow of a river always goes, but it only matters that water crosses its path. If the waters are pure, it will carry nothing but pure water; but if they are impure, the contrary happens. Thus, if our memory is filled with pure ideas, the turning, so to speak, of our restless imagination will not draw from this well and will only take us to holy thoughts. The wheel of a mill will always turn, but it will grind the grain that is there: if it is barley, we will have ground barley; if it is wheat and pure grain, we will have flour. Let us put in our memory all holy and pure images, and whatever is the agitation of our imagination, it will only return to us, at least generally, in the spirit, as the fine and pure substance of items with which we will be filled.

Let us be filled in Jesus Christ, in his actions, his suffering, his words. To give more than one object to our senses, let us be filled with the holy ideas of Abraham sacrificing his son; of a Jacob pulling from God by a holy battle the blessing he hoped for: from a Joseph leaving His coat in the hands of an immodest person to rescue his chaste body; of a Moses who dared approach the burning bush which the fire does not consume, and take off his shoes out of respect; of an Isaiah, who trembles before God until His lips Were purified; of a Jeremiah, who stutters so humbly before God and dares to announce His word; of the three young men for whom the flame of a burning furnace respects the faith; of a Daniel also saved by faith from the teeth of hungry lions: of a John the Baptist preaching repentance under poverty and the hair shirt; of Saul, who was beaten down by the powerful word of Jesus whom he persecuted; and all the other beautiful images of prophets and apostles. Your memory and imagination, consecrated as a holy temple by these holy images, should not bring you anything that is not worthy of God.

Catholic preachers and authors have long been made fun of the “pure thoughts” business.  But with the images coming across our computer screens these days, I think they have the better part of the argument.  It’s the spiritual version of the “garbage in-garbage out” mantra coding people have used for years.

It’s also interesting that all the images the Bishop of Meaux uses are from the Scriptures, contrary to the #straightouttairondale approach in fashion these days.  He doesn’t even include the Mother of God in the list!

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.