Renewing Your Faith: The Aftermath

In the last post, I gave a book review of Donald Connolly’s In a Holy Year, Renewing Your Faith: An Anthology of Spiritual Readings.  I promised I’d give some life reflections on this, and this is the fulfilment of that promise.  This book is more than just a book: the anthology compiler was my first parish priest as a Roman Catholic, and had an immense influence on my life going forward from my last year in prep school when I swam the Tiber.

Let’s start with the question I left hanging the last time: why did it take nearly forty years for me to read the book?  By the time I first sat down with Fr. Connolly and discussed the possibility of me becoming Roman Catholic, I had already read Augustine’s City of God, which is ahead of where most prospective converts are.  I had heard of The Imitation of Christ, so I read his other anthology A Voice for the Heart: The Imitation of Christ and An introduction to the Devout Life for all Christians.  But a great deal of devotional literature in general and Catholic literature in particular struck me as what I mother would call “pap.”  I guess I was afraid that I would encounter this here, and I was delving into the source material already.  (I started with Aquinas’ Disputed Questions on Truth my freshman year in college, went on to the Summa the following.)  Had I overcome my prejudices, Connolly’s book would have been nice prep for what I was delving into.

That, in turn, leads to the next question: why did I become Roman Catholic in the first place?  Put in a Thomistic context, the answer is simple.  What I really wanted was a comprehensive worldview which made the objective existence of God credible, and only Thomistic Catholicism provided that.  My years as an Episcopalian demonstrated that “man does not live by Anglican Fudge alone.”  Evangelicals were and are focused on the individual and his or her salvation, but if there’s one thing that was drilled into me from the start, it’s that it’s not all about you.  Moreover both of the latter emphasise the subjective at the expense of the objective, which wasn’t what I was looking for.

I became Catholic in what were, for me, ideal circumstances: a parish backed (literally) by a major seminary, with a seminary academic as a pastor.  Once I got through college–where the more subjective issues were dealt with–parish life was a dead end, Aquinas (or just about any other substantive Catholic thinker) were hard to find, and some kind of exit was inevitable.

Today I’m in the “mother church” of my Pentecostal denomination, and right across the street once again is the major seminary.  But it’s different now.  To start with, Pentecostals look at the reality of God differently.  Their idea is simple: the God who did the great things in the Bible is the same God and does the same great things now.  This is an improvement over the liberal (God never did any of this stuff) or the cessationist (God did it in the past, but he’s not doing it today.)  But it still is more of an individually focused approach as opposed to a universally focused one.

Even with that, for all of the great things there are two factors that have blocked any kind of replication of my first experience as a Roman Catholic.

The first is that Pentecostal academics spend too much time trying to recreate on an academic level the experience they had on a decidedly non-academic one.  Like the liberals, three sheets to the wind, who regaled Elaine Pagels with old Gospel songs, they try to recreate the experience in an alien environment.  They also frequently conflate the spiritual experience with the cultural one.  In the context of the Church of God this means Scots-Irish cultural hegemony, and right at the moment that’s the last thing we need.

The second is that (with exceptions) our ministers and academics alike have a “trade union” mentality, that thinking and speaking/preaching of the deeper things of God is “bargaining unit” work and that the laity (“scabs” in union terminology) don’t have any business delving into this kind of thing on any level.  Sometimes it’s framed as a replication of Roman Catholicism’s view of the priesthood, but that’s too high of a view of what’s going on.

The lesson from all this is simple: when you start out in life, pack well for the journey, you never know when you’re going to end up in the wilderness.  God provisioned me better than I knew, and for that I am thankful.

Renewing Your Faith: The Book Review

Ever wanted to spend time with someone who impacted your life but is now gone? As we see the annual odometer spin ever faster, that desire becomes more common. For Christians, we have the assurance that we will see those people who were likewise committed to Christ once again on the other side. But the time we really need their counsel is on this one.

Some leave a legacy of books, videos or other tangible expressions of self. I’ve commented before that one influential person who died too young was my first parish priest as a Roman Catholic, Donald Connolly. In addition to being a seminary academic (he taught homiletics) he left a few books. One of them was In a Holy Year, Renewing Your Faith: An Anthology of Spiritual Readings. I managed to read his abridgement of The Imitation of Christ in his A Voice for the Heart: The Imitation of Christ and An introduction to the Devout Life for all Christians, but never got to the first one (for reasons I’ll try to explain later.) It’s obviously not a substitute for one-on-one dialogue but the subjects he covers answer some questions and address some contemporary issues that Catholics face.

As explained in the introduction, the book was prepared for the Holy Year of 1974-5 proclaimed by Pope Paul VI. For the uninitiated, that technically means the liturgical year, which started on Advent I (1 December 1974) and ended on the Feast of Christ the King (23 November 1975,) although the Pope himself used the calendar year for the event. It is an anthology of twenty-four Catholic authors and works covering six topics:

  1. God
  2. The Bible
  3. Jesus
  4. Mary
  5. Sin, Angels and the After-Life
  6. Spiritual Helps
  7. The Catholic Apostolate

There was also an appendix on indulgences. Some Trads like to think that the indulgences were officially abolished with Vatican II, but such was not the case: on 29 June 1968 the Vatican issued a Handbook on Indulgences, and the Appendix is an “executive version” of same, complete with one simliar to this.

It is difficult to summarise the wide variety of authors that Connolly used, including Romano Guardini, Bruce Vawter, St. Louis de Montfort, Walter Farrell, and Columba Marmion. It’s worth noting that Connolly included both pre- and post-Vatican II authors. As he expressly states in the introduction:

No one has ever been able to explain the Faith so flawlessly and perfectly that an updating was not occasionally felicitous. Indeed, scholarship today advances so rapidly that one can find his work out of date almost before the manuscript ink is dry. True, many of the selections chosen for this Anthology were published before the world was given the insights of the Second Vatican Council. Yet, there are millions of souls who reached heaven long before the Second Vatican Council was convened…some of them by reading the books selected here.

The selections in this Anthology were deliberately chosen for their orthodoxy, their simplicity, and their ability to communicate. Some of the words used by the authors are now regarded as archaic; as, “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit.” It was decided to leave things as they were originally printed, in the hope that moderns would come to realize that efforts were made in generations past, to propagate the Faith, and that not every work of spiritual value has to be mottled with quotations from one’s one immediate literary environment. It seems ironic that while people still revere Shakespeare, they often regard written classics on the spiritual life as irrelevant if the publication date is more than a year old. Love of God, dedication to Christ, and devoted loyalty to the teaching authority of the Church are not new concepts…

That leads to the first observation: unlike the gap between Lazarus and the rich man, the gap between pre- and post-Vatican II Catholicism is crossable and in fact products of both co-exist quite nicely in this book. That suggests that, even at this early date, a smooth transition between the two was envisioned and thought possible. The fact that the American church botched the transition is more of a reflection on the Americans (and others) than the Council.

The second is the strong underpinning of Thomas Aquinas’ thought in most of the works in the anthology. As long-term readers of this blog know, Thomism has been a major influence in my life, and this book confirms that my interest in the subject was encouraged by Connolly himself. (A good sample of that is here.) I think that Connolly felt that Thomism was the theological glue that would hold things together in the transition. Unfortunately his support base for that was thin. On the left, I had at least one priest who attacked the Aquinan view of things, and I doubt he was alone. On the other, I don’t see the Trads promoting it, preferring to content themselves with sacramentals, ceremonials and (like Mormons and many Evangelicals) a “waist-down” view of life. But there’s no doubt in my mind that, without Aquinas, Catholic theology and thought are doomed. To use a distinction that my Calculus I professor (who was a Catholic ex-seminarian) taught me, it may not be sufficient, but it’s necessary.

Much of the book is helpful to Catholic and non-Catholic like, more than one might think. Obviously the two parts of the book that are least to the taste of the non-Catholic are Mary and purgatory. His treatment of the Blessed Mother–chiefly drawn from St. Louis de Montfort–shows that it’s easy to go overboard on this, especially when she is referred to as co-Redemptrix. (This is impossible because Mary is entirely a created being, even the current Occupant of the Vatican understands that.) As far as purgatory is concerned, the problem with this was suggested from reading Aquinas himself: if disembodied creatures (such as angels and demons) move towards or away from God instantaneously, why should disembodied human souls after death do any differently? It’s worth noting that Connolly didn’t really put these front and centre in his own parish ministry; John Paul II made them (especially Mary) wedge issues to push unauthorised ecumenism out of the Church.

However, for me the least satisfying part of the book is the last one, on the Catholic Apostolate. Like Catholic theology in general, it’s long on how the lay Catholic should internalise the Christian life and short on how he or she should externalise it. Although the length and the scope of the book make a thorough treatment of the “how-to” aspect impossible, for someone who worked in the field of lay ministries this omission is very problematic. (And I might add that Roman Catholicism isn’t unique in its defective vision of the role of the laity.) This part also bares some of the problems with Catholic social teaching, which I discuss here.

As someone who has put out several books as a solo effort, I can sympathize with his struggles with getting things right, especially with the technology of the time and his probable lack of proofreaders. The book suffers from numerous spelling errors and other printing mistakes. Overall, however, it’s a good read, and frankly it’s aged well, even (or especially since) it does not reflect the “either-or” mentality in which our social media-driven world delights. With some cleaning up it would make a decent reprint. The book, unfortunately, doesn’t give any indications of the permissions he got from the various authors and publishers, and in some cases his references are so defective it’s hard to track down the original book from whence some of them came.

In my next post I will discuss the impact that the thought represented in this book had on my life, and how my subsequent ecclesiastical adventures have panned out.

Elevations on the Conception of the Word

These elevations are primarily about the conception of Jesus Christ in Mary, and as such is an exposition of Bossuet’s idea of Mary’s role. But it’s also a theological tour de force: Bossuet turns his elevations on Our Lord’s human beginning into an emotional panegyric of his divine, eternal origin. One of the best examples […]

Elevations on the Conception of the Word

Our Secular Shame-Honour Culture

An interesting observation by Tim Keller:

The second influence impoverishing the modern practice of forgiveness is a rising shame and honour culture that some have called a new secular religion.

According to Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the therapeutic culture has converted us into a collection of “self-actualizers,” whose primary concern is to get respect and affirmation of one’s own identity. But the therapeutic culture also taught us to think of ourselves as individuals needing protection from society and from various groups with power who oppress us. So, ironically, we have developed “a shame and honor culture of victimhood.” Greater honour and moral virtue are assigned to people the more they have been victimized and oppressed by society or others in power. So the further down the existing social ladder one is, the greater the possibilities for honour.

The shame-honour culture par excellence is the Middle East, something I’ve noted from the early days of this blog:

Anyone who has watched The Godfather or its sequels is familiar with the whole concept of shame-honour.  Your honour is the most important thing; if anything come to you to make you look bad in front of the world, you have to avenge it, and avenge it in a way that everyone else gets the message.  Everyone is subject to a shame-honour reaction at one time or another, but there are places on the earth — and the Middle East is one of them — where shame-honour is an obsession, something that drives people to retaliate with a ferocity that we in the U.S. aren’t used to…

The concept of servant leadership is very much in vogue in management circles these days, but it is at its heart a Christian concept.  When servant leadership becomes the norm, the kind of careerism, power holding and challenging, and shame-honour that we see in the Middle East — and here also — have to go.  This is one of the principal reasons why the Middle East embraced Islam after Christianity; Islam makes it simpler to continue in the old ways.  The West’s embrace of Christianity has left a lot to be desired of, but at least enough of servant leadership has sunk in to make institutions beneficial to many people and not just those at the top possible.

Serious question: do we really want to see our culture turn into another Middle East?

The Episcopal Church My Mother Raised Me In Shorted The Scriptures

With Mother’s Day coming up, it’s always nice to write something about your own.  My relationship with mine was complicated.  But this post isn’t as much about her as about the book she cherished: the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  Her relationship with the Episcopal Church was complicated too, as this vignette attests, but she loved the 1928 BCP, all the while not realising that it too had a complicated history.

The topic in question is the Lectionary, and this post is a response to some chatter on Anglican Twitter and specifically a post by the Young High Churchman on the Porcine Blog.  I’ll try to cut to the chase on this (and to inform my readers of various backgrounds) by making the following declarations:

  • I discuss the whole concept of the lectionary here, and how it can be superior to the “system” used in “Bible” churches.
  • The 1662 Book of Common Prayer‘s Lectionary is in effect “reading the Bible through in a year,” if and only if you either attend both Morning and Evening Prayer every day or read the appointed readings yourself.
  • The 1928 BCP had two lectionaries, one with the original book and the other adopted in 1945, which you see in most copies of the 1928 BCP today.  The difference between the two–and in subsequent prayer books–is the topic of this discussion.
  • The 1928 BCP, for all of the reverence given to it by Continuing Churches and others, was promulgated after the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy.  It’s safe to say that most Episcopal ministers in the day (especially those of recent seminary education) fell with the latter.  Some of that can be seen with the social justice prayers, but there are other examples.  The Episcopal Church was a Main Line church in every sense of the word.

Now to the tricky part: it can be shown that the 1945 Lectionary has shorter scripture readings and dodges passages which many Episcopalians thought were in bad taste.  An interesting comparison using the Book of Genesis (might as well take it from the top) can be found here.  As you can see, the further forward in time you go (until the ACNA’s 2019 effort) the thinner the coverage of the Scriptures gets.  The 1945 Lectionary was the one I was raised on, along with thousands of others who were caught in the explosion of the 1960’s.

Let me now comment on some of the Porcine’s observations:

Bayard Hale Jones, one of the architects of the 1945, readily explains it in his book “The American Lectionary.” He claims that it was the increasing prominence of Holy Communion as the only Sunday service that did it, as the Propers are considerably shorter than the Daily Office lessons, and that the laity were “chafing under the tediousness and irrelevancy” of certain passages. What he neglects is that up until the 1940s even advanced Anglo-Catholic parishes would have Mattins every Sunday in addition to Holy Communion, so that the full breadth of Holy Scripture would be encountered.

I think that the “only Communion” movement in the Episcopal world was in its infancy in the 1940’s.  Twenty years later Bethesda had three Sunday morning services: the first was at 8:00 (always Communion,) 9:30 (Communion once a month) and 11:00 (same as 9:30.)  Latta Griswold, Anglo-Catholic though he was, thought Morning Prayer important enough to include instructions on how to do it properly and lamented Evening Prayer’s sparse attendance.  Jones’ observation may be propaganda or reflect one slice of the Episcopal Church in one part of the country.

Perhaps here is where we see the real problems begin to set in with PECUSA, as the laity loses its grasp on the Word of God within a generation, and it can’t provide the bulwark against the liberalism coming out of the seminaries that it once did. Here is also likely where Episcopalians get their reputation for not knowing their bibles.

As mentioned earlier, unless you are faithful to the Daily Office (or at least the appointed readings) you don’t get the benefit of the readings, and for most lay people that kind of fidelity is exceptional.  One argument for the three-year cycle (such as the Catholics use with the Novus Ordo Missae) is that you get a broader slice of the Scriptures through Sunday attendance (and in the case of Catholics Days of Obligation.)  What the 1945 Lectionary shuffle does indicate is the flagging interest in the Scriptures amongst the clergy, which in turn is reflected in a) their sermons (a point Griswold makes) and b) in the case of High Churches, the habit of dragging out other parts of the liturgy at the expense of longer Scripture readings.  The Episcopal clergy in the years leading up to the 1960’s were having “Gregory the Great” moments, which is why they were unprepared to effectively deal with the wolves that emerged in those turbulent times.

The craziest thing is: people are hungry for the Word of God. They always have been, and they always be. Why do you think people hopped from the Mainline to the Evangelical churches in the 60s? It wasn’t because they liked grape juice.

Before we get to the issue of why people went for the grape juice in the 1960’s, it’s worth asking why so many people (like my mother) abandoned the grape juice in the years after World War II.  It was because the Episcopal Church offered a more refined, more acceptable and more socioeconomically successful religion than the one they came out of.  My mother in particular wanted to leave the dogmatism of her family’s Southern/Missionary Baptist heritage.

The lesson for today is simple: the ACNA likewise has experienced an influx of people who have abandoned the grape juice for a more refined, liturgical and–dare I say it–socioeconomically well placed religion than they came from.  Much of the recent push to the left has come from these people, not the combat veterans of the wars with TEC.  If they succeed then the whole point of the ACNA–and the whole Biblical basis of Anglicanism–is up in smoke in this country.  It’s that simple.

It’s true that a more Scriptural lectionary would help the laity to internalize the Word, which is always a good thing.  I know the lectionary affected me.  But it’s just one piece in the puzzle.  The Word needs to be in the liturgy, but ultimately it does not need to be confined therein.

The Episcopal Church Lumbers Toward a Rational Approach About the Property

At least in one case:

After a lengthy process of prayerful discernment, respectful conversation, and engagement with the Presiding Bishop’s Office and the Standing Committee, the leadership of the Diocese of Washington, working together with the leadership of Christ Church Accokeek, has decided to sell the property of Christ Church Accokeek to a new corporate entity that is not in union with the Diocese. We have reached this decision in a spirit of friendship

In the recent past the Episcopal Church has pursued a “take no prisoners” policy on keeping its property, and especially keeping its property out of the hands of other Anglican entities.  But this is the same diocese that looted the Soper Trust; the call of financial necessity has given cooler heads the upper hand, up to and including the Presiding Bishop’s Office, once the most intransigent link in the chain.

But it could have been different all along.  The Church of God, which also owns the property centrally (and has a more consistent history of doing so) has a different view.  I asked the aide to a state Administrative Bishop what he would do if a church wanted to leave and purchase its property.  His response? He would tell them where to send the check.

Evidently the Episcopal Church is starting to see the wisdom of following the example of those “insufferable Holy Rollers across the tracks.”

David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism

Clip source: David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism A Review of ‘That All Shall Be Saved’ October 2, 2019 | Michael McClymond For those not already acquainted with him, David Bentley Hart of the University of Notre Dame is widely regarded as one…

David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism

Jon Bruno Goes to Meet God

An eventful Episcopal life ends:

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, former bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, died suddenly of natural causes at his home in La Quinta, California, on April 23.

Although anyone who was involved in the Episcopal property wars is well aware of his “take no prisoners” approach to this problem, the first notice this blog took of him was in 2014. In 1985, long before those conflicts, he succeeded Ian Mitchell of American Folk Mass fame as Rector of St. Athanasius Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.  At the time the Los Angeles Times noted the following, quoted in this piece:

The Rev. J. Jon Bruno, a former policeman and professional football player, is a large man. Now, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound Episcopal priest has a job to match his size–a job that may require the spirituality of a clergyman, the street smarts of a cop and the rough-and-tumble doggedness of a defensive tackle…

“You know the old saying about ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread?’ Well, I’m no angel. So of course I have some fear and trembling about entering this situation. But I do it prayerfully. I feel compelled to respond to the need.”

No angel indeed, as evidenced by this and this. His litigiousness evidently transcended the world of church property, as evidenced by this comment in 2016:

I’m not going to say anything on this blog about Bishop Bruno that might open either of us to being sued by him. It’s hard to imagine that suing one’s flock is conducive to a pastoral mindset or inspires trust. And the defensiveness of litigation is totally at odds with the cross.

He was dismissed from office, a rare event for a champion of their new idea, which he was.

I’m sure his encounter with God was interesting.

The Problem of the New Right

In the world of conservative thought, the intellectual energy lies with the New Right. The New Right can be found in the society of Washington wonks, Silicon Valley dissidents, New York writers, and all manner of GOP politicos.[1] Many served in the Trump administration at one level or another; all are interested in taking the popular…

The Problem of the New Right

The Nature of Sin

From the Dominican Walter Farrell, as quoted in Donald Connolly’s Renewing Your Faith:

The catechism defines sin as a thought, word, deed or omission against the law of God.” But the word “omission” is a little unfortunate. It has the air of the accidental about it, like forgetting to take medicine or absent-mindedly going out without an umbrella. Actually, sin is impossible without some positive act back along the road from which that sin has come. Sins do not just happen, they are willed; they are not accidents that stain our souls as ink might stain a table-cloth; we must deliberately throw the stain at our souls. For sins are human acts, acts for which a man is responsible, which proceed under his control and to an end which he has freely chosen. Otherwise his acts, no matter how evil they may be in themselves, are not sins. So somewhere behind a sin of omission, either by way of cause, or occasion, or impediment, we must be responsible for the omission: which means that somewhere we must have willed it, whether directly or indirectly.

Yet in another sense, sins are indeed accidents. The commission of sin puts us in the position of the little boy who wants to eat green apples, but does not want the inevitable stomach-ache that goes with eating them. Nevertheless, he eats the apples. The stomach-ache is an accident so far as his will is concerned , certainly his mouth does not water in anticipation of a stomach-ache; yet in another sense he is quite willing to accept the stomach-ache as the price to be paid for eating green apples. No man wants to be a sinner, wants to turn his back upon God , wants to give up all chance for happiness and condemn himself to eternal misery. But if all that is inevitably connected with what is desired here and now, the sinner is willing to pay that price for his sin. We never quite grow up; and there is no more convincing evidence of our constant immaturity than the childish reversal of values involved in sin.

Stepping into the world of sin is like stepping into a dark tropical forest, nurtured to unbelievable growth by a sun of desire which kills healthy plants. The variety of sin rivals the variety of tropical growth, in fact surpasses it; for the variety of sin is limited only by the possibilities of a will whose limit is the infinite. It is of no use to look to that will for a distinction of the various kinds of sin; an examination of the motives of sin, meaning by motives the causes which produce sin, can tell us only that this act was or was not human, that it was or was not sin. From a terrible fear of humiliation, or from a wildly passionate love, can come the same sin of lying or murder; from the one motive of anger can come sins as widely different as blasphemy, theft and murder.

The reason for this is that sin, like every other human act, is a motion to a goal. In the world below man, we can easily determine the nature of a motion by looking either at the goal or at the active power that produced the motion; for the powers beneath man run along a determined track that leads always to the same goal. But the powers of man have no set channel along which they must necessarily flow. So, for the determination of any human act, virtuous or vicious, we must look to the goal towards which it is going, to the object of the act. to the thing desired that first set in motion that activity of a human being. In other words, the specific character of any sin, as the specific character of any virtue, its very essence, is to be judged by the object to which it is directed.

This concept, which is rooted in St. Thomas Aquinas and is certainly evident in Dante, was one that drew me to Roman Catholicism in the first place.  It solved many problems that the Episcopal Church I grew up in either could or would not address.  And it has protected me from the Scylla and Charbdis of both the unreasonable sentence of Reformed theology or the sloppy theodicy of modern Pentecost.