Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith

The revelation of Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith needs to be understood in light of her emphasis on the Passion in Roman Catholic spirituality.

She wrote in 1951 that the Passion was the only aspect of Jesus’ life that she was interested in sharing: "I want to … drink ONLY [her emphasis] from His chalice of pain." And so she did, although by all indications not in a way she had expected.

As everyone who saw The Passion of the Christ will know, the Passion is more heavily emphasised in Roman Catholic spirituality than elsewhere.  That’s one reason why crucifixes appear in Catholic churches.  Earlier this year I featured the end of Bossuet’s Meditations on the Gospel; the last paragraph is as follows:

After this prayer, let us go with Jesus Christ to the sacrifice, and let us advance with Him to the two mountains; that is, to the Mount of Olives, and to that of Calvary. Let us go, I say, to these two mountains, and let us pass from one to the other: from that of the Mount of Olives, which is the one of agony, to that of Calvary, which is that of death; from the Mount of Olives, which is that of combat, to that of Calvary, where, in dying, one triumphs with Jesus Christ; from the Mount of Olives, which is the mountain of resignation, to that of Calvary, which is the mountain of actual sacrifice; and, finally, from the one where we say: Not my will but Thine be done, to the one where we say: Into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke xxii. 42; xxiii. 46); that is, from the one where we prepare ourselves for all things, to the one where we die to everything with Jesus Christ, to Whom be rendered honor and glory, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

This is magnificent, and inspiring in the hands of an optimist like Bossuet.  The Passion is very important for taking away our sins, but by itself it only ends in death.  It is only validated by Jesus’ Resurrection, when he triumphs over death.

I think that Mother Teresa’s narrow focus on the Passion certainly steeled her for her work in Calcutta, but for her personally it was a disaster, and one that her Lord had already advanced beyond.

There are, of course, opposite tendencies.  One is an equal neglect of the Passion and a boresightedness on the Resurrection, where Christian life is an endless victory here and hereafter.  But we must remember the following:

It is true that we have our full share of the sufferings of the Christ, but through the Christ we have also our full share of consolation. If we meet with trouble, it is for the sake of your consolation and salvation; and, if we find consolation, it is for the sake of the consolation that you will experience when you are called to endure the very sufferings that we ourselves are enduring; And our hope for you remains unshaken. We know that, as you are sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolation. (2 Corinthians 1:5-7)

Then, of course, we have ninnies like Christopher Hitchens:

In 1948, Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up, although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance," he says. "They thought, ‘Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I’m not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.’ They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired." That, he says, was Teresa.

Atheists like Hitchens are ill advised to disparage their scientific socialist predecessors.  They, too, will end up in the same boat.

The Latin Mass and the Nature of Worship

Pope Benedict XVI has certainly been "on a roll" lately with his pronouncements.

For one thing, he reminded everyone that it is the considered opinion of the Roman Catholic Church that many–if not most–non-Catholic Christian churches cannot be properly called a church.  This kind of thing is not new; I dealt with this a long time ago in the piece We May Not Be a Church After All.  Protestant churches just need to deal with this, both as they relate to the Roman Catholic Church and to prevent a repeat of its mistakes in their own organisations.

But a more visible change coming from the current Pontiff is encapsulated in his pronouncement Summorum Pontificum, which makes it easier for parishes to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass.  Many non-Catholics are mystified by this move, so perhaps we can explore these issues in a more informed way than we see in some places.

First, some history: the ritual (or more properly the liturgy) of the Mass that the Pope is opening up is the so-called "Tridentine" Mass, which was formalised at the Council of Trent.  From then until 1970 this Mass was the rite by which it was celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church. Until the Second Vatican Council it was necessary to celebrate this Mass in Latin; after that time it could be celebrated in the vernacular.

In 1970 the Tridentine Mass was replaced with the Novus Ordo Missae, the "new order" of the Mass.  This Mass was made obligatory; it was not permitted to celebrate the Tridentine after that.  (I recreate how that actually impacted Catholics and others in my book The Ten Weeks; a more technical treatment of the whole transition can be found here.)  Since that time–and especially under John Paul II and Benedict XVI–there has been a loosening of the restrictions on celebrating the Tridentine Mass, and the current pronouncement is yet another step in this process.

But, you ask, why would anyone–other than Latin students–want to celebrate the Mass in Latin?  It’s hard for anyone who has not been a part of Roman Catholicism to understand the appeal of this church to start with.  But the whole Latin Mass business is tied up in a larger issue: whether our corporate worship is primarily for the purpose of affirming us as a Christian community or for directing worshipers toward God.  The tug of war between the two has been going on for a long time, and the revival of the Latin Mass is yet another movement of the rope.

Although Pentecostals and Charismatics make a big deal of the times when the Israelites worshiped corporately (thus the endless repetition of 2 Chr 7:14,) the truth is that most of the worship surrounding the temple in Jerusalem was sacrificial in nature, thus very "vertical" in nature.  (It was also largely liturgical in nature, contrary to popular opinion.)  It was done to rectify man’s relationship with God.  On the other hand, by the time Our Lord walked on the earth, between trips to the Temple Jews worshiped in synagogues, which had more of a "horizontal" component, i.e., an act of the community in addition to turning focus towards God.

The New Testament church carried over many habits from the synagogue, even with that "sacred pledge" (to use Bossuet’s expressive phrase) of the Eucharist, which was a community meal.  (The results of that practice were uninspiring, which led to its abandonment.)  However, as time passed, and the role of the Church assumed more parallels with Temple Judaism, the worship moved to a more "vertical" mode, a trend encouraged both by having the Eucharist as the normal setting for Christian worship and celebrating it in a language many worshipers didn’t understand.

One major result of the Reformation was an abrupt reversal of this trend.  How abrupt the jolt was depends on the church; it ranged from a relatively mild change of course (Anglicanism) to a complete redefinition of the church (Anabaptism.)  In Roman Catholicism itself, the "vertical" model of worship was enshrined for centuries, until the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s.  Part of the rationale of these reforms was to put a more "horizontal" (community) emphasis on the Mass, which would complement a fuller role of the laity in the church.  In addition to changing language and liturgy, the priest was now to stand behind the altar and face the people, rather than having his back to the altar and facing God.  This one change does more to symbolise the intent of the reforms than even the language change.

The result of this has been that, for the last forty years, we have had a more "horizontal/community" emphasis in the celebration of the Mass.  Unfortunately, in the hands of people who have more faith in faith than in God, the results of this can be pretty sappy.  We are now seeing another reversal of trend with people who want their worship to be more God-directed.  This can be seen in much of the "praise and worship" movement, although how successful this really is is a matter of debate.  In Roman Catholicism, this manifests itself in part with a desire for the "Tridentine" Mass, and it is to these people that the current Pope is appealing to.

There are many things about the Roman Catholic Church that I find unacceptable, the concept of the Mass as a sacrifice being one and their view of the role of the church being another.  But the idea that our worship of God be more directed towards him and not towards each other is appealing.  If we would actually implement this on a meaningful basis, and direct our attention upward, then our life with those around us would be greater reflection of the ideal that Jesus Christ has set before us.

To Unite Oneself with Jesus Christ (A Holy Week Reflection)

…I pray that all those whom I have tried to help…may rise beyond it. I shall not say only beyond my thoughts, which are nothing, but beyond all that may be presented to them by the ministry of man. And in listening only to what God tells them in their hearts concerning this prayer, I trust that they will unite themselves to it with faith. For that is truly what is called praying to Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ; that we unite ourselves in spirit with Jesus Christ praying, and unite ourselves, as much as we can, to the entire effect of this prayer. The effect of this prayer is that, being united to Jesus Christ God and Man and through Him to God His Father, we unite ourselves in Them with all the faithful, and with all men, to be as much as it is in us to be, but one soul and one heart.

In order to accomplish this work of unity, we must no longer see ourselves except in Jesus Christ, and we must believe that there may not fall upon us the least light of faith, the smallest spark of the love of God, that is not drawn from the immense love that the eternal Father has for His Son. This very Son, our Saviour, being in us, the love with which the Father loves Him, extends also over us by an effusion of His kindness: For it is toward this union that the entire prayer of Jesus Christ bursts forth.

It is in this spirit that we can and must end all our prayers, with the Church, Through Our Lord Jesus Christ. For, not being obliged to ask God for the effects of His love, we really ask for them through Jesus Christ, if we believe with a firm and lively faith that God loves us through an effusion of the love which He has for His Son. This is the entire foundation of piety and of Christian confidence. I say that it is the foundation for believing that the immense love that the eternal Father has for His Son as God, makes Him love the Soul, the saintly Soul, which is so narrowly and substantially united to Him, as well as the sacred and blessed Body which it animates; that is to say, His entire humanity. And the love which He has for this Person, Who is Jesus Christ God and Man, shows that He also loves all the members who live in Him and of His vivifying Spirit.

Let us believe then, that Jesus Christ is loved through a gratuitous and engaging love as we are also loved. As Saint Augustine says: The same grace which has made Jesus Christ our Head., has made us all His members.

We are made Christians through a continuation of the same grace, which has made the Christ. Every time that we say: Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we must say it every time that we pray, whether in fact or intention, there being no other name through which our prayers may be heard (Act. iv. 12), every time then that we say it, we must believe and know that we are saved through grace, only through Jesus Christ and through His merits: not that we are without merit, but because our merits are His gifts, and the grace of Jesus Christ is the great prize, because it is the merit of a God, and, consequently, infinite.

It is thus that we must pray through Jesus Christ Our Lord, and the Church, which does so constantly, unites Herself through that, to the entire effect of the divine prayer which we have just listened to. If the Church celebrates the grace and glory of the holy apostles, who are the shepherds of the flock, She recognizes the effect of the prayer that Jesus Christ has said particularly for them. But the saints, who are profound in glory, have not been less understood in the sight and in the intention of Jesus Christ, even though He did not mention them by name. Who can doubt that He saw all those that His Father had given Him throughout the centuries, and for whom He was going to be immolated with a particular love?

Let us enter, therefore, with Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ, into the construction of the entire body of the Church, and rendering thanks with Her through Jesus Christ, for all those who are complete, let us ask for the completion of the entire body of Jesus Christ, and all the society of the saints. Let us ask, at the same time, with confidence, that we may find ourselves placed in the ranks of the blessed, never doubting that this grace will be extended to us, if we persevere in asking for it through mercy and grace; that is, through the merit of the blood which has been shed for us, and of which we have the sacred pledge in the Eucharist.

After this prayer, let us go with Jesus Christ to the sacrifice, and let us advance with Him to the two mountains; that is, to the Mount of Olives, and to that of Calvary. Let us go, I say, to these two mountains, and let us pass from one to the other: from that of the Mount of Olives, which is the one of agony, to that of Calvary, which is that of death; from the Mount of Olives, which is that of combat, to that of Calvary, where, in dying, one triumphs with Jesus Christ; from the Mount of Olives, which is the mountain of resignation, to that of Calvary, which is the mountain of actual sacrifice; and, finally, from the one where we say: Not my will but Thine be done, to the one where we say: Into Thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke xxii. 42; xxiii. 46); that is, from the one where we prepare ourselves for all things, to the one where we die to everything with Jesus Christ, to Whom be rendered honor and glory, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

Conclusion to Meditations on the Gospel by Jaques Benigne Bossuet

Anglo-Catholicism and the Role of the Church

As the orthodox Anglican alternatives to the TEC grow in strength, it has become pretty clear that the #1 division–in addition to the proliferation of purple shirts–that looms is the Anglo/Catholic vs. Evangelical divide.  A little history needs to be told to put this in perspective.

When Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, the control of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales passed from the Pope to the Crown.  As long as Henry VIII was alive, that was the biggest change (other than the dissolution of the monasteries) that took place.  It was under Edward VI that the move towards a more "Protestant" church began and, following the last attempt to reverse the Act under Mary, was completed by Elizabeth I.  (There’s that female headship again!)

As we documented in Taming the Rowdies, the question for the next century and a half was just how Protestant the church would be.  After the unpleasant adventure that was Oliver Cromwell, the country decided that it had had enough of such questions and the Church of England slept through most of the eighteenth century, shaken only by Wesley and his friends who were taking Protestant Christianity away from its Augustinian obsession and into a new era of revival.

The nineteenth century saw things go in two different directions.

The first was towards Evangelicalism, with laymen such as Wilberforce and prelates such as J.C. Ryle.  Under these the Church of England was seen as a church with an outreach to lost souls, along with social action such as the abolition of slavery.  In many ways the Global South provinces were born in this movement, which explains why many of them tend towards the "Protestant" side of Anglicanism.

The second was the Oxford Movement, with men such as Newman and Manning.  The appeal of this was a combination of aesthetic (a strong component in the TEC’s growth after World War II and its ability to hold on as well as it has) and a desire for unity.  One of the great weaknesses of Anglicanism is that its status as a creature of the English monarchy has pretty much restricted it to the Anglophone world, which has limited it culturally and spiritually.  Reaching across the English Channel broadens this, but most of its leaders were forced to "swim the Tiber" as many Anglo-Catholics have since.

Both of these streams have flowed into the Anglican/Episcopal river ever since.  Liberalism is a rude interruption in this "discussion" (a favourite liberal term) but without the liberals resolving this question becomes more earnest.

The strongest argument for Anglo-Catholicism is that the objective is to repair the breach caused by the Act of Supremacy and contribute towards the reuniting of the church.  But we need to answer one crucial question: what kind of church are we moving towards?

Anglo-Catholics will point out that they are simply moving from one liturgical church to another.  They will also point out that many distinctively "Catholic" practices such as devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and of course the transubstantiated Eucharist (the "sacred pledge," as Bossuet put it) have long roots in Christian practice.  What they will not point out is that Roman Catholicism’s concept of the church changes the entire nature of Christianity.

As we saw in We May Not Be a Church After All, Roman Catholicism makes two key claims.  The first is that it is the true church.  The second is that it, as the church, it is a formal intermediary between man and God.  To go to heaven, therefore, one must not only have a relationship with the Saviour, but with the only church he allegedly founded.  Although Roman Catholic teaching allows for ignorance to factor into whether a person outside of the Catholic church is barred from eternal life, basically the church teaches that, if a person has any reason to believe that the Roman Catholic church is the true church, it will cost them their eternity if they do not join it.

This has several important implications that need to be understood.

The first is that the church can basically decide who enters into eternal life and who doesn’t.  Fortunately the Catholic church has a great deal of canon law which restricts the ability of its priests and bishops to excercise that authority, but the basic power remains.

The second is that, just as the church can define the eternal destiny of its adherents, it can also redefine the means by which they get there.  Anglo-Catholics point with pride with the conservative direction the Vatican has taken since 1978, but, like the Cold War, it could have gone another way.  (Another example of Boomer triumphalism that needs to be muted!)

The third is that the strength of the Roman Catholic liturgy depends upon the strength of the church, and not the other way around.  In Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox settings, the "smells and bells" and correct performance of the liturgy are central to projecting the strength of the church, which is why changes in same are a real disaster.  Roman Catholic Mass can be a very breezy, informal (and rushed) production, complete with rotten music, but the "sacred mystery" is the same as it would be at the Vatican because the church said it was so.

We find it hard to believe that most Anglo-Catholics would seriously consider union with Rome under these conditions.  It would have certainly sidetracked my own "swim of the Tiber" many years ago if I had fully grasped it, but then again Catholicism under Paul VI was a "wild West" kind of affair; that has certainly changed in the intervening years.

So this is something that Anglo-Catholics needs to consider.  It is a topic we have reviewed before.  But the Evangelicals have issues of their own, and we will discuss these in a future post.

The Army of Joshua

We have a friend at church who always goes about wearing a shirt–golf, button-down, you name it–silk-screened with the Ten Commandments on the back. (We really think he needs to embroider his better shirts.) He isn’t a marginal type of fellow, really; he is a successful businessman and his family is very prominent and successful in our church. But his idea is that, until America “comes back to God,” he will wear the Ten Commandments. (He’s also trying to sell the shirts as well.)

One of the things that liberals used to teach in schools is to think rationally. Part of rational thinking is in defining terms properly. What do we mean when we post the Ten Commandments in public places, let alone on the backs of our shirts? What is our real objective? How we respond to such things depends on the real answer to such questions.

We have our own idea as to why it’s good to post the Ten Commandments. For everybody else, the answer depends on how you look at it.

For the Freemason, the Ten Commandments, like any other religious artifact, is strictly symbolic of some higher truth. That’s one reason why our country has taken such a casual attitude towards the display of religious items in a secular state. Many in leadership in the U.S. have traditionally been Masons, and in the Lodge the Bible, along with the Qu’ran or whatever other holy book or artifact they might like to put there, are pure symbols of the “religion beyond religions” that Masonry claims (and then obscures its claim) they have, a religion which in itself may be purely symbolic. So setting up the Ten Commandments on public property isn’t a big deal.

For the liberal, the Ten Commandments represent a patriarchic, homophobic and theistic way that they are trying to rid the country of. Moreover like the Islamicist, liberals see setting up such things as a power challenge to them, to be eradicated at the earliest possible opportunity. One evening I expressed a similar opinion to a Christian, a Ten Commandments activist, and his reply was, “It’s (control) the issue for them.” But it’s ultimately the control issue for everybody, at least in a secular sense.

For the Christian, things have been a little more fuzzy.

Most Christians say that they want to see the U.S. come back to God, but most are not adept enough (a good Masonic term) at politics to understand the road one must take to get at that conclusion. They feel that things have been better for Christians in the past, that the society in general more perfectly reflected their values, and they long for a return to such a state. At one time Christians were content with the force of shared values in a country without an established church, but the growth of government and the agressive attack of the liberals have dislodged a great deal of that content, and we have seen a decidedly theonomic bent in Christian thinking coming to the surface in this decade.

So what does the Bible say about this? Last year we wrote a piece entitled If You’re Going to Take the Land Take It, where we contrasted the decidedly mild idea of “taking the land” current amongst Christians and modern Israelis with the brutal, complete destruction of the enemy that that ancient Israelis were commanded to do and that modern jihadis are attempting today. Although the Ten Commandments are an important document for our conduct–if nothing else, even Karl Marx admits that capitalism started with “Thou shalt not steal”–the fact is that the Commandments are simply the cornerstone of the entire Jewish law enumerated in the rest of Exodus, continued in Leviticus, completed in Numbers, and reiterated in Deuteronomy. Once this law giving was complete, the command was given to take the land, and that conquest was a military one.

This leads us to but one conclusion: if you want to impose the law of Moses, you’ll need the army of Joshua, and that army isn’t a spiritual one either.

Liberals will immediately jump on this and say that Christians are a threat to the state. (Caught in Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma, their response may not be as definite as their rhetoric.) But before we let liberals jump off the cliff on this one (maybe we should let them jump off the cliff!) we need to make two statements on why a violent solution to this problem is unacceptable.

The first is that our Founder, Jesus Christ, made it unacceptable to take this course of action. This is what separates Christianity from Islam and, in reality, Judaism as well. Jesus Christ came to change the human heart at a time when Judaism was looking for a political solution to their problem. This is why most Christians’ thinking is “fuzzy” on this issue. Christianity–and evangelical Christianity in particular–has not gone far enough down the road of becoming a form of Monarchic Judaism to shake the memory of a Founder who forstalled his disciples’ questions about the re-establishment of the Jewish state and ultimately allowed himself to be nailed to a cross by the collusion of the secular and religious authorities of the day. Perhaps, in this regard, the thinking of American Christians is more Biblical than some of its leadership.

The second is that revolutions in the modern world inevitably start out to free people and end up enslaving them. The dreary succession of Marxist revolutions tops the list, but in every case revolutions turn tyrannical because their tightly organised vanguards become dictactorial. This is a central fact that the milita movement never got a hold of; it is why we cannot support it.

So where does this leave us? It depends which side of the issue you’re on.

Liberals need to realise that they’re dependent upon Christians and other conservatives to keep them out of the clutches of the jihadis. Liberals have a great deal more to lose than Christians with the triumph of radial Islam. As we noted before, people won’t die for the right to party, and that’s just about all that liberalism has to die for. Demoralising large portions of the population can also lead to the same result that the Roman Empire experienced when Islam made its early meteoric rise, i.e., the sour mood of the people as a result of the endless demands of Late Roman bureaucracy led to the welcoming of the Muslim conquerors. And the first ones were, in many ways, more enlightened than the group we’ve got today. (Roman Britain went through the same kind of “throw the bums out” mood, ultimately with disastrous results.)

Christians, more than anything else, need to grasp the simple fact that their exaltation of the state as an instrument of righteousness (which the New Testament doesn’t really support) only throws the focus of the church into an arena it was not created to operate in. Moreover doing this only legitimises the coercive activity of the state, which plays straight into the hands of liberals. Christians need to understand that, while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the number one objective of the church is to make disciples. Any political activity needs to be geared to preserving the freedom of the church to do just that. Recent events have shown that the church’s mission has social value; if Christian people are properly oriented to live as Jesus Christ intends for them to, both the social and eternal missions of the church will be fulfilled and the world will know that God has sent us.

And, as Bossuet used to say, if the world knows that God has sent us, the world will be converted, which is the liberals’ worst nightmare.

We have reached the point where both sides have some hard choices to make. To be frank, knowing that triumphalistic Boomers dominate the leadership of both sides in the U.S., I am not optimistic that there will be a happy result for either side. But since this is a Christian blog, my message to my fellow believers is clear: Christians are going to have to decide that they are either real Christians or just latter day members of the tribe of Judah with an inside track to eternity. If they choose the latter, it would be a tragedy, because they will figure out sooner or later that the only road to theonomy is trod by the army of Joshua.