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.

Those Dangerous Latin Masses

You’d think that there is a better use of time, but…

What’s happened to the next generation, you ask? Well, to Fr. Reese’s sorrow, they’re off attending the Traditional Latin Mass, just as if Vatican II never happened. Or if not all of them, enough to cause Fr. Reese to beg the Vatican: do something! “The church needs to be clear that it wants the unreformed liturgy to disappear and will only allow it out of pastoral kindness to older people who do not understand the need for change,” he writes. “Children and young people should not be allowed to attend such Masses.”

It’s worth noting that one of the restrictions the Chinese Communist Party puts on Christian churches is that children and young people is prohibit them from going to church.

I think it’s sad that supposedly “tolerant” and “liberal” people think this way, but as we all know it’s common.  This is especially true in Roman Catholicism where no one gets to vote for their pastor, or bishop, or much of anything past Susan of the Parish Council.  So there’s no danger that these terrified people will take over the church and cast the Novus Ordo Missae into the Outer Void.

A large part of the problem here–as is the case with most things in American Catholicism–is the parish system.  Catholic parishes are in theory like public schools, with zones and enforced non-competition between them.  Occasionally a Byzantine Rite or Anglican Ordinariate parish (like a magnet school) will emerge, but they’re outliers in the general scheme of things.  Although some of this goes back to the way the Church in this country was organised, much of it comes from the same wellspring of the public schools: the desire for uniformity and non-competition amongst parishes, which makes it easier for those who lord over them to manage things.  The result is mediocrity, and the Church has the parishioner bleed to show it.

Roman Catholicism is large enough to handle the diversity that would result from some parishes being TLM.  (The Charismatic Renewal wouldn’t have needed covenant communities if this option had been available.)  But real diversity, in the Church and elsewhere, is hard to find these days.

The Catholic Church and the Dung Beetles

One of my Twitter followers referred me to this series of posts (Part I, Part II and Part III, and now he’s added a piece about the Trads) by one Larry Chapp, one time seminarian and academic.  (He uses the dung beetle analogy in the first post.)  A thorough response would be as long as his original series.  (I’ve addressed the issue of the Trads elsewhere.) The podcast video brought out many points that were hard to find in the long narrative, but it too takes a while to digest.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Roman Catholicism on this site, for two reasons,  The first is that its place in Christianity is important whether you think that place is deserved or not.  The second is that my years as a Roman Catholic were the central drama in my walk with God on this earth; here is where it all was transformed.

Chapp’s opening narrative about the bishops brings back to mind something that happened to me while an undergraduate at Texas A&M.  After my second year, I left dorm life behind for good and moved into a trailer with a friend of mine from “Newman/Answer” circles.  Early on we got into a discussion about the Church and its leadership.  Growing up Episcopalian acclimated me to less than stellar clergy leadership.  But he would have none of it, and basically forced me to read this from Ezekiel:

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-10 KJV)

That was in 1975.

Chapp clears up a major reason for this problem: the episcopal appointments under Paul VI left a lot to be desired of.  Those appointments, and the whole leftward drift of the American church after Vatican II, left the church vulnerable to sub-Christian influences, a situation that I’ve discussed elsewhere.

My friend’s and my subsequent course as Roman Catholics was an exercise in navigating this swamp while at the same time maintaining a high level of Christian life that we knew God expected of us.  In the short run it wasn’t a problem, but after we left College Station things got interesting–too interesting.

We tried very hard to stay in the Church, I think he more than me.  But it wasn’t easy.  In his case he ended up in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, one ultimately split by a Marian devotion controversy.  He even married a Roman Catholic in a Catholic ceremony (the last time I was a lector.)  But in the end he gave up and left.

Neither my first parish nor my years at A&M really prepared me for the miserable state of American Catholic parish life.  I tried and rejected the covenant community.  I moved to Tennessee and got involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group, which also split over the Marian devotion issue.  The church didn’t like Charismatics and ultimately wore down the group, not only for doctrinal issues but because it wasn’t really respectable in this community, and the Catholic Church around here craved respectability.  So I ended up leaving as well.  That wasn’t my original plan–and it wasn’t my friend’s either–but I really feel that the Church didn’t leave us with much choice, its ostensible representations notwithstanding.

The fact that we were both involved in the Charismatic Renewal was part of the problem.  With the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978 a house cleaning was initiated.  Unfortunately that included much of the Charismatic Renewal, which was ecumenical in nature.  Covenant prayer groups and communities ended up either getting offers they couldn’t refuse, going “underground” or going away.  (I still am not sure how the People of Praise managed to dodge the bullet, but they did.)

This illustrates something else that Chapp brings up: the tone deafness of the current Occupant of the See of St. Peter about the needs of the American church.  To some extent all of the Occupants have this problem.  I’m sure that the ecumenical, free-form Charismatics here got under John Paul II’s skin (I have reason to believe they did in Poland, too.)  But during the Anglican Revolt days of the late 1990’s and 2000’s, the Charismatics furnished some of the heft the “reasserters” needed in that effort (although the Reformed and Anglo-Catholic types are loathe to admit it.)  Their Catholic counterparts would have been very helpful in the current struggle.

But now we are back to the future: the American Catholic church, with the help of the Vatican, is drifting back into a classic “go along to get along” stance with our culture.  As Chapp notes, they don’t really believe much of what they supposedly teach.  And that’s a sad commentary.  But there’s more to it than that.

Chapp brings up something that you don’t hear much about: ultramontanism.  Ever since the Restoration in France, the Church has been an ultramontane institution, i.e., one governed by the fiat of Rome.  In one sense that should improve the accountability of the lower ranks, but their lack of accountability to their flocks (a ditching of a hallmark of Vatican II) only makes them “little Caesars” in their parishes and (especially) dioceses, with cover from above.  They can build their own empires and cushion their own positions with impunity, if they can survive storms such as the molestation scandals.

Sooner or later, however, the leadership of the Church will experience this prophetic passage of Bossuet, given about a century before the French Revolution:

Let us listen to our law in the person of Jesus Christ, as long as we are priests of the Lord. If it was said to Levi, on account of his sacred ministry: You are my holy man, to whom I have given perfection and doctrine; and for that, he must say to his father and to his mother: I do not know you; and to his brethren: I do not know who you are, and he has no children but those of God. If it is thus, I say, about the law of Levi and the Mosaic priesthood, how pure, how detached from flesh and blood must be the Christian priesthood, with Jesus Christ as author and Melchizedek as model? No, we must know of no other task, no other function, nor have any other interest than that of God, teaching his law and his judgments, and continually offering him perfumes to appease him. If we keep this law of our holy ministry, one would not see the invasion of the rights and authority of the priesthood, which are those of Jesus Christ. God would become our avenger, and the prayer of Moses would have its effect: Lord, help your ministers, uphold their strength, protect the work of their hands; hit the fleeing backs of their enemies, and those who hate them may never rise again. But because, more carnal than the children of the age, we only think of making ourselves fat, of living at our ease, of making successors for ourselves, of establishing a name and a house, then everyone sets upon us, and the honor of the priesthood is trampled underfoot. (Elevations on the Mysteries, XIII, 6)

Things Going Your Way? A Holy Week Reflection

Many of you know that I used to work for the Church of God Department of Lay Ministries.  One of my colleagues, who did most of the graphic design work, was a good friend in addition to being a coworker.  Sometimes he’d greet me with the phrase, “Things going your way?”

It’s an easy way to say “how are you” because you just assume that, if things are going your way, they’re good.  But the more I think about it the more I realise that there’s something missing here.  The assumption that, if things are going your way they’re going the way they should, needs some review.  I was raised in an environment where I was told that it really didn’t matter whether things went your way or not; you just dealt with what was thrown at you.  Finding out that much of the world doesn’t see it that way–especially Christians–has been a life long struggle.

No where is this more evident than full gospel Christianity, with prosperity teaching following.  The idea is very current that, if you’re in God’s will, things will be going your way.  If they’re not, something is wrong with you.  Many people who experience adversity decide that it isn’t them, and that’s the unrolling theodicy disaster we’re seeing now.  The practical application of this is that people–Christians and others–are conditioned to go to pieces when things don’t go their way.  We’ve seen this play out in the past year with the COVID pandemic, but it antedates that.  This kind of attitude makes life in the U.S. very difficult to endure.

Such an attitude is profoundly unBiblical, and the whole story of the Passion and what follows shows this.  From Palm Sunday things go downhill for Our Lord.  First Judas sneaks off, first to make the deal with the Jewish leadership and then to make good on that deal.  The other disciples are erratic at best; they can’t stay awake when Our Lord needs them the most and bail on him when the going gets tough.  He endures gruesome torture and ultimately death by crucifixion, taunted by things like this: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the ‘King of Israel’! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He has trusted in God; if God wants him, let him deliver him now; for he said ‘I am God’s Son.'” (Matthew 27:42-43 TCNT)

But then things change: he rises from the dead, turns disciples into apostles by commissioning them to take the good news to the world, ascends into heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit to start the church.  (The church, sadly, has tried to do the job without the Paraclete, and has the results to show it.)

The lesson of this is simple: just because things aren’t going your way just now doesn’t mean that they aren’t going God’s way.  Our first objective in our walk with God is to follow him, not to expect him to follow us.  When we do that we can find the happiness he has for us, both here and on the other side.

The Tough Lesson of Augustine’s “Dear Marcellinus”

At the beginning of Augustine’s City of God we have this opening:

My dear Marcellinus: This work which I have begun makes good my promise to you.  In it I am undertaking nothing less than the task of defending the glorious City of God against those who prefer their own gods to its Founder.

Flavius Marcellinus was a high official of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius.  In 410–the year Alaric sacked Rome–he was given orders to suppress the Donatist churches in North Africa, which he proceeded to do.  But the Donatists resorted to the old Late Roman trick of laying a charge of treason against Marcellinus and his brother, accusing them of supporting a separate rebellion.  The Roman general Marinus, who had just put down the rebellion, put them on trial, secured a conviction, and had them executed just two short years after Augustine began the City of God.  Honorius exonerated Marcellinus the following year, but by that time it was too late.

Jean-Paul Laurens’ portrait of the Roman Emperor Honorius

When it came to “what happens when careerism goes south,” Rome was never a walk in the park, but after Marcus Aurelius things really got bad.  Careers of the great and incompetent alike ended in execution; Honorius, the weakest emperor at the most critical time, had his capable general Stilicho executed a few years earlier because he saw him as a rival.  The informant system–with information true and false–was destructive or deadly for many Romans, carried out by such masters of the art as Paul the Chain.  The river of blood continued after Rome fell apart, with Boethius writing his classic The Consolation of Philosophy while waiting execution, which came, after his fall.  Gregory of Tours’ account of Gaul beginning its transition to France was likewise a river of blood of those who ended up on the wrong side of ruthless power-holders such as Fredegund.

Christians tend to consider the fall of Rome as a result of a decline in their sexual morality, but there’s no evidence that Rome’s sexual morals were worse in the late period than the earlier one.  What was worse was what the French historian Ferdinand Lot referred to as the “corruption of the public spirit,” the decline of civic life and the communal idea that goes with it.  The Roman system was patronage driven from top to bottom, but when it was working properly it meant that those who aspired created a clientele which benefited from them while they moved up.  When the system broke down it was replace by an autocratic system where money and resources were forcibly pushed to the top to be dispensed to a bureaucracy which kept the power holders in place.  This led to the onerous taxation system of which Lactantius was the most famous chronicler.  Lactantius also noted that those who lived off of the tax system were more numerous than those who paid the taxes, and although that may have been an exaggeration there was definitely a retreat of the productive portion of the society, which in the end led to the system’s bankruptcy.

Christianity was unprepared for its legalization under Constantine, but its response to the deteriorating situation–and the corrupt morals of the political system–was to call at least some of its flock to a higher, if withdrawn, calling.  How this played out depended upon the end of the Empire in question.  In the East it led both to the growth of monasticism (withdrawal from the evils of the world) and to the Caesero-papism that complicated the doctrinal disputes that raged in the fourth and fifth centuries.  In the West monasticism took longer to get started but when it did the result was the same: the withdrawal from a system in breakdown which Christianity couldn’t quite get the upper hand with.  (It’s worth noting that Pope Siricius wouldn’t let people who had been in the civil service become priests.)

Protestants generally put down monasticism, but it represented an attempt to live in a more Christlike fashion in a world which made that very difficult.  Is ours any better?  To some extent it never has been, but in a world where laid, high or drunk is the battle cry of those at the top, and which is prepared to ignore blatant influence peddling and employ cancel culture (and also vindictive prosecution, as Marcellinus experienced) to enforce their idea, it’s time for American Christians to re-examine their naive belief in the lack of moral and personal hazard in moving up.  That may seem like blowing retreat, but in blowing retreat Late Roman Christians laid the groundwork for the advance which transformed European civilization, and ultimately ours.

Today our left is making “little lists” of people to destroy.  Our current game is to intimidate law firms from representing clients we don’t like; that’s a quick way to skew our justice system, and not in good ways.  Most of those lists are those who might achieve high position; they don’t want the competition.  Is it worth it to find yourself on one of those?  There are times when we have to endure persecution for bearing the name of Christ, but if it’s for our careerist ambition, that puts things in a new light.  It’s time for American Christians to stop being so reflexive about moving up, and to look at their eternal objectives more than their temporal ones.  This empire, like Rome, will pass, and we need to take some lessons from those who responded to its decay.

Word of God: Amen Our Hearts Cry

Word of God W/G 7711 (1977)

This is another in a series of albums that the Word of God put out featuring their worship songs and the music group that led them. It has an interesting mix of songs, including some of the community’s own (Psalm 8, Psalm 18,) non-Catholic choruses (Therefore the Redeemed, Our God Reigns) and an ancient Catholic hymn (Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.) It also includes Pauline Mills’ Thou Art Worthy, which is performed by the composer elsewhere on this channel.

I keep getting heat about my opinion of the musical style and performance on these albums, but I really think that, as was the case with other groups, from a creative and performing standpoint, this album is not up to the standard of the earlier ones.

1977 was a turning point year for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, with the Kansas City conference. It was also a turning point for me in that I considered and declined to join the Community of God’s Delight in Dallas.  I think this may have been the first Word of God album I bought and the others came later.

The songs:

  • Ex. 24:3,7
  • Isaiah 60
  • One Thing I Ask For
  • Hallelujah, Our God Reigns
  • Lift High the Banners of Love
  • Therefore the Redeemed
  • Psalm 18
  • Psalm 8
  • Thou Art Worthy
  • Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
  • Our God Reigns

  • Producer: James J. Cavnar
  • Conductors: Donald E. Fishel, Donna Kelly, Abbie Root
  • Performers: Chorus and Orchestra of the Word of God
  • Orchestral Arrangements: Donald E. Fishel, Donna Kelly, Richard Rhodes, Linda Speck
  • Recording Engineer: Henry J. Root
  • Cover design and photography: Gerry Rauch, John Leidy, Charismatic Renewal Services, Inc.
  • Back Cover Photograph: Jack Taipala

Overcomplicating Anglican Eucharistic Theology — The Bossuet Project

I’ve been reading with interest the Rev. Ben Jeffries’ Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic? As those of you who follow this blog and Positive Infinity know, this is of special interest, as it was to the great Bossuet

Overcomplicating Anglican Eucharistic Theology

Amy Coney Barrett and the Lessons of the Ukrainians

In the midst of everything else that’s going on, next Monday (Lord willing) we’ll start confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett to be the newest justice on the Supreme Court.  In light of the fact that she was and is in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, I’ve tried to shed some light on what that really means and not be taken off on rabbit trails by our uninformed media.

I didn’t turn down membership in such a community because of what they believed.  I turned it down because I didn’t think their authoritarian structure was, well, a propos.  That separates me from those who somewhere along the way “discovered” what their idea really was.  Part of that idea is certainly wrapped up in the way they looked at the world around them.  To varying degrees, covenant communities were a preparation for a time when Christianity would be very unpopular and even persecuted in our culture.  That time looked imminent in the 1970’s, in the wake of the nervous breakdown we experienced. I really thought that such times were coming.  But I had my doubts as to whether the communities that were forming in the Catholic Charismatic community were an answer to this problem, and those doubts were confirmed in something that happened in the next decade.

In 1988 my church facilitated the resettlement of twenty-four Ukrainian Pentecostal refugees.  For someone who had been regaled with stories of the persecuted church, to have real contact with these people was a chance-in-a-lifetime experience.  The fact that I had made my own first trip to the USSR the previous spring only added to the anticipation.  We struggled with the language barrier but we did learn quite a bit about their life under communism.

The first is that the USSR was as hard on Christians as everyone said it was.  That varied with the generation.  Many of the older people had done hard time in Siberia.  One had been sent to an “orphanage” because her parents had been shipped to Siberia and couldn’t raise their child.  The younger ones had it better; under Brezhnev, things lightened up.  The biggest problem was that you couldn’t go on to higher education unless you were in the Young Pioneers, which meant that you had to be a communist, in outward form at least.  This was unacceptable to them, although they had relatives who had backslid along the way.

The second is that their churches did have organization but it was informal in that there were no paid clergy.  (Some of the reason for that is here.)  They were house churches, organized around the families that came.  (There were more formal Evangelical churches with buildings, my wife and I visited one two years later.)  Their leadership tended to be strong (it still is in Slavic churches over here) but more than just the pastor was allowed to speak during their meetings, something I also saw in covenant communities (I think the latter kept a tighter rein on what got said.)

The third is that they had no problem participating in the underground economy (or «marché noir» as my African contacts called it.)  Although it’s easy to understand why one would disrespect a government which was trying to eradicate your religion, the Ukrainians lacked the punctilious obsession American Christians have with abiding by every law and regulation the government comes up with.  (Within the church they were capable of serious legalism, something people in the Church of God could relate to.)

The fourth is that they were a lot of fun.  They had a good sense of humour and knew how to enjoy life.  If I had to make the greatest contrast between them and covenant community people, it was that, I always felt that the latter were too serious.  Beyond that, covenant communities were a synthetic response to coming persecution; what the Ukrainians experienced was real.

Lastly, the Ukrainians had the advantage of not having to deal with an “over church” like the covenant communities did with the RCC.  They were a real, autocephalous (to use the fancy ecclesiastical term) group.  That complicated relationship came back to haunt the covenant community movement; I am surprised the People of Praise have stuck it out as long as they have.

For me, having experienced both of these groups, the reason why it’s important to put Amy Coney Barrett on SCOTUS is to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting ourselves into the same situation that our Ukrainian Pentecostal friends found themselves in and from which they’ve tried to escape.  But the irony that we’ve nominated someone who is a product of a community that was formed, in part, to weather the storms of the “laid, high or drunk” crowd is one of those ironies that makes us say “you just can’t make this stuff up.”

Was the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Really Catholic?

The week after next the grilling of our latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, will begin.  There will be a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the fact that she is a serious Roman Catholic.  That happened during the last nominating process; Diane Feinstein’s remark about the dogma living loudly within her reflected that.  There will be more focus on that.

But is that focus misplaced?  She is a product of a covenant community, the People of Praise, and a major one at that.  This puts her whole relationship with Roman Catholicism in a different light.  The relationship between the covenant communities and the Church is a complicated one.  This isn’t going to be a “blow by blow” account of that, but more of a personal reflection based in part on experience and in part on knowledge gleaned from others with more personal–and in some cases unhappy–experience with covenant communities (most of my personal experience comes with prayer groups that did not formalize a covenant commitment.)

Let’s start by making a bold statement: the RCC in the US during the late 1960’s and 1970’s was, in many ways, a different church than the one we have now.  In the wake of Vatican II and the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae (the liturgy that followed Vatican II) it was more open to influences coming from outside of the Church than before or since.  David Peterman, who headed up the Community of God’s Delight (a major covenant community in Dallas) noted that there were two streams flowing: the one of Catholic thought before Vatican II and the other from Pentecostal and Evangelical Christianity.  Because the Church never figured out how to communicate the former to the faithful, the latter surged in those years, and the Church had a decidedly “Protestant” feel to it.  #straightouttairondale types will hit the floor before they can grab the smelling salts at that statement, but one advantage is that it made it easier to get converts (like me) coming from Main Line churches which were selling the pass on the basics.  It was possible in the 1970’s to go through Catholic life without an Ave Maria or a rosary; I know, I did it.

That brings us to the ecumenical nature of prayer groups and covenant communities.  Catholic permission for ecumenical activities is, even after Vatican II, fairly restrictive.  Ecumenical groups such as the People of Praise weren’t really “according to Hoyle” but the hierarchy, from the parish level up, was so shell-shocked that they let it slide.  It’s interesting to note that many of the objections to this state of affairs comes not from traditional Catholics but from the left, from the likes of J. Massyngberde Ford or John Flaherty.  And the influence of those communities and prayer groups on parishes was usually limited.  I was confidently told that there was a certain Mass at St. Rita’s in Dallas where members of God’s Delight gathered, and I went, but you really had to look hard to detect their presence.

At this point I want to stop and say with a decent degree of confidence that the type of Christianity that Judge Barrett experienced in the Catholic Charismatic renewal was different in important ways from either the conventional Catholicism of the day or the Trad/Rad Trad Catholicism that is fashionable in some circles today.

However, like the covenant communities themselves, this situation was metastable.  The thing that changed was the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978, who was determined to bring some order to the chaos of the waning decade.  The existing renewal was impacted and responded in various ways.  One of them was the Sword of the Spirit network, led by Steve Clark and Ralph Martin, who wanted to continue on as they had with the ecumenical and authoritarian communities by more or less going “underground.”  (The People of Praise split off from this.)  In other cases the Church brought these communities to heel, either by forcing them to abandon their ecumenical ways (God’s Delight) or by dissolving the community altogether (Servants of Christ the King.)  But another effective weapon was the imposition of Marian devotions, which was guaranteed to split covenant community and prayer group alike.  I was involved in a prayer group that experienced the latter; it was one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen in a Christian group.  This kind of thing generally came from the inside, which only made matters worse.

So the situation today is much different than before.  That difference is obscured by the fact that many of the major figures of those times in the Renewal have switched over to the #straightouttairondale Catholicism, which in many ways is antithetical to what they were in before.

My advice to everyone is to evaluate Amy Coney Barrett on what presents itself now and not try to impose some ideal construct of what Catholicism is or is supposed to be.  In addition to being from the New Orleans area (which always complicates things) her antecedents coming out of a covenant community are more complicated than they look.  I doubt that members of the U.S. Senate will do this, but stuff like that is one reason why it isn’t the deliberative body it used to be.

From Covenant Community to SCOTUS Nominee

Well, it’s official: the product of a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, Amy Coney Barrett, is the nominee to be a Supreme Court Justice.  My regular readers know that I’ve dealt with this subject over the years, from this piece in 2011 (where I document why I turned down the invitation to join one) to the present.  One of the albums I posted came from the People of Praise, the community Barrett is a part of.

If I were sitting in one of the meetings of the Community of God’s Delight over forty years ago and someone told me that a product of another major covenant community would end up in the situation Barrett now faces, I wouldn’t have believed them.  That’s not because the members of the community typically lacked formal education or were not professional people.  The man who taught my Life in the Spirit Seminar, Joe Canterbury, was a Dallas attorney whose delivery of the Seminar reminded me of a closing argument for a jury.  And of course we have David Peterman, the PhD holding engineer who ended up leading the Community.  The extreme bifurcation of education and status–and the wealth inequality that goes with it–wasn’t as extreme in American life then, which is interesting because one of the battle cries of Barrett’s opponents is “equality.”

The reason for my disbelief is because covenant communities, like much of the Charismatic Renewal at the time, were decidedly escapist and more akin to the “Remnant” theology of my Baptist grandparents, which I discuss in my piece on Elizabeth Warren.  In some ways these communities were the prototypes of Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option.”  Some of the leaders of the day, like Ralph Martin, still reflect that idea.  One of the things this nomination will be “about” is whether people who want to seriously live the way that Barrett lives will be permitted to do so, or even to express that desire.

The current idea in American politics–especially as it comes from the left–is that those who live in this country are obligated to support their racial and sexual construct.  That of course is totalitarianism, and their criticisms of authoritarianism from institutions like covenant communities ring hollow.  In order for that totalitarianism to succeed, things like rights must be set aside, and along with those rights the due process that judiciaries are constituted to uphold.

We’ve already been regaled with a “trial balloon” of setting due process aside with the blowback from the “Dear Colleague” letter than came from Barack Obama’s Department of Education on sexual harassment and assault.  The enthusiastic response of university administrators to this was breathtaking.  Now I’m not one to support the encouragement of the “laid, high or drunk” mentality our elites hold sacred, and I’ll bet that Barrett isn’t either.  But leaving due process in the rear view mirror isn’t right, and if you can get away with doing it in that important of a field of law you can do it anywhere else.  Barrett herself was involved in the judicial pushback against this; that’s a legitimate subject to discuss now, but those who oppose Barrett’s idea don’t want the issue framed around due process.

But getting back to the original point: I’m not looking forward to the whole issue of Catholic Charismatic covenant communities being front and centre in a this kind of process.  The whole issue is complicated from an ecclesiastical standpoint let alone a political one; a great deal of ignorance will be on display.  My reservations about covenant communities have not changed in the forty years since the choice was put in front of me back in Dallas, and I’ve never regretted my decision not to join.

But that doesn’t change the fact that covenant community authoritarianism has more than met its match, and that’s the fight we’re having now.