Friday, September 25, 2009

My M.Th. Thesis Synopsis

On 16 September 2009, I successfully defended my Master of Theology thesis, with a number of concrete suggestions for clarification.

My director asked that I produce a synopsis the assembly who attended the defence/examination, since they would not have had the opportunity to read the text of my thesis itself until it is made available in the library at Newman Theological College. Since a number of people have asked for a summary of my arguments in favour of sign language as a valid liturgical language, I have decided to post the text of the synopsis here.

The comment box is open for exchange. This topic is long overdue for serious dialogue.

This essay [= my thesis] seeks to answer a very specific question: Would the ‘Words of Consecration’ in sign language (i.e., a non-audible language) fulfill the conditions of ‘sacramental form’ of the Eucharist? Conversely: would the Eucharistic Form (= the ‘Words of Institution’) be invalidated by sign language? I conclude that, given the fact that sign language is no less a language than English, Chinese, or French, and thus cannot be excluded as a liturgical language. The effects of the Eucharistic consecration are not mitigated by the fact that sign language dispenses with morphemes.

The essay is divided into two parts, representing two different but complementary methods, the dogmatic way and the systematic way, paying close attention to the distinction outlined by Bernard Lonergan.

In the First Part, I approach the question of the ‘Words of Consecration’ from a strictly dogmatic view, since objections to sign language in the celebration of the Eucharist or, more precisely, the in the Eucharistic Form, must take into account the doctrinal pronouncements of the Church. As such I begin with the unfolding Eucharistic doctrine of the Fathers with special attention to the Cappadocians, St John Chrysostom, St Ambrose of Milan, and St Augustine, the last of who handed onto the Scholastics a peculiarly ‘Roman’ Eucharistic doctrine. Then, beginning with the first dogmatic canon (the two oaths of Berengarius of Tours), The Council of Florence, the Council of Trent, the Second Vatican Council, the ‘Decision of 17 January 2001’, and ultimately the XI Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2005, I determine the ‘theological note’ or doctrinal certitudes of the various canons presented, whether they are a document of faith or not, and if they are, whether they be ‘dogma’ or ‘authoritative doctrine.’ My primary sources are the dogmatic canons themselves, taken from either Denzinger’s Enchiridion symbolorum (38th ed.) or Neuner and Dupuis’ The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (7th rev. and enlarged ed.). For the Fathers I make use of de Journel’s Enchiridion patristicum.

In the Second Part, I approach the same question from a systematic view. Since ‘systematic theology’ is broader than ‘dogmatic theology’, I chose to work with IIIa of St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologiae, with special attention to qq. 60, 64, and 78. The crux of my retrieval of Aquinas’ sacramental theology is threefold: (1) the ‘hylemorphic theory’ of the sacraments is to be understood strictly as analogy, not equivocation; (2) the form of the sacraments or ‘Word’ derive their instrumental causality only on account of their signification, not by their sounds; (3) at the root of the sacramental Word is the intention of the minister to do as the Church does and, as such, to proclaim the Church’s faith by way of sacramental signs. A significant portion of my argument draws attention to the fact that sacramental hylemorphism has never been taught by the Magisterium; this does not warrant a rejection of the theory, but rather a more careful retrieval without losing sight, again, of the theory as analogy, not equivocation, as per Aquinas’ insistence.

In both Parts note is made of the traditional phraseology of verba consecrationis—rather than lingua consecrationis or sermones consecrationis—and thus argue that, guided by the Spirit of Truth, the nuances of doctrinal language merits attention in their interpretation. Were there is a tradition of “speech of consecration” or some similar phrase, we would have an argument in favour of the sacramental Word as necessitating morphemes and thus a serious counterargument to the sacramental validity of sign language in communicating the sacramental form. More to the point, there is a faint tradition, found in Sts John Chrysostom and Ambrose, of distinguishing the historical utterance of the Words of Institution as sermo and their sacramental repetition as verba and that if the outward sound were necessary, such conditions have been fulfilled by the historic Christ.

I conclude in favour of the sacramental validity of the Eucharistic Form in sign language, finding no substantial argument to the contrary. There is, for example, no tradition of the instrumental causality of the sound patterns or breath emanating from the minister’s pronunciation of the Words of Consecration. There is, on the other hand, a significant retrieval of the ‘sacramental Word’ as the verbum fidei and thus the celebration of the Christian sacraments as a ritualized and symbolic act of faith, especially by K. Rahner and E. Schillebeeckx. Once ‘sacramental form’ is understood as a proclamation of faith, the fact that the proclamation is to be made in language rather than mere sound emerges as the one more consonant with the Church’s received Tradition.

Since this essay is but an inaugural study, I propose several trajectories for further research. Since the hylemorphic theory of the sacraments have been ingrained in the Church’s catechetical tradition especially since the Neoscholastic movement, it is necessary to return to Aristotle’s own doctrine of matter and form (a return that will show that the hylemorphic theory of matter is actually tripartite: matter, form, and potential) and to meticulously retrace the development of sacramental hylemorphism proposed by Stephen Langton and William of Auxerre. Building on the emphasis on verba consecrationis, and since Aquinas’ own doctrine of ‘word and element’ is derived from Tractatus super Ioannem 80.3, it will be necessary to return to St Augustine of Hippo’s doctrine of language and signs. Since ‘instrumental causality’ is a complexus of actions, the relationship between the sacramental Word and its efficacy through the ministry of priests needs to be critically examined. Finally, a proper understanding of the sacramental economy, thanks to the works of Rahner and Schillebeeckx, should break down between the munera docendi and the munera sanctificandi: while there is indeed a distinction between the two, the sacraments must be understood as ‘sacraments of faith’, paying special attention to the sacramental Word as a proclamation of the Church’s faith rather than a formula of incantation or magic. Aquinas gives tremendous evidence for this by his method by not having a separate tractatus de sacramentis in his Summa theologiae but rather situating the sacramental economy within the tractaus de Incarnatione Verbi, thus intending to show the parallelism between the Incarnate Word and the sacramental Word.

It is precisely a retrieval of the sacramental economy as proclamation that gives strong warrant to the use of sign language in the celebration of the sacraments: a symbolic and ritual summons to faith addressed to a certain people in their own language, not excepting Deaf people and their native sign language.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Who are the Cumans for us?

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers and, naturally, a commemoration enjoying the rank of a solemnity among the children of St Dominic. That having been said, I wish to convey my heartfelt greetings to all the members of the Dominican family, especially my professors and confreres at my alma mater, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, in Berkeley, as well as to my onetime undergraduate institution, St Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York. Finally, I extend my warmest greetings to the friars of the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf Apostolate headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.

Dominic was a soul on fire with evangelical zeal, a true missionary who burned with the desire to proclaim Jesus Christ to everyone he met. We all know the story of Dominic, while still a canon of Osma, at a layover during a diplomatic journey to Denmark with his bishop, stayed up all night conversing with an Albigensian and, at the break of dawn, ended up hearing his confession and received him back into the Church.

On the way to Denmark, Dominic and his bishop, Diego de Acebo, passed through Germany and saw the disaster and chaos left by the barbarian Cumans, a pagan culture still deprived of the Gospel. Rather than expressing outrage, Dominic was touched with pity, because he knew that the onslaughts of the Cumans had little to do with their race but everything to do with their ignorance of Christianity. For the rest of his life, Dominic expressed his deepest desire to preach Christ among the Cumans.

Some eight centuries later, a successor of St Dominic, the Very Reverend Vincent de Couesnongle OP, wrote his prophetic encyclical to the Order, Who are My Cumans? Master Vincent turns the drama between Dominic and the Cumans into an icon of the Dominican charism, in which, after everything has been said and done, we must shake off the status quo and go off among the people who have been deprived of Christ. He writes,

"To go to the Cumans" means not being satisfied with "saving the saved", but reaching out also, indeed especially, those who are not "saved", but who will make or unmake tomorrow's world.
Above all it does not mean criticising what is happening in our times, and then carrying out as well as possible the narrow way of life which we have laid down for ourselves, once and for all. What it does mean above all is to carry on the work of Saint Dominic, or in other words to allow him to be still present in the world as it exists.

The work in the parish is often simply "saving the saved"--most parishioners are already Catholics, have already received the Sacraments of Initiation, and are in the business of ensuring that flock remain steadfast in the Faith. However, parish life must be outward-looking; when +Allen Vigneron was still the Bishop of Oakland, he rightly lamented that most parish evangelization efforts seldom looked beyond the parish rosters to the souls who languish in ignorance of the Gospel.

The Albigensians whom Dominic and his friars preached to were heretics--which means they were Christians before but had succumbed to error. The Cumans, on the other hand, were not; they simply knew nothing about Christ and his Church. We know who our "Albigensians" are. But who are our "Cumans"--who are those people we know that have never been Christians?

For me, my Cuman is the Deaf person who has been ignored by parish priests.

I have had dozens of conversations about the necessity of the Deaf apostolate (as opposed to Deaf ministry). Here is a sampling of comments that make their rounds fairly often:

1. Deaf people have not approached the diocesan curia for the sacraments; therefore there is no need for outreach to the Deaf.

2. We don't have any Deaf parishes to begin with.

3. There are ministers who sign in neighbouring dioceses, so in case of necessity, we can always appeal for their help.

Contrast these remarks with the Church's supreme authority:

The Church, which has been sent by Christ to reveal and communicate the love of God to all men and to all people, is aware that for her a tremendous missionary work still remains to be done. There are two billion people--and their number is increasing day by day--who have never, or barely, heard the Gospel message; they constitute large and distinct groups united by enduring cultural ties, ancient religious traditions, and strong social relationships. Of these, some belong to one or other of the great religions, others have no knowledge of God, while other expressly deny the existence of God and sometimes even attack it (Ad gentes, n. 10, emphasis added).

Consequently, to conduct ordained ministry that falls short of evangelical zeal of harvesting souls for Christ is to disobey the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity. I have found it puzzling that many dioceses actively pursue ministries to specific cultures such as Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic, Chinese, and so forth, but shrug off the pastoral needs of Deaf people. "If the Church is to be in a position to offer all [people] the mystery of salvation and the life brought by God, then it must implant itself among all these groups in the same way that Christ by his Incarnation committed himself to the particular social and cultural circumstances of the [people] among who he lived." Contrast this with the practise of many diocesan curias who, on one hand, deprive able priests of a post in the Deaf community and, on the other hand, are content to station inept priests in Deaf parishes. In fact, one priest I know, who signs fluently and has ably worked in Deaf ministry with distinction has decided to pursue laicization because his Ordinary has refused to allow him to continue his ministry among the Deaf.

The Code of Canon Law, an entire title is set apart for "The Missionary Action of the Church" (cc. 781-792). "Since the whole Church is by its nature missionary, the work of evangelization must be held as a fundamental duty of the People of God..." (c. 781). Moreover, "As sponsors of the universal Church and of all the churches, individual bishops are to have special solicitude for missionary work, especially by initiating, fostering, and sustaining missionary endeavors in their own particular churches" (c. 782.2). For those dioceses who neglect the evangelization of Deaf persons, I ask: How does one justify such negligence in the face of the Church's supreme authority, and indeed, in the face of the Church's doctrine of mission which is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity (Ad gentes, ch. 1; cf. Christus Dominus, 22.3).

Among the "Cumans", obviously, are Deaf people--with their unique language, social norms, and culture. True, not every person is called to evangelize and serve every culture, but that by no means justifies any lack of pastoral solicitude for them. I may not be called to evangelize or catechize the Chinese peoples, but I am certainly obligated to ease the path of those missionaries who proclaim the Gospel among them. Likewise, not every cleric is called to evangelize and catechize the Deaf, but that does not excuse any sort of pastoral negligence or apathy.

The real question then, is this: do Deaf people have souls worth saving? Was not the Incarnation also for the eternal welfare of all peoples, including the marginalized such as those who cannot hear, cannot walk, cannot see, or have mental disorders? We know that Christ had a special love for the disabled: he healed a deaf man (Mk 7:31-37), cured diseases (e.g. Lk 5:12-16), restored paralytics (e.g. Mk 2:1-12), and gave sight to the blind (Mk 10:46-52). Christ, who is the exemplar for every Christian, expect us us to imitate his love for disabled people.

For me, "my Cuman" is Deaf person who does not know Jesus Christ. Who is your "Cuman"?

Saint Dominic Guzman, pray for us!

This post is dedicated to H. E. the Most Reverend +Kevin Rhoades S.T.L., J.C.L., D.D., Bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, in gratitude for his pastoral solicitude towards disabled persons in his diocese. Ad multos annos!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Authentic Orthodoxy, II

There is more to orthodoxy than "right belief." In fact, it is better translated as "right worship" or "right "glory," from the Greek adjectival ovrqw/j, meaning "rightly" or "uprightly", and do,xa, meaning "glory" or "worship." Orthodoxy, then, has more to do with right worship than right doctrine, though they are hardly mutually exclusive.

The paramount source of Christian doctrine is not a catechism or handbook of theology, but the sacred liturgy. The hymns and prayers found in the liturgical books in both the Latin rite (e.g., Roman Missal, Liturgy of the Hours) and the Byzantine rite (e.g., Horologion, Lenten Triodion, Pentecostarion) enshrine the Church's confession of faith. As St Prosper of Aquitaine reminds us, "ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" (The Call of All the Nations, 1.12; cf. Denzinger, 246).

Perhaps the most prominent example of the appeal to the "rule of prayer" can be found in Pope Pius XII's apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus defining the dogma of the Assumption. In n. 18, Pius XII appeals to the Gallican sacramentaries as well as Byzantine liturgical books as evidence of the Mother of God's Assumption. In n. 20, he wrote, "...the liturgy does not engender the Catholic faith but rather springs from it." Here, Pius XII understands faith as the primordial source of Catholic doctrine that finds its most basic expression in the Church's liturgy: as a theological virtue, the act of faith directs the Christian soul to God, and it is only natural that such direction finds its expression in worship. When a lover loves the beloved, the instinct is to give flowers, to sing a romantic song, or to write poetry; it is only in hindsight that the lover comes to understand the meaning of his love for the beloved. Similarly, the corporate act of faith has led the Church to develop her liturgies, and only subsequently does the Church come to understand her act of faith--and here Christian belief is engendered.

"Faith" and "doctrine" are not coextensive. Faith, as a theological virtue, is necessary antecedent to doctrine; doctrine is a meaningful formulation of the content of faith.

Too often, in discerning the content of faith, the first instinct is to turn to a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Neuner and Dupuis, or Denzinger. While such instincts are laudable provided that the statements or formulations found therein are properly interpreted, it runs the risk of dichotomizing liturgy and doctrine. I take the dichotomy between liturgy and doctrine to be one of the more problematic methods of theological study in the Roman Church, because it fails to address the liturgy as a locus theologicus. Aidan Kavanagh has written what is perhaps the best treatment of this question:

Belief is always consequent upon encounter with the Source of the grace of faith. Therefore Christians do not worship because they believe. They believe because the One in whose gift faith lies is regularly met in the act of communal worship--not because the assembly conjures up God, but because the initiative lies with the God who has promised to be there always. The lex credendi is thus subordinated to the lex supplicandi because both standards exist and function only within the worshiping assembly's own subordination of itself to its ever-present Judge, Savior, and unifying Spirit.

Dom Kavanagh then turns to the example of Moses, who encountered the Burning Bush even before his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses' faith was engendered by the presence of God.

Presence, faith, worship, doctrine, necessarily in that order. Because liturgy is necessary anamnesis of Divine Revelation, it follows that in liturgy we encounter the Holy Trinity, and there is born the act of faith. In the Paschal Vigil, for example, at the Exsultet the deacon sings over and over again, "This is the night....this is the night..." In the various Proper Forms of the Communicantes of the Roman Canon, we are treated as contemporaries of the mysteries of Christ being commemorated, whether it be his Transfiguration or his Ascension. The Prefaces, too, assumes that we are presently experiencing the mysteries being commemorated as though we were historically present.

[ be continued]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Authentic Orthodoxy, I

In the Roman Canon, the Church prays: "...omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus", which is roughly translated "...the orthodox and catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles." Most of us, however, are familiar with the I.C.E.L. translation, "...the catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles." The new translation of the Order of Mass, produced by the Vox Clara Commission, unfortunately perpetuates this one-sided translation. It is not only the thirteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches who are called "orthodox", but the Catholic Church as well. Let us not forget that St John of Damascus, whom St Thomas Aquinas quotes often in his Summa theologiae, titled his major work On the Orthodox Faith.

Recently, Christopher West has come under fire for his inaccurate portrayal of the late John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." This morning, however,
Dr David L. Schindler, dean and provost of the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America, made the following statement:

West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible.

pretence to orthodoxy constitutes a grave danger in the life of the Church. Consider, for example, the following slogans:

Christendom College is a Catholic coeducational college institutionally committed to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church;

Southern Catholic College is a co-educational liberal arts college committed to the authoritative teachings of the Roman Catholic Church;

In conformity with the desires of the Church as expressed in the apostolic constitution
Ex Corde Ecclesiae and in Canon Law, the Catholic members of the teaching faculty of Thomas Aquinas College publicly take the Oath of Fidelity and make a Profession of Faith at the beginning of their terms of office. By these, they confirm their commitment to teaching all the parts of the program in a way that leads to and aids in reaching the natural goal of all honest intellectual inquiry - the contemplation of the truth about reality whether discovered through reason or revealed by God Himself.

One website that lists Catholic colleges and universities who call themselves "orthodox" or "faithful to the magisterium," has the following wise disclaimer: "While it is believed that at least by intention the following organizations are Catholic – presenting authentic teachings of the Church – some may fail to accept a logical sequence of doctrine and authorities."

This is precisely the problem with Catholic institutions claiming "loyalty" or "faithful" to the magisterium. The very fact that such nomenclature as "faithful to the magisterium" indicates how prodoundly misunderstood the teaching authority of the Church is, because it is not the
teaching office we are to be loyal or faithful to, but to the teachings of the magisterium; moreover, the various teachings of the magisterium do not require "loyalty" or "fidelity" but different kinds of assent that correspond to the nature of the teachings, i.e., to the primary or secondary objects of infallibility. There are, moreover, teachings of the Church that have not been defined but are nonetheless official teachings of the Church: these are usually found among the lex orandi of the Church's liturgy--such as the Dormition of the Mother of God.

All of this parading the badge of orthodoxy, I would suggest, shows how well conservative members of the Church play the game of
Who's More Catholic. Hollow self-marketing, and nothing more. Case in point: Christopher West.

One cannot be "orthodox" by brute force. Simply because a given Catholic claims presumption in favour of the magisterium does not guarantee that he or she in fact is. Why? Because various articles of belief proposed by the magisterium require various kinds of assent. In the first place, there is an hierarchy of Church teaching: First, dogma; second, authoritative doctrine, third, prudential admonitions and provisional applications of Church teaching.

On the liberal side, these three categories of Church teaching tend to be understood in terms of "most important" (dogma), "important" (authoritative doctrine), and "dispensible" (prudential admonitions). The reality, on the other hand, is that these categories differ not by their rank of importance, but by the ground of their assent.

On the conservative side, these three categories are often blurred and given a single type of assent for all three, which is hardly any better than the liberal approach to the Church's teaching authority. To make matters worse, conservatives--as exhibited by such slogans as "faithful to the magisterium"--end up placing their assent in the wrong place, that is, in the subject of infallibility rather than in the object of infallibility.

To make matters worse, many conservatives fail to see dogma or authoritative doctrine unless it is defined. For example, in a conversation with a traditionalist priest last year, it was claimed that since the Church has never defined whether or not the Mother of God died prior to her Assumption, it follows that we are free to believe or disbelieve the Dormition. The priest here got one out of two right: indeed, the magisterium has never defined whether the Mother of God died; his error was that simply because it was not defined, it did not require assent, when in fac the lex orandi of the Church has made very clear the lex credendi of the Mother of God's death.

But there is more. There can be no blanket assent for all teachings of the magisterium, because they are categorised according to their relationship to Divine Revelation. Dogma is propoerly that teaching which is to be found in Divine Revelation, and as such requires the assent of faith. Subsequently, doctrine is properly that teaching which is "connected" to Divine Revelation and serves to safeguard it, and this requires the kind of assent called obsequium religiosum. In other words, the primary object of infallibility, which pertains to Divine Revelation, requires the "assent of faith"; the secondary object of infallibility, which is connected to Divine Revelation and thus serves to safeguard it, requires the kind of assent called obsequium religiosum. As the Code of Canon Law legislates:

Although not an assent of faith [Non quidem fidei assensus], a religious submission of the intellect and will [religiosum tamen intellectus et voluntatus obsequium praestandum] must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act... (can. 752).

Such a blanket slogan as "faithful to the magisterium", then, is misleading on two accounts: (1) It wrongly shifts the assent from the object of infallibility to the subject, namely the teaching office of the Church; (2) it fails to distinguish the different kinds of assent required of different categories of Church teaching. This second point becomes all the more clearer when we take notice of the fact that "fidelity" is related to "faith" and faith is not the kind of assent owed to authoritative doctrine. Such solgans, then, attempts "orthodoxy by brute force" but misses the mark because it fails to understand properly the charism of teaching exercised by the college of bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter.

The problem of the "masque of orthodox" is really root-and-stock. We know that, prior to receiving Orders, candidates must make a profession of faith and sign the Oath of Fidelity. Unfortunately I have yet to come across a single seminary faculty that provides adequate formation in the different levels of Church teaching and the kinds of assent required. Too many private conversations with seminarians, priests, and seminary professors have left me convinced that the Oath of Fidelity has been reduced to a mere formalism. And with the Oath taken with one's right hand on the book of the gospels!

So, for those who whine about lack of "orthodoxy" in the Church, let us put the blame squarely where it belongs--on both the liberals and the conservatives.


DULLES, Avery. Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith. Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007.

SULLIVAN, Francis. Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting the Documents of the Magisterium. London, UK: Wipf and Stock, 2003.

__________. Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church. New York, NY: Gill and MacMillan, 1984.

GAILLARDETZ, Richard. By What Authority: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003.

__________. Teaching With Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997.