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.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Traditionalist Movement
and the Works of the Flesh

As you can see on the upper right corner of my blog, I have posted an excerpt from the dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, n. 14. Recently, at the Chrism Mass, a colleague and I were discussing the tendency of traditionalists ("Trads") and ultraconservatives to be intentionally uncharitable and purposely polarizing. We discussed specific examples. In one case, a cleric from the Archdiocese of New York wrote disparagingly of Archbishop +Annibale Bugnini, comparing him to "his namesake" Hannibal. Slander aginst Archbishop Bugnini has not abated and many Trads still accuse him of being a Freemason. One wonders whether the testimony of the conservative Silvio Cardinal Oddi to the contrary counts for anything.

Another paradigm example comes from the popular blog of an indefatigable (and apparently parishless) demagogue cleric who finds it necessary to preface any reference to the jounalist John Allen with "the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded correspondent for the dissenting [or "ultra lefty"] National Catholic Reporter." In a recent posting on an editorial by Fr John Langan in America, this blogger-cleric has shown himself incapable of dialogue, let alone decent conversation. Instead of responding with truth and charity, his ecclesiopolitical fascism spews out statements like "mournful bayings of desperation." In yet another article by Fr Richard Mc Brien, the blogger mocks the disturbed conscience of the person who is the subject of the author's reflection. In response to the comment that "people are grieving for their church," the blogger responds with "ROFL!" and suggests that the Trads' grief is more credible than those who do not identify with any clique. Curiously, the blogger-cleric adds that "People in the same camp as Pope Benedict are striving to heal that division" (emphasis original), thus perpetuating the "us-versus-them" mindset. I am not convinced that they are "striving to heal that division", especially since they find it necessary to peg each Catholic somewhere on the ecclesiopolitical spectrum, thus driving a wedge between different members of the one Church. Constantly labelling people as "lefty," "left-wing," "leftist," "liberal," and so forth only serves to create and perpetuate division, not heal it, because it calls attention to a label and not to the article of faith which is being dissented. What is most revealing is that when his opinions or ideas are called into question, or when he is treated with the same respect that he affords his ideological adversaries, I.P. number of the disagreeing party is identified and he is thus blocked from his website. So much for dialogue.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not a fan of the National Catholic Reporter, nor of Fr Richard McBrien. By conviction I adhere to the pro-life cause; I have even resolved to abstain from Holy Communion and to go to confession because I voted for President G. W. Bush during his second campaign, thus having "materially cooperated" in a war that is unjust. But I refuse to play the silly game of "Who's More Catholic" because it scarcely never avoids being reduced to creating polarization and rivalry.

St Paul the Apostle would have had a field day:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before, those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21).

In other words, creating and perpetuating the "us-versus-them" mindset, be it from the right against the left or vice versa, is gravely sinful, so sinful that St Paul teaches that they belong to the same group of sins as fornication, drunkenness, and licentiousness. In other words, traditionalism is a work of the flesh. Perhaps, then, we should call a spade a spade and say that the Trads are scarcely better than fornicators?

She then recited from memory the text from Lumen gentium, 14:

The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart." All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

What a relief it was to discover that others, too, have reached the same conclusion. The brilliant Mark Shea in his article "Those Angry Traditionalists" had this to say:

But that is often the impression I have gotten from many (though certainly not all) Traditionalists. Like it or not, discourse among a great many Traditionalists is filled with anger and contempt for Catholics who do not share their burning interest in traditional forms of piety.

So while I've never seen a Clown Mass, I have encountered lots of angry Trads who have compared the Paul VI rite to a Black Mass, made clear that "Novus Ordo types" are second class Catholics, spent a great deal of time obsessing over Jews, sneered at John Paul II and Benedict "Novus Ordo Popes" who have compromised the Tradition, threatened people in my parish physically, smeared good priests with nasty rumor campaigns and generally made their claims to be the Guardians of True Catholicism so repellent that I wouldn't touch the Faith with a barge pole if they were the True Apostles of it they claim to be. And that experience is not just mine.

What is especially disturbing is that the Eucharist, that very Sacrament of Unity, is made to be the point of division. Since the unity of the Church is the res tantum of the Most Blessed Sacrament, I wonder whether taking the Mass as one's battleground and dividing the Church into the "TLM" and the "Novus Ordo" types is actually more blansphemous than showing desecrating the sacramentum et res.

As you know, I'm working on my postgraduate thesis; part of my research requires going through the canons of the Council of Trent. What is especially surprising--and refreshing--is how much respect the Council Fathers gave to Luther and to the other Protestant reformers. In fact, the Council tries to parse the personalities of the Protestant movement from their own views, lest the Council Fathers misinterpret their writings and thus villify their persons. If only the Trads would be so courteous.

If only the Trads could be...Christian. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1).

But, as in the past, I'm sure some Trad will call me a neo-Protestant for citing the Bible.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Grieving Church" by Revd Dr Richard McBrien

On 27 April last, the Revd Dr Richard McBrien published "The Grieving Church" in the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter. While I do not consider myself a fan of Fr McBrien, I do think he has something worthwhile to say here. Below is the text of the article, with my emphases and comments.

I received an e-mail recently from a lay pastoral associate, whose ministerial focus is on adult education and who possesses a graduate degree from a Catholic university. I have his permission to cite a portion of our exchange.

I have suppressed some of the details lest his pastor identify the source and seek to jeopardize the pastoral associate’s job. [This is most unfortunate, since the Code of Canon Law insists that the lay faithful have a right to make their opinions known to the Church's pastors; cf. canon 212.3.]

The e-mail came from a large suburban parish in which the pastor has apparently done everything that he can to remove most traces of the reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council. [It should not be ignored that like the 'conservatives' or 'traditionalists' who intensely dislike the the Second Vatican Council, so too were the Arians who were the 'conservative' party at the First Council of Nicaea; cf. Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1983), 33-76. It was an 'innovation' that the non-Biblical word homoousios would be used in the Church's progressing dogmatic vocabulary.]

The pastor has done away with all contemporary music at Mass, and has restored pre-conciliar devotions along with auricular confession. He even gives the impression that confession is the greatest of the sacraments.

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding here because the Council of Trent, back in the 16th century, made clear that the greatest of the seven sacraments is the Eucharist. [Correct-it's found in the Thirteenth Session, Chapter Two; but Fr McBrien's detractors do not concede that he has maintained Orthodoxy on this point.]

Under the pastor’s control, the parish has no youth ministry [The General Directory for Catechesis, nn. 181-185 mandates that special attention is to be given to the youth of the Church. This pastor should at least get a clue from the Holy Father's affinity for evangelizing and catechizing young people.], no parish council [If the diocesan bishop has mandated that each parish have a pastoral council, then this pastor is in violation of canon 536] nor any other consultative body [I wonder whether he has a finance council, which is mandated by canon 537]. According to my correspondent, “consultative is not in his vocabulary.” He also gave vocal support to the minority of U.S. Catholic bishops who proclaimed in effect that “Catholics could burn in hell” if they voted Democratic in the recent presidential election.

My correspondent reported that other members of the parish staff are hurting “terribly.” Indeed, they share the feelings of the woman who darted out of church recently during the homily – in tears. [This happens too often. Many of our younger priests seem to be ignorant of the fact that pastoral charity is the paramount priestly virtue--cf. Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests, nn. 13, 20, 28, and especially 30. Despite the fact that the Directory is issued by the Church's supreme authority, I wonder how many seminarians study it.]

She informed the pastoral associate that she could no longer handle the situation, and that she had to leave the parish. She said that all that she ever hears from the pulpit is what sinners the parishioners are, and why it is so necessary for them to “go to Confession.” [The sacrament of Reconciliation has been called by the Church a "tribunal of mercy." But what often seems forgotten is that Jesus' gripe was always with the religious folk who passed themselves off as better than the prostitute, the publican, or the Roman soldier. I could easily fill this blog posting with citations, but if this basic fact of the gospel narratives is questioned, then it is likely that our ultraconservative or traditionalist is Biblically illiterate. In fact, I've been called a "neo-Protestant" for citing the Bible to one such traditionalist.]

That particular Sunday, with the old-fashioned church music, all the statues covered in purple as they were before Vatican II, and the usual severe words in the homily, the pressure was simply too much for her to bear. [Hello? The Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom, anyone?]

The woman poured out her frustrations, saying that the pastor had taken the parish back to a church that she knows nothing about and in a manner that showed no understanding of others’ feelings.

At the end of his first e-mail, my correspondent asked, “Are we expected just to get used to it?”
In my reply, I wrote: “No, you are not simply to ‘get used to it’. Parishioners need to go elsewhere, like the woman who left Mass in tears.” [I fiercely disagree. The parishioner should approach her bishop or better the vicar for clergy. The lay faithful have a right to make their needs known to their pastors; cf. canon 212.3; if the pastor in question is in fact violation of the norms of liturgical law, she can appeal to canon 214.]

I continued: “If there are no parishes or other worshipping communities in the vicinity where the pastoral leadership is healthy rather than driven by a narrow ideology, then one simply has to ‘take a vacation’ from the church until the skies finally clear and we are bathed in sunlight once again.” [Some commentators, refusing to give Fr McBrien the benefit of the doubt, assumed he meant skipping Mass and the sacraments. I think what he has in mind is a vacation from the Church as one's employer. I've done that before, and returned with even more gusto. Sound advice, Fr McBrien.]

In response, the pastoral associate noted that “the number of our parish families who are already on vacation from the church is amazing. It hurts to see it.” [This woman "hurts to see it"--a sure sign of her pastoral solicitude. If only her pastor had the same kind of pastoral solicitude!]

“It’s new territory, dealing with people grieving for their church,” he wrote. [Absolutely. All it took was a mis-reading of the Holy Father's motu proprio summorum pontificum and a hasty reading of his theology.]

The lead article in America magazine’s 100th anniversary issue (4/13/09) is by a Dominican who is justly admired the world over. It is Timothy Radcliffe’s “The Shape of the Church to Come.” [Master Timothy is a remarkable Christian, a superb pastor, and a beautiful human being. I had the honour of meeting him at the 2001 General Chapter at Providence College. No-one who works for the Church can afford to ignore him.]

What follows here is a continued commentary on the problem of the “grieving church” and not meant as a criticism of Timothy Radcliffe’s fine article in which he deplores the polarization that is “deeply wounding and inhibits the flourishing of the church.” [Stay tuned for my next posting, "Traditionalism and the Works of the Flesh." Suffice it to say that the active polarization of certain segments in the Church is lumped by St Paul into the same category as "fornication", "drunkenness", and "impurity"; see Gal 5:18-21.]

However, he does identify this polarization as consisting of self-defined “traditionalist” Catholics in open conflict with self-defined “progressive” Catholics.

My experience with the worldwide Catholic church is surely much more limited than Timothy Radcliffe’s, and I would defer to his experience if indeed he has come across a significant number of Catholics who actually identify themselves as “progressive.” On the other hand, I know of countless numbers of Catholics who proudly call themselves “traditional” or “orthodox.”

The pastor in the true story above surely would regard himself as “orthodox,” but the woman who left the church in tears would never have defined herself as a “progressive” Catholic. That adjective would mean nothing to her. [Indeed. These polarizations become more acute as one moves westward in the United States.]

She and other Catholics like her grieve simply for the loss of their church, a church renewed and reformed by Vatican II.

It is not polarization but the pastor of the story and many like him who are responsible for the grieving church. [No--I think Master Timothy is right. Stay tuned for my next blog posting!]