Saturday, May 9, 2015

Notes on the Basis and Proper Form of Catholic Action

1.  The first responsibility of every person is to look after the salvation of his own soul.  Seek first the reign of God and his justice, and everything else will be added.  (Matt 6:33)

2.  The reign of God, or kingdom of God, is two things: broadly speaking, it is the condition of things insofar as they are acting in accord with the divine will; narrowly speaking, it is the company of the saints and angels in glory, who are perfectly united with God.

3.  The command to seek God's reign therefore has two dimensions.  Primarily, we must seek perfect union with God in heaven.  But this perfect union comes about through the conformity of our lives (intellect and will . . . imagination, intention, action) to the justice, the righteousness of God.

4.  Christian life should be thought of as the journey of a pilgrim soldier.  Our destination is heaven, but it is a long way off.  We cannot stop on the road, satisfied that the road leads to heaven, because this sort of complacency would guarantee that we will never get there.  Enemies gather around us like dogs, and if we stop they will drag us from the road.  It is the tendency toward heaven that assures us of our salvation.

5.  This tendency toward heaven is a participation in the life shared by the blessed—now.  It is practical action here in the vale of tears, animated by the theological virtues, which makes the reign of God present among us. (Luke 17:21)

6.  Christian hope, our desire for heaven, is active, militant, and progressive.  It is never satisfied with the present degree of conformity to the will of God, never rests in its present understanding of the truths of faith, never ceases to convict itself of the faults which still hold it back from greater progress toward the goal of heaven.

7.  Practical action is the sign of living hope (James 2:18).  What sort of practical action?  Action taken to conform the present life to the life of the blessed.  What do the blessed do?

8.  They understand.  To be in heaven is to see God as He is. (1 John 3:2) Therefore we should also strive to understand, to know the revealed truths of the Catholic faith fully, to plumb the depths of tradition and master the intricacies of authentic philosophy.

9.  They adore.  The understanding of the saints in heaven is inseparable from their perpetual act of adoration, by which they behold and unite themselves perfectly to God.  Perhaps most practical thing we can do to make progress in the present life is to adore God.

10.  They desire.  The desires of the blessed are perfectly harmonized with each other, and with the will of God.  They are informed by the truth, and grasp it partially, so that the saints and angels make up a great hierarchy of voices singing "Yes!" particularly and universally to whatever each has been assigned to know and love by God.

11.  This act of desiring is the participation of the blessed in Divine Providence, which is the source of the order and government of the universe.  If we want to conform ourselves to God as those in heaven do, then we need to take up our assigned place within the order of the world, by seeing to the protection and welfare of those in our care and in our communities.

12.  Protection and welfare?  What form does this take?  At this point, our practical action becomes recursive: we seek for others what we first sought for ourselves, because we recognize that God, willing the salvation of all men, would have us act for their salvation as much as we act for our own.

13.  Consequently, just as the two first things we should see to for our own benefit are sound formation in faith and devotion to God expressed in adoration, the first two things we should do for others are to instruct them when they are ignorant, and to encourage them in devotion.  Note, of course, that we cannot give what we do not possess ourselves.

14.  Beyond this, we should give advice where it is needed when we're able, and admonish people when they stray.  We should be patient with others as we are patient with ourselves in our own faults, and be ready to forgive, encourage, and assist in conversion.

15.  Note that Christ commands us to look after our neighbors.  The practical action of the Catholic is not first of all ordered to the salvation of the whole world, but to the salvation of those around us.  Pride would tell us that the love of neighbor should first of all take the form of mass action and large-scale political organization.  In reality, it needs to happen first in our families, parishes, offices, clubs, and the places we are already directly present.

16.  Besides the primary goals of sanctification through faith and devotion, we are also given charge of material goods, and these too require our attention if they're to be set in order properly.  The corporal works of mercy deal with the actions proper to material goods.

17.  None of these actions, spiritual or corporal, should be restricted in such a way that they are purely private or mystically detached from ordinary life.  Life itself is for the sake of these things, since they are the perfection of human life.  Everything we do should be suffused with them, and all our practical action should be ordered in such a way as to participate in this conformation of what we do, who we are, to God.

18.  Just as the order given to the universe by God is visible in everything, and drives everything in its natural pursuit of peace and perfection, so our participation in that order should be visible in everything we do.  Real Catholic action is nothing other than a developed, organized, communal expression of these ideas, which begin with the formation of oneself seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and end up infecting everything: our families, our work, our professional aspirations, and our friendships, until we become instruments by which God sanctifies and converts everything around us.

19.  If Christendom is to be restored, this is the true path.  But note: it is not a clever scheme or political maneuver.  It is nothing other than the practical application of Christian life, so that nothing remains untouched by it, so that in the end there is no separation between the saeculum and the Church, because the Church has filled it completely.

20.  Matthew 13:33.  "He told them another parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.' "

Monday, May 4, 2015

An Excellent Talk by Michael Davies on the Social Reign of Christ

A Quick Guide for Doctrinally Classifying Contemporary Catholics

—If you believe that the primary text in the tradition is the Decrees of Vatican II, and you're reasonably orthodox (i.e. could make a profession of faith and submission to the magisterium in good faith), then you're a "Neo-Catholic", and tend to have a lot of esteem for Pope St. John Paul II, often with little knowledge of the tradition prior to 1962, and sometimes with a habit of proof-texting from the 1990s Catechism of the Catholic Church.

—If you believe the primary text in the tradition is the Spirit of the Age, and you think that the Church is an unfolding reality which needs to become a prophetic expression of human potential leading the world forward into tomorrow, then you're a flipping heretic, aka "Progressive Catholic". Someone bring wood and oil.

—If you're a cultural Catholic who received the sacraments, were terribly catechized using McBrien or some other trash, and have more of a commitment to the politics and class priorities of your present millieu than to the Gospel, then you're a "Liberal Catholic". This takes two forms. The more common is the left-leaning liberal catholic, who thinks the Church should marry gays and ordain women and is just so mean for not being more accepting and up-to-date. The other variety is the right-leaning one, who likes the Church but is more interested in business and doesn't have much use for ethics beyond the general imperative to work hard and that sort of thing.

—If you attempt (with varying degrees of success) to be faithful to the tradition of the Church as a whole, and use Trent, Pius X, or some other authority or set of authorities from prior to 1958 as the lens by which you understand the tradition, then you're going to be a "Traditionalist Catholic". There are different flavors of "Trad".
  • Some Trads are Glad, i.e. they're relatively at peace with V2 and try to ignore its defects in order to use it as an excuse to revive awareness of widely forgotten elements of the tradition. 
  • Some Trads are Mad, i.e. they're opposed to V2 either in its effects or in itself, and see it as the source in some way of our present woes, which include mass apostasy and the collapse of religious life, among other things. 
  • Some Trads are Rad, i.e. they're willing to oppose the governing authorities of the Church, which they perceive to be somehow infected with modernism or at least horrible imprudence. 
  • Finally, some Trads are Sad, i.e. they don't believe there's a pope at present, and are waiting for the restoration of the papacy.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Rich Young Man and Ways of Saying "Good"

When we predicate "good" and "evil" of things, we generally call them that relatively, according to their natures. A good cat has all the features which indicate perfection in a cat. A bad or evil cat lacks the features which make a cat good.  Etc.

There's a funny moment in Jesus's conversation with the Rich Young Man, when the young man calls Jesus "good teacher", and he says "Why do you call me 'good'? No one is good but God alone." Jesus's response is startling and weird to us, because we understand what the young man is saying: he's calling Jesus 'good' according to his role as a teacher, not saying he's good purely and absolutely. But Jesus uses this to suggest something indirectly to the young man: What if the real reason he should call him "good" is because God alone is good purely and absolutely, and Jesus is God? The young man doesn't get it, though.

Some Comments on Sentimentalism and Modernist Doublespeak

1.  Note how modernists deny doctrine by tweaking the mode in which it is affirmed:
  • Of course the soul lives on! — in our memories.
  • Of course Jesus rose from the grave! — in the transformation of the disciples' understanding of his mission.
  • Of course the sacraments are transformative! — since they are communal celebrations of important life moments.
  • Of course there are miracles! — every experience of love and sharing is a miracle.
  • Of course God exists! — as the perpetual desire we all have for transcendence and community.
  • Of course I am orthodox! — according to the evolving expressions and ideas by which the Church promotes the ideals of service and community.

2.  Here we have the creed of the most banal materialist dressed up in the language of Catholicism. In other words: the soul does not live on, Christ never rose, the sacraments are not effective, there are no miracles, and God does not exist. One wonders why they put so much effort into posturing.

3.  Notice also that the nullification of doctrine is often accomplished by sentimentalizing it.  By equating the supernatural with the emotional, we become straightforward philosophical naturalists.

4. The excessive appeal to tenderness, sadness, nostalgia, etc. is very heavily used to manipulate people to embrace things contrary to reason. This sort of rhetorical or propagandistic trick has been around a long time. You elicit a strong emotion, and then on the force of the emotion get someone to embrace an idea or course of action that is otherwise foolish or wicked. Stop the person from thinking, get them feeling the way you want them to, and the feelings will lead them where you will. Plato and Aristotle talk about this, and strategies like this were the basis of the classical practice of rhetoric. But it seems that today the preferred method of rhetorical appeal is to feelings of "niceness" or "tenderness" or whatever, which have a two-pronged mode of action: by making something out as weak or victimized or in need of kindness, you simultaneously incentivize your audience to embrace it and stigmatize any possible objection they might have by making reasonableness look dry and callous, and even cruel.

5.  Cardinal Burke made a comparison a month or two back between unrepentant sodomites (or was it adulterers? I don't remember) and unrepentant homicides. The logic of the comparison was completely sound, and did not indicate any malice toward sodomites or toward homicides (yes, even murderers should be shown love and mercy). But in the progressive catholic press there was outrage over the comparison. The outrage wasn't based on anything reasonable, though: it was based on Burke's lack of sensitivity, his homophobic rhetoric, etc. In short, no one (so far as I saw) touched the logic of what he said, but they did a very effective job of making the man out to be a malicious bigot, when he was merely expressing Catholic doctrine. This is an easy example of the way sentimentalism ("how could you be so *unfeeling*?!") functions to thwart reason.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Brief Dialogue on Dignitatis Humanae

When it comes to the question of religious liberty, where can we find the clearest expression of principles? 
—The clearest expression is found in the teaching of the whole church.  In documents like these

What makes Dignitatis Humanae such a concern? 
—That it seems to contradict that teaching, because it seems to prioritize the human rights to self-determination and freedom of conscience over the rights of God to be worshipped in truth, and of society to promote true religion. 

Is Dignitatis Humanae clear in its declaration of this novelty, in its grounding the novelty in the apostolic faith, or in its rejection of the prior teaching?
—No. It isn't clear about any of this. 

Then should we assume that Dignitatis Humanae is in agreement with what has always been taught, everywhere, by all? 
—Yes, we should. 

Does the document even expressly say this about itself?
—Yes, it says: " leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."

Does Dignitatis Humanae grant that the common good has priority over religious liberty and freedom of conscience?
—Yes, it conditions the right of religious liberty on the preservation of public order.

Does Dignitatis Humanae state that the foundation for the declaration is the fact that man has a duty to pay homage to God, and that the dignity of human nature requires that this homage be done freely?
—Yes, it does.

In these points is Dignitatis Humanae in agreement with the magisterium of the Church?
—Yes, it is.

Is Dignitatis Humanae useful for elucidating these things? 
—No, it is not. 

Why is it not useful?
—Because the principles and reasoning of the document are scattered and hidden within it, and its main rhetorical features echo the rhetoric of those who have contradicted the consistent magisterium of the Church on these matters for several centuries.

Are there other reasons?
—Yes, beyond its confused structure and bad rhetoric, Dignitatis Humanae leaves its principles so vague that they can be taken in any number of absurd and heretical ways.  Evidence of this is seen in the fact that Dignitatis Humanae is widely understood to be the Church's formal mandate that states should have indifferentist policies toward religion.  The document fails to give sufficient voice to balancing principles which rightly limit religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

By contrast, are the previous expressions of the magisterium on questions of freedom of conscience and religious liberty useful for elucidating these things? 
—Yes, many of them are. 

Then, should we ignore Dignitatis Humanae in favor of the previous statements on this subject? 
—Yes, we should.

Is it wrong to ignore a particular magisterial text in favor of other, clearer and more authoritative magisterial texts?
—No, it cannot be wrong, since this is done constantly, is unavoidable and even prudent.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In Honor of the Mass of the Lord's Supper

[From the Council of Trent's solemn Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass]

On the institution of the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Forasmuch as, under the former Testament, according to the testimony of the Apostle Paul, there was no perfection, because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood; there was need, God, the Father of mercies, so ordaining, that another priest should rise, according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, who might consummate, and lead to what is perfect, as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the last supper, on the night in which He was betrayed,--that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit,--declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and, under the symbols of those same things, He delivered (His own body and blood) to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament; and by those words, Do this in commemoration of me, He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood, to offer (them); even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught. For, having celebrated the ancient Passover, which the multitude of the children of Israel immolated in memory of their going out of Egypt, He instituted the new Passover, (to wit) Himself to be immolated, under visible signs, by the Church through (the ministry of) priests, in memory of His own passage from this world unto the Father, when by the effusion of His own blood He redeemed us, and delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into his kingdom. And this is indeed that clean oblation, which cannot be defiled by any unworthiness, or malice of those that offer (it); which the Lord foretold by Malachias was to be offered in every place, clean to his name, which was to be great amongst the Gentiles; and which the apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, has not obscurely indicated, when he says, that they who are defiled by the participation of the table of devils, cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord; by the table, meaning in both places the altar. This, in fine, is that oblation which was prefigured by various types of sacrifices, during the period of nature, and of the law; in as much as it comprises all the good things signified by those sacrifices, as being the consummation and perfection of them all.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Moving On

In the short span of my life so far, one of the most important consistent experiences has been the struggle over constantly evolving aspirations and practical dispositions toward my present circumstances.  It's by admiring the good that I find hope, which drives me forward into each new pursuit and enables me to work through whatever difficulties occur.  But the admired good and the aspects under which the good is hoped for change as I change.  Sometimes these transformations leave me feeling barren and futile in the context of the day.  Sometimes they create feelings of failure.  The love of the good is the propeller which drives us across the river of sorrows which make up the present life.  May God give me eyes to see the good, and a pure heart to love it, and the hope to continue onward toward the goal.