On Contemporary Critiques of Ultramontanism; With a Comparison of Recent Supreme Pontiffs to Liverpool FC Managers

Jürgen Klopp’s appoitment as Liverpool FC’s new manager may not be “the most exciting event … ever,” but it is certainly terribly exciting. I have been a Liverpool supporter ever since my youth, when, not having a TV, I started looking for soccer clips online and found Timbo’s Goals, a now long defunct LFC fan site that featured clips from the glory days of the 70s and 80s, as well as the most recent games. The clips took ages to download on our dial-up connection, but it was worth it. From Keagan and Toshak to Kenny Daglish to John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to Robbie Fowler and Steve Mcmanaman, I got to know all the greats. Gérard Houllier was Liverpool manager in those days, and the first stomach-turningly exciting moment that I had as a Liverpool supporter was watching Houlier’s team defeat Deportivo Alavés in the 2001 UEFA Cup final (on a TV at the house of philosopher Peter Colosi).

Watching Jürgen Klopp’s presentation  was a little bit like watching clips of Pope St. John Paul II emerging on the loggia of St Peter’s after his election to the papacy. The comparison might seem not only to be in bad taste, but also to be misleading. “A pope’s rôle in the Church is not much like that of a manager in a football club,” my readers are presumably thinking. A lot has been written recently in the sort of Catholic blogs that I read— especially ones that to some degree share my integralism— about what popes are not. The pope is not a Soviet style dictator, or oriental tyrant who’s slightest whim is law. He is not the incarnation of the Holy Spirit delivering new revelations and so and so forth. Such warnings against exaggerated notions of the Pope’s rôle are all very well as far as they go.  The Holy Father is the servant of the truth, not its creator. And the pope’s very importance as Vicar of Christ on earth can easily lead to exaggerated ideas about his power. As one of the best of the recent treatments of what the pope is not, Elliot Milco’s series against certain forms of excessive ultra-montanism, puts it: Continue reading

Non abbiate paura

One way in which Christ brings peace is by conquering fear:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

Fear is contrary to peace because one cannot be tranquil as long as one expects to suffer the privation of the good. But the Pascal Mystery removes any cause for fear of any created thing; tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and death itself (cf. Romans 8:35) are no longer fearful because Christ has transformed them by His passion, death, and resurrection into the means by which we are united to His sacrifice and brought to ultimate triumph. Continue reading

The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of “mercy” seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it. (Dives in Misericordia)

Connatural Knowledge: John Paul II and Thérèse of Lisieux


In celebration of Blessed Pope John Paull II’s Feast I’m re-reading Novo Millennio Ineuntearguably the programmatic magisterial text of our time. I was struck by the blessed pope’s use of what he calls “the lived theology of the saints.” The mysteries of Christ are our mysteries, as Bl. Columba Marmion repeats again and again, but this means that the experience of the saints, who have realized Christ in their lives to a wonderful degree, is a source of knowledge about Christ. Consider the following:

Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the “lived theology” of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the “dark night”. Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: “Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbour, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted”. In the same way, Thérèse of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, “experiencing” in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet his dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it”. What an illuminating testimony!

This is what St. Thomas calls “connatural wisdom”:

Wisdom denotes a certain rightness of judgment in accord with divine principles. Now rightness of judgment is twofold: first, in accord with the complete use of reason, second, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has acquired the knowledge of ethics, while the one who has the virtue of chastity judges of such matter by a kind of connaturality. Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them. Thus Dionysius says (Div. Nom.ii), ‘The man of God is complete in divine things, not only by learning, but also by suffering divine things (patiens divina).’ Suffering with God and connaturality with God (compassio et connaturalitas) is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Cor.6:17: Anyone united to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity, but it has its essence in the intellect, whose act is to judge aright, as stated above. (Summa Theol., II-II, q.45, a.2).

It is fitting that Bl. John Paull II was the pope to have declared Thérèse of Lisieux a doctor of the Church. Thérèse seems to exemplify this kind of wisdom to an eminent degree (see the text sited by Bl. John Paul above, and also this text).


562013_10151408917209021_196141803_n (1)Pater Johannes Paul, who was ordained to the priesthood last Sunday, entered the monastery at the same time as I did. Watching him be ordained, and then next day celebrate his first Mass, was extraordinarily moving. Pater Damian, who was also in our novitiate, preached at the first Mass, and recalled the our entry into the monastery, when we had lain on the floor of the Church (in the same place where later we were to lie for the Litany of Saints at our ordinations) and how the Abbot had asked “What do you want?” and we had answered “The mercy of God and the Order.”

Pater Johannes Paul has always been a great example to me of the monastic life as a passionate response to the question “What do you want?” He has often recalled how his own path into the monastery began when he was listening to a CD with quotes from Pope John Paul II. At one point Pope John Paul said: “Do not be satisfied with mediocrity!” The future Pater Johannes Paul says that he realized that his life was mediocre–that he did and thought whatever happened to be fashionable, and wasted his time on mediocre joys–he decided to try to find life in its fullness.

And that is the promise of the monastic life: fullness of life, a life directed entirely toward the infinite good, that tries as far as possible to resist resting in the second best. As St Benedict puts it in the Prologue of the Rule:

And the Lord, seeking his laborer in the multitude to whom He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days” (Ps. 33[34]:13)? And if, hearing Him, you answer, “I am the one,” God says to you, “If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it” (Ps. 33[34]:14-15). And when you have done these things, My eyes shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say to you, ‘Behold, here I am'” (Ps. 33[34]:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9). What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life.

Pontificate of Hope

The author's first encounter with Bl. Pope John Paul II

My confrere Pater Johannes Paul and I went to Rome with a group of pilgrims for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It was tremendously moving and all that sort of thing, but the trip was also kind of exhausting and so I actually fell asleep during the sermon at the Beatification Mass. Reading the sermon when I got back, I was struck by the following passage, in which Pope Benedict gives a remarkably pithy summary of the center of his predecessor’s teaching: Continue reading