When Bl. Pope John Paul II died in 2005 I was a junior at Thomas Aquinas College in California. I remember praying the rosary during his final hours — we all had tears in our eyes, but it was a peaceful sadness. I thoroughly enjoyed the days that followed; praying a lot of course, but also watching the novemdiales on EWTN, reading Universi Dominici Gregis over and over, and speculating about who the next Pope would be. I envied my younger brother a bit who spent the whole period of the vacancy of the Apostolic See in Rome, but I enjoyed holding forth on things to people who knew less about the Cardinals. I remember telling one of my classmates that I thought the next Pope would be a disciple of Cardinal Ratzinger’s: Scola or Schönborn or even Ouellet. She asked me “What about Ratzinger himself?” I said that that would be wonderful, that I loved Cardinal Ratzinger, that I thought everything he wrote ought to be inscribed on tablets of gold, but that I didn’t think it would happen.

A few days later, as I came out of class, people were saying that white smoke had gone up. We all crowded into the chaplain’s house, which had the only TV on campus, and waited. Then Cardinal Medina-Estevez  appeared on the street and greeted us in as many languages as he could think of, and then began to make the announcement as s l o w l y as possible. As soon as he said “Josephum” we started shouting YES!!YES!! We already knew who it was before he went any further… It was almost too good to be true.

Tracey Rowland on Pope Benedict’s Resignation

caffarra berretta

One of the best things that I have read on Pope Benedict’s resignation is an article by Tracey Rowland in Catholic World Report. She gives a good overview of  Pope Benedict’s theological works, and also looks at the problem of the bureaucratization of the Church.

She also looks at some papabili; hers is the first article that I have read to mention as papabile Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, about whom I have been tweeting. Rowland writes:

Caffarra was so strongly attacked in the press for defending Humanae Vitae he received a letter of support and encouragement from Sr. Lucia of Fatima. (When you start receiving support letters from someone who has private audiences with the Mother of God you know that you must be very high on the devil’s hate list.)

Saint Peter in Rome

What follows is the translation made available by ZENIT of the important speech given by the Holy at the Seminary of the Diocese of Rome on Febuary 14th (pointed out by Rorate Caeli). The Holy Father argues against historical critics who have tried to discredit the idea of Peter as the first bishop of Rome: “Saint Peter writes from Rome. It is important that we already have the Bishop of Rome, we have the beginning of the succession, we have already the beginning of the concrete primacy located in Rome, not only consigned by the Lord, but located here, in this city, in this capital of the world.”

The reflection draws from 1 Peter 1:3-5: “Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,

Dear Friends!

It is a great joy for me to be with you every year, to see so many young men who walk toward the priesthood, who are attentive to the voice of the Lord, who wish to follow this voice and seek the way to serve the Lord in this our time.

We heard three verses of the First Letter of Saint Peter (cf. 1:3-5). Before going into this text, it seems important to me to be attentive to the fact that it is Peter who is speaking. The first two words of the Letter are “Petrus apostolus” (cf. v. 1): he speaks, and he speaks to the Churches in Asia and calls the faithful “chosen and exiles of the Dispersion” (ibidem). Let us reflect a bit on this. Peter speaks, and he speaks – as we hear at the end of the Letter – of Rome, which he calls “Babylon” (cf. 5:13). Peter speaks: it is almost a first encyclical, with which the first Apostle, vicar of Christ, speaks to the Church of all times.

Peter, apostle. Hence, he speaks who has found Christ Jesus the Messiah of God, who has spoken as the first in the name of the future Church: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. Matthew 16:16). He is speaking who has introduced us to this faith. He speaks to whom the Lord said: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 16:19), to whom he entrusted his flock after the Resurrection, saying to him three times: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep” (cf. John 21:15-17). Speaking also is the man who fell, who denied Jesus and who had the grace to see Jesus’ glance, to be touched in his heart and to have found forgiveness and a renewal of his mission. However, it is important that this man, full of passion, of desire for God, of desire for the kingdom of God, for the Messiah, that this man who found Jesus, the Lord and the Messiah, is also the man who sinned, who fell, and yet he remained under the eyes of the Lord and thus remains responsible for the Church of God, he remains entrusted by Christ to be the bearer of his love.

Peter the apostle is speaking, but the exegetes tell us: it is not possible that this Letter is of Peter, because the Greek is so good that it cannot be the Greek of a fisherman of the Lake of Galilee. And not only the language, the structure of the language is optimal, but also the thought is now quite mature, there are already concrete formulas in which the faith and the reflection of the Church is condensed. Hence, they say: it is already a state of development that cannot be Peter’s. How to respond? There are two important positions: first, Peter himself – namely the Letter – which gives us a key because at the end of the writing he says: “I have written to you through Silvanus – by Silvanus.” This through [by] can mean several things: it can mean that he [Silvanus] transports, transmits; it can mean that he helped in the writing; it can mean that he was really the practical writer. In any case, we can conclude that the Letter itself tells us that Peter was not alone in writing this Letter, but expresses the faith of a Church that is already on the path of faith, an ever more mature faith. He does not write by himself, an isolated individual, he writes with the help of the Church, of the persons who help to deepen the faith, to enter into the profundity of its thought, of its reasonableness, of its profundity. And this is very important: Peter does not speak as an individual, he speaks ex persona Ecclesiae, he speaks as man of the Church, certainly as a person, with his personal responsibility, but also as a person who speaks in the name of the Church: not just his private ideas, not as a genius of the 19th century who wished to express only personal, original ideas, which no one was able to express before. No. He does not speak as an individualistic genius, but speaks in fact in the communion of the Church. In Revelation, in the initial vision of Christ, it is said that the voice of Christ is the sound of many waters (cf. Revelation 1:15). This means that the voice of Christ gathers all the waters of the world, he bears in himself all the living waters that give life to the world; he is Person, but in fact this is the greatness of the Lord, who bears in himself the whole river of the Old Testament, in fact of the wisdom of the peoples. And what is said here about the Lord is true, in another way, also for the apostle, who does not wish to say his own word, but really bears in himself the waters of the faith, the waters of the whole Church, and thus, in fact, of fertility, of fecundity and precisely because of this, he is a personal witness that opens to the Lord, and so becomes open and wide. Therefore, this is important. Continue reading

Relativism, Dogmatism and Alasdair MacIntyre

In the above lecture (pointed out by John of St Thomas) Alasdair MacIntyre quotes Peguy as follows: “A great philosophy is not one that passes final judgments… It is one that causes uneasiness.” Googling the line reveals that MacIntyre has left something rather telling out: after “judgements” Peguy adds “and establishes ultimate truth.” MacIntyre has been accused of opposite faults– on the one hand of nostalgic anti-modernism, on the other of relativistic postmodernism. The latter accusation seems to come from MacIntyre’s sensitivity to the way in which one’s situation in particular historical and cultural surroundings affect what one thinks to be true. As he writes in the Preface to the 3rd ed. of After Virtue:

What historical enquiry discloses is the situatedness of all enquiry, the extent to which what are taken to be the standards of truth and of rational justification in the contexts of practice vary from one time and place to another. If one adds to that disclosure, as I have done, a denial that there are available to any rational agent whatsoever standards of truth and of rational justification such that appeal to them could be sufficient to resolve fundamental moral, scientific, or metaphysical disputes in a conclusive way, then it may seem that an accusation of relativism has been invited. (The word ‘accusation’ is perhaps out of place, since I have been congratulated on my alleged relativism by those who have tried to claim me as a postmodernist…)

In the above lecture MacIntyre talks much of the need to be unsettled in one’s own habit of thoughts, and praises the American tradition represented by Whitman  of valuing “other voices.” But the tradition of Whitman (he claims) is now all but dead. Nowadays Americans don’t want to listen to other voices they just want everyone else to join in there own affirmation of what seems patently obvious to them. It would be easy to see MacIntyre here as making a skeptical anti-dogmatic point– one against “ultimate truths,” but really precisely the opposite is the case. MacIntyre is in fact a dogmatist, and he praises philosophy that “causes uneasiness” on dogmatist grounds. Sean Kelsey, in his response to MacIntyre included in the above video shows why this is so by reference to two passages from Bl. John Henry Newman’s novel Loss and GainIn the first Newman’s protagonist, an Anglican, adopts the principle of dogmatism:

By means of conversations such as those which we have related (to which many others might be added, which we spare the reader’s patience), and from the diversities of view which [Charles] met with in the University, he had now come, in the course of a year, to one or two conclusions, not very novel, but very important:—first, that there are a great many opinions in the world on the most momentous subjects; secondly, that all are not equally true; thirdly, that it is a duty to hold true opinions; and, fourthly, that it is uncommonly difficult to get hold of them. He had been accustomed, as we have seen, to fix his mind on persons,  not on opinions, and to determine to like what was good in every one; but he had now come to perceive that, to say the least, it was not respectable in any great question to hold false opinions. It did not matter that such false opinions were sincerely held—he could not feel that respect for a person who held what Sheffield called a sham, with which he regarded him who held a reality. White and Bateman were cases in point; they were very good fellows, but he could not endure their unreal way of talking, though they did not feel it to be unreal themselves. […] Thus the principle of dogmatism gradually became an essential element in Charles’s religious views.

In the second the protagonist has determined to become a Catholic, and is explaining why:

[The majority of Church-of-England people] tell us to seek, they give us rules for seeking, they make us exert our private judgment; but directly we come to any conclusion but theirs, they turn round and talk to us of our ‘providential position’. But there’s another thing. Tell me, supposing we ought all to seek the truth, do you think that members of the English Church do seek it in that way which Scripture enjoins upon all seekers? Think how very seriously Scripture speaks of the arduousness of finding, the labour of seeking, the duty of thirsting after the truth. I don’t believe the bulk of the English clergy, the bulk of Oxford residents, Heads of houses, Fellows of Colleges (with all their good points, which I am not the man to deny), have ever sought the truth. They have taken what they found, and have used no private judgment at all. Or if they have judged, it has been in the vaguest, most cursory way possible; or they have  looked into Scripture only to find proofs for what they were bound to subscribe, as undergraduates getting up the Articles. Then they sit over their wine, and talk about this or that friend who has ‘seceded’ and condemn him, and […] assign motives for his conduct. Yet after all, which is the more likely to be right,—he who has given years, perhaps, to the search of truth, who has habitually prayed for guidance, and has taken all the means in his power to secure it, or they, ‘the gentlemen of England who sit at home at ease’? No, no, they may talk of seeking the truth, of private judgment, as a duty, but they have never sought, they have never judged; they are where they are, not because it is true, but because they find themselves there, because it is their ‘providential position,’ and a pleasant one into the bargain.

Kelsey argues that this is the reason why MacIntyre wants a philosophy that causes uneasiness–in order that one might be really impelled to seek the truth. But one can of course object that MacIntyre holds that it is impossible to take a position “outside” all traditions of thought and judge them against each other. So how can one say that this teaching whether some teaching which seems true viewed from one tradition, but not from another is “really” true or not. Again Newman can help here. In a letter quoted in his Apologia Newman is answering the charge that his changing his religious opinions after having been so emphatically convinced of his old opinions will lead to scepticism in his followers:

I wish to remark on W.’s chief distress, that my changing my opinion seemed to unsettle one’s confidence in truth and falsehood as external things, and led one to be suspicious of the new opinion as one became distrustful of the old. […] The case with me, then, was this, and not surely an unnatural one:—as a matter of feeling and of duty I threw myself into the system which I found myself in. I saw that the English Church had a theological idea or theory as such, and I took it up. […]  So far from my change of opinion having any fair tendency to unsettle persons as to truth and falsehood viewed as objective realities, it should be considered whether such change is not necessary, if truth be a real objective thing, and be made to confront a person who has been brought up in a system short of truth. Surely the continuance of a person who wishes to go right in a wrong system, and not his giving it up, would be that which militated against the objectiveness of Truth, leading, as it would, to the suspicion, that one thing and another were equally pleasing to our Maker, where men were sincere.

Having established that changing one’s settled position does not militate against the idea of objective truth, Newman goes on to argue that it does not follow that the way to seek that truth is to abstract oneself from all traditions and regard things from the point of view of Cartesian doubt. On the contrary:

For is it not one’s duty, instead of beginning with criticism, to throw oneself generously into that form of religion which is providentially put before one? Is it right, or is it wrong, to begin with private judgment? May we not, on the other hand, look for a blessing through obedience even to an erroneous system, and a guidance even by means of it out of it? Were those who were strict and conscientious in their Judaism, or those who were lukewarm and sceptical, more likely to be led into Christianity, when Christ came? Yet in proportion to their previous zeal, would be their appearance of inconsistency. Certainly, I have always contended that obedience even to an erring conscience was the way to gain light, and that it mattered not where a man began, so that he began on what came to hand, and in faith; and that anything might become a divine method of Truth; that to the pure all things are pure, and have a self-correcting virtue and a power of germinating. And though I have no right at all to assume that this mercy is granted to me, yet the fact, that a person in my situation may have it granted to him, seems to me to remove the perplexity which my change of opinion may occasion.

What Newman is saying here is that it is really those who are most sincerely devoted to the truth which they find in their own system who are likely to be unsettled by the challenges to that system from some other system. It is those who are most dogmatists who are most likely to see what is false in their own system and adopt another. Thus MacIntyre, as a good disciple of Newman, doesn’t think of the inevitable embeddedness of human thought in tradition as an obstacle to the attainment of “ultimate truth,” but rather as a condition of such attainment.

The Body as Deep Mud, a Donkey, and the Hinge of Salvation

nativity copy

I am plunged into deep mire, and there is no standing. Ps 69(68):2

When Christ came into the world, he said, […] a body hast thou prepared for me. Heb 10:5

Caro salutis est cardo. (Salvation hinges on the flesh). Tertulian, De Resurrectione Carnis, VIII

For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Heb 1:5

The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand. Is 1:3

The Psalm verse about being plunged into deep mud where there is no standing is usually applied to the Passion, but Charles De Koninck in Ego Sapientia (ch. 20) shows that it can also be applied to the Incarnation. The “deep mud” is the potentiality of matter into which the eternal Son, the pure act of Divinity, is sunk in becoming man. Fashionable theologians throw up their hands in horror at this sort of application. Not only on exegetical grounds, but above all because they are very sensitive to accusation that Christianity despises the body, and material reality. They hastily quote Tertulian’s famous pun, “Caro salutis est cardo.” (Salvation hinges on the flesh). But they seldom quote something else that Tertulian calls the flesh in the very same chapter of De Resurrectione Carnis: “huic substantiae frivolae ac sordidae” (this poor and worthless substance). Tertulian does indeed defend the body against Gnostics and Platonists – the body is neither evil nor pure privation, it is good and created by God – but neither does he have any illusions about its nobility, considered merely according to its nature. Indeed, it is the very lowliness of matter that enables the flesh to be the hinge of salvation. Continue reading

St Rafael Arnáiz Barón Among the Vegetables; or the Trappist as a Conquistador

rafael arnaiz baron

I have been reading a German translation of the writings of the 20th century Spanish Trappist, St Rafael Arnáiz Barón. There is no English translation of his writings, but here is a very rough translation of one wonderful passage.  (Original: Hno. Rafael Arnaiz Barón, tomado de su “Obras completas”, Mi cuaderno – San Isidro, 12 de diciembre de 1936, Sábado, 25 años.)

The Antics of the Turnips

Three o’clock in the afternoon on a rainy day in December. It’s time for work, and as it’s Saturday and very cold we don’t go out to the fields. We work in a room where lentils are washed, potatoes peeled, collards chopped etc … we call it the  “laboratorium.”

There is a long table here with benches, and a window with a crucifix above it.

It is a gloomy day. The clouds are dark. The wind blows with fitful indecision. A few drops of water fall reluctantly, licking the glass. And above all there is the cold – a cold worthy of the season and the country.

The truth is that apart from the cold, which I can feel in my frozen feet and chilled hands, I see these things mostly in my imagination, since I have hardly glanced at the window. The afternoon is dark and everything appears sad to me. I find the silence oppressive, and it appears that some little devils are determined to tease me with what I call “memories”… have patience and wait. Continue reading