Oct 292015
 

Two weeks ago I had noticed the headline in my news aggregator The Plot to Change Catholicism from Ross Douthat. I didn’t read it since by that time I had pretty much had my fill my Synod related commentary. Although usually I do read his columns and find them worthwhile, even in disagreement at times.

Then the whole kerfuffle broke out this week with what columnist Rod Dreyer called The tempest-in-a-theological-faculty-teapot over the pissy letter an (ever-growing) list of Catholic theologians are.

To the editor of the New York Times

On Sunday, October 18, the Times published Ross Douthat’s piece “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is. Moreover, accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused. This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

So I read the article to see what the big deal was about. I was not surprised to find that the article had little to do with the characterization of it. No fire or brimstone or charges of heresy. Douthat proposes that Pope Francis is at least favorable to the Kasper proposal and that Synod appointments reflect this. That his actions were crafted towards that end. I think it is a reasonable explanation of the facts. Others who I respect and who are not spittle-flecked Francis haters have suggested the same explanation based on available facts. I don’t happen to think that this is the only possible interpretation of the tea-leave readings of Synodal appointments, just that it seems to fit.

So as far as Ross Douthat’s column goes it wasn’t especially intemperate or over-the-top. You can either agree or disagree with his analysis. What is over-the-top is the reaction. On the left “Credentialism” is something that is often resorted to. Only some people are allowed to comment. If you are a man you can’t have an opinion regarding abortion. If you are not a left-leaning theologian or a columnist of the right type again you are not allowed an opinion. Maureen Dowd and a plethora of NYT columnists can promote abortion and other evils and this list of theologians wouldn’t bat an eye.

This is not what we expect of the New York Times.

This might be the finest compliment Mr. Douthat has ever received.

So where does the idea that Ross Douthat was calling people heretics come from? Again referring to Rod Dreyer column Thin-Skinned Theologians he lists an exchange on Twitter between Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli where at one point Douthat replies “Own your Heresy.” So a Twitter subtweet seems to be where much of the ire comes from. I guess these theologians haven’t been on Twitter much.

In reaction to this I have seen a couple find columns in reaction to the letter.

Bishop Robert Barron’s Ross Douthat and the Catholic Academy makes some excellent points regarding credentialism and finishes with this:

So in the spirit of Howard Sudberry, I would say to those who signed the letter against Ross Douthat, “Make an argument against him; prove him wrong; marshal your evidence; have a debate with him; take him on. But don’t attempt to censor him.” I understand that the signatories disagree with him, but he’s playing by the rules.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker weighs in with From the Fury of Liberal Theologians, Good Lord Deliver Us.

Heresy is not a charge to be bantered about casually.

Can. 751: Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.

The whole debate regarding those divorced and remarried being allowed Communion has always seemed a nonsensical debate to me. Really it does tend towards heresy regarding the truth Jesus gave us regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Either someone is in a objectively grave state of sin or they are not. Either one is fully in communion with the Church or they are not.

The whole proposal makes adultery a favored sin given special treatment. That someone doesn’t have to repent of a sin and still to be able to say they are in communion with the Church and the will of Christ. I do wonder how I can get my own long list of sins given special treatment. The idea that you can go through a “period of penance” while not actually repenting is just bad theology.

In part I can certainly understand why this proposal has come about. In most every case where we sin we can repent of the sin, confess it, with a firm purpose of amendment regarding that sin. For those who have “remarried” there can be no full repentance until the situation is rectified. This is an exceptionally difficult situation and I have certainly empathized with the anguish of those who find themselves in this situation. Countless hours of Catholic radio have exposed me to these personal stories. I have also seen the difficulties regarding evangelism for people in this situation. Those that might be attracted towards the Church find the Catholic teaching on marriage cruel and judgmental.

So I can totally understand what leads to a misplaced sense of mercy where the truth regarding marriage is invalidated. One of the things I have noticed in the whole debate regarding the family relates to the aftermath of divorce and very little to keeping families intact in the first place. Rampant divorce is a modern phenomenon. Much more effort should be expended regarding this along with helping those in irregular marriage situations. No one is helped when you confirm them in their sin. When something is uncomfortable it is amazing the reasons we can come up with to avoid those situations (speaking from my own experience here). I think some of this false mercy is driven by that.

It is rather odd when you deny the possibility of divorce that you are denounced as Pharisees when the Pharisees permitted divorce. Jesus called them hard-hearted for not defending the truth of marriage.

Oct 282015
 

Via Fr. Z is a story that proved truth is stranger than fiction.

Tambourine player tased during church service

EDMOND, Okla. – Most churches encourage praise and worship. In fact, the Bible states, “make a joyful noise to the Lord.”

But 50-year-old Vickey Sue Beyersdorfer apparently went a bit too far.

Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Mark Myers said, “Nobody could pay attention to the sermon or what was going on so that’s when our deputy was able to take care of the situation.”

The religious ruckus happened at Victory Church at 1515 N. Kelly Ave in Edmond.

A woman was apparently playing a tambourine too loudly during Wednesday night services.

When she refused to stop, the woman was escorted out by an off duty Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Myers said, “He had to physically escort her outside the church. Once outside, she broke free from the deputy and tried to go back inside, there became a physical confrontation.”

According to the arrest report, the deputy was forced to pepper spray and tase the unruly woman.

Myers said, “She was not filled with the Holy spirit. She was not being very Christianly and this is why the folks decided to get her out as soon as possible.”

Witnesses said the combative Christian was staggering and had slurred speech.

Authorities did find prescription pain medication in her possession.

Authorities have not said if that medication was found in her system or if that may have contributed to the incident.

  • Bolding is retained from original story

Hey Mrs. Tamborine woman, don’t play a song for me.

Now I wonder if prescription pain medicine could be at the root of all the enthusiastic percussionists I encounter at Mass. Except usually I am the one wanting the pain medicine as a result.

Oct 272015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 15 October 2015 to 27 October 2015.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

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Oct 202015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 12 September 2015 to 20 October 2015.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

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Oct 142015
 

Having read my share of Catholic apologetics and listened to countless hours of Catholic radio I have certainly encountered the irony of the idea of Sola Scriptura. That you can’t use scripture alone to discern this doctrine and also that this is a Protestant tradition passed down.

Listening to the Catholic Answers shows where they field questions from atheists it led me to realize just how much Sola Scriptura was like scientism. Over and over I heard atheists object to the existence of God since it was not scientifically provable. That the only tool for discerning truth was science. Scientism sees the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and that empirical science constitutes the only valid method for discerning reality. That this belief is a philosophy and thus not scientifically provable via the scientific method seems to be totally lost on the most atheists. Even when this is pointed out to them the appeal is once again to science. Admitting that philosophy can be another tool in discerning truth is a bridge-too-far for many atheists.

I can certainly understand this since when I was an atheist I was totally skeptical of philosophy as a tool for discerning truth. The relativism inherent in the little philosophy I was exposed to made me reject this area. That I had a philosophy that rejected relativism was lost on me. I wanted to know truth while at the same time never demanded that empirical science be able to prove the concept of truth in the first place.

So I find it interesting the crossover between scripture alone and science alone. Oddly there is almost the same fundamentalist understanding of scripture between the two groups. Both exclude other possible interpretations not interpreted through their single lens. Those that have thought about scripture being the highest authority and that that they can’t know the canon of scripture through this authority, just live with this ambiguity. Same with the science alone believers. They can’t prove via scientific experimentation that science is the only authority, even less so when it comes to concepts like truth. René Descartes wanted to build a system of provable concepts and bootstrap this from the first provable concept that didn’t rely on anything else and so on. Others have been attempting to do the same since and to the same end.

As a Catholic I am really just learning what it means to be able be not limited to a single interpretive lens. As an atheist I loved science and was spellbound by the wonder of the natural world and what we could discern. Now I still have that in spades magnified by even more wonder. Strangely while this wider view increases the number of things I don’t understand, I now have more tools to use to discern truth. Each intellectual tool has its own areas of competencies. The narrow view of what science is now limited to is a fall from when theology was known as the queen of the sciences.

Oct 132015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 17 September 2015 to 13 October 2015.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

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  • “Dear young friends, ask the Lord for a free heart so as not to be ensnared by the false pleasures of the world.” @Pontifex 8 October 2015
  • “Work is important, but so too is rest. Shouldn’t we learn to respect times of rest, especially Sundays?” @Pontifex 10 October 2015
  • “Let us learn solidarity. Without solidarity, our faith is dead.” @Pontifex 13 October 2015
Oct 072015
 

With the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family now in session and everything that has led up to it, I have seen lots of reactions. There is the “finally” crowd who think the Synod will be changing Catholic teaching and are happy about it and there are the doom and gloomers who think the Synod will change Church teaching and are not happy about it.

So I was all set to write a “Don’t Panic” post and relate the current situation in the Church to Church history. I even had it set as a reminder to write something on that subject.

Then I saw Thomas L. McDonald’s post today The Catholic Church Will Survive: Putting Crises in Perspective. If I was much smarter and was an excellent writer this was the post I would have written.

So just read his post instead. Still I will go ahead and meander on the subject myself since the subject must seek release from my brain and that’s what my blog is for.

I am no Church historian, yet the subject does interest me as a amateur and what I have read has intrigued me and helped me try to put things into perspective. It seems to me the Church is always in crisis. We are always coming to some decision point and when we come to a decision there are still waves of effects from even a moment of clarity. This of course is followed up by the next crisis.

The Book of Judges shows that ebb and flow of repentance and falling back into sin. Over and over we see pattern in the Old Testament. The false idea of progress where just the passage of time leads to moral progress is one of those things that can only be believed if you conveniently ignore all of human history and the evidence of your eyes. Still even with that caveat, many seem capable of doing just that. The prophets were never called to affirm the current moral climate, but to denounce it. No surprise that prophets were unpopular. Oddly we have people today claiming a prophetic message who affirm negative moral trends. No surprise that they’re popular and don’t contain martyrs among them.

All of the rest of Church history follows the same template of rise and fall. This is certainly unsettling in every age. Still much of the New Testament is written in response to some problem or other. The pastoral letters are not about how everyone has converted to Christ and are spreading the Gospel to others. Sure this is one aspect, but mostly there are the day-to-day problems dealing with discipline and just plain heresy. Without all this drama no doubt the New Testament would be much shorter.

Rising from the persecution stage of the early Church we again run into the same series of problems facing the Church. Most notable in this early period is the Arian heresy which gained many adherents including many of the Easter Bishops. Not to mention other concurrent heresies in those times and the ones that followed them. I could easily imagine being a Catholic blogger during those times generating link-bait papyrus despairing at Arian episcopal appointments and the banishment of Athanasius once again. To have the Council of Nicea overwhelmingly reject Arianism and yet Arianism was strengthened in regards to power and influence in the Church. Plenty of factions and double-dealing behind the scenes. Agendas and people using theology for a power grab. Yeah nothing has changed.

The time of the Council of Nicea is no real exception. Heresy and corruption are mainstays of Church history along with the saints God raised up in those times. There has never been some idyllic golden age in the Church and there won’t ever be for the Church Militant.

When I first heard the reports regarding the Secret Synod from Edward Pentin I was not surprised. There have always been factions and those plotting to change theology. In fact I would have been more suspicious if such groups did not come to light. The advocates for itching ears always have some new enlightened view to proclaim from their elitist heights. Bad theology always gains adherents as it tends to excavate the narrow way and reduce the need for repentance.

I am no Pollyanna just invoking the truth that the “Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.” True as that is there is a lot of damage that can be done that is just short of “prevail.” Still I am not worried that Church teaching is going to be changed. Time and time again at these points of response to crisis, documents produced do not support the current error. Sure there are ambiguities and certainly no guarantee that the orthodox views are stated perfectly. These documents are not inspired and often not even inspired in the other sense.

No the documents that will come out of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family do not give me premonitory indigestion. It is almost always the pastoral response that concerns me. Regardless how clear a document is and orthodox it is. It is always the pastoral practice that subverts it. Humanae Vitae did not end discussion regarding the moral licitness of contraception. It was ignored by Bishop conferences, priests in the confessional, down to the practice of the laity. Contraception was a good case in point regarding how so many thought the Church as going to change her teaching. Lots of drama then also regarding the The Pontifical Commission on Birth Control which overwhelming supported contraception in saying it was not intrinsically evil.

Usually what happens is that dissenters find the easiest way to undermine Church teaching is not to teach it or have it taught. Make everything a matter of conscience, an individualist unformed conscience. Since this time around the issues regard divorce and remarriage regarding Communion and to some extent homosexual acts, dissent will take different paths. It is not as if dissenters will be able to publicly “remarry” people or conduct same-sex weddings. Such public dissent would take the same disciplinary path as attempting to ordain women.

As a pessimistic-optimist I will be able to deal with both the clarifying and maddening aspects of the results of the Synod. Don’t Panic, but pray instead.

Photo credit: Good Advice via photopin (license)

Oct 062015
 

There are some things when I run across them in a novel, movie, or even religious discussion immediately set off alarm bells for me. One of them is anything involving the Nephalem. It just never turns out well and most often very silly. Another is Constantine. Constantine gets blamed for a lot by a lot of different groups. At least with the Nephalem, it is something rather mysterious with little scriptural reference. When it comes to Constantine we actually have a wealth of historical information from Christian and Pagan sources. Still Constantine is often used to pointed to as a corruptor of “pure” Christianity and the cause of the great apostasy. From Dan Brown to starters of new religions the start was not from history, but as a required plot line to justify what goes after.

I was naturally delighted when I first found out Rod Bennett was releasing a new book called The Apostasy That Wasn’t: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church. A semi-sequel to his wonderful Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words. The appellation that somebody “made history come alive” is probably overused. Often I found that the author had made history interesting, but not fully alive to my intellect. Rod Bennett does make history come intellectually alive for me with his deft use of storytelling, historical writings, and the fruit of his research.

The introduction starts with a stroll to a period while he was still a Protestant and coming across a place in Tennessee called “Fields of the Wood” built up by a Preacher scandalized by the divisions in Christianity. Who was bringing back the “true church” and started a new congregation. This struck regarding how often this pattern has occurred. The person scandalized by the divisions who promptly create yet another division. The Bullwinkle-syndrome where the optimist church reformer says “This time for sure!” as he pulls another church out of his hat.

Rod Bennett describes the history of Preacher Tomlinson and this preachers own version of the Great Apostasy. This same pattern can be seen with the Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah Witnesses, Islam, and really most of Protestantism. Rod Bennett’s thinking about this preacher’s history led him to realize “Don’t I have, when it comes right down to it, a ‘Great Apostasy’ theory of my own?” This insight led him to studying church history and the reading of the Church Fathers. I think at this point it is mandatory to insert the Blessed John Newman quote “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Otherwise I could lose my Catholic blogger license.

I was not unfamiliar with this tumultuous and exciting period of Church history. Warren H. Carroll covers this period quite well in one of his volumes of “A History of Christendom.” Still I found it contextualized better and I especially appreciated the lead up in history to Constantine and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. The state of the Church and how between waves of persecution it was out in the open with various levels of toleration. Even with Diocletian there was originally some toleration before the worst of the persecutions began. It was all much more complicated than the incorrectly simplified history of Constantine being the first to grant such toleration. Especially the erroneous idea that he made Catholicism the official religion of the empire.

He also paints the state of the empire with Rome depopulated and great cities like Alexandria lapsing from their Catholic faith. This historical backdrop sets the stage for such a fascinating piece of Church history. The rise of the Arian heresy by the priest Arius, the calling of the council, and the whole wonderful story of St. Athanasius. The story of Athanasius came so alive for me along with the conjecture that he had gotten involved with St Antony and the Desert Monks at a rather early period of his life. I often felt like I was reading a novel as this history played out. The real story is so odd and seemingly implausible that it only works as history.

Rod Bennett really is a master storyteller and fully employs his skills in describing this period of history along with presenting the actual texts that we have. This is certainly a period of history with many surviving texts from those involved along with of course the Councilar texts. His subtitle is “The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church” and this certainly fits the billing. The Arians had all the power on their side. They had most of the episcopacy of the Eastern bishops and the ear of the Emperors. The figure of Athanasius was unimpressive, but his mark on history wasn’t.

I totally loved this book. So much so that no doubt it also goes on my re-read list.

Oct 062015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 5 September 2015 to 4 October 2015.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

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Sep 292015
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 15 August 2015 to 28 September 2015.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

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