Vexilla Christus inclita

October 25 was, according to the pre-Conciliar rubrics, the first-class feast of Christ the King. (Christ the King is now celebrated on the last Sunday in tempus per annum, apparently to emphasize the eschatological aspect of Christ’s kingship, which was not at all what Quas primas was about, but we digress.) We were particularly struck by the hymns for the office, especially the hymn for Lauds, Vexilla Christus inclita, which includes this passage:

O ter beata civitas,
cui rite Christus imperat,
quae iussa pergit exsequi
edicta mundo caelitus!

Non arma flagrant impia,
pax usque firmat foedera,
arridet et concordia,
tutus stat civicus.

Servat fides connubia,
iuventa pudet integra,
pudica floret limina
domesticis virtutibus.

In Father Joseph Husslein’s translation, these stanzas are rendered:

Thrice happy city, basking fair
Beneath His royal sway,
Where at the mandates from His throne
All hearts with joy obey!

No godless conflicts there shall rage,
But Peace outstretch her hand,
With smiling Concord at her side—
Firm shall that city stand!

Where wedded love shall keep its troth,
And youth can blossom fair,
And all the household virtues pure
Shall grace the household there.

We were struck by the imagery in Vexilla Christus inclita, so we looked it up in Dom Matthew Britt’s indispensable The Hymns of the Roman Breviary and Missal (3d ed. 1934). According to him, the hymns were composed specifically for the office of Christ the King, which was approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on December 12, 1925. (The day after Quas primas was formally promulgated.) However, Britt does not identify the author of these bespoke hymns. But we recalled that Fr. John Hunwicke had a series earlier this year about the Social Kingship of Christ, and we thought that Hunwicke might have a little more information about the author of Vexilla Christus inclita. And he did: he names Fr. Vittorio Genovesi as the author.

Genovesi (1887-1967) was an Italian Jesuit. He was best known during his life, perhaps, as a very talented—indeed, prize-winning—Latin poet and cultivator of Latinitas. (The blog Missa in Latina has a very detailed biography of Genovesi in the context of his Christ the King hymns.) He achieved Curial prominence under Pius XII, who appointed him hymnographer to the Sacred Congregation of Rites—this would have been some years after composing the Christ the King hymns—and then to other positions in the Congregation. Fr. Gabriel Díaz Patri, in “Poetry in the Latin Liturgy,” his contribution to a 2010 volume called The Genius of the Roman Rite, notes that Genovesi also wrote hymns for the feast of St. John Chrysostom and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The latter distinction is especially noteworthy, given the importance of the office of the Assumption after Munificentissimus Deus. Later, he was on one of John XXIII’s preparatory committees for the Council.

In sum, Genovesi appears to be one of those priests—Cardinal Ottaviani was another—who understood that the Church carried forward the best of classical culture and who acted like it, treating Latin as one of their own languages, not something belonging to history. There is a sense, fairly sad, especially at a time when Synod fathers complained that they did not have sufficient Italian to be able to read the Synod’s drafts, that the Church lost something intangible and invaluable when Latin was graciously set aside as the Church’s language.

But equally fascinating is Genovesi’s Jesuit confrere, Joseph Husslein, who translated Vexilla Christus inclita (his translation is provided in Britt’s book). We confess that we had not heard of Husslein prior to today. In a review of a biography of Husslein by Steven A. Werner, Arthur Hippler notes,

Most American Catholics nowadays who devote themselves to “social concerns” have shrunk the magisterial social teaching to a few choice texts from Rerum Novarum, Mater et Magistra, and the writings of Pope John Paul II that happen to serve their favorite cause. The attention, for example, that John Paul II gives to the natural law, the problem of secularism, and the defense of the traditional family, just to name a few, are largely filtered out of contemporary discourse. The American “social concerns” crowd feels much more comfortable when the pope talks about global warming or capital punishment.

The example of Jesuit social thinker Father Joseph Husslein (1873–1952) offers a refreshing contrast to this contemporary intellectual fashion. Steven Werner shows him as a scholar who formed his thought by the teachings of Leo XIII, especially Rerum Novarum. Indeed, Husslein had done this so completely that his writings anticipated many developments that later appeared in Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno. From 1909 to 1931, Father Husslein published numerous books and articles, applying Catholic social teachings to the problems of the day. His crowning work, The Christian Social Manifesto: An Interpretive Study of Encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno of Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, published in 1931, received the praise of Pius XI in a letter written by Cardinal Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII.

Hippler’s review of Werner’s book is as not favorable as Pius XI’s review of Husslein’s commentary on Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno, though. After criticizing Werner’s “caricature of Catholic history,” Hippler makes this point about Husslein’s career,

On this point, it is worth remarking that after the publication of The Christian Social Manifesto in 1931 until his death in 1951, “The bulk of Husslein’s writings was devotional”. Among the topics of his ten books and fifty articles were the Eucharist, the Holy Family, and the social reign of Christ the King. After presenting some possibilities for this change, Werner speculates that “Husslein went deep to the core assumptions underlying his social writing: that social change would only come about with a change in the hearts of human beings and only true religion could accomplish such change”. If this is true, Husslein fully merits the status that Werner gives him in the book’s title, namely that of prophet. A prophet sees that what appear to be social or political problems are truly spiritual problems.

(Emphasis supplied.) Some light Googling turns up more information about Husslein. He sounds like an important figure in the early understanding of Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno, at least in the United States. However, given the divergent trends in the American Church’s understanding of the Church’s social teaching, it seems like Husslein has fallen by the wayside. We will, however, make an effort to find out more about him, and, perhaps, share the information here.

But—in keeping with our running admiration of James Burke’s Connections—we note that there are some interesting connections here. Pius XI establishes the feast of Christ the King in 1925. The feast needs an office and an office—especially for a first-class feast—needs hymns, so Jesuit Father Vittorio Genovesi, a first-rate Latin poet, is commissioned to write some hymns for the office, including Vexilla Christus inclita. This hymn is translated into English by one of Genovesi’s confreres, Joseph Husslein. Husslein was himself a major thinker regarding Catholic social teaching, and a commentator on Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno. The latter encyclical was, of course, by Pius XI.

Someone really ought to do something for Papa Ratti. Everything seems to come back to him sooner or later.

A question of trust

We have never liked Depeche Mode as much as New Order. That said, we were put in mind of a certain 1986 single by Depeche Mode (out at about the same time as New Order’s “Shellshock,” which also seems somehow appropriate to our circumstances) by Father Ray Blake’s post “The Synod of Mistrust.” Blake argues,

What seems to have been at the heart of the Synod and its point of crisis is nothing to do with the issues on the table, nothing to do with family or homosexuals or communion, it is trust. Trust has broken down, no-one trusts the people who report the Synod’s discussions. Fr Lombardi and his crew seem more about obfuscation than clarity. Fr Rosica, his English speaking side-kick, has become a twitter by-word for bullying and is seen as presenting of his own pro-gay agenda. Both are seen as presenting the ‘spirit’ of the Synod, not the Synod itself. In the same way most, if not all of  those who are entrusted with responsibility by the Pope, like Cardinal Baldissieri and Archbishop Forte and other papal appointees, are regarded either as being corrupt or part of the ‘gay-lobby’. They are simply not trusted.

The great divide between the Germans and most of the rest of the Synod again underlines a break-down in trust, it is unfortunate that the Pope has allowed himself to be seen as allied to the German cause.

To an observer, mistrust seems to be at the heart of the Synod. There is a great contrast between those of a ‘liberal’ perspective and those who oppose them. The trouble is that the ‘liberals’ are incredibly inarticulate, rather like poor old Cardinal Dew or Cardinal Wuerl or even our own Bishop Doyle, who has never struck me as being in the avant guard of revolutionary, or even contemporary, thought. What are they saying? The truth is no-one knows, which means they inspire and capture no-one’s imagination, no-one will die for what they have to say, no-one will commit themselves to what they have to say, because ultimately they have nothing to say. It is merely vacuous prattle, which breeds confusion and becomes like the Holy Father’s, which tend to be nagging rather than edifying.

(Emphasis supplied and links removed.) Father Blake is a little gloomy, to be sure. However, we think he understates, if anything, the problem. The basic problem is that the Holy Father and most of his appointees are running a major deficit of trust with many Catholics.

Look at Mitis iudex. The basic standard of review for a nullity case is the same as always: the judge has to be morally certain that the marriage was void ab initio, and this is true whether the case proceeds on the ordinary contentious process or on the processus brevior. Yet, it is clear that many Catholics—including many intelligent, sensible Catholics, including some prelates—are convinced that Mitis iudex will result in Catholic divorce. Why? Well, they simply do not trust diocesan bishops to uphold the law regarding nullity cases. And they apparently do not trust that the Holy Father, through his Roman tribunals, to keep the dioceses in line.

Likewise, the debate over Laudato si’ has come down to a question of trust. Some Catholics think the Pope has sold out to the U.N.-backed leftist bloc on climate change. At the very least, these Catholics think that the Holy Father has given in to a bien-pensant consensus that pits, well, everyone against the developed, wealthy West. Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has pointed out, convincingly, the ways in which Laudato si’ brilliantly criticizes the technocratic-anthropocentric outlook of modernity and the ways which that outlook opposes God and his creation. Likewise, we have yet to be convinced that Laudato si’ is out of line with Rerum novarum, Quadragesimo anno, or Populorum progressio—all of which, notwithstanding the Actonistas’ wishes otherwise, are solidly magisterial at this point. All that said, it is plain that many serious Catholics simply do not trust the Holy Father to agree with climate-change advocates where agreement is possible and to disagree on the (many) points where agreement is not possible. They think he’s going to give away the farm. There is no other conclusion to be drawn—except, of course, in the cases of those who have consistently resisted the Church’s economic teaching since Mater et Magistra.

And, of course, the paroxysms regarding the Synod, its leadership, and its procedures are well known. Certainly, John Paul and Benedict appointed their fair share of liberalizers and Modernists; there are not many cardinals named by Paul VI remaining (one, maybe?). Thus, almost everyone with a red hat got it from John Paul or Benedict. Likewise, there are not many bishops remaining who were not appointed by John Paul or Benedict. That said, the faithful plainly trusted John Paul and Benedict notwithstanding their mixed record of episcopal and cardinalatial appointments to hold the line in a way that they do not trust Francis.

Does the Holy Father deserve this atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion? Certainly not! Much of it is the result of the media, taking the Holy Father’s often broad, broadly encouraging statements and turning them into the veritable constitution of a new church that bears little resemblance to the one Christ founded. We doubt very much if the Holy Father intends this. But we think that the Holy Father likes to present a welcoming, compassionate face of the Church. (We have often said that were Father Bergoglio our confessor, we’d rave about him to all and sundry.) But the fact remains, the atmosphere is what it is.

Perhaps everything does come down to a question of trust.

That would be an ecumenical question

One interesting bit caught our eye in the report of Anglicus “D,” the group moderated by Cardinal Collins and reported by Archbishop Chaput:

The group had a long exchange on pastoral approaches to divorced people who had not remarried, and also divorced people who have married again without an annulment. Members voiced significant concern that whatever is done should not lead to greater confusion among our people. One bishop said that the issue of admitting divorced and remarried persons without an annulment to Communion was such a vital matter of doctrinal substance that it could only be handled at an ecumenical council and not at a synod.

(Emphasis added.) One bishop does not a trend make—unless you’re Walter Cardinal Kasper—but it is enormously interesting to us to see the suggestion that, while a synod cannot make changes on “vital matter[s] of doctrinal substance,” an ecumenical council can.

The high-water mark of the Kasperites

The third set of the reports of the circuli minores were released today. According to Raymond Arroyo, five groups clearly support the Kasperite proposal, two clearly oppose, and the rest are unclear. Rorate comes up with a different count. Rorate argues that most circuli are unfavorable to the proposal. There are thirteen circuli, so less than half of the circuli clearly support the proposal with Arroyo’s numbers. This half-jives with the reports yesterday that there was overwhelming opposition among the Synod fathers to the proposal.

We were struck by some of the language, aided hugely by Google Translate, in Germanicus’s report:

Die Diskussionen zeigen deutlich, dass es einiger Klärungen und Vertiefungen bedarf, um die Komplexität dieser Fragen im Licht des Evangeliums, der Lehre der Kirche und mit der Gabe der Unterscheidung weiter zu vertiefen. Einige Kriterien können wir freilich nennen, die zur Unterscheidung helfen. Das erste Kriterium gibt der hl. Papst Johannes Paul II. in FC 84, wenn er dazu einlädt: „Die Hirten mögen beherzigen, dass sie um der Liebe willen zur Wahrheit verpflichtet sind, die verschiedenen Situationen gut zu unterscheiden. Es ist ein Unterschied, ob jemand trotz aufrichtigen Bemühens, die frühere Ehe zu retten, völlig zu Unrecht verlassen wurde oder ob jemand eine kirchlich gültige Ehe durch eigene schwere Schuld zerstört hat. Wieder andere sind eine neue Verbindung eingegangen im Hinblick auf die Erziehung der Kinder und haben manchmal die subjektive Gewissensüberzeugung, dass die frühere, unheilbar zerstörte Ehe niemals gültig war.“ Es ist deshalb Aufgabe der Hirten, zusammen mit dem Betroffenen diesen Weg der Unterscheidung zu gehen. Dabei wird es hilfreich sein, gemeinsam in ehrlicher Prüfung des Gewissens Schritte der Besinnung und der Buße zu gehen. So sollten sich die wiederverheirateten Geschiedenen fragen, wie sie mit ihren Kindern umgegangen sind, als die eheliche Gemeinschaft in die Krise geriet? Gab es Versuche der Versöhnung? Wie ist die Situation des verlassenen Partners? Wie ist die Auswirkung der neuen Partnerschaft auf die weitere Familie und die Gemeinschaft der Gläubigen? Wie ist die Vorbildwirkung auf die Jüngeren, die sich für die Ehe entscheiden sollen? Eine ehrliche Besinnung kann das Vertrauen in die Barmherzigkeit Gottes stärken, die niemandem verweigert wird, der sein Versagen und seine Not vor Gott bringt.

Ein solcher Weg der Besinnung und der Buße kann im forum internum, im Blick auf die objektive Situation im Gespräch mit dem Beichtvater, zur persönlichen Gewissensbildung und zur Klärung beitragen, wie weit ein Zugang zu den Sakramenten möglich ist. Jeder muss sich selber prüfen gemäß dem Wort des Apostels Paulus, das für alle gilt, die sich dem Tisch des Herrn nähern: „Jeder soll sich selbst prüfen; erst dann soll er von dem Brot essen und aus dem Kelch trinken. Denn wer davon ißt und trinkt, ohne zu bedenken, daß es der Leib des Herrn ist, der zieht sich das Gericht zu, indem er ißt und trinkt. (…) Gingen wir mit uns selbst ins Gericht, dann würden wir nicht gerichtet.“ (1 Kor 11, 28–31)

(Emphasis supplied.) You may note that the two major sources in Germanicus’s outline of Cardinal Kasper’s own penitential path are Familiaris consortio no. 84, which has been the subject of much discussion over the last couple of years, and Paul’s dire warning in 1 Corinthians 11. The bit from Familiaris consortio is the standard German misquoting, which makes it sound like John Paul supported a pastoral determination based upon individual circumstances. He did not: that bit is just a prelude to the “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried” portion, which is what was important. No surprise, though. However, we were especially interested to see Paul’s warning quoted in the context of an internal forum solution. That seems to be new.

It certainly looks like the Kasperites are in retreat. After all this strife—after two general assemblies of the Synod, after all the various media skirmishes, after everything—the best they could do was propose an internal-forum solution, tempered with Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11? It hardly seems worth it. Of course, they may know something we don’t know.

Elizabeth Scalia and uncomfortable nihilism

Elizabeth Scalia has upset the apple cart in a big way today, asserting at Aleteia,

We are a church of faith and reason. I believe every word of the Creed. I believe every word articulated from the mouth of Christ Jesus, and I mean to obey the doctrine and dogma that have grown from his teachings and the traditions. I believe marriage is indissoluble and that divorce does not exist in Catholic marriages, but findings of nullity do. But belief does not automatically confer understanding. What I understand today is that we are all deeply in need of medicine, and none of us can defile the purity that is Christ, nor can the Holy Eucharist defile any one of us.

(Emphasis supplied.) Elliot Milco has a witty, devastating rejoinder, based on a children’s catechism.

For our part, we note that it is true: not one us can defile Christ’s purity. However, by that reasoning, all manner of shocking abuses of the Eucharist are No Big Deal. The lunatics and blasphemers who would abuse the living Flesh and Blood of the mighty God can’t defile God’s purity-beyond-purity. So, why should we get worked up if there’s an occasional black mass? Or if some perplexed protestant sticks the Eucharist between the pages of the hymnal, not knowing (1) that he shouldn’t approach the Sacrament and (2) what to do with the Sanctissimum once he has?

The reason, of course, is that we have an innate sense that one shouldn’t do those things to God. He deserves better. He deserves better than we can possibly give him, but we can at least do our utmost. One also has the sense that God is, in fact, hurt by abuses of his Precious Body and Blood, which he gave up on Calvary for us. At bottom, Scalia’s argument confuses injury with insult. We may not be able to diminish God’s purity-beyond-purity, but we are certainly capable of offending him, both in what we do and what we fail to do. And it seems to us that taking the Eucharist unworthily, given the witness of the Apostle, is surely an offense to God.

There is an uncomfortable nihilism at bottom here. If our ability to harm God is the sole meaningful criterion, then there is no meaningful criterion.

Devolution, Moneyball, and the children’s game

One of the most memorable moments in Moneyball—a good, though flawed, sports movie in many respects, sports movie—is when the scout is recruiting young Billy Beane. He says,

We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t… don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.

(Emphasis supplied.) For context, Beane thought about playing college ball for Stanford and then looking at a career in the majors. The scout pooh-poohs the idea, suggesting that if Beane wants to be a big-league ballplayer, then he needs to go be a big-league ballplayer. The scout, in short, is addressing Beane’s desire to have it both ways. That‘s the children’s game.

Elliot Milco has a piece at The Paraphasic that is about the Holy Father’s apparent intent to forge ahead with collegiality and synodality. He argues, in short, that Francis’s plans are un-Catholic and disastrous for the Church. Worse than anything poor Pope Paul let happen. And he suggests that we will all find ourselves in greater sympathy with the SSPX if those plans come to fruition. We have expressed earlier our doubt that those plans will, in fact, come to fruition, not least since Francis has yet to achieve some of the big-idea items of his agenda. (Items, by the way, which will be necessary for the broader plans described: you can’t start devolving power to the peripheries as long as Pastor Bonus remains good law.) In the meantime, Milco urges us all to do as Catherine of Siena did and provide the Holy Father with our thoughts, encouragement, and, if necessary, fraternal correction.

This piece got us thinking, though maybe not how best to write a letter to the Pope outlining our concerns. It got us thinking about Moneyball. (Also, the Mets are playing for the pennant.) The fundamental aspect with the major problems confronting the Church is that they are all variations on the children’s game. The liberals want to have it both ways. Affirm doctrine about marriage, but permit those in objectively sinful situations to approach the living Flesh and Blood of the mighty God. Affirm the unity and universality of the Church, but give episcopal conferences the authority to vary doctrine and practice from region to region. Require petitioners to prove nullity to a moral certainty, but give bishops thirty days in which to sort everything out. Maintain a hierarchy, but let the faithful mark the direction of the Church. But you can’t play the children’s game forever.

Sooner or later, you have to make a choice, though. And it is in making those choices—almost always hard choices—that problems creep in.

What needed to be said

Writing in Crisis, Sean Haylock has a remarkably good piece on Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:

Hitchens took on matters of profound importance, and he did it with a fierce passion. But when I think of the rhetoric he deployed, and the vehemence with which he deployed it, I can’t help but see him as a demagogue and a charlatan. One of his most oft-repeated quotes is “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” This is, from the perspective of both science and philosophy, a recipe for obscurantism and intellectual irresponsibility, and a disastrous idea for anyone with an interest in truth to take to heart. Its appeal is the same as much of Hitchens’ rhetoric: when invoked it provides the intoxicating pleasure of putting your foot down in an argument. It’s a flashy rhetorical gambit that says, “I need say no more.” Though happy to present himself as a champion of science, Hitchens was clearly ignorant of the philosophy of science and its most important developments in the twentieth century; otherwise, he would not have uttered a remark so redolent of verificationism. Popperians must shudder when they hear that quote.

Hitchens was also an avowed advocate of irony, seeing himself as a participant in the “all-out confrontation between the ironic and the literal mind.” One wonders whether he would have appreciated the irony that a fierce critic of the cult of personality should have become the object of just such a cult. Today he is worshipped (if I said idolized it would be only a minor exaggeration) by multitudes of devotees who fiercely defend him against any criticism. It is not to doubt the sincerity of his unbelief to observe that his refusal to make any concessions to the faithful in the course of what was surely an agonizing and in some ways humiliating death has made him, for some, a kind of atheist martyr. I don’t imagine his death from throat cancer gives pause to those who thrilled (and thrill still) at the sight of him moodily sucking on a cigarette, or swilling whiskey in his palm. He is not the first iconoclast made icon, and he will not be the last epicurean undone by his appetites and yet emulated by the young.

(Emphasis supplied.)