Another “mega-dicastery” established, this time for “integral human development”

Today, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Humanam progressionem, establishing another so-called mega-dicastery, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, by merging the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, effective on January 1, 2017. The Holy Father also approved ad experimentum the statutes of the new Dicastery, and, while there is a link on the Vatican website to those statutes, the link goes nowhere. We observe that Humanam progressionem has happily been issued in the full range of modern languages, opposed to Latin and Italian only.

Rorate Caeli reports that this dicastery has long been expected, and there were reports that it would be called the Congregation for Charity and Justice, not the unpleasant, ungainly name it did receive, “Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.” Rorate also reports that Peter Cardinal Turkson, long known for an interest in matters of economics and development, has been tipped as the head of the Dicastery. Finally, Rorate reports that the section of the Dicastery responsible for refugees and migrants will be under the immediate direction of the Holy Father. (One assumes that this will be treated in the statutes approved today ad experimentum of the Dicastery when they are finally available.)

At this point, one wonders—we wonder, at any rate—whether the consolidation of dicasteries is going to be the extent of the Holy Father’s much vaunted reform of the Curia. He was elected, if you’ll recall, amid a broad consensus of the cardinals that something had to be done about the Curia. Indeed, his Council of Cardinals was constituted largely to address revisions to Pastor Bonus and reform of the Curia. There were some lightning moves, such as the establishment of the Council for the Economy under Reinhard Cardinal Marx and the Secretariat for the Economy under George Cardinal Pell, but those moves seem to have collapsed for the most part, with, for example, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See retaking most of the competencies it had lost in 2014. It would be interesting to know what the internal view of these things is.

A new lecture from Cardinal Sarah

We missed yesterday a delightful surprise at New Liturgical Movement: a talk by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to the priests of the Archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the jurisdiction of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, himself formerly a high official in the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Sarah’s talk was about “liturgical life and the priesthood,” and it is a must-read lecture for priests and laity alike. It has been exclusively shared with NLM, so we will not quote much of it, instead encouraging you to read the whole thing there. However, we will quote one brief passage from the talk:

Firstly, let us ask ourselves: how do we pray the Divine Office? Is it something that we have to ‘get done’ as soon as possible each day so as to be ‘free’ to get on with other tasks? Do I even neglect to pray it sometimes? Certainly, pastoral life is busy, but if I do not pray the Prayer of the Church as I have solemnly promised to do, or if I do not pray it with fervour, with devotion, and indeed liturgically, then I am failing to nourish my soul and I am endangering my vocation.

Practically speaking I would suggest this: as often as is possible pray the Divine Office liturgically, together with others, most especially with your people, for the Office is not a text to be read but a rite to be celebrated, with its own rituals, postures, chant, etc. And if circumstances dictate that you must pray the Office by yourself, do as much as you can to make it a liturgical rite—pray it in an oratory if possible, standing and sitting and so on at the appropriate times. Sing the Office if it is possible—it is not a book to be read in an armchair; rather it is the loving song of the Church, of the Bride, to Him Who has redeemed us.

(Emphasis supplied.) Music to our ears! Say what you will about Mass celebrated ad orientem or versus apsidem—the ancient tradition of the Church, which was abandoned only the day before yesterday, practically speaking, and for almost no reason at all. But how can anyone object to the regular celebration of the Divine Office with one’s congregation? How can anyone object to parishioners forming scholae to participate in the liturgy in a more meaningful way—by singing it, preferably in Latin—connecting themselves with their fathers in the faith going back all the way to the earliest days of the Church in Jerusalem?

It is another example of the great Cardinal’s clear thinking and frank talk.

A tragedy in Norcia

We woke up this morning to find that a strong earthquake had rocked Italy, including Norcia. Early reports show that 73 people are known to have died in the quake and perhaps hundreds more are trapped in rubble. Property damage is apparently widespread and very serious.

Rorate Caeli reports that the Benedictines of Norcia, known, among other things, for their wonderful liturgy and their beer, are safe. However, their buildings, including their basilica, have been damaged. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a supporter of the monks of Norcia, has more information at his blog about the damage to the monastery.

At the very least, prayers are dearly needed for Norcia and its surrounding region.

UPDATE: Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement reports that the Benedictines have made the decision to relocate temporarily to Rome, residing at the Benedictine center of Sant’Anselmo, pending a structural investigation of their buildings.

Shea, Fisher, politics, and the Catholic Media

We note at the outset that we did not follow either Mark Shea or Simcha Fisher all that closely. This will surprise no one, but we probably were not the target audience or the ideal reader for either of them. However, from time to time, something they wrote at the National Catholic Register (or elsewhere) would bubble into our sphere. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we disagreed, but never especially vehemently and never often. The fact of the matter is that neither of them wrote regularly on topics in which we ourselves were interested. Over the last few days, it appears that the National Catholic Register (or its parent company, EWTN) has fired both Shea and Fisher. This has provoked a lot of reaction, both cheering the firings and lamenting them. It seems to us that the firings, which may or may not have been just considered on their own terms, say something important about the state of American Catholic media.

Shea’s firing was very strange. The Register, in a statement issued concerning the firing, stated that Shea never violated their editorial standards. However, it appears that statements he made on other websites were sufficient to cause them to terminate his employment. (It does not appear that Shea broke those other websites’ rules.) In other words, the Register admits that Shea’s work for them was at least minimally satisfactory. Strange, then, that he would be let go. Fisher’s firing was stranger still, since it remains hugely unclear to us what she was let go for. Some people have suggested that it was due to some vulgar language in a political context, others that she expressed too much support for Shea. It seems that one explanation that has been given is that Shea and Fisher can be pointed in different ways in their interactions on Facebook, but that hardly seems like a justification for firing someone, not least since a platform like Facebook encourages pointed interactions.

And we have spoken with some folks who have had less than charming interactions with Mark Shea in particular, and they believe that he could be very pointed and very dismissive of his opponents. Though we have yet to see a debate on matters of faith conducted on the internet that does not involve someone being very pointed and very dismissive of one’s opponents. Perhaps Shea exceeded the limits imposed by charity, perhaps he didn’t. That’s a matter for him and his confessor. We mention it only to say that sharp elbows seem to be a known hazard among those of us who discuss these matters on the internet. One may celebrate Shea getting at long last his comeuppance, but one shouldn’t whistle past the graveyard quite so cheerfully. We wouldn’t want to be judged on our worst interactions. Likewise, people feel that Fisher could be pointed. However, it seems to us that Fisher does not quite have the same reputation for nastiness that Shea does.

It is also, we will say only briefly, something else to see traditionally minded Catholics, who have been tone-policed and concern-trolled, to say the least, by everyone from high prelates in the Church on down at various times, engaging in exactly the same sort of behavior that was intolerable when applied to them. Error has no rights, it is true, but let us be humane about these things, even if our opponents are not.

At any rate, we have seen some gloating among traditionally minded Catholics, many of whom never had a lot of use for EWTN or the National Catholic Register to begin with, over Shea and Fisher’s firings. The thrust of it is that Shea and Fisher weren’t traditionally minded Catholics and maybe even weren’t all that conservative, and, thus, they deserved what they got. Some folks might even be able to point to specific issues on which Shea and Fisher were insufficiently orthodox or whatever, but even that may presuppose a traditional mindset. (Certainly, we have questions about NFP as it is currently understood popularly, to take one example at semi-random, but we strive to avoid discussing the matter at any length for a variety of reasons.) But it is unclear to us that EWTN or the Register is especially known for the sort of precise, clear-eyed orthodoxy that other outlets are. They seem to be, instead, the voice of a center-right, middle-of-the-road American Catholicism.

This seems to us to be the crucial problem. It seems to us that Shea and Fisher were not heterodox in a relevant way (at least from the corporation’s perspective), so much as they were inconvenient to the specific coalition that EWTN and the Register serve. A traditionally minded Catholic might call the coalition “neo-Caths on the American political right.” (The Reporter is, of course, their left counterpart. More on that in a second.) This is, of course, insider jargon, but what it means is, essentially, a Catholic for whom the doctrine of the Church begins and ends with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the platform of the Republican Party. Shea and Fisher often pitched to the left, speaking in American political terms, of this alliance, though I don’t think either of them is a leftist in conventional terms. Shea perhaps is more explicitly to the left, insofar as part of his project was rejecting the implication that Catholics have to be on the American political right. But, notwithstanding their precise personal categorization, neither of them spends a lot of time making nice with Catholics on the American political right.  And that seems to be a big part of the problem for us with the Shea and Fisher situation. Perhaps Shea is uncharitable in online interactions; perhaps Fisher uses vulgar language when she oughtn’t; but both of those things seem to be convenient pretexts for the Register getting rid of some contributors who don’t fit in with the broader political tendencies of the Register‘s constituency.

Just as EWTN and the Register is the house organ of the neo-Cath/GOP coalition, so too is the Reporter the house organ of Catholics on the American political left. And both sides have essentially guaranteed that their readers will never be challenged by a contrary view. Name one politically conservative writer for the Reporter. Try to name one politically liberal, or relatively politically liberal, writer for the Register (after Shea and Fisher got canned). There is, then, no contradiction to either publication’s contention that they represent the correct expression of Catholicism in the United States, which involves fusion with one or the other major political party, when anyone with eyes to see can identify the serious problems with either. Moreover, the ideological purification of the publications only furthers this toxic, erroneous notion that Catholics ought to engage wholeheartedly with the categories of the American political spectrum.

We have said and said, both here and elsewhere, that the alliance between Catholics and the American political right, forged largely on the basis of the Republican Party’s laudable opposition to legalized infanticide, is one of the most damaging relationships that the Church has entered. It seemingly locks Catholics into a set of policies that in many ways deviate seriously from the traditional teaching of the Church, especially on issues central to the Church’s social teaching. Consider Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s immigration platform. Are a border wall and aggressive background investigations for some immigrants consistent with the natural right of migration that Pius XII articulated in his radio address on the 50th anniversary of Rerum novarum or in his Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana? (We leave it to you to decide, though we suspect you know what we think.) And other issues could be mentioned, if you think immigration too hot button an issue. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is, therefore, in a bind. And Shea and Fisher, each in their way, did little to make that situation more comfortable for those Catholics.

We note in passing that Catholics who want to be good Democrats have been in a very serious bind for a very long time, and we will not rehearse all the problems with that approach, since they are all too obvious and all too well known. We don’t want to minimize this difficult, but we don’t want to bore you (or ourselves) by repeating the all the allegations of the libellus. Suffice it to say that no Catholic can wholeheartedly support—or, indeed, even support in the slightest way without the gravest reservations and for a grave cause—a political party that makes a “right” to infanticide and contraception a cornerstone of its platform.

Indeed, it goes beyond mere discomfort: Trump is causing strain within this traditional coalition. George Weigel and Robert George came out strong against Trump in March, when the Trump candidacy was still a contingent thing. (We probably criticized it here then, as little more than an objection that Trump was outside the neo-Cath/GOP consensus, which still seems a just critique to us.) And even sources that aren’t hugely in touch with Catholic thought realize, especially in the light of Steve Bannon’s comments, among other things, that Trump has a hard time connecting with Catholics. In other words, not only is the dual loyalty of this neo-Cath/GOP coalition a difficulty philosophically, but also the concrete problem of Donald Trump is a tremendous difficulty. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is in a very serious bind in the age of Donald Trump.

Catholics—at least Catholics who are serious about the Church’s teachings—know that all this is exactly backwards. The American political spectrum ought to engage wholeheartedly with the teachings of the Church. Catholics should not run to figure out how they can combine their political beliefs and their faith comfortably. Indeed, the only way the sickness in American culture gets better is by submitting to Christ the King and His Church, not by demanding that Christ get out of public life and that the Church accommodate whatever novelty, however wretched, people come up with.


A brief note for the record

Recently, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump reorganized his campaign, bringing Breitbart boss Steve Bannon on board and ushering veteran operative Paul Manafort to the door. This was seen as an attempt to right Trump’s sinking poll numbers in advance of the November general election. Bannon has a reputation as a maverick in the ordinarily staid Washington political scene, and is seen by many as a tough-as-nails brawler with a keen sense of what people on the right want to see. He also has something of a dim view of the opposition of some Catholics to Donald Trump.

Indeed, Bannon connects the opposition to Trump to the desire to rejuvenate the American Church through immigration. The Hill has reported on some comments Bannon has made about the Church, including this remark:

“I understand why Catholics want as many Hispanics in this country as possible, because the church is dying in this country, right? If it was not for the Hispanics,” Bannon told Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor who, along with dozens of other leaders, wrote an open letter to fellow Catholics denouncing Trump.

“I get that, right? But I think that is the subtext of part of the letter, and I think that is the subtext of a lot of the political direction of this.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Bannon also criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “social-justice Catholicism.”

Yet another sign that American Catholics need to be far less cozy with either of the major political parties? You decide.

New “mega-dicastery” for laity, family, and life formally established

Today, the Holy Father has handed down the Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Sedula Mater, formally establishing the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. He has also appointed the Bishop of Dallas, Kevin Joseph Farrell, as the first prefect of the new dicastery. Recall that the statutes of the Dicastery were approved ad experimentum in June, and scheduled to come into force in September. In an interesting twist, the statutes anticipate that the secretary of the Dicastery may be a layperson, and three lay undersecretaries (for the laity, family, and life divisions). (Art. 2 § 1.) Indeed, much about the new dicastery is interesting in comparison to the ordinary structure of a Roman congregation under Pastor Bonus. (Though Pastor Bonus, art. 3 § 1, plainly anticipates that particular law might create a unique dicastery.)

All of this is interesting, to be sure, but we are especially interested in the fact that the Holy Father approved the statutes before he created the Dicastery. Certainly, since the Dicastery is ultimately the product of a merger, for the moment, of the Pontifical Council for Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, with, we suppose, the anticipated involvement of the Pontifical Council for Life, perhaps it was easier to put the cart before the horse this time, but still the optics are passing strange.

The Assumption and Our Lady’s death

Yesterday was the Feast of the Assumption, and we saw in a couple of places some questions about what, exactly, the Dogma of the Assumption requires Catholics to believe. A certain question arises in the context of the comparison of the Assumption with the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Feast of the Dormition: did Our Lady die before she was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory? Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox say that she did, in fact, suffer death, and was resurrected and assumed into heaven. (There are various accounts of her death and resurrection.) But what does the Latin Church say? It turns out that that’s an open question. Indeed, we’ll see here in a minute that Pius XII’s definition of the Assumption, in fact, leaves the question open. But, we’ll also see that the tradition of the Church provides a possible—probable?—answer.

First a quick reminder what Pius declared. In the Latin text of Munificentissimus Deus, the Dogma of the Assumption is defined thus:

Quapropter, postquam supplices etiam atque etiam ad Deum admovimus preces, ac Veritatis Spiritus lumen invocavimus, ad Omnipotentis Dei gloriam, qui peculiarem benevolentiam suam Mariae Virgini dilargitus est, ad sui Filii honorem, immortalis saeculorum Regis ac peccati mortisque victoris, ad eiusdem augustae Matris augendam gloriam et ad totius Ecclesiae gaudium exsultationemque, auctoritate Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, Beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli ac Nostra pronuntiamus, declaramus et definimus divinitus revelatum dogma esse : Immaculatam Deiparam semper Virginem Mariam, expleto terrestris vitae cursu, fuisse corpore et anima ad caelestem gloriam assumptam.

(Emphasis supplied.) Which is rendered in the Vatican’s English translation as:

For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

(Emphasis supplied.) She “completed the course of her earthly life.” In other words, Pius XII never says whether Our Lady died prior to being assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Father John Hunwicke makes precisely that observation, and goes on to observe that Pius’s definition actually omits a considerable part of the tradition:

The first millennium texts common to Rome and Canterbury expressed a belief common also to the East: that Mary ‘underwent temporal death’; that nevertheless she ‘could not be held down by the bonds of death’ and that the precise reason why God ‘translated her from this age’ was that ‘she might faithfully intercede for our sins’. This is the Ancient Common Tradition of East and West. It is, in fact, expressed clearly in much of the liturgical and patristic evidence which Pius XII cited as evidence for the dogma in Munificentissimus Deus; one suspects that this is because the Pope would have been much shorter of evidence if he had omitted this material. But it is left out of the definition. Which means that it has de facto disappeared from the consciousness of Latin Christendom.


Yet this is not what Pius XII defined. His 1950 definition, as the ARCIC document on Mary accurately reminds us, does not ‘use about her the language of death and resurrection, but celebrates the action of God in her.’ [A very strange ‘but’!] In other words, Pius XII took a machete and slashed ruthlessly at the Common Ancient Tradition about our Lady’s end, not simply by ignoring the apocryphal stories about how the Apostles gathered and what they found in the tomb and how S Thomas arrived late and all the rest of it; but also by pruning away even the bare structural bones of what Christians Eastern and Western had harmoniously thought they knew: that she died and was resurrected.

(Emphasis supplied.) But Father Hunwicke is not alone in this observation.

No less a churchman than St. John Paul made the same observation in a June 1997 general audience, noting that the opinion that Our Lady did not die was “unknown until the 17th century”:

Concerning the end of Mary’s earthly life, the Council uses the terms of the Bull defining the dogma of the Assumption and states: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over” (Lumen gentium, n. 59). With this formula, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, following my Venerable Predecessor Pius XII, made no pronouncement on the question of Mary’s death. Nevertheless, Pius XII did not intend to deny the fact of her death, but merely did not judge it opportune to affirm solemnly the death of the Mother of God as a truth to be accepted by all believers. 

Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary’s death as her entry into heavenly glory. 

Could Mary of Nazareth have experienced the drama of death in her own flesh? Reflecting on Mary’s destiny and her relationship with her divine Son, it seems legitimate to answer in the affirmative: since Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his Mother. 

The Fathers of the Church, who had no doubts in this regard, reasoned along these lines. One need only quote St Jacob of Sarug (†521), who wrote that when the time came for Mary “to walk on the way of all generations”, the way, that is, of death, “the group of the Twelve Apostles” gathered to bury “the virginal body of the Blessed One” (Discourse on the burial of the Holy Mother of God, 87-99 in C. Vona, Lateranum 19 [1953], 188). St Modestus of Jerusalem (†634), after a lengthy discussion of “the most blessed dormition of the most glorious Mother of God”, ends his eulogy by exalting the miraculous intervention of Christ who “raised her from the tomb”, to take her up with him in glory (Enc. in dormitionem Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae, nn. 7 and 14: PG 86 bis, 3293; 3311). St John Damascene (†704) for his part asks: “Why is it that she who in giving birth surpassed all the limits of nature should now bend to its laws, and her immaculate body be subjected to death?”. And he answers: “To be clothed in immortality, it is of course necessary that the mortal part be shed, since even the master of nature did not refuse the experience of death. Indeed, he died according to the flesh and by dying destroyed death; on corruption he bestowed incorruption and made death the source of resurrection” (Panegyric on the Dormition of the Mother of God, n. 10: SC 80, 107).

(Emphasis supplied and one hyperlink omitted.) Unknown until the 17th century! A common, patristic tradition says Our Lady died! What on earth could explain the more recent opinion—an opinion that is, in the life of the Church, no older than the day before yesterday—that Our Lady did not die?

John Paul has an idea, and it’s confusion—though confusion might be too strong a word—resulting from the Immaculate Conception. We die because of original sin. But for Adam and Eve’s first sin in Eden, we would live forever. (This is, of course, why a New Adam was necessary to restore us to immortality.) But! the objection goes, Our Lady was in her conception preserved free from the stain of original sin. Indeed, Pius IX infallibly declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus in 1854. So, the argument goes, if we die because of original sin (true!), and Our Lady was preserved free from the stain of original sin (true!), then Our Lady was not subject to death. How, then, can one hold that Our Lady died before being assumed bodily into heavenly glory? John Paul answers:

It is true that in Revelation death is presented as a punishment for sin. However, the fact that the Church proclaims Mary free from original sin by a unique divine privilege does not lead to the conclusion that she also received physical immortality. The Mother is not superior to the Son who underwent death, giving it a new meaning and changing it into a means of salvation. 

Involved in Christ’s redemptive work and associated in his saving sacrifice, Mary was able to share in his suffering and death for the sake of humanity’s Redemption. What Severus of Antioch says about Christ also applies to her: “Without a preliminary death, how could the Resurrection have taken place?” (Antijulianistica, Beirut 1931, 194f.). To share in Christ’s Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.

(Emphasis supplied.) Recall briefly the witness of St. John Damascene in the passage quoted above:

“Why is it that she who in giving birth surpassed all the limits of nature should now bend to its laws, and her immaculate body be subjected to death?”. And he answers: “To be clothed in immortality, it is of course necessary that the mortal part be shed, since even the master of nature did not refuse the experience of death. Indeed, he died according to the flesh and by dying destroyed death; on corruption he bestowed incorruption and made death the source of resurrection

(Emphasis supplied.) And this makes sense, and, for our part, it answers the objection nicely. Others may have deeper, more penetrating questions remaining, but our limited, limited theological training leaves us happy with what we have here.

We add, as a brief aside, that it also seems to us that this would be an excellent point to include in official dialogue between Catholic, both Latin and Eastern, theologians and Orthodox theologians, since it is a point where there could be much fruitful enrichment of the Latin tradition by the Eastern and Orthodox traditions.

Returning to our main point, it seems to us that Pius XII may well have had Ineffabilis Deus and the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in mind when he defined the Assumption. Certainly, the common tradition of the Church—capital-T Tradition, most likely—held that Our Lady died, was raised from the dead, and was assumed bodily into heaven. Pius cites sources from this tradition in Munificentissimus Deus. Yet, when it comes time to actually define the Dogma of the Assumption, Pius leaves this significant component of the tradition out, making instead a very general statement about Our Lady completing the course of her earthly life. (And it seems to us, if she was assumed body and soul into heaven, perforce she completed the course of her earthly life.) Is it possible, then, that Pius wanted to avoid the merest whiff of difficulty with his dogmatic definition? The faintest hint of trickiness between the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption? One way to do that would be to adopt a minimalistic definition of the Assumption that permits Catholics to adopt, really, either view about the exact circumstances of Our Lady’s assumption into heaven.

In one of our comments elsewhere about this question, we observed that it would be a worthwhile project to write a study about the circumstances, beginning in 1946 with the Encyclical Deiparae Virginis Mariae, polling the world’s bishops about whether it was opportune to define as a dogma the Assumption, and continuing through the glorious fall day in 1950 when Pius declared the dogma. It would be an interesting story, full of colorful characters. (One of Pius’s advisers was the eminent Dominican theologian, Guérard des Lauriers, who was later consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Thuc, for example.) And it may well clear up some of the perplexities surrounding the definition, including why, precisely, Pius chose not to include an important aspect of the tradition in the definition. Perhaps such a study exists, and if it does and you’re feeling charitable, do feel free to drop us an email.


Pope Paul’s “Sacrificium laudis”

At New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski has a brief piece commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sacrificium laudis, Paul VI’s 1966 apostolic letter to religious exhorting them to retain the choral office in Latin. Kwasniewski’s essay includes a translation by the eminent English Dominican, Fr. Thomas Crean, of Paul’s letter. Echoing a point we have made here before, Kwasniewski observes:

But in many ways the greatest tragedy of the postconciliar period was the sudden, dramatic, worldwide collapse of religious life, especially in its contemplative branches, and the disappearance, as if overnight, of the chanting of the Divine Office in Gregorian chant. It was an anti-miracle, so to speak — a feat of Satan who, appearing as an angel of light, lured the religious to their doom. The praises of God, which had been sung day and night for well over a millennium with melodies more beautiful than any the world has ever birthed before or since, fell silent, with the silence of the tomb.

And yet, Pope Paul VI, in words no less clear, stalwart, principled, and prophetic than those he uttered about birth control in Humanae Vitae, urged religious in 1966 to uphold their traditional choral office at all costs, for it was their special contribution to the life, health, and growth of the Mystical Body. While it is true that Paul VI, with his self-admitted Hamlet syndrome, walked a zigzag path in contrary directions, seeming to be trapped in the torments and doubts of his age, he nevertheless rose above the churning waters now and again to speak a clear word that, had it only been followed, would have been a blessing for the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) For example, consider this passage from Pope Paul:

What is in question here is not only the retention within the choral office of the Latin language, though it is of course right that this should be eagerly guarded and should certainly not be lightly esteemed. For this language is, within the Latin Church, an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion. But it is also the seemliness, the beauty and the native strength of these prayers and canticles which is at stake: the choral office itself, ‘the lovely voice of the Church in song’ (Cf. St Augustine’s Confessions, Bk 9, 6). Your founders and teachers, the holy ones who are as it were so many lights within your religious families, have transmitted this to you. The traditions of the elders, your glory throughout long ages, must not be belittled. Indeed, your manner of celebrating the choral office has been one of the chief reasons why these families of yours have lasted so long, and happily increased. It is thus most surprising that under the influence of a sudden agitation, some now think that it should be given up.

In present conditions, what words or melodies could replace the forms of Catholic devotion which you have used until now? You should reflect and carefully consider whether things would not be worse, should this fine inheritance be discarded. It is to be feared that the choral office would turn into a mere bland recitation, suffering from poverty and begetting weariness, as you yourselves would perhaps be the first to experience. One can also wonder whether men would come in such numbers to your churches in quest of the sacred prayer, if its ancient and native tongue, joined to a chant full of grave beauty, resounded no more within your walls. We therefore ask all those to whom it pertains, to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.

On Alan Jacobs’s Christian intellectuals

At Harper’s Magazine, Alan Jacobs has a lengthy essay, “The Watchmen,” more or less bewailing the disappearance, as Jacobs has it, of Christian intellectuals from the American scene. The problem with Jacobs’s piece, as we see it, is remarkably simple: when it isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, it’s pointless. He sets for himself a big project and then, apparently, decides that he’d rather not make a go of it. (He also has some weird ideas, at least from a Catholic perspective, as we’ll see, about Catholicism.) Political liberals, Jacobs explains, are living an increasingly reactionary world, and they are without the means of understanding the reaction that befuddles and terrifies them. Christian intellectuals, Jacobs says, who were most prominent in the middle of the 20th century, could explain the reactionaries to the liberals. What?

No, really. What?

We have not seen any desire among political liberals—and Jacobs never clarifies what he means by that term until it’s too late—to have Donald Trump, for example, explained to them in Christian terms. Political liberals already know what they think of Trump and the voters that have propelled him to the Republican nomination. They don’t need Christian intellectuals to explain these trends. And that’s assuming that Christians could explain the broader trends. Even conservative Christians seem to be divided on Trump, with many Christians adopting an exhausted, “think of the Supreme Court” approach to Trump. Which is not exactly a robust approach to a new political movement, for what it’s worth. (And recalling Scalia’s Obergefell dissent, about which we have changed our mind in recent months, it is strange to imagine Christians voting for Trump in the hope that he’ll find another proceduralist to replace Scalia.) So, we wonder why Jacobs thinks that Christian intellectuals are necessary to interpret the Trump trend—or any of a whole host of trends—to centrists or leftists.

And Jacobs never really answers that question. Indeed, he quickly abandons the idea of the intellectual-as-interpreter. Instead, he seems to conceive of the Christian intellectual as someone who gives political liberals a religious explanation for things they were predisposed to believe. (Though why he thinks political liberals want a religious justification for things they already believe is, again, beyond us.) Jacobs explains:

Oldham’s Moot and Finkelstein’s Conference shared a pair of beliefs: that the West was suffering a kind of moral crisis, and that a religious interpretation of that crisis was required. The nature of the problem, the believing intellectuals agreed, was a kind of waffling uncertainty about core principles and foundational belief. Faced with ideological challenges from the totalitarian Axis powers and from the communist Soviet Union, democracy did not seem to know why it should be preferred to alternatives whose advocates celebrated them so passionately and reverently. What democracy needed was a metaphysical justification — or, at least, a set of metaphysically grounded reasons for preferring democracy to those great and terrifying rivals.

In was in this context — a democratic West seeking to understand why it was fighting and what it was fighting for — that the Christian intellectual arose. Before World War II there had been Christians who were also intellectuals, but not a whole class of people who understood themselves, and were often understood by others, to be watchmen observing the democratic social order and offering a distinctive interpretation of it. Mannheim, who was born Jewish but professed no religious belief, joined with these people because he saw them pursuing the genuine calling of the intellectual. Perhaps Mortimer Adler felt the same way: it would otherwise be difficult to explain why he, also a Jew by birth and also (at that time) without any explicit religious commitments, would think that the West could be saved only through careful attention to the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

(Emphasis supplied.) Whatever this process is, it is not explaining to political liberals the forces of reaction. Instead, it seems like a process of explaining to political liberals why the forces of reaction are not just wrong in the hic et nunc, but wrong in the only analysis that matters, the religious analysis. One doubts—we doubt, at any rate—whether such they need the help.

But who are these voices? W.H. Auden, Reinhold Niebuhr, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and a few others. In other words, for the most part, sort of high-church protestants from the middle of the 20th century. Auden died in 1973, Niebuhr in 1971, Lewis in 1963, and Eliot in 1965. On Twitter, Matthew Sitman, associate editor at Commonweal, makes the point that these men did most of their most important work in a short time, mostly in the context of actual war. We draw very different conclusions than Sitman, but his series of tweets is well worth reading. His most cogent point is that, by the 1950s, the men Jacobs discusses had moved on to more personal, perhaps less compelling, projects. (By way of example: Little Gidding appeared in 1942 and the collected Four Quartets appeared the United States in 1943. [They would appear in England in 1944.]) And he’s right. If you consider the Christian intellectual project as winning the peace by finding a religious justification for western liberal democracy—and that seems to be Jacobs’s definition—it lasted about 25 years in the middle of the 20th century (1945–1970). And by returning to this brief period—which is probably briefer than we say, since, as Sitman notes, Niebuhr’s last great book was published in the 1950s—Jacobs lays himself open to the charge of sentimentalism and nostalgia. And, we suppose, to high-church liberal protestants, there is much to lament with the passing of that moment in the public discourse.

Catholics might feel otherwise, since from October 1978 to April 2005, the Church was led by John Paul II, who was very much a Christian intellectual of a very different stripe than the ones Jacobs wants to talk about—recall Wojtyla’s corpus from Love and Responsibility to the Theology of the Body discourses to his major encyclicals as pope, whatever one makes of any particular contribution in that vein. The point is clear: the intellectual discourse in the Church, both about Christianity and how Christianity relates to a world hostile to it in many respects, especially moral, remained at a high level. But, Jacobs, for some reason, makes clear that the Christian intellectuals he admires so much did not necessarily include Catholic voices:

To be sure, in America the Fifties were a time of public emergence for many Catholic intellectuals, especially writers of fiction: J. F. Powers, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy. But these figures were almost assertively apolitical, and when Catholics did write politically, it was largely in order to emphasize the fundamental compatibility of Catholicism with what John Courtney Murray — a Jesuit theologian who was the most prominent Catholic public intellectual of that time — called “the American Proposition.” Murray was not wholly uncritical of the American social order, but his criticisms were framed with great delicacy: in a time of worldwide conflict, he wrote, “there is no element” of that proposition that escapes being “menaced by active negation, and no thrust of the project that does not meet powerful opposition.” Therefore, “America must be more clearly conscious of what it proposes, more articulate in proposing, more purposeful in the realization of the project proposed.” The American idea is in no sense mistaken, though Americans might need to be “more articulate” in stating and defending that idea. This Murray was willing to help us do, by explaining that the Catholic tradition of natural law was the very same principle that the Founding Fathers appealed to when they declared “that all men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is wholly unaccidental that Murray’s book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition was published in 1960, when a Roman Catholic named John F. Kennedy was standing as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is a strange point to make, though fundamentally correct: the Catholic intellectuals of the immediate postwar period spent a lot of energy trying to make American-style liberal democracy compatible with Catholicism. Yet, Jacobs seems to miss the deeper connections between that project and the sort of Christian intellectualism he would like to see restored to the public sphere.

Beginning with Pius IX, whose great Quanta cura and Syllabus Errorum condemned propositions that many red-blooded protestant Americans would have considered essential to American democracy—and continuing through Leo XIII’s great encyclicals on social affairs, including Testem benevolentiae nostrae, a warning about Americanism (narrowly defined) and Pius XI’s own, towering contributions to the social teaching of the Church—the good and holy popes of the modern age critiqued aspects of American-style democracy, while on the whole encouraging the American experiment. (Cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical on Catholicism in the United States Longinqua oceani, Jan. 6, 1895.) The upshot of all of this is that, for a Catholic adhering to these teachings, as a Catholic must, there are aspects of American-style democracy that were (and remain) questionable propositions at best. And this is where Jacobs misses his own professed point when discussing the Catholic intellectuals of the postwar period.

We said that Jacobs abandons his original thesis pretty early on, and this a good example of that. He says that Christian intellectuals are necessary to relate reactionary trends to liberal democrats. From an American perspective, few things are as reactionary as the Church’s pre-conciliar teaching on the proper relationship of Church and state, as well as religious freedom and toleration. (From a traditional Catholic perspective, they are far from reactionary and instead represent a deeper liberty, but that is a debate for another time.) Seen in that light, Murray represents a better example of the sort of intellectual that Jacobs wants: showing Catholics that American-style democracy was ultimately compatible with Catholic principles. And Murray was ultimately successful, since the Council’s declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis humanae, represents a partial victory for his thinking. (For an example of what he thought, see his 1964–65 article, “The Problem of Religious Freedom”, or this article from America.) Perhaps the direction is reversed—certainly Murray didn’t spend a lot of time explaining the Church’s historic position on indifferentism to liberal democrats—but the basic idea is the same, and it cannot be denied that Murray’s project was more concretely successful than simply giving liberal democrats a theological dimension for their preexisting belief in liberal democracy.

Jacobs’s weirdness on Catholicism doesn’t stop there, either. Jacobs turns to the life of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the tremendously influential publisher of First Things, to illustrate a point about the Christian intellectual’s reaction to the trends of the 1960s and 1970s. But again Jacobs draws a weird point. Jacobs’s point is this: Neuhaus, previously known for socially progressive politics, was shocked, as any thinking person was, by the horror of abortion loosed after Roe v. Wade in 1973. He hoped that the antiwar and civil-rights tendencies within American Christianity would join him in opposing abortion. That did not happen, and, in fact, Neuhaus lost his access to the mainstream media. So he went and started First Things, which Jacobs calls a “subaltern counterpublic,” which began arguing for mutual toleration through separatism. Maybe Jacobs’s narrative is right, but his perspective is one sided. To many traditionally minded Catholics, however, Neuhaus’s project is essentially a fusion of Catholics, evangelicals, and Jews to articulate, essentially, basic conservative politics. This project may have had its roots in the prolife movement—since horror at abortion was by no means confirmed to Catholics—but its scope is broader than that. It encompasses most of the major goals of the American political right. In other words, no less than John Courtney Murray, Richard John Neuhaus represents an attempt to make American politics compatible with Catholicism. Thus, it is not surprising that Jacobs misses Neuhaus’s greater significance.

How, then, does Jacobs fail to understand that, more than the liberal protestants he focuses on, Catholics have been performing, though perhaps in different ways, the role of the Christian intellectual? Indeed, even after the death of the men he mentions, there have been prominent Catholic intellectual figures, like Neuhaus, or Robert George or George Weigel or Rusty Reno or whoever,  who have performed the basic thing Jacobs wants to see. So why doesn’t he see it? The key to all of this, really, is this paragraph:

It was the Sixties that changed everything, and not primarily because of the Vietnam War or the cause of civil rights. There were many Christians on both sides of those divides. The primary conflict was over the sexual revolution and the changes in the American legal system that accompanied it: changes in divorce law, for instance, but especially in abortion law. (Many Christians supported and continue to support abortion rights, of course; but abortion is rarely if ever the central, faith-defining issue for them that it often is for those in the pro-life camp.) By the time these changes happened and Christian intellectuals found themselves suddenly outside the circles of power, no longer at the head table of liberalism, Christians had built up sufficient institutional stability and financial resourcefulness to be able to create their own subaltern counterpublics. And this temptation proved irresistible. As Marilynne Robinson has rightly said in reflecting on the agitation she can create by calling herself a Christian, “This is a gauge of the degree to which the right has colonized the word and also of the degree to which the center and left have capitulated, have surrendered the word and also the identity.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Ah. There it is. Jacobs is only interested in liberalism in the American political sense, not in the sense we more regularly see it used in Catholic circles. (Not as in, for example, liberalism is a heresy.)

And this is, we think, explains everything. On one hand, it explains the nostalgic tone. The Christian left in the United States is not an especially powerful force. Part of this has been the collapse of the mainline protestant denominations, and part of it has been the remarkably durable coalition of Catholics, evangelical protestants, and Jews on pro-life issues, which has translated into the substantial alignment of that coalition with the Republican Party. There has also been, at least from 1964 to the present, the rise of the organized political right in the United States, which has long included a strong religious element. One could probably plot all the trends on the same graph—presuming one could find statistics to represent the trends—and they’d line up pretty neatly. Jacobs, then, is nostalgic for a time when Christians on the political left had popular prestige and widespread influence, neither of which do they have in any quantity today.

On the other hand, it explains the weirdness about Catholicism, which has never lined up neatly on either side of the American political spectrum, though in recent years Christ’s Church has found herself on the right more often than the left. Certainly some of that shift can be attributed to John Paul’s general direction, especially on moral questions. But even during the Cold War years—which are, it seems, Jacobs’s preoccupation—the Church was engaged in various projects, such as the Second Vatican Council and the major reforms following the Council, that only incidentally lined up with the interests of the American political left. (One wonders, and we suppose that a historian would have the answer, what effect “Seamless Garment” ideology propounded by John Cardinal Dearden and others had on the American left more broadly; it always seemed like an attempt to import conventional leftism into the Church, not the other way around.) It makes sense, therefore, that Jacobs has strange notions about what was happening in American Catholicism, to say nothing of an apparent desire to minimize its importance, since what was happening was, as we say, only incidentally related to what Jacobs is talking about.

In all of this, Jacobs never answers the question we started with: why do political liberals want or, indeed, need Christian intellectuals to explain these trends to them? Especially since Jacobs’s idea of the Christian intellectual does not include voices—mostly Catholic—who might be able to explain the sense of loss and alienation from the culture that Trump voters allegedly feel. Jacobs seems to want liberal protestants around to comment on these trends. But he does not consider that the insights—or lack thereof—of liberal protestants might explain in part why there aren’t too many liberal protestants around any more.

EDIT: After publishing this piece, we noted a few mistakes that we did not want to leave in this piece. We have gone back and cleaned them up, but we have not changed the substance of this essay. – pjs

Further interesting developments in the SSPX situation

We admit, at the outset, that, perhaps, “developments” isn’t the right word.

From the Society’s standpoint, one probably ought to assume that SSPX situation is where Bishop Fellay left it in his communiqué regarding negotiations with the Holy See (obliquely) and his communiqué to the members of the SSPX. That is, the Society will continue to do business as it has done business for some time, waiting, in its words, for the restoration of Tradition. Easy enough. That said, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and the Vatican’s point man on negotiations with the SSPX, has given an interesting interview to Die Zeit‘s Christ & Welt section. Dr. Maike Hickson at One Peter Five has translated portions of the interview. Some coverage has been given to Pozzo’s suggestion that the canonical structure of a personal prelature (e.g., Opus Dei) has been offered to the SSPX, and Fellay has accepted. However, we’re inclined to leave that to one side, not least since there does not appear to be any confirmation from the Society that that is the case. Indeed, the public statements on the matter appear to be quite otherwise. (More on this in a minute.)

It is good, however, that there has been more, and more serious, coverage of some of Archbishop Pozzo’s statements about the Second Vatican Council. And it is perhaps proper to speak of “developments” primarily with respect to Pozzo’s statements, though we recall that these statements are not the first statements that Pozzo has made regarding the Council. In this latest interview, Pozzo continues to articulate a vision of Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae that seeks to assign them their proper magisterial weight, but no more than their proper weight, particularly in contrast to Lumen gentium and the Nota explicativa praevia.

In particular, Archbishop Pozzo characterizes Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae as essentially pastoral documents, which do not contain binding dogmatic or doctrinal declarations. Indeed, Pozzo notes (or suggests) that an erroneous interpretation of Nostra aetate has indeed sprung up, which had to be corrected in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration Dominus Iesus. Father John Hunwicke has caught on to this last bit, and observed that the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in its fiftieth anniversary “reflection” on Nostra aetate, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”, has itself acknowledged that there are frequent over-interpretations of Nostra aetate. (Though the Commission immediately cites John Paul’s address in Mainz in support of the interpretation that was not supported by Nostra aetate.) This is, we think, a good development, in line with Benedict’s project of the hermeneutic of continuity, though perhaps a little stronger than that project.

Of course, Archbishop Pozzo seeks to emphasize that his interpretation of the Second Vatican Council was well supported from the beginning, by noting a statement by Pericle Cardinal Felici, general secretary of the Council, that only those pronouncements explicitly declared to be binding were binding. We note, as a brief parenthesis following up on our comment on Timothy Wilson’s translation of Cardinal Bacci’s intervention, that it would be helpful if the faithful had ready access to the volume of the Acta Synodalia covering November 16, 1964, when Cardinal Felici made his statement, and November 18, 1964, when the secretary of the commission for the Unity of Christians made a similar statement about Nostra aetate. We could, then, read the statements, make our own judgments, and discuss them. But, closing the parenthesis, one wonders why Pozzo hastens to tie his interpretation to the proceedings of the Council if he does not know that, over the last fifty years, the conciliar declarations and decrees have been given nearly dogmatic weight, without serious resistance from the Roman authorities. Thus, one may speak of an implicit admission that the prevailing popular interpretation of the conciliar documents has been mostly wrong this whole time. (And the Society’s mostly right, by the same token.)

Returning to the question of a personal prelature and whether or not Bishop Fellay has already made a deal, the details of which are simply being hammered out, we observe that the Roman authorities’ position is proceeding to a place where one needs to ask if a deal is even necessary. As author and lawyer Chris Ferrara points out in the comments at One Peter Five (we’re not so clever as to think of all this ourselves), when Benedict XVI remitted the excommunications of Fellay and the other Écône bishops, he was at pains to note that the problems between the SSPX and Rome were essentially doctrinal. Indeed, Ferrara notes that Benedict stated that the Society did not possess a canonical status for doctrinal reasons, though he did not really articulate what the doctrinal roadblocks were. (One could assume that they had to do with the Council, however.) However, Archbishop Pozzo argues now that the most vexing documents with respect to the SSPX situation—documents that have been problematic from the outset of the case, if you’ll recall, for example, Archbishop Lefebvre’s unanswered dubia regarding Dignitatis humanae—are not really binding or not really doctrinal or whatever he intends to argue. The upshot of Ferrara’s argument is clear: Benedict said the problem was doctrinal, but Pozzo now says that there really is not a doctrinal problem. Based upon the evidence available—Benedict’s letter and Pozzo’s interview(s)—we find Ferrara’s position fairly compelling.

So, then, what is the problem? Is there even a problem—other than that some high prelates don’t like the Society all that much?