De Koninck on mercy

In preparing our post on the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we had cause to review Charles De Koninck’s wonderful book on Our Lady, Ego Sapientia. Given some of the discussions in the Catholic world over the past couple of weeks, we were struck by this passage (from no. XXIV, Ubi Humilitas, Ibi Sapientia):

Humility touches the very cause of mercy. Mercy, in effect, looks at the inferior as such. Now, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble—Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam (James IV, 6; Prov. III, 34). Mercy only lavishes its bounty over the inferior who recognizes himself as such, and the more inferior he will be, the more he will have reason to humble himself. But, this humility will only be productive if it is rooted in a knowledge wherein we see at the same time how we are not, and how powerful is the one who is Lord over us. The very great humility of the Blessed Virgin must rest on faith in the omnipotence of God. Et beata, quae crededisti, quoniam perficienter ea, quae dicta sunt tibi a Domino—Happy is she who believed! cries St. Elizabeth, “for the promises made her by the Lord will be fulfilled” (Luke I, 45).

De Koninck goes on to observe, in no. XXVI, Felix Culpa!:

Nigra sum, sed formosa. In fact, mercy manifested itself even beyond the assumption of human nature by means of birth. Man, whom God had established in a state of original justice infinitely superior to all that could belong to him by nature, had succumbed to the temptation of being himself the origin of the dignity to which God deigned to elevate him. Et homo cum in honore esset, non intellixit: comparatus est jumentis insipientibus, et similis factus est illis—And man, while he was in his splendor, did not understand: he became comparable to the stupid beasts, and he became like them (Ps. XLVIII, 13,21). By original sin, human nature became vulnerable. We are born in a state of misery properly speaking. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea—Behold I was born in iniquity and my mother conceived me in sin (Ps. L, 7).

Now sin is not just any kind of fault: it is that fault which is furthest from God. Evil properly speaking is not simple privation, it is opposed to good as a contrary. Consequently, the mercy which will come face to face with evil, which will be victorious over evil, will also be, in a sense, the greatest possible. The manifestation of the divine omnipotence will make here, within the universe itself, a sort of return to itself: it will be like the plentitude of mercy. Evil (malus poenae) was ordered to the greatest manifestation of mercy conceivable. O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem—O happy fault which merited for us such and so great a Redeemer (Office of Holy Saturday).

If, according to the ordinary power of God, man alone could be redeemed, is this not due to the very imperfection of our intelligence, which is also the root of the contrariety of the two natures? The fallen angel, on the contrary, was immediately obstinate and confirmed in evil. This is because angelic intelligence is so perfect that it grasps without composition and division and without discourse all that we know by simple apprehension, by the understanding of principles and by a science very difficult to acquire: it grasps its object in an immutable manner, and the adhesion of the will is also fixed and immutable. Man is as a consequence more open to mercy by his very imperfection. The free will of man remains as flexible after choice as it was before this choice; on the contrary, the free will of the angel, flexible before the choice, becomes, after this choice, immutably fixed.

(Emphasis supplied.) There is, we think, much to digest in De Koninck’s treatment of mercy, to say nothing of his discussion of the excellence of Our Lady.

Perhaps one of the bright young Catholic writers today could discuss certain interventions of the recent magisterium in the context of De Koninck’s treatment of mercy in Ego Sapientia.

On the Little Office

We have noticed an uptick in one of the traditional liturgical devotions of the Church, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Officium Parvum Beatae Mariae Virginis. (We shall use the terms “Little Office” and “Parvum” interchangeably.) Available today in a couple of very handsome editions—one from Baronius Press, the other from Angelus Press—the Parvum is a devotion of great antiquity, and it has, at times, made up part of the public prayer of the Church. Indeed, for several hundred years, the Little Office was no less obligatory for clerics than the great Office. Unfortunately, in connection with his reform of the Roman Breviary in 1568, St. Pius V reduced significantly the obligation to recite the Little Office. In 1911, St. Pius X finally suppressed the obligation altogether. The Parvum continued to be printed in the Breviary, but primarily as a private devotion. (We will leave to one side the orders that required it of lay brothers and sister.) And that is how one finds it today: as a private devotion.

But what a devotion! There are, in our view, two great attractions to the Parvum. First, it is, like the Rosary itself, a wonderful expression of Marian devotion, all the more appropriate in this great Fatima year. We are, above all, reminded of Charles de Koninck’s great Thomistic tract on Marian devotion, Ego Sapientia. Consider this passage, one of many great passages in the little book:

Order is of the very notion of wisdom. It is at the same time one and many, stable and mobile. Wisdom can be said of the principle as such, of the sapiential order in so far as this principle stands as root of the precontaining of the order of which it is the principle. Mary is, with her Son, at the very origin of the universe; she is as the root of the universal order: Ego sum radix—I am the root. That which God wishes principally in the universe is the good of order. And this order is the more perfect in so far as its interior principle is more profoundly rooted in God. Now, Mary is the purely created principle of this order, purely created principle closest to God and the most perfect conceivable. As principle of the sapiential order, she participates in the unity and the very unicity of this principle: she is at once emanation and immanence; her power extends to all things, which take from her their incessant innovation. We think, in effect, of vital immanence as a constant renewal from within, and in their relation to the first principle things are in being by an always innovative procession. In effect, the being which things would hold from themselves would be nothingness. Una est columba mea, perfecta mea; Et cum sit una, omnia potest: et in se permanens omnia innovat—One is my dove, my perfect one. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things.

Daughter of the eternal Father, mother of the Son, spouse of the Holy Spirit, she is rooted in the Trinity, and she ties up the order of the universe, in a radically new way, which is in God according to the procession. Collum tuum sicut turris eburnea—Thy neck is as a tower of ivory. (Wis. VII, 4.)

As De Koninck demonstrates in his Primacy of the Common Good, it is only in submission to the common good—to order—that man finds his dignity. One may say, perhaps a little polemically, that Marian devotion is, therefore, necessary for man to achieve his fullest dignity. How much better, then, to express one’s devotion to Our Lady in a manner approved both by competent authority and the vote of history? This is the first great value of the Little Office: as a wonderful form of Marian devotion.

Second, it is a participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church. We are reminded here of Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum:

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

We shall see that the Parvum has been considered for nearly a thousand years as an integral part of the Church’s prayer, coming in time to be obligatory upon clerics. While that has not been the case generally for some time, the Little Office “remains sacred and great for us too.” There is perennially an argument about whether recitation of any office by the laity constitutes a liturgical act—that is, an act of public prayer—of the Church, but we see no need to explore those arguments. It is enough to say that Our Lady’s office is a prayer, long approved by the Church for both devotional and liturgical use. Indeed, when one prays the Little Office, one joins a tradition stretching back a thousand years.

The Parvum has its early origins in the time of St. Benedict of Aniane, who introduced at his monastery of Inde, the practice of saying a Pater and the Credo at all of the altars of the church before taking their places in the choir and reciting fifteen psalms and some prayers. (The custom of saying the Pater, the Ave, and the Credo before the Office endured until 1955, when it was suppressed by Pius XII.) In his essay on the medieval Primer in the posthumous Liturgica Historia, Edmund Bishop observes that Benedict’s fifteen psalms were almost certainly the so-called Gradual Psalms. Eventually, the prayers said or sung expanded from the Gradual Psalms to include the seven Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and various other commemorations. Some of these devotional accretions took the form of the great Office; notable among these is the Office of All Saints, apparently modeled on the Office of the Dead. By the second half of the tenth century, Bishop tells us, these accretions were binding on monks throughout Europe, de facto if not de jure. At about this time, the Parvum appears almost out of nowhere.

Bishop pulls together “the scanty early notices” of the Parvum. In sum, we learn from these sources that there was some special prayer or other devoted to Our Lady, which certainly looks like the Parvum by the end of the tenth century. (Though this conclusion is by no means uncontested.) The earliest example cited by Bishop comes from the biography of St. Udalric, bishop of Augsburg, in which the biographer notes that Udalric, having set aside many of the heavy burdens of his office in his old age, added to the great Office a cursus in honor of Our Lady, in addition to cursus in honor of the Holy Cross and All Saints. He also prayed the whole psalter every day. Bishop says Udalric threw himself “almost unreservedly into prayer and acts of devotion” (emphasis supplied). One wonders what an unreserved life of prayer and devotion would have looked like. At any rate, this would have been, by Bishop’s reckoning, in the early 970s. We do not know what Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady was, and we shall see that this mystery forms a key part of the debate over the precise antiquity of the Parvum.

In the chronicle of Hugh of Flavigny, a story is reported about how Berengarius, bishop of Verdun, began his day with lengthy prayers before matins was sung. One morning, Berengarius entered the cathedral, only to trip over Bernerius, the provost of the cathedral, who was prostrate on the floor praying matins of Our Lady. This also would have been in the middle of the tenth century, or within ten or twenty years of Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady. And at about the same time, Bishop tells us, the Einsiedeln Customs introduced an office of Our Lady into the public worship of the Church. Foreshadowing the later practice of the universal Church, the monks of Einsiedeln added a votive office of Our Lady on Saturdays, in addition to the ferial office. (Unless a feast occurred.) Based on this evidence, coming but a few decades after Udalric, we are inclined to say that there was some kind of office, likely modeled on the great Office, in honor of Our Lady, even if it was not along the lines of the Little Office later known throughout Europe.

We come now to the famous testimony of St. Peter Damian, who, writing about 1053, note that it was customary in a certain monastery to sing the hours of Our Lady in choir, following the hours of the great Office. According to Bishop, the practice must have been known at the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino at the same time. Peter the Deacon wrote, about a hundred years later, that Pope Zacharias, in the eighth century, had required the monks of Monte Cassino to sing the office of St. Benedict in choir before the great Office and the Office of Our Lady after. Bishop suggests that the custom must have been of some long standing when Peter wrote, though perhaps not such long standing that Peter felt free to omit the authority of the injunction to sing the additional offices. That is, the Office of Our Lady had not been around so long that there was no grumbling about it. Once again, this evidence supports the conclusion that the Little Office emerged toward the end of the tenth century and became a widespread devotion by the middle of the eleventh.

However, in his 1949 essay on the Parvum, Msgr. William Lallou points to the eleventh century evidence of St. Peter Damian as “the first mention we have” of the Parvum. Following the great Battifol, Lallou contends that the earlier ninth and tenth century evidence—marshaled by Bishop—is evidence of suffragia, not officia plena. However, we fail to see the inconsistency in the evidence of Bishop. Peter Damian, writing in the middle of the eleventh century, says that the devotion was popular in northern Italy. This seems consistent with the evidence of Augsburg and Verdun, showing the Little Office emerging in the middle of the tenth century. One could well imagine the Parvum spreading steadily over the intervening century, and by the time of Peter the Deacon a hundred or so years later the Little Office must have seemed venerable, even if some monks could reasonably contend that it was a relatively recent addition to the day’s prayers. But the difference is only one of a hundred years or so. Whether it emerged in the 950s or the 1050s does not make a huge amount of difference in 2017.

To be completely honest, this is one of our favorite aspects of the Parvum. It seems to have come out of nowhere sometime toward the end of the tenth century, and, within a couple of hundred years, it was obligatory for clerics throughout the western Church. It has also outlasted most of the other devotional offices from that time, notably the Office of All Saints. One can intellectually trace the development of the Parvum back to Benedict of Aniane’s imposition of the prayers before matins of the great Office. One can also discuss the general tendency of that time to add devotional offices to the great Office. But neither point seems to explain the speed with with the Little Office emerged and became obligatory or the fact that the Little Office has outlasted most of the other devotions of its age. The Little Office has a little mystery about it. It is possible to get somewhat mystical about these things, though we will resist the temptation for you, dear reader.

As we said, the Parvum became obligatory along with the other accretions to the great Office, though not without some controversy. Msgr. Lallou notes:

As time went on into the fourteenth century, there was opposition to the burdening of the already long office with rather lengthy epilogues, like the seven penitential psalms, the gradual psalms, the office of the dead and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. The last named was to be said, in addition to the canonical hours, on every day of the year, except the greater festivals, the last three days of Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and the feasts of our Lady herself. The Constitutiones Lateranenses of Gregory XI (1370-78) prescribed that the office of the hours of the Breviary of the Curia was to be sung (cum nota) and then followed every day by the recitation (sine nota) of the office of the Blessed Virgin. The Franciscans were accused of multiplying feasts of nine lessons in order to get rid of the obligation of adding to the office the penitential and gradual psalms and the office of the dead. They were also charged with growing laxity in the observance of the daily recital of the office of our Lady. So, it is not surprising that in the proposals for the reform of the Breviary, made especially in the sixteenth century, there was always included that of suppressing additions to the office which made it unduly prolix and increased its complexity.

(Footnote omitted.) It has been the goal of the modern reformers of the Office, beginning with St. Pius X in 1911, to make the obligation of the Office lighter rather than heavier. This tendency was finally fulfilled after the Second Vatican Council, with the wholesale revision of the Office into the Liturgy of the Hours. It is, therefore, interesting to see the antecedents of that process about five hundred years earlier. One does wonder—we wonder, at any rate—what this modern reduction of the Office means, especially since the accretions to the Office were motivated by piety and devotion.

Strangely enough, while the reformers were trying to make the great Office lighter, they were also trying to make the Little Office heavier. We shall not rehearse the full shape of the Little Office in its post-Tridentine form, except to say that it is generally unvarying throughout the year. In Advent and Christmastide, there are some variations. The reformers, however, wanted to lengthen the psalter used in the Little Office, add additional observances of the seasons, add some saints’ feasts, and use Cardinal Bea’s translation of the psalter. The repetition of the Parvum was no doubt a black mark against it. Happily for the Little Office—if unhappily for the Church—the collapse of the traditional Office following the Council meant that attention was turned away from the Little Office.

Despite the fact that the office in honor of Our Lady first emerged on the continent, it has become peculiarly associated, at least in our mind, with England. Bishop suggests that the English must have known the Parvum at about the same time as St. Peter Damian discussed its popularity in Italy, given the English devotion to Our Lady, only briefly chastened by the Norman Conquest. By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Parvum was once again an English devotion. And it continued to spread, forming a central part of every literate Englishman’s devotional life through the medieval Primer. This continued even into the time of the so-called English reformation, despite the best efforts of the Tudor regime to suppress the devotion. In both the repetition and in the connection to penal times in England, one is reminded of Blessed Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s comment on the Office:

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, we think, the other great value of the Little Office, to join in prayer so many Catholics throughout history and to express with them love of and devotion to Our Lady.


A word on the Baronius edition: if you decide to purchase one of these, make sure you purchase a recent printing. The fifth edition is dated 2015. The early editions were marred with some fairly serious errors, such as wrong hymns and switched antiphons in the offices of Advent and Christmastide. To their great credit, Baronius appears to have taken notice of the errors and corrected them in subsequent printings.

“Burying Benedict,” tradition, and unity

Matthew Schmitz’s essay, “Burying Benedict,” has kicked up quite a firestorm in the Catholic internet. The usual suspects—ranging from Fr. James Martin, S.J., to Professor Massimo Faggioli—have chimed in to suggest that, when one pope contradicts another pope, the only important thing is that there is one pope at the moment. You can find their comments on Twitter, along with other comments in a similar vein. To take these complaints at face value, one would conclude that the reigning pope, the magisterium, and tradition are all the same thing. It seems that these defenders of the Holy Father have forgotten what the Second Vatican Council taught in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum:

And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3). Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) While not as clear as Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani’s great, maligned schema De fontibus revelationis, Dei Verbum nevertheless makes the point that the tradition of the Church goes back to Christ Himself and, alongside scripture, constitutes one wellspring of divine revelation. Again Dei Verbum:

Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) Nowhere in the Council’s understanding of tradition can one find the idea, articulated if dimly by Schmitz’s critics, that the reigning pope and tradition are one and the same thing. It would be just as ludicrous to say, since Dei Verbum teaches that scripture and tradition are part of one wellspring of revelation, that when a hypothetical pope contradicts scripture, the important thing is that there is one pope. It would be bizarre to imply that the pope and scripture are somehow the same thing. Public revelation ceased at the death of the last apostle; there is but one deposit of faith, handed on one generation to the next.

So much for the idea that the pope is some how himself the tradition. In fact, we know that the pope is the servant and guardian of the tradition, and has been promised the special assistance of the Holy Spirit for that ministry. Recall what the First Vatican Council taught in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor aeternus:

That apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff possesses as successor of Peter, the prince of the apostles, includes also the supreme power of teaching. This Holy See has always maintained this, the constant custom of the Church demonstrates it, and the ecumenical councils, particularly those in which East and West met in the union of faith and charity, have declared it.


To satisfy this pastoral office, our predecessors strove unwearyingly that the saving teaching of Christ should be spread among all the peoples of the world; and with equal care they made sure that it should be kept pure and uncontaminated wherever it was received.


For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles. Indeed, their apostolic teaching was embraced by all the venerable fathers and reverenced and followed by all the holy orthodox doctors, for they knew very well that this See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

(Emphasis supplied.) This office, in service of the tradition given by Christ or through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, which has been handed down from those times to this time, is ultimately an office of unity:

This gift of truth and never-failing faith was therefore divinely conferred on Peter and his successors in this See so that they might discharge their exalted office for the salvation of all, and so that the whole flock of Christ might be kept away by them from the poisonous food of error and be nourished with the sustenance of heavenly doctrine. Thus the tendency to schism is removed and the whole Church is preserved in unity, and, resting on its foundation, can stand firm against the gates of hell.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, it is not the role of the pope to set one faction of the Church against another or to choose winners and losers, but, instead, to avoid precisely that factionalism in favor of unity. By serving the tradition and Indeed, the primacy of Peter itself is an office of unity:

This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: “My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due.”

(Footnote omitted.) All of this is to say that the pope is not magic. He does not get to rewrite the tradition of the Church at will to meet his whims or the whims of progressive theologians. That is not what popes do. Instead, he guards the tradition of the Church to avoid schism and preserve unity.

This is, of course, the risk of a partisan spirit in the Church and the concomitant ultramontanism. And it is a real risk. “Our man” is in the Apostolic Palace (or the modern guesthouse nearby), and it’s time to get our own back. Right and left have fallen prey to this beguiling temptation. When Benedict was pope, conservatives felt as though he would singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1965. Now that Francis is pope, modernists and progressives feel as though Francis is going to singlehandedly grant them their list of wishes going back to 1978. Benedict undoubtedly did things his supporters were pleased by, such as the new translation of the Roman Missal, the Ordinariates, and Summorum Pontificum. Francis undoubtedly does things his supporters are pleased by, such as Amoris laetitia. But the partisan spirit that motivates such assessments leads very quickly to the irrational ultramontanism we see in the reactions to Schmitz’s piece. No one really thinks the pope can do whatever he wants. No one really thinks he’s magic. But in the moment, when things are going your way? When you’re sticking it to your ecclesiastical and ecclesial opponents? Well, maybe you didn’t mean to say it quite like that.

But you did say it.

The bottom line is that it should be uncontroversial to say that the pope must serve tradition, that he must hand on what he received. We do not make all things new with each Habemus Papam.

Everything that dies someday comes back

At First Things, Matthew Schmitz has an excellent piece, “Burying Benedict,” that begins:

Though Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried—all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger.

Schmitz then goes on to outline the course of the debate between Ratzinger and Cardinal Kasper over communion for bigamists. It is an interesting recitation of the facts, especially since Schmitz observes that some of the polemical language in Kasper’s 2001 reply to Ratzinger—a reply following several years of back-and-forth, official and otherwise—was introduced by a translator and is not present in the original German text.

But, such interesting minutiae aside, Schmitz presents an overwhelming case that, by siding with Kasper and his supporters, the Holy Father puts himself squarely in tension with Benedict. Indeed, Francis’s language is straight out of Kasper’s various pronouncements on the question of communion for bigamists. The argument for continuity between Amoris laetitia and the various documents of the Holy Father’s predecessors is, we think, rubbished entirely by Schmitz’s brief summary of the case. Francis manifestly sides with Kasper, and Kasper was clearly arguing against the magisterial position of John Paul and Ratzinger. The only way to argue for continuity is to point to the language at the beginning of paragraph 300 and argue that Amoris laetitia doesn’t actually do anything except urge pastors “to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, … the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.” But such an argument is ridiculous in the face of the various instructions of the bishops’ conferences that have received varying degrees of approval from the Holy See.

This argument, which has been hashed out repeatedly over the last couple of years, takes on renewed force in light of Benedict’s brief note praising Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which is (or was) intended as an afterword to an edition of Cardinal Sarah’s book on silence. There, Benedict wrote:

Cardinal Sarah is a spiritual teacher, who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us.

We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church. With the liturgy, too, as with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, it is true that specialized knowledge is necessary. But it is also true of the liturgy that specialization ultimately can talk right past the essential thing unless it is grounded in a deep, interior union with the praying Church, which over and over again learns anew from the Lord himself what adoration is. With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.

(Emphasis supplied.) The note is, of course, exactly the sort of thing Ratzinger has written many times over the years, and it is precisely the sort of polite, appreciative note that theologians write for each other all the time. That Benedict is the pope emeritus is, of course, a feather in Cardinal Sarah’s cap, but it hardly seemed significant to us. However, Cardinal Sarah’s many critics have gone ballistic since the publication of the letter. Cardinal Sarah’s conservative theology and evident piety drive them wild even without an endorsement from Benedict. Yet their fury was especially keen, since this was seen as an effort by Benedict to interfere in active Church politics. The progressives want to erase Benedict’s liturgical reforms and go back to the 1970s. Cardinal Sarah does not. The letter, therefore, was seen by the progressives, whose enthusiasm for progressive causes is almost solipsistic, as Benedict’s intervention in the debate.

But was it? Certainly the Holy Father’s effort to hand Walter Kasper the victory in the communion-for-bigamists debate fifteen years after the last significant exchange is no less an effort to erase Benedict’s legacy in the Church. This point is not lost on Schmitz, who concludes:

In the face of this challenge, Benedict has kept an almost perfect silence. There is hardly any need to add to the words in which he resoundingly rejected the program of Kasper and Francis. And yet the awkwardness remains. No pope in living memory has so directly opposed his predecessor—who, in this instance, happens to live just up the hill. This is why supporters of Francis’s agenda become nervous whenever Benedict speaks, as he recently did in praise of Cardinal Sarah. Were the two men in genuine accord, partisans of Francis would not fear the learned, gentle German who walks the Vatican Gardens.

And so the two popes, active and emeritus, speaking and silent, remain at odds. In the end, it does not matter who comes last or speaks most; what matters is who thinks with the mind of a Church that has seen countless heresies come and go. When Benedict’s enraptured words are compared to the platitudes of his successor, it is hard not to notice a difference: One pope echoes the apostles, and the other parrots Walter Kasper. Because this difference in speech reflects a difference in belief, a prediction can be made. Regardless of who dies first, Benedict will outlive Francis.

(Emphasis supplied.) As is so often the case, we are reminded of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” which provides us the title for this post.

But we are left wondering what if?

What if, one clear morning in Rome, Benedict woke up and decided that enough was enough and issued a clear statement, written in the limpid prose he is capable of, against Kasperism. Now, it is clear that such a statement would be from Benedict as private doctor, not as pastor of the universal Church. It would have no juridical effect. Certainly the greatest living theologian of the age is entitled to comment upon the greatest theological controversy of the day. Indeed, given Benedict’s talents as a theologian, to say nothing of his prestige, one might say he has a positive duty to make known both to the pastor of the universal Church and the laity his opinion (cf. can. 212 § 3). However, if his polite praise of Cardinal Sarah is seen as a dangerous intervention worthy of attack, one can only imagine that the progressives would be convulsed with paroxysms of rage, their fury would be incandescent. The man who owed them nothing from day one would have broken his nonexistent promise of silence. But what then? 

Social conflict and the common good

A little while ago, we discussed St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of the common good: peace, which is to say unity and good order. It occurs to us a  brief demonstration of the value of this clear definition might be illustrative. Consider the social-conflict doctrine of the Church, most clearly expressed by Pius XI and St. John Paul II. In Centesimus annus (no. 14), John Paul taught:

From the same atheistic source, socialism also derives its choice of the means of action condemned in Rerum novarum, namely, class struggle. The Pope does not, of course, intend to condemn every possible form of social conflict. The Church is well aware that in the course of history conflicts of interest between different social groups inevitably arise, and that in the face of such conflicts Christians must often take a position, honestly and decisively. The Encyclical Laborem exercens moreover clearly recognized the positive role of conflict when it takes the form of a “struggle for social justice”; Quadragesimo anno had already stated that “if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice”.

However, what is condemned in class struggle is the idea that conflict is not restrained by ethical or juridical considerations, or by respect for the dignity of others (and consequently of oneself); a reasonable compromise is thus excluded, and what is pursued is not the general good of society, but a partisan interest which replaces the common good and sets out to destroy whatever stands in its way. In a word, it is a question of transferring to the sphere of internal conflict between social groups the doctrine of “total war”, which the militarism and imperialism of that time brought to bear on international relations. As a result of this doctrine, the search for a proper balance between the interests of the various nations was replaced by attempts to impose the absolute domination of one’s own side through the destruction of the other side’s capacity to resist, using every possible means, not excluding the use of lies, terror tactics against citizens, and weapons of utter destruction (which precisely in those years were beginning to be designed). Therefore class struggle in the Marxist sense and militarism have the same root, namely, atheism and contempt for the human person, which place the principle of force above that of reason and law.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) John Paul’s thinking becomes much clearer. If the common good, as St. Thomas tells us, is peace, which is to say unity and good order, a partisan interest—especially a destructive partisan interest—is surely directly opposed to the common good. One cannot have total war and peace at the same time. (So much for Marxist class struggle.) Moreover, social conflict rightly conceived, John Paul and Pius XI tell us, requires always participants to seek justice in unity. In other words, social conflict is really an attempt to restore unity and good order.

To this end, consider Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (no. 114), quoted by John Paul in Centesimus annus:

For if the class struggle abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, it gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice, and if this is not that blessed social peace which we all seek, it can and ought to be the point of departure from which to move forward to the mutual cooperation of the Industries and Professions. So also the war declared on private ownership, more and more abated, is being so restricted that now, finally, not the possession itself of the means of production is attacked but rather a kind of sovereignty over society which ownership has, contrary to all right, seized and usurped. For such sovereignty belongs in reality not to owners but to the public authority. If the foregoing happens, it can come even to the point that imperceptibly these ideas of the more moderate socialism will no longer differ from the desires and demands of those who are striving to remold human society on the basis of Christian principles. For certain kinds of property, it is rightly contended, ought to be reserved to the State since they carry with them a dominating power so great that cannot without danger to the general welfare be entrusted to private individuals.

(Emphasis supplied.) The great Papa Ratti tells us that a class struggle “abstain[ing] from enmities and mutual hatred,” thereby transformed into an “honest discussion” about social justice, if it is not the peace which is sought, at least is the beginning of unity and good order.

All of this makes sense in the context of what John Paul tells us. It appears to be his position that social conflicts arise in the course of history, and that Christians must “often” take a position, “honestly and decisively.” In other words, even if Christians do not create the conflict, they may well have to take a position in the conflict. However, this must be a discussion of differences founded upon a desire for social justice. If this cannot per se restore unity and good order (“that blessed social peace”), it can at least be the starting point for the process of restoring unity and good order. One may say, therefore, that social conflict has as its end the restoration of unity and good order, whether this is accomplished immediately or after some time. Thus, as Christians evaluate the circumstances that lead to their involvement in social conflict, they must evaluate also the most expedient means for restoring unity and good order.

Against Options

This is not another piece about Rod Dreher’s discussed-to-death “Benedict Option.” We have said what we intend to say about that. Instead, we want to call your attention to an excellent essay by Peter Kwasniewski at New Liturgical Movement. It begins:

I was once talking with a priest about the strange phenomenon of options in the new rite of Mass and the other sacraments. He made the observation that whenever there are multiple options, one of which is traditional and the others more recent inventions, there seems to be a subtle pressure to choose the more recent inventions, with the consequence that, as he put it, the traditional practice is “optioned out of existence.”

He goes on to observe:

To take another example, we know that it’s possible to sing the entire Mass in Gregorian chant, and that this is the clearly-stated preference of the Second Vatican Council; but a chanted Mass was one of the first casualties of allowing options for music. Most places don’t use the Entrance, Offertory, or Communion antiphons. The music ministers simply substitute other, more or less appropriate (usually less appropriate) hymns for those Propers, which are actually part of the structure of the Mass in a way that hymns never have been and never will be. Miscellaneous vernacular hymns are not printed in the official liturgical books; they’re not printed in the missal; they’re not part of the liturgy; they’re just optional add-ons. But the optional add-ons have become the norm, almost as if they’re required, and the traditional options, which are a part of the structure of the liturgy and its history, are optioned out of existence.

Read the whole thing at NLM.

Prof. Kwasniewski is, of course, correct. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite has a plethora of options available to the priest. And it is entirely possible to say a Novus Ordo Mass that is similar to the traditional Latin Mass. But one does not have to be a Catholic very long to realize that almost no one says a Novus Ordo that resembles a traditional Mass all that closely. Prof. Kwasniewski makes some excellent points about this reality pointing toward a wholesale rejection of tradition by many priests and bishops. We wonder, however, if that’s the whole story.

The Josias corrects “Jake’s Mistake”

At The Josias, J.A. Feil responds to Jake Meador’s Mere Orthodoxy piece categorizing Catholic integralism. We think it’s especially significant that The Josias responded to Meador, since it is ultimately Josias-connected authors, such as Pater Edmund Waldstein and Elliot Milco, who form the basis for Meador’s impression of integralism. Feil’s piece is not long and is well worth reading to further clarify the extent of Meador’s error in turning integralism into, essentially, a papal theocracy.