Francis, Faggioli, and the Medieval Imagination

At Commonweal, Professor Massimo Faggioli, a Twitter power user who moonlights as a Church historian, has an essay arguing, essentially, that the periods following the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council were just as tumultuous and contested as the period that has followed the Second Vatican Council. The implicit argument is that the post-Conciliar chaos often adduced as an argument against certain Vatican II acts is not dispositive, since there was likewise chaos following Trent and Vatican I. This point is not devoid of force; however, Professor Faggioli does not quite carry the day with his examples. Indeed, his analogies are a mixed bag. For example, he seems to think that St. Pius X’s anti-modernist crusade following Vatican I was “the most serious tragedy in the modern intellectual history of Catholicism,” apparently because the Saint decided that it would be best for theologians not to hold modernist ideas. All of this is very much of a piece with Professor Faggioli’s basic point: everything was terrible until about 1963, then it was fine until the fall of 1978, then it was bad until the spring of 2013. Now everything is fine again.

However, Professor Faggioli pivots from this point to make a broader argument about American Catholicism: it is too enamored of an imaginary medievalism. On its face, this is rubbish. The average American Catholic in a suburban church built in the 1970s, who hears Eucharistic Prayer II week in and week out, and sings the same ten egregious songs  is no more enamored with an imaginary medieval vision of the Church than Professor Faggioli. Indeed, we imagine that many suburban American Catholics subscribe happily to Professor Faggioli’s view that, before Vatican II, the Church was dark and gloomy, and then the Council happened and all those oppressive doctrines were changed. Many probably also subscribe to his views on the liturgical reform. In this regard, Professor Faggioli joins Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa on the list of the Pope’s partisans who seem to have almost no understanding of American Catholicism. We shall see in a moment that Professor Faggioli has other, deeper affinities with Father Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa.

First, one also wonders how seriously Professor Faggioli has considered the medieval Church. Recent books like Andrew Willard Jones’s Before Church and State ought to force us to reconsider our biases about the Church in the medieval period, particularly with respect to how it interacted with the state. (Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent review at First Things of Before Church and State is essential reading.) Moreover, Eamon Duffy’s towering study, The Stripping of the Altars, presents, in many ways, a very different vision of the Church in medieval, pre-reformation England than the gloomy, oppressive vision that one learned in school. Given the pictures painted by Jones and Duffy, one may be excused, we think, for seeing in the medieval world better solutions to the problems that liberalism purports to solve.

That historical quibble aside, what Professor Faggioli means is that some Christian intellectuals have some affinity for a medieval Church or at least the characteristics of a medieval Church. No doubt he would lump Before Church and State and The Stripping of the Altars and the response to those books in as part of this tendency. Now, Professor Faggioli rightly identifies this affinity as a response to religious and political liberalism, especially the crisis that political liberalism now finds itself in. He is not wrong when he says that the fascination with medieval Christianity is a response to a post-Christian world (he limits it to the United States, but we doubt he’d contend that Europe professes the Faith today). However, he seems to find some blameworthiness in this affinity. However, this is simply his hermeneutic at work. Liberalism appears to be breaking down. Now, only a fool would contend that liberalism is not hugely resilient and it may well adapt to the current crisis. It is natural that people begin to ask themselves “what comes next?” One answer to this question is found by recovering the pre-liberal tradition, especially in the teaching of the Church, which was a staunch opponent of liberalism far longer than anyone else.

One wonders whether this is what Professor Faggioli actually objects to; that is, the consideration of a world after liberalism by means returning to the pre-liberal and anti-liberal tradition of the Church. Yet, just as Fr. Spadaro and Pastor Figueroa found themselves at odds with Francis’s thought when they complained about integralism, so too does Professor Faggioli find himself at odds with the Pope. In Laudato si’, Francis appears to call Catholics to consider a world beyond liberalism, if not after liberalism. Consider this passage, one of our favorites:

The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) And Francis, with brilliant clarity, captures the crisis of modern liberalism and proposes a solution:

There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

(Emphasis supplied.) Take a moment and consider that: “a bold cultural revolution,” which “appropriate[s] the positive and sustainable progress which has been made” and which “recover[s] the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

Francis understands the crisis of liberalism—in the pastoral language for which he has become so famous, he realizes that “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future”—and he understands the answer to “what comes next?” Keep the positive and sustainable progress that has been made, but recover the values that we discarded as we ran toward an ultimately illusory future. Additionally, Faggioli spends some time complaining about Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and others who seem to be interested in recovering authentic Christian community in the West. However, he seems to forget that Francis argues that “a loss of the purpose of life and of community living” is a symptom of what is wrong in a modern society in thrall to the technocratic, anthropocentric paradigm. One can say, therefore, that the writers about whom Faggioli complains are attempting to address one of the problems that Francis has identified in modern society. In other words, Christians looking to the medieval Church for guidance in an era of liberalism in crisis are doing nothing more or less than contributing to the “bold cultural revolution” that Francis called for in Laudato si’, even to the point of addressing some of the symptoms of a sick society that Francis identifies.

In a very real sense, then, the Catholics who explore post-liberal possibilities by returning to the Church’s medieval tradition and its subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal teaching are far closer to the Pope’s vision in Laudato si’ than the Pope’s supporters who cite the same shopworn passages from Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes. What better source for the values and great goals of Christians could there be than the teachings of the Church from Augustine to Aquinas? What better exemplars for this “bold cultural revolution” than France under Louis IX? It is no secret that the most exciting, most interesting thought today is being done by Catholics trying to reclaim the Church’s anti-modern and anti-liberal teachings, so carelessly discarded by Professor Faggioli’s forebears. One has a hard time imagining that a Pope who so perceptively diagnoses the sickness at the heart of modernity could complain that this is somehow inconsistent with his own vision of a postmodern, post-liberal society.

Nevertheless, one might respond that Francis does not want Christians to turn to the medieval Church and the subsequent anti-modern and anti-liberal tradition of the Church as part of this cultural revolution. Yet such a reading is hard to square with Laudato si’, which fits squarely into the Church’s suspicion of modernity and liberalism. At First Things (a publication for which we occasionally write), R.R. Reno, shortly after Francis handed down Laudato si’, described the encyclical as a return to the Church’s anti-modern teaching. Indeed, Reno argues that Laudato si’ presents a postmodern reading of Vatican II’s landmark document, Gaudium et spes. Professor Faggioli makes a similar point, arguing that some conservative Catholics adopt a conciliar postmodernism. That is, some Catholics think that Vatican II no longer has anything to teach us. (Precisely why this matters especially in the case of Vatican II, he never says. Certainly most Catholics no longer think that Trent or Chalcedon have anything to teach us, but you don’t see Professor Faggioli writing articles in Commonweal about that.) But consider this: in 172 notes, Laudato si’ cites Vatican II three times—in point of fact, Gaudium et spes—and generally only for a phrase. Is it possible that an ecumenical council rooted so firmly in the circumstances of the early 1960s is no longer quite so relevant? Indeed, is it possible that, despite the wishes of some aging liberals in Bologna and Berlin and Boston, the world of 2017 does not have overmuch in common with the world of 1965? Francis, at least, seems to understand that the crises of today require thoughtful responses on their own terms, without nostalgia for the false promises of liberalism that were so beguiling in the 1960s.

Whether his staunchest supporters get that is another question.

On the Weinandy letter

As you no doubt know, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., wrote a letter to Pope Francis, arguing, essentially, that the Pope’s demeanor was causing great confusion among the faithful. Note that Weinandy’s argument is somewhat different than the arguments advanced by the cardinals who submitted dubia and the so-called filial correction that was much in the news recently. That is, Weinandy does not argue that Amoris laetitia contradicts doctrine or advances heretical teachings; instead, he argues that the Holy Father’s general demeanor is causing confusion. Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman has an excellent piece looking at some of the more prominent responses to Weinandy, and pulling apart the shoddy logic of some critics. One ought to read very carefully both Weinandy’s letter and Somerville-Knapman’s piece.

For our part, we delayed somewhat in covering Weinandy’s letter, not least because it seems manifestly different from the other documents we have discussed. It is not a technical, theological argument; indeed, to us, it is a humble plea not for a doctrinal retreat but for a little clarity and a little kindness. Additionally, Weinandy has explained that he wrote the letter only after significant discernment and receiving what he took to be a sign from God. This is by no means something to be ignored or diminished, especially in an age when discernment has such primacy. Consequently, we did not want to rush to judgment or present Weinandy’s letter without a little time on our part to consider it carefully.

Naturally, the media supporters of the Pope swung into full gear almost immediately. The accusation seems to be that Weinandy, such a staunch critic of dissenting theologians, himself dissents. This misrepresents Weinandy’s letter almost to the point of malice. Moreover, it represents a mindless ultramontanism that has appeared among progressives and modernists since, oh, the spring of 2013. The theologians Weinandy criticized held views that contradicted, squarely, revealed truths. It contradicts no revealed truth when Weinandy asks the Pope to clear up the confusion that exists in the Church today. However, progressives like Fr. James Martin, the public face of changing the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality, argue that Weinandy is just as bad as the dissenting theologians he criticized. The implicit argument is that any request for clarity is dissent. Robert Royal today has an excellent piece along these lines, in which he argues:

I argued here about a month ago that we’re starting to see emerge a kind of faith without reason that is quite different from the mainstream Catholic tradition. As sadly happens when you make any argument on the Internet these days, commenters accused me of calling people I disagreed with stupid – including the pope himself. But what I actually said is that I think there’s been a conscious decision to emphasize a kind of pastoral sentimentalism over the older hard-head/soft-heart Catholic realism – sometimes even bordering on the belief that clear doctrine obstructs the workings of the Holy Spirit. Something considered “pastoral” is assumed to trump other teachings, even consistency and fidelity to tradition.

(Hyperlink in original and emphasis supplied.) The Weinandy affair shows precisely this: we are entering a phase in the history of the Church where clarity is considered inimical to faith.

Royal goes on to make this excellent point:

When you take that approach, you look less to what others actually say and more to how it might help or harm what you are trying to achieve. In the Weinandy case, it’s telling that the omnipresent Fr. James Martin has weighed in saying that “dissent” is a two-edged sword: how is Fr. Weinandy’s belief, he asks, that God personally encouraged him to write the letter different from LGBTQ people who believe God finds their inclinations just fine? It’s tiresome to have to point out the obvious here, but Fr. Weinandy was speaking up for the whole Catholic tradition and those who believe in it – not “dissenting” or pushing a personal interest – and sincerely asking the Holy Father to take up his role as the promoter of Church unity.

Such a view is ultimately the triumph of theological liberalism. Martin’s implicit argument is ultimately that the view that Pope Francis is permitting confusion to mount is as good as the view that homosexuals ought to be normalized in the Church. We are reminded, when we hear of Fr. Martin’s latest false equivalency, of Cardinal Newman’s biglietto speech:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is why we return to Newman so often. He was an implacable opponent of theological liberalism, and the progressives and modernists are enthusiastic proponents of liberalism. Newman shows that liberalism is incompatible with the Catholic faith. (So too, frankly, do the progressives.)

The Weinandy affair shows also that the Pope’s supporters in the media are incapable of having the dialogue that even high prelates like Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, have called for. Within hours—minutes—of the release of Weinandy’s letter, they started their all-too-familiar drumbeat: he’s an extremist, he’s a dissenter, he’s a bitter minority. We have seen already that they conflate dissent from actual doctrine with merely asking for clarity regarding the Pope’s teachings. Their vicious response to Weinandy only underscores the fact that, for them, this is not a matter of unity but party politics. Their man, as it were, is in government, and the loyal opposition must be excluded and mocked for as long as the ride lasts.

Liberius’s honor

At his blog, Fr. John Hunwicke has an interesting and controversial (not to say explosive) post, which refers to Cardinal Newman’s judgment on the hierarchy convulsed by the Arian crisis following Nicaea. We are not wholly taken by Fr. Hunwicke’s argument about the present day, but we will pass over that. Fr. Hunwicke helpfully explains that Pope Liberius, when he subscribed the third Sirmian confession, was unfaithful to his office or obscured the truth. Yet, as a commenter on Fr. Hunwicke’s blog observes, a word ought to be said for poor Liberius, who so often comes up as an example of a disastrous pope. First of all, it has long been controversial whether and when Liberius blotted his copybook, so to speak. Assume that it is not controversial, however. There is still a plea to be made for the defense.

Under the circumstances that bring us here, who better should make it than Cardinal Newman, in his Arians of the Fourth Century:

There are men, in whose mouths sentiments, such as these, are becoming and admirable, as being the result of Christian magnanimity, and imposed upon them by their station in the Church. But the sequel of the history shows, that in the conduct of Liberius there was more of personal feeling and intemperate indignation, than of deep-seated fortitude of soul. His fall, which followed, scandalous as it is in itself, may yet be taken to illustrate the silent firmness of those others his fellow-sufferers, of whom we hear less, because they bore themselves more consistently. Two years of exile, among the dreary solitudes of Thrace, broke his spirit; and the triumph of his deacon Felix, who had succeeded to his power, painfully forced upon his imagination his own listless condition, which brought him no work to perform, and no witness of his sufferings for the truth’s sake. Demophilus, one of the foremost of the Eusebian party, was bishop of Berœa, the place of Liberius’s banishment; and gave intelligence of his growing melancholy to his own associates. Wise in their generation, they had an instrument ready prepared for the tempter’s office. Fortunatian, Bishop of Aquileia, who stood high in the opinion of Liberius for disinterestedness and courage, had conformed to the court-religion in the Arian Council of Milan; and he was now employed by the Eusebians, to gain over the wavering prelate. The arguments of Fortunatian and Demophilus shall be given in the words of Maimbourg. “They told him, that they could not conceive, how a man of his worth and spirit could so long obstinately resolve to be miserable upon a chimerical notion, which subsisted only in the imagination of people of weak or no understanding: that, indeed, if he suffered for the cause of God and the Church, of which God had given him the government, they should not only look upon his sufferings as glorious, but, being willing to partake of his glory, they should also become his companions in banishment themselves. But that this matter related neither to God nor religion; that it concerned merely a private person, named Athanasius, whose cause had nothing in common with that of the Church, whom the public voice had long since accused of numberless crimes, whom Councils had condemned, and who had been turned out of his see by the great Constantine, whose judgment alone was sufficient to justify all that the East and West had so often pronounced against him. That, even if he were not so guilty as men made him, yet it was necessary to sacrifice him to the peace of the Church, and to throw him into the sea to appease the storm, which he was the occasion of raising; but that, the greater part of the Bishops having condemned him, the defending him would be causing a schism, and that it was a very uncommon sight to see the Roman prelate abandon the care of the Church, and banish himself into Thrace, to become the martyr of one, whom both divine and human justice had so often declared guilty. That it was high time to undeceive himself, and to open his eyes at last; to see, whether it was not passion in Athanasius, which gave a false alarm, and opposed an imaginary heresy, to make the world believe that they had a mind to establish error.”

The arguments, diffusively but instructively reported in the above extract, were enforced by the threat of death as the consequence of obstinacy; while, on the other hand, a temptation of a peculiar nature presented itself to the exiled bishop in his very popularity with the Roman people, which was such, that Constantius had already been obliged to promise them his restoration. Moreover, as if to give a reality to the inducements by which he was assailed, a specific plan of mutual concession and concord had been projected, in which Liberius was required to take part.

(Emphasis supplied.) A note quotes the great German Church historian, Bishop von Hefele, who observed:

“We therefore conclude without doubt that Liberius, yielding to force and sinking under many years of confinement and exile, signed the so-called third Sirmian formula, that is, the collection of older formulas of faith accepted at the third Sirmian Synod of 358. He did not do this without scruples, for the Semi-Arian character and origin of these formulas were not unknown to him; but, as they contained no direct or express rejection of the orthodox faith, and as it was represented to him, on the other side, that the Nicene [homoousios] formed a cloak for Sabellianism and Photinism, he allowed himself to be persuaded to accept the third Sirmian confession. But by so doing he only renounced the letter of the Nicene faith, not the orthodox faith itself.”

One would have to be very firm indeed not to be moved by Liberius’s plight. It is not as though he was merely banished from Rome by the Arian Constantius, forced to see Felix set up as an antipope in his place, and beguiled with the honeyed words of his erstwhile friend Fortunatian, though all of that did happen. He was threatened with martyrdom if all of those blandishments proved insufficient. And even then, Bishop von Hefele argues, Liberius could have told himself that he was not defecting from the faith of the Apostles, but merely rejecting a disputed formulation of that faith. (Though, as it happens, an extremely correct formulation of that faith.)

And if the argument at bar of Cardinal Newman is not quite persuasive, would you be interested to know that Athanasius himself saw grounds for mitigation in Liberius’s lapse? In his Historia Arianorum (5.41), he wrote:

Who that shall hear what they did in the course of these proceedings will not think them to be anything rather than Christians? When Liberius sent Eutropius, a Presbyter, and Hilarius, a Deacon, with letters to the Emperor, at the time that Lucifer and his fellows made their confession, they banished the Presbyter on the spot, and after stripping Hilarius the Deacon and scourging him on the back, they banished him too, clamouring at him, ‘Why did you not resist Liberius instead of being the bearer of letters from him.’ Ursacius and Valens, with the eunuchs who sided with them, were the authors of this outrage. The Deacon, while he was being scourged, praised the Lord, remembering His words, ‘I gave My back to the smiters (Isaiah 50:6);’ but they while they scourged him laughed and mocked him, feeling no shame that they were insulting a Levite. Indeed they acted but consistently in laughing while he continued to praise God; for it is the part of Christians to endure stripes, but to scourge Christians is the outrage of a Pilate or a Caiaphas. Thus they endeavoured at the first to corrupt the Church of the Romans, wishing to introduce impiety into it as well as others. But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed. Yet even this only shows their violent conduct, and the hatred of Liberius against the heresy, and his support of Athanasius, so long as he was suffered to exercise a free choice. For that which men are forced by torture to do contrary to their first judgment, ought not to be considered the willing deed of those who are in fear, but rather of their tormentors. They however attempted everything in support of their heresy, while the people in every Church, preserving the faith which they had learned, waited for the return of their teachers, and condemned the Antichristian heresy, and all avoid it, as they would a serpent.

(Emphasis supplied.)

Now, all of this is not to turn, as some popular Jesuit commentators are apt to do these days, black into white and wrong into right. Martyrdom is, indeed, preferable to signing an intentionally ambiguous (at best) creed. Indeed, recall what John Paul II said in Veritatis splendor:

Finally, martyrdom is an outstanding sign of the holiness of the Church. Fidelity to God’s holy law, witnessed to by death, is a solemn proclamation and missionary commitment usque ad sanguinem, so that the splendour of moral truth may be undimmed in the behaviour and thinking of individuals and society. This witness makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities. By their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendour of moral truth, the martyrs and, in general, all the Church’s Saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense. By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wis 2:12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20).

Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. In this he or she is sustained by the virtue of fortitude, whereby — as Gregory the Great teaches — one can actually “love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal rewards”.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is true that Liberius chose, it seems, to save his own neck and to return to the adulation of the Roman people after he was ground down by exile and humiliated and threatened with death. His martyrdom, had he made that choice, would have been a reproach to the Arians and a light to Christians even today. But we ought not to pretend—or even imply—that Liberius’s failure came lightly and laughingly and voluntarily.

A song for Europe

We have had a hard time writing about The Paris Statement—or is it called A Europe We Can Believe In?—since it was released. Signed by some fairly prominent European conservatives, including Robert Spaemann and Roger Scruton, the document is essentially a complaint about Muslim immigration and multiculturalism fused with a plea for post-1945 European liberalism. (Maybe. It’s not actually clear. The document is positively Athanasian in its negation of its propositions.) The document is written largely for English-speaking conservatives who spend a lot of time worrying about “European culture.” But not European culture as it exists and has existed largely since 1688. European culture as they imagine it exists. Happily for us, Matthew Walther, at the The Week, has written a delightful takedown of the manifesto.

While we certainly disagree with some of Walther’s points, we cannot but agree with his conclusion: Europe is the faith. That is, the faith of Jesus Christ, His Apostles, and the Church He founded, which is the Catholic Church. (Paul VI, in his Credo of the People of God, didn’t use any of this “subsists” business.) And Walther is correct when he says that the faith is not doing so hot in Europe right now. The Paris Statement chooses treat this Christian heritage as though it were just one part of a “Europ” kit from Ikea. No, you can’t finish the shelving without the Church, but, you know, maybe it looks okay without the shelving. Consider this:

The true Europe has been marked by Christianity. The universal spiritual empire of the Church brought cultural unity to Europe, but did so without political empire. This has allowed for particular civic loyalties to flourish within a shared European culture. The autonomy of what we call civil society became a characteristic feature of European life. Moreover, the Christian Gospel does not deliver a comprehensive divine law, and thus the diversity of the secular laws of the nations may be affirmed and honoured without threat to our European unity. It is no accident that the decline of Christian faith in Europe has been accompanied by renewed efforts to establish political unity—an empire of money and regulations, covered with sentiments of pseudo-religious universalism, that is being constructed by the European Union.

(Emphasis supplied.) To a Catholic thinking with Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI, warning bells start to sound. The great passages from Quanta Cura and Syllabus start to resound. One sees selections from Immortale Dei and Libertas praestantissimum and Diuturnum illud surrounded by flashing lights. The signatories go on:

The true Europe affirms the equal dignity of every individual, regardless of sex, rank or race. This also arises from our Christian roots. Our gentle virtues are of an unmistakably Christian heritage: fairness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, peace-making, charity. Christianity revolutionized the relationship between men and women, valuing love and mutual fidelity in an unprecedented way. The bond of marriage allows both men and women to flourish in communion. Most of the sacrifices we make are for the sake of our spouses and children. This spirit of self-giving is yet another Christian contribution to the Europe we love.

(Emphasis supplied.) One begins to reach for one’s copies of Quod apostolici muneris and Notre charge apostolique. One recalls bits of Arcanum and Casti connubii. And at no point does one get the sense that the authors of the manifesto have any intention of propounding the teachings of the popes. In sum, someone who has been formed by the authoritative pronouncements of the Church reacts with mounting horror to this sort of treatment of Christian doctrine.

The declaration goes on in this vein for some length. The upshot is that it is a liberal document that simply does not like certain features of modern European liberalism. Yet the signatories give no sign of having considered that the postwar European liberalism that they appear to yearn for—this is only a guess on our part, as it is bafflingly unclear when they think Europe exhibited the values they praise—degenerated within about one generation into the modern liberalism they lament. Indeed, it is unclear that the signatories see that there has been a consistent degeneration. Walther picks up on this:

What do the document’s signatories really want? To turn back the clock? How far? To 1945? Maybe 1989? When did this Europe they sob over exist and what was it like then? A place very much like what we see today except with people who were more “moral” and able to tell unspecified “truths” about Islam and who paid slightly less in taxes while still welcoming children? They are yearning for a past unafflicted by the maladies of the present, which makes about as much sense as wishing for a better 18th century in which iPhone batteries lasted longer.

But even if the signatories saw modernity as wholly rotten, it wouldn’t solve the problem of causality. The Europe the signatories appear to want became the Europe they detest, largely without major revolutionary change. Sure, you can say that the fall of the Soviet Union was a big change. But the culture of 1989 is not that different than the culture of 2017, especially in moral terms. And it certainly isn’t like libertines from the former Soviet bloc streamed into Europe demanding multiculturalism and Islamic immigration. Indeed, it has been the former Soviet bloc countries that have raised the biggest fuss about these things.

However, the document ignores the truth that liberalism only goes the one way. It is ordered, ultimately, toward individualism and the corrosion of the common good (that is, peace; that is, unity and good order). The liberalism they want—presuming they could tell you what kind of liberalism they do, in fact, want—will lead to the liberalism they lament. That is how liberalism works. This is why it is so disappointing that the signatories treat Christianity—more precisely, Catholicism—like one part among many of a successful state. The Church, which has a divine mandate to guard and interpret the natural law, has pronounced authoritatively on questions of the organization of the state. And the popes who did most of the heavy lifting in this regard were committed anti-liberals. Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI sketched for us a vision of the modern state that does not rely on liberalism to solve all its woes.

A meaningful indictment of Europe—and a meaningful proposal for reform—begins and ends in the magisterium of these great anti-liberal popes. And such a proposal may well prevent some conservatives from praising the post-Enlightenment order. The Europeans who have tried to follow this line—including, for example, the drafters of the Austrian Constitution of 1934—have met with difficulties. And it seems likely that an attempt today would run into greater difficulties still. But without beginning and ending in the authoritative teaching of the Church, one is simply urging that the clock be turned back to the moment one liked the best, so that one can watch the same process play out one more time.

One is, as David Bowie would say, always crashing in the same car.

Yoder on Newman

At his blog, The Amish Catholic, Rick Yoder has a lovely personal appreciation of Cardinal Newman. We have, despite our resistance to the idea, become convinced that there are few thinkers more vital at this moment in the Church’s life than Cardinal Newman. However, Yoder’s appreciation is not framed in those terms. Instead, he discusses Cardinal Newman’s influence—even now—on his life through his prayers. For our part, to commemorate Newman’s feast, we present a particularly excellent passage from Newman’s The Arians of the Fourth Century:

Let it be granted, then, as indisputable, that there are no two opinions so contrary to each other, but some form of words may be found vague enough to comprehend them both. The Pantheist will admit that there is a God, and the Humanitarian that Christ is God, if they are suffered to say so without explanation. But if this be so, it becomes the duty, as well as the evident policy of the Church, to interrogate them, before admitting them to her fellowship. If the Church be the pillar and ground of the truth, and bound to contend for the preservation of the faith once delivered to it; if we are answerable as ministers of Christ for the formation of one, and one only, character in the heart of man; and if the Scriptures are given us, as a means indeed towards that end, but inadequate to the office of interpreting themselves, except to such as live under the same Divine Influence which inspired them, and which is expressly sent down upon us that we may interpret them,—then, it is evidently our duty piously and cautiously to collect the sense of Scripture, and solemnly to promulgate it in such a form as is best suited, as far as it goes, to exclude the pride and unbelief of the world. It will be admitted that, to deny to individual Christians the use of terms not found in Scripture, as such, would be a superstition and an encroachment on their religious liberty; and in like manner, doubtless, to forbid the authorities of the Church to require an acceptance of such terms, when necessary, from its members, is to interfere with the discharge of their peculiar duties, as appointed of the Holy Ghost to be overseers of the Lord’s flock. And, though the discharge of this office is the most momentous and fearful that can come upon mortal man, and never to be undertaken except by the collective illumination of the Heads of the Church, yet, when innovations arise, they must discharge it to the best of their ability; and whether they succeed or fail, whether they have judged rightly or hastily of the necessity of their interposition, whether they devise their safeguard well or ill, draw the line of Church fellowship broadly or narrowly, countenance the profane reasoner, or cause the scrupulous to stumble,—to their Master they stand or fall, as in all other acts of duty, the obligation itself to protect the Faith remaining unquestionable.

(Emphasis supplied.)

 

Totam habet potestatem

This October is a special one, as it is the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fátima, which remains one of Our Lady’s greatest miracles. Furthermore, the course of the year brings around the great feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7. All in all, a good time to review one of our favorite Marian readings, from Charles de Koninck’s stupendous Ego Sapientia:

33. Nigra sum, sed formosa

Seeing the immensity of the mercy that the Almighty chose to manifest, it was eminently suitable that the universal royalty of Christ and of His mother be manifested in his Passion. “Pilate said to Him: You are then a king? Jesus answered: It is you who say it. I am a king.” (Jo. XVIII, 37). It is the same Christ who says: “I am a worm and not a man, the shame of men and the outcast of the people” (Ps. XXI, 7), and: “I am a king, king of kings, and lord of lords” (Apoc. XIX, 16). It is in the Passion that the nigra sum, sed formosa shows forth in all its profundity and to its fullest extent.

Queen of mercy, the Blessed Virgin is so profoundly rooted in the divine omnipotence that in her issue, in her procession from that power, she participates, so to speak, in the incomprehensibility of that same poser. Sol in aspectu annuncians in exitu, vas admirablile opus excelsi (Eccli. XIII, 2)—Coming out of God she announces the sun in its glory: what an admirable vase is this work of the Most-High. Was she not herself troubled at first before the proximity to God, which Gabriel announced to her? She was troubled by his words (Luke I, 29). If the most powerful blessed angels tremble and humiliate themselves before the power which elevates them so high above the dignity that is appropriate to them by nature, how much more profound will be the astonishment and the humility of the Blessed Virgin called to the sovereign dignity. Totam habet potestatemShe possessed all power. This astonishment, this imperfect knowledge of the cause, will remain for us to the end. Admirabilis ero—I will be astounding (Wis. VIII, 11). In plentitudine sancta admirabitur—She will astound the assembly of saints (Eccli. XXIV, 3).

Cardinal Müller speaks

At the National Catholic Register, there is a very lengthy and very frank interview with Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, until recently the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Naturally, it is with Edward Pentin, who is, we are comfortable saying, the single best English-language Vaticanista today by a country mile. We are sure—as Cardinal Müller himself says—that excerpts will be selected and warped by his enemies, especially in the press, and used to allege that he is a reactionary, out of touch, or an enemy of the Holy Father. This is the tactic progressives have settled on in their frantic attempts to shore up their agenda against the rising resistance from faithful Catholics. We won’t quote every interesting passage, but we will quote what we think is the heart of the interview:

All my life, after the Second Vatican Council, I’ve noticed that those who support so-called progressivism never have theological arguments. The only method they have is to discredit other persons, calling them “conservative” — and this changes the real point, which is the reality of the faith, and not in your personal subjective, psychological disposition. By “conservative,” what do they mean? Someone loves the ways of the 1950s, or old Hollywood films of the 1930s? Was the bloody persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution by the Jacobins progressive or conservative? Or is the denial of the divinity of Christ by the Arians of the fourth century liberal or traditional? Theologically it’s not possible to be conservative or progressive. These are absurd categories: Neither conservatism nor progressivism is anything to do with the Catholic faith. They’re political, polemical, rhetorical forms. The only sense of these categories is discrediting other persons.

We have Holy Scripture, we have eschatological revelation in Jesus Christ, the irreversibility of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, the salvation of the cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ for the end of the world. … The responsibility of the Pope and the bishops is to overcome the polarization. Therefore, it’s very dangerous for the Church to divide bishops into friends and enemies of the Pope regarding a footnote in an apostolic exhortation. I am sure that anybody will denounce me also for this interview, but I hope that the Holy Father will read my complete interview here and not only some headlines, which cannot give a complete impression of what I said.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing.