Puzzlin’ Evidence

One of our favorite scenes in David Byrne’s (sort of uneven) 1986 film True Stories is the scene where the preacher, played perfectly by John Ingle, begins spooling out an entirely secular web of conspiracy theories. Ingle’s preacher hits every note of the 1980s evangelical preacher as he sings “Puzzlin’ Evidence.” It is a shame that the album version of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” on the True Stories soundtrack is a version by Talking Heads with vocals by David Byrne. Whatever Byrne’s talents as a vocalist, he does not bring the same rollicking style to “Puzzlin’ Evidence” that Ingle did. At any rate, we could not help but think of “Puzzlin’ Evidence” as we saw some of the reactions to Fr. Romanus Cessario’s very fine piece in First Things about the Mortara case.

Princeton professor Robert George, one of the grand old men of the interfaith coalition of neoconservatives, reacted to Cessario’s piece with horror. On Twitter and Facebook he decried the very idea of baptizing a child against the will of his or her parents as “an unspeakable injustice,” condemned by no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas. Somewhat surprisingly, George does not note that the current canon law of the Church, promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1983, notes that an infant—whether the child of Catholic parents or non-Catholic parents; it does not matter—in danger of death is baptized licitly even against the will of his parents (can. 868 § 2). The same code states that a child in danger of death “is to be baptized without delay” (can. 867 § 2). This, by the way, was the law under the 1917 Code, which clearly authorized baptism even of the children of non-Christians in danger of death (1917 can. 750 § 1). By the way, did you know that pastors have long been supposed to teach their subjects the correct way to baptize, in case of emergencies (can. 861 § 2; 1917 can. 743)? Stop for a moment and think about this: the law of the Church practically directs the faithful to baptize infants in danger of death notwithstanding any objections by their parents, and it commands pastors to make sure that the faithful know how to do this. Despite this clear teaching, George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara “an unspeakable injustice.” Does George really mean to say that the law of the Church for the past century, if not longer, constitutes an unspeakable injustice?

Plenty of the responses to George have happily pointed this out. One might also ask George what he thinks Matthew 28:19 means, to say nothing of the canons of the seventh session of the Council of Trent (March 3, 1547). We wish to emphasize another point, however, which might be overlooked otherwise. We come to the puzzling evidence.

In George’s haste to decry the baptism of Edgardo Mortara as “an unspeakable injustice,” he echoes some of the most vicious modern critics of the Church. In his (revolting and revoltingly titled) attack on Mother Teresa, Christopher Hitchens cited Teresa’s order’s practice of baptizing the dying as evidence of her “hypocrisy.” Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth: the saint consistently baptized those persons in her care. Fr. Leo Maasburg recounts that in Communist Armenia—where baptism was by no means a risk-free proposition for anyone—a hospital under Mother Teresa’s direction made sure that children (and some adults) dying were baptized. Nevertheless, the entirely true allegation that Mother Teresa baptized the dying has become one of the favorite slurs of the secularists against the Saint. In a review of Hitchens’s book for the New York Review of Books, Murray Kempton gleefully took up the charge. Indeed, Kempton is spurred to heights of fury rarely seen even in the explosive pages of the NYRB by the idea that an Albanian nun might want to succor the dying spiritually. The charge that Teresa baptized the dying remains one of the more popular charges, even twenty-some years after Hitchens’s book: Michael Stone, writing at Patheos in 2016, found nothing but horror in the idea that Teresa might baptize the dying.

Is there really any difference between George’s language regarding the Mortara case and the savage polemics directed at Mother Teresa? Is there any difference, really, between the spirit of George’s frantic denunciation and the lacerating blows directed at the Albanian saint? George calls the baptism of Edgardo Mortara and its consequences “an abomination” and “an unspeakable injustice.” Hitchens calls the baptism of many of Teresa’s patients a “hypocrisy.” Murray Kempton calls her baptisms “tickets of admission contrived in stealth and sealed with a fraudulent stamp.” And the Patheos blogger called them examples of “her moral corruption, and her callous attitude toward the sick and dying in her care . . . .” He goes on to call this “[t]he stuff of horror movies.” Surely George does not mean to indict Mother Teresa in the same terms that her most hateful critics have used! Surely he would find some way to distinguish his outrage over Romanus Cessario’s mild, intelligent defense of Pius IX from the gleeful, spiteful attacks of Christopher Hitchens and Murray Kempton! But try to think how you can indict Pius IX and exonerate Teresa. Try to think how you can distinguish contempt for Pius IX and Cessario’s argument from contempt for St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Harder than it looks, isn’t it?

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.

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.)

 

Fr. Faber

Rick Yoder has a fine appreciation of Fr. Frederick Faber at his blog, The Amish Catholic. Yoder quotes liberally from Faber’s writings and comes to an interesting point, well worth considering, about the present state of the Church. Not having quite Yoder’s gift for a narrative, we confine ourselves to more mundane observations, including a quick look at pages 442 and 443 of Msgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox’s 1939 Westminster Hymnal, which sets forth the authors and translators of the hymns included in that indispensable volume. Obviously many translations of Knox and Caswall are included, but here’s a surprise: Faber is just as well represented. Indeed, one may say that the Westminster Hymnal is primarily the work of Knox, Caswall, and Faber. (Plus the old favorite, Anonymous.) And, if you know where to look, you can still find Faber’s 1854 Oratory Hymns. (While Faber may not have been the roughest, toughest clerk in England, read the third stanza of “Faith of Our Fathers,” published within a few years of the restoration of the English hierarchy and within living memory of the Relief Act 1829, and say that he had no courage.) Yoder also talks about Faber’s great devotion to Our Lady. Indeed, anyone fond of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Charles de Koninck’s masterful volume, Ego Sapientia, feels as though one has met a kindred spirit when encountering Faber. Or at least a spirit with whom one can converse on equal terms. We are reminded by an anecdote of John Hunwicke’s on the question of Faber’s Marian devotion. At any rate, take a moment and read Yoder’s fine essay and get to know Fr. Faber a little better.

The Ratchet

Today, with little advance notice, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Magnum principium. The upshot of the letter is that bishops’ conferences now have the authority to prepare translations of liturgical books, subject to confirmation by the Holy See. In technical terms, canon 838 has been modified to reflect this order. We are told in an anonymous note on canon 838 “in the light of conciliar and post-conciliar sources” that

The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Magnum principium appears to imagine CDW rubber-stamping what the bishops approve. We are told that this is a more authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 2. Whether it is or not, this will be seen as a major victory for the progressives, who have, for fifty years, talked endlessly about adapting the liturgy to local conditions and doing away with the uniformity in liturgy that apparently scarred their youths. Now, the episcopal conferences will prepare translations, which the Holy See anticipates confirming “on trust and confidence” in the conferences’ judgments in the “faithfulness and congruence of the texts with respect to the typical Latin text.”

It is, of course, in our opinion a sort of strange sign for a pontificate that began with big gestures like Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’, and even Amoris laetitia to turn to the project of making middle-aged felt-banner enthusiasts happy. That is to say that, so far, the Holy Father’s vision has seemed much grander than questions of which translation of the Mass of Paul VI is most pleasing to liberal liturgists. Additionally, the Holy Father has so far not seemed overly exercised about the endless struggles between progressives and more orthodox Catholics about Vatican II. Indeed, it is by no means clear that the Holy Father is hugely invested in the Vatican II question. At the same time, it is plain that retrenching the post-Vatican II liturgical order has been much on the Holy Father’s mind lately. Recall his speech to the Italian liturgists:

The direction traced by the Council was in line with the principle of respect for healthy tradition and legitimate progress (cf. SC, 23), in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council, and now in universal use for almost 50 years in the Roman Rite. The practical application, supervised by the Episcopal Conferences of the respective Countries, is still ongoing, because reforming the liturgical books does not suffice to renew mentality. The books reformed in accordance with the decrees of Vatican II introduced a process that demands time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation in celebrations, firstly, on the part of the ordained ministers, but also of other ministers, of cantors and all those who take part in the liturgy. In truth, we know, that the liturgical education of Pastors and faithful is a challenge to be faced ever anew. Paul VI himself, a year before his death, said to the Cardinals gathered in the Consistory: “The time has now come to definitively leave aside divisive elements, which are equally pernicious in both senses, and to apply fully, in accordance with the correct criteria that inspired it, the reform approved by Us in the application of the wishes of the Council”.

And today, there is still work to be done in this direction, in particular by rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with regard to the liturgical reform, by overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, a partial reception, and practices that disfigure it. It is not a matter of rethinking the reform by reviewing the choices in its regard, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, through historical documentation, as well as of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it. After this magisterium, after this long journey, We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.

The task of promoting and safeguarding the liturgy is entrusted by right to the Apostolic See and to the diocesan bishops on whose responsibility and authority I greatly rely at the present moment; national and diocesan liturgical pastoral bodies, educational Institutes and Seminaries are also involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) Setting to one side the Holy Father’s decision to minimize Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 1 in favor of episcopal conferences and to minimize the responsibility and authority of individual diocesan bishops, this speech seems to reflect the standard narrative of Vatican II. That is, a reform moving ever forward toward some more or less poorly defined endpoint.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this reflects some sort of reaction to the response to the grander elements of the Holy Father’s program. Curia reform appears to be something better discussed than implemented. Despite the increasingly extreme weather observed in the United States and elsewhere, there seems to be little interest in Rome or Washington in taking up Laudato si’ and the environmental question again. Amoris laetitia has turned into an extremely complicated, unpleasant situation, with prelates and theologians debating seriously the implications of private letters and unanswered dubia, among other things. Indeed, recently the American bishops had an invitation-only conference in Orlando about Evangelii gaudium; they wanted to promote its reception and understanding by Catholic leaders. Whatever that means. It is a strange thing to do, over four years into a pontificate, to return to a “programmatic” document, as if the intervening priorities of the pontificate never happened. It is possible, we think, that the Holy Father has turned to the question of liturgy, so long a topic almost entirely controlled by party spirit, to accomplish some things broadly pleasing to his core constituency.

Candidly we were not surprised to see Magnum principium. It does not reflect the broad scope of the Holy Father’s vision, but even visionaries have to help their supporters. (Cf. p. 70 of Syme’s Roman Revolution.) We were, however, hugely surprised to read this in Magnum principium:

The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.

It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.

(Emphasis supplied.) What a startling admission from the Holy See. The Holy See has been, in its approach to translations of liturgical texts, defending the “entire Catholic faith” because “each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.” For some reason, “difficulties have arisen” between episcopal conferences and the Holy See in this work. That is, episcopal conferences and the Holy See have been at odds about whether or not liturgical texts are “congruent with sound doctrine”? What an extraordinary, unsettling admission. And what an extraordinary, unsettling solution: devolution of authority over liturgical translations to the same episcopal conferences that have been involved in “difficulties” with the Holy See.

In all of this, we cannot help but be reminded of Paul VI’s statement introducing his great Credo of the People of God. (It seems that Paul VI has been on our mind just as he has been on the Holy Father’s mind.) When he spoke, Paul said, in terms that are no less frank than the terms the Holy Father likes to use:

Likewise, we deem that we must fulfill the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter, whose successor we are, the last in merit; namely, to confirm our brothers in the faith. With the awareness, certainly, of our human weakness, yet with all the strength impressed on our spirit by such a command, we shall accordingly make a profession of faith, pronounce a creed which, without being strictly speaking a dogmatic definition, repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God.

In making this profession, we are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty. The Church, most assuredly, has always the duty to carry on the effort to study more deeply and to present, in a manner ever better adapted to successive generations, the unfathomable mysteries of God, rich for all in fruits of salvation. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken, while fulfilling the indispensable duty of research, to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine. For that would be to give rise, as is unfortunately seen in these days, to disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

(Emphasis supplied.) Despite Paul’s statement, perhaps intended to contradict the narrative of progress moving ever forward, eventually leaving behind the truths of the faith in favor of “a kind of passion for change and novelty,” it is clear that the progressive wing of the Church holds firm to the view the Church in the wake of the Council must move ever forward into change and novelty, even at the cost of increasing disquiet and disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

The ratchet, dear reader, only moves one way.

Cardinal Newman’s sixth note

Following the publication of Spadaro and Figueroa’s confused essay in Civiltà, critiquing, well, whatever it was they were critiquing, a secondary controversy sprang up. You see, dear reader, many of the initial critics of Spadaro and Figueroa’s essay—Matthew Schmitz at First Things and Ross Douthat at the New York Times—were converts. And the progressives pounced upon this fact. The converts were holier-than-thou reactionaries bent on accusing the Holy Father of heresy, resisting his agenda, and many other delicts besides. (It was a rare delight to see people for whom ultramontanism was a four-letter word between October 1978 and February 2013 rushing so gallantly to the defense of the rights of the Roman Pontiff.) However, a point has been overlooked. In many of the critiques of the converts, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was invoked. The argument, stated with the usual imprecision of the progressive, was that the converts want the Church to remain as it was when they converted—and they converted because the Church confirmed them in their prejudices—but any real Catholic knows, as Cardinal Newman tells us, that doctrine develops. The converts, then, are the ones out of step with the mind of the Church, as expressed by Cardinal Newman.

First, a biographical note. The controversy over converts struck us as bizarre to say the least. (Part of the reason we didn’t weigh in at the time is because we found it so bizarre. The other reason is that we were a minor, minor player in the original controversy. All in all, it seemed like a good time to take a little vacation.) For one thing, we are not a convert. We have, in fact, not wandered very far as such things go. We hear Mass in the sight of the font in which we were baptized. We often have business in the sacristy in which we made our first confession. And we often make our communion in exactly the same spot at which we made our first communion those many years ago. However, that ultimately does not much matter. In the Church, the question is whether one is baptized—that is, whether one has accepted God’s call to become through baptism His adopted son or daughter. The progressives’ emphasis on baptism seemed to be yet another example of identity politics; only those noble so-called cradle Catholics could understand the enormously subtle arguments offered in support of Spadaro and Figueroa’s farrago of invective. Because we are not a convert, we did not get our back up at the progressives’ insults.

But we did notice the occasional references to Cardinal Newman’s teachings in all these responses. (Almost as choice as the delight of watching a bunch of aging liberals take up the banner of ultramontanism is the delight of watching them use Newman, the greatest convert of his age, as a cudgel against other converts.) The progressives are good modernists, and, either through guile or ignorance, know or suspect that they’ll find no support in Pascendi or Lamentabili for their assertions about the development of doctrine. But they feel that the mere invocation of Cardinal Newman is enough to justify those assertions. (St. Pius X thought otherwise.) This is, as they imagine, a devastating own in the parlance of the day. Schmitz or Douthat or whoever is against Cardinal Newman, who says doctrine can develop! However, we shall see in a moment that the progressives cannot have understood Newman any more than Spadaro and Figueroa could have understood integralism. Indeed, the developments of which the progressives are so proud are not developments at all, but corruptions of doctrine.

How do we know that? Because Cardinal Newman tells us so.

In the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (page 171 of the standard 1878 edition), Newman identified seven “notes”:

of varying cogency, independence and applicability, to discriminate healthy developments of an idea from its state of corruption and decay, as follows:—There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last. On these tests I shall now enlarge, nearly in the order in which I have enumerated them.

(Emphasis supplied.) That is, Newman sets forth seven features of authentic developments of doctrine; if a putative development has those notes, it just might be an authentic development. If not, well, that’s a problem. It occurs to us, in the wake of the fight over Spadaro, Figueroa, and the converts, that almost no one ever talks about these notes, least of all the progressives. Indeed, almost no one ever talks about the content of the Essay. It is bandied about largely in support of a broad assertion that doctrine can “develop,” which rather oversimplifies Newman’s actual argument in the Essay. And certainly no one ever talks about the notes in the context of the teachings—or supposed teachings—that are being defended against the onslaught of the conservatives.

And with good reason. The dog, dear reader, don’t hunt. Let us consider but one example. Newman’s “sixth note”  (pp. 199–200) is as follows—it’s actually quite a beautiful passage separate and apart from the theological content:

As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.

It is the rule of creation, or rather of the phenomena which it presents, that life passes on to its termination by a gradual, imperceptible course of change. There is ever a maximum in earthly excellence, and the operation of the same causes which made things great makes them small again. Weakness is but the resulting product of power. Events move in cycles; all things come round, “the sun ariseth and goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Flowers first bloom, and then fade; fruit ripens and decays. The fermenting process, unless stopped at the due point, corrupts the liquor which it has created. The grace of spring, the richness of autumn are but for a moment, and worldly moralists bid us Carpe diem, for we shall have no second opportunity. Virtue seems to lie in a mean, between vice and vice; and as it grew out of imperfection, so to grow into enormity. There is a limit to human knowledge, and both sacred and profane writers witness that overwisdom is folly. And in the political world states rise and fall, the instruments of their aggrandizement becoming the weapons of their destruction. And hence the frequent ethical maxims, such as, “Ne quid nimis,” “Medio tutissimus,” “Vaulting ambition,” which seem to imply that too much of what is good is evil.

So great a paradox of course cannot be maintained as that truth literally leads to falsehood, or that there can be an excess of virtue; but the appearance of things and the popular language about them will at least serve us in obtaining an additional test for the discrimination of a bonâ fide development of an idea from its corruption.

A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, a true development does not contradict what came before it. There is no moment in the development of doctrine at which point the doctors and masters in debate may say, “formerly all men were mad.”

A little later, Newman adds, by way of preface to some examples of his sixth note:

It is the general pretext of heretics that they are but serving and protecting Christianity by their innovations; and it is their charge against what by this time we may surely call the Catholic Church, that her successive definitions of doctrine have but overlaid and obscured it. That is, they assume, what we have no wish to deny, that a true development is that which is conservative of its original, and a corruption is that which tends to its destruction. This has already been set down as a Sixth Test, discriminative of a development from a corruption, and must now be applied to the Catholic doctrines; though this Essay has so far exceeded its proposed limits, that both reader and writer may well be weary, and may content themselves with a brief consideration of the portions of the subject which remain.

It has been observed already that a strict correspondence between the various members of a development, and those of the doctrine from which it is derived, is more than we have any right to expect. The bodily structure of a grown man is not merely that of a magnified boy; he differs from what he was in his make and proportions; still manhood is the perfection of boyhood, adding something of its own, yet keeping what it finds. “Ut nihil novum,” says Vincentius, “proferatur in senibus, quod non in pueris jam antea latitaverit.” This character of addition,—that is, of a change which is in one sense real and perceptible, yet without loss or reversal of what was before, but, on the contrary, protective and confirmative of it,—in many respects and in a special way belongs to Christianity.

(Emphasis supplied.) This, of course, is true. No heretic would ever openly admit that he is breaking definitively with the doctrine of the Church. Historically, the argument is that accretions of that much-discussed and little-loved (if hugely lovable) institution, the medieval Church, have distracted from the pure apostolic doctrine of the early Church. The modernist, however, finds that taste cloying—who wouldn’t after 400 or 500 years—and prefers instead to push the boundaries. But, as we noted, no one ever seems to get around to making the argument in terms of Newman’s notes.

Perhaps there is good reason for this strange silence. Could one, keeping particularly the sixth note in mind, make an argument that some of the innovations the modernists are so proud of these days are true developments of doctrine? Could they do it keeping in mind that an argument is more than a mere assertion? Could one, for example, defend the more extreme interpretations of Amoris laetitia (separate and apart from the text itself or the interpretations offered by some cardinals and bishops) as “conservative of the course of antecedent developments”? Could one defend the recent push to normalize the gay movement within the Church as “an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds”? Or is it, perhaps, more natural to say that these interpretations of Amoris laetitia and these sudden calls for “dialogue” and “inclusions” are but contradictions and reversals of “the course of doctrine which has been developed before them”? Certainly the proponents of the putative developments have a view. But, against them, Cardinal Newman warns us that “a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history.”

Such a demonstration ought to be expected from the progressives who contend that their pet developments are entirely consonant with the apostolic faith of the Church. After all, it is they who have brought Newman into the debate in defense of the concept of development. They are not articulating mere points of theological or historical interest. Still less are they providing us with an introduction to Newman’s thought. They mean to justify their arguments as developments. It would be natural, therefore, for them to set forth an argument in Newman’s own terms that their putative developments have all the signs of a true development, rather than the absence of such signs indicating corruptions of doctrine. Yet we are unaware of any such demonstrations. Of course, we admit, as you may have guessed, that we think such a demonstration would be exceedingly difficult. And we suspect that the progressives are not hugely interested in demonstrating that their ideas are true developments.

In all of this, it seems awfully hard to avoid Newman’s statement that “overwisdom is folly.”

Of course, one hardly faults the progressives for their desire to transform the development of doctrine into the abrogation and redrafting of doctrine. It is always easier to find reasons to replace what is out of step with the world with what is in step with the world. It is always exciting to set to one side the beliefs of one’s father in exchange for something apparently new. But we must remember what Newman says, “This character of addition,—that is, of a change which is in one sense real and perceptible, yet without loss or reversal of what was before, but, on the contrary, protective and confirmative of it,—in many respects and in a special way belongs to Christianity.” That is, the Christian lives within tradition. We might deepen our understanding of doctrine, we might find an answer in the tradition to a new question, but we never leave the tradition. And we certainly do not abandon one part of it for something new.

It is little surprise, therefore, that we see Newman so often invoked and so infrequently quoted. One finds Pascendi and Lamentabili extremely inconvenient—and rightly so—when one wants to begin to recast the doctrine of the Church. The modernist wants Cardinal Newman on his side—needs Cardinal Newman on his side—but one, upon even cursory inspection, finds Newman to be very much not their man. And it seems to us that one could very profitably run the progressives’ pet doctrines through all of Newman’s notes in greater detail than done here, just to see what happens. We already know, of course, but sometimes such an étude is profitable for other reasons. And it might finally convince the progressives that there’s no future for them in solemnly telling us that Cardinal Newman is on their side.