Notes on the hymns of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

We have previously outlined the great antiquity of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The hymns in the Little Office are no less ancient than the office itself. However, it may interest you, dear reader, to learn a little more about those hymns. As you no doubt know, the Little Office uses four hymns. At matins, Quem terra pontus sidera is sung; at lauds, O gloriosa virginum; and at vespers, the great Marian hymn Ave maris stella. At all the little hours and compline, Memento rerum conditor is sung. We shall see that these are all hymns of great antiquity, of Merovingian or Carolingian origin. However, we shall also see that these venerable hymns did not pass through Urban VIII’s reforms unharmed, despite the fact that the obligation to say the Little Office had been greatly reduced by St. Pius V. It is not our intention to present a complete history of the hymns of the Little Office; instead, we offer a few notes.

Matins: Quem terra pontus sidera and Lauds: O gloriosa virginum

Just as matins and lauds formed, traditionally, one office, so too do Quem terra pontus sidera and O gloriosa virginum form one hymn—a hymn of great antiquity. Walpole sets forth in his Early Latin Hymns, pp. 193–95, an argument for attributing this hymn, under its pre-Urban VIII incipit, Quem terra pontus aethera, to the great Merovingian poet, St. Venantius Fortunatus. It is Walpole’s argument that Quem terra pontus sidera, the Christmas hymn Agnoscat omne saeculum, and the long poem in elegiacs Walpole calls the Laus Mariae are all by one author. All three are very much in Venantius’s style, and this point Walpole finds conclusive, as he does not think it likely that anyone in the next couple of hundred years after Venantius’s death could have so ably imitated the master poet. There are, however, some metrical issues with both Agnoscat omne saeculum and Quem terra pontus sidera, but Walpole finds none of them dispositive. The bottom line is that the poems are “not unworthy” of Venantius, as Walpole puts it. If true, this means that Quem terra pontus aethera was composed no later than Venantius’s death at the very beginning of the seventh century, and it has remained in widespread use for over a thousand years.

Of course, the fact that Quem terra pontus aethera was a composition of Venantius, close to the heart of every Catholic in Europe for six hundred years, did not spare it from the revisions initiated by Pope Urban VIII in 1629 or so. (This was part of a broader project of revision initiated by Urban.) As you, dear reader, no doubt recall, Urban was a man of tremendous erudition and good taste, and he wished to correct the prosody of those good old Merovingian and Carolingian hymns. It seemed, we suppose, to him that the hymns of the Breviary were deficient insofar as they were not written by Horace. Unfortunately, Urban’s assistants—the Jesuits Strada, Gallucci, Sarbiewski, and Petrucci—went a little too far, and frankly mangled some of the most beloved hymns in Christendom. All told, they made about a thousand changes to the Breviary. Quem terra pontus aethera came through it all right, with aethera being replaced with sidera. Unfortunately, O gloriosa femina didn’t fare so well. The first stanza is almost unrecognizable in Urban’s text. They tinkered somewhat less with the second stanza, and almost not at all with the third.

It is too bad, too, as O gloriosa femina (O gloriosa domina is a known variant, per Walpole, attested by several sources) was a favorite hymn of St. Anthony of Padua, who learned it as a child from his mother. He died with it on his lips. One imagines that that saint was by no means alone in his devotion to the hymn. And, of course, if we say Venantius Fortunatus wrote it, we find ourselves with Quem terra pontus aethera being an expression of Marian devotion by the greatest Christian poet of his age. Either way, one may say both that Quem terra pontus aethera should have been spared the attentions of Urban’s Jesuits and that it is a preeminent example of their handiwork.

Little Hours and Compline: Memento rerum conditor

The authorship of Quem terra pontus aethera is just about the only question about that hymn. The same cannot be said for the hymn most used by the Little Office: Memento rerum conditor. We do not know who wrote it, nor when. Indeed, it is not a wholly original composition. Memento salutis auctor, the pre-Urban VIII version of Memento rerum conditor, takes its first stanza from the Christmas hymn Christe redemptor omnium. This is an anonymous hymn, part of the so-called New Hymnal of the Carolingian period, and it has had, over the past thousand years, a prominent place in the Christmas office. One imagines that the popularity of Christe redemptor omnium explains how one of its stanzas found its way into the Little Office.

But the second stanza, Maria mater gratiae, is not part of Christe redemptor omnium. It has been from time to time suggested that it is a continuation of Quem terra pontus aethera, or the second part of it, O gloriosa femina, said at lauds. It is thus found in Cardinal Quignon’s controversial breviary. However, Maria mater gratiae is not found in the text of Quem terra pontus aethera, and must be considered a later composition, whatever its source. It has been, however, a prayer close to the hearts of many Catholics down through the ages. For example, Fr. Henry Garnet, the English Jesuit hanged for his supposed complicity in the so-called Gunpowder Plot, died with it on his lips.

Memento salutis auctor also met with substantial revisions under Urban VIII. The first three lines of the first stanza were substantially rewritten into their present form, and in the second stanza, Mater misericordiae, a quotation perhaps of the Salve Regina, was changed into Dulcis parens clementiae. The Jesuit Hornsby, discussing this revision in the American Ecclesiastical Review, observed that, “though corrected in meter, it has lost some of its sweetness.”  While contemporary critics remarked accessit latinitas, recessit pietas, we think Hornsby has a nice way of putting it, too. It is telling, we think, that Dom Anselmo Lentini, when putting together the hymns for Paul VI’s Liturgia Horarum, rolled back the clock, stripping away Urban’s classicizing revisions. (And introducing some revisions of his own.)

At any rate, none of this answers the fundamental question: who wrote Memento salutis auctor, or, perhaps more precisely, who added the stanza Maria mater gratia to the stanza of Christe redemptor omnium selected for the Little Office? When did it happen? Walpole observes (p. 306) that Christe redemptor omnium is found in most manuscripts from the 10th century onward. We may guess that the stanza was excerpted and enlarged at about that time or shortly thereafter. Such would jive with what we know about the emergence of the Little Office generally. But that answers nothing. We are still left with questions upon questions about this little hymn.

Vespers: Ave maris stella

Little needs to be said about this great Carolingian hymn in honor of Our Lady. It is found already in the ninth century Codex Sangallensis 95, and it has been attributed to numerous authors, including Venantius, Paul the Deacon, and Bernard of Clairvaux (who could not have written it). However, its certain authorship remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the preeminent place it has held in the Breviary, even down to the present day. It passed unscathed through Urban’s process of reform, a testament, we suspect, as much to its stature as to its prosody.

Trinity Lutheran decided in favor of church today

Today, the last day of the Supreme Court’s 2016 Term, the Court handed down its opinion in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which we have discussed recently. The dispute centered upon whether or not the Lutheran church was eligible for a grant to purchase some materials for its preschool’s playground under Missouri’s Blaine Amendment. That is, it was the position of Missouri state government that the church was not eligible for a grant because it was a church. Not so fast, the Court held today in a 7-2 opinion by Chief Justice Roberts; to make the church ineligible for the grant forces the church into the impermissible position of choosing between its religious character and the grant money. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg, in dissent, claim that the Court’s decision today in favor of the church “weakens” the United States’ commitment to a “separation of church and state.” A Catholic integralist obviously hopes they are correct.

What is interesting is that the majority does not spend much time talking about the specifically anti-religious character of the Missouri law that forbade the church receiving the grant money. Even Justice Thomas, whose opinions often include detailed historical analyses (we are thinking especially of his masterful concurrence in McDonald v. Chicago), passes over this historical question in silence, directing his brief opinion to the question of precedent. Indeed, the very phrase “separation of church and state” comes from this historical context. Now, there has been enough Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence that an appellate court can simply rehearse precedent; however, one hopes that the Court squarely addresses the history of these provisions—indeed the history of the assertion that there is a separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution—in some future opinion.

Pius XI against communism: another forgotten intervention in the social magisterium

We have talked recently about important Church documents on the social question (or economics or political economy). In our view, integralist Catholics need to promote not only a correct understanding of the relation between Church and state but also a ressourcement of the Church’s true social teaching. In recent years, as capitalism and liberalism have become the dominant ideologies in the west, many important interventions by the popes have been forgotten in favor of about half of Rerum novarum and about half of Centesimus annus. However, it is becoming clear that liberalism and capitalism have created in the west a dead end, and many men and women of good faith are looking for a way forward. The Church offers exactly that, and recovering our understanding of these interventions is, therefore, a rejection of unrestrained capitalism and liberalism in favor of Church’s reliable solutions to these problems. By the same token, it would be a fruitless project to argue that the state is subordinate to the Church, even indirectly, on those matters touching upon faith and morals, if the true teaching of the Church is not also advanced.

Among the forgotten interventions is Pope Pius XI’s 1937 encyclical on communism, Divini Redemptoris. This encyclical is another condemnation of the materialistic, atheistic, and leveling impulses then current in communism and socialism. However, it is more than that: Pius XI took the opportunity to hand down an encyclical very much in the vein of Leo XIII’s great social encyclicals, touching upon not only matters of political economy but also the constitution of the state. The towering Papa Ratti explains the problems with communism succinctly, drawing implicitly on the teachings of Leo XIII and Pius X:

The Communism of today, more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals in itself a false messianic idea. A pseudo-ideal of justice, of equality and fraternity in labor impregnates all its doctrine and activity with a deceptive mysticism, which communicates a zealous and contagious enthusiasm to the multitudes entrapped by delusive promises. This is especially true in an age like ours, when unusual misery has resulted from the unequal distribution of the goods of this world. This pseudo-ideal is even boastfully advanced as if it were responsible for a certain economic progress. As a matter of fact, when such progress is at all real, its true causes are quite different, as for instance the intensification of industrialism in countries which were formerly almost without it, the exploitation of immense natural resources, and the use of the most brutal methods to insure the achievement of gigantic projects with a minimum of expense.

The doctrine of modern Communism, which is often concealed under the most seductive trappings, is in substance based on the principles of dialectical and historical materialism previously advocated by Marx, of which the theoricians of bolshevism claim to possess the only genuine interpretation. According to this doctrine there is in the world only one reality, matter, the blind forces of which evolve into plant, animal and man. Even human society is nothing but a phenomenon and form of matter, evolving in the same way. By a law of inexorable necessity and through a perpetual conflict of forces, matter moves towards the final synthesis of a classless society. In such a doctrine, as is evident, there is no room for the idea of God; there is no difference between matter and spirit, between soul and body; there is neither survival of the soul after death nor any hope in a future life. Insisting on the dialectical aspect of their materialism, the Communists claim that the conflict which carries the world towards its final synthesis can be accelerated by man. Hence they endeavor to sharpen the antagonisms which arise between the various classes of society. Thus the class struggle with its consequent violent hate and destruction takes on the aspects of a crusade for the progress of humanity. On the other hand, all other forces whatever, as long as they resist such systematic violence, must be annihilated as hostile to the human race.

Communism, moreover, strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system. In man’s relations with other individuals, besides, Communists hold the principle of absolute equality, rejecting all hierarchy and divinely-constituted authority, including the authority of parents. What men call authority and subordination is derived from the community as its first and only font. Nor is the individual granted any property rights over material goods or the means of production, for inasmuch as these are the source of further wealth, their possession would give one man power over another. Precisely on this score, all forms of private property must be eradicated, for they are at the origin of all economic enslavement.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Leo XIII and Pius X had discussed socialism and communism in similar terms. Materialism, class struggle, and an artificial—unnatural—leveling of society are the three biggest faults of socialism and communism as it was practiced at the time. This is not to say that the socialists and communists did not have grounds to critique liberalism, however. We shall, in a moment, see that Pius himself finds liberalism deficient.

A word on materialism, though. More recently, in Spe salvi, Benedict XVI provided an important connection with respect to Pius’s critique of socialism and communism:

Together with the victory of the revolution, though, Marx’s fundamental error also became evident. He showed precisely how to overthrow the existing order, but he did not say how matters should proceed thereafter. He simply presumed that with the expropriation of the ruling class, with the fall of political power and the socialization of means of production, the new Jerusalem would be realized. Then, indeed, all contradictions would be resolved, man and the world would finally sort themselves out. Then everything would be able to proceed by itself along the right path, because everything would belong to everyone and all would desire the best for one another. Thus, having accomplished the revolution, Lenin must have realized that the writings of the master gave no indication as to how to proceed. True, Marx had spoken of the interim phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity which in time would automatically become redundant. This “intermediate phase” we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction. Marx not only omitted to work out how this new world would be organized—which should, of course, have been unnecessary. His silence on this matter follows logically from his chosen approach. His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.

(Emphasis supplied.) In this regard, Benedict points backward to Pius’s description of communist materialism: the inexorable conclusion of dialectical materialism meant that the communist needn’t spend an inordinate amount of time constructing a solution to the social question. Simply heightening the contradictions would move things in that direction. This turned out to be not the case, at least as implemented in the Soviet Union. The upshot is that the failure of communism to rebuild a society in the place of the one it overthrew is ultimately a failure at the heart of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. It is not a question of the right ideas being applied wrongly.

Now, there is a question of the extent to which dialectical materialism was a key component of Marx’s thought, as opposed to a gloss by Engels on Marxist thought or a later development by Plekhanov, Lenin, and Stalin. Nevertheless, Pius was certainly accurately describing communism’s dominant tendency in 1937, and any extant form of socialism or communism that adheres to dialectical materialism. The popes show, we think, that dialectical materialism is simply incapable of producing positive results. Any attempt, therefore, to grapple with Marxist thought must address the question of dialectical materialism and its fundamental flaws.

As we noted just a moment ago, the popes understand why communism (or socialism or any variant of either) is so attractive. Indeed, Pius XI is not blind as to the reason why communism was, in 1937, such a live option:

How is it possible that such a system, long since rejected scientifically and now proved erroneous by experience, how is it, We ask, that such a system could spread so rapidly in all parts of the world? The explanation lies in the fact that too few have been able to grasp the nature of Communism. The majority instead succumb to its deception, skillfully concealed by the most extravagant promises. By pretending to desire only the betterment of the condition of the working classes, by urging the removal of the very real abuses chargeable to the liberalistic economic order, and by demanding a more equitable distribution of this world’s goods (objectives entirely and undoubtedly legitimate), the Communist takes advantage of the present world-wide economic crisis to draw into the sphere of his influence even those sections of the populace which on principle reject all forms of materialism and terrorism. And as every error contains its element of truth, the partial truths to which We have referred are astutely presented according to the needs of time and place, to conceal, when convenient, the repulsive crudity and inhumanity of Communistic principles and tactics. Thus the Communist ideal wins over many of the better minded members of the community. These in turn become the apostles of the movement among the younger intelligentsia who are still too immature to recognize the intrinsic errors of the system. The preachers of Communism are also proficient in exploiting racial antagonisms and political divisions and oppositions. They take advantage of the lack of orientation characteristic of modern agnostic science in order to burrow into the universities, where they bolster up the principles of their doctrine with pseudo-scientific arguments.

If we would explain the blind acceptance of Communism by so many thousands of workmen, we must remember that the way had been already prepared for it by the religious and moral destitution in which wage-earners had been left by liberal economics. Even on Sundays and holy days, labor-shifts were given no time to attend to their essential religious duties. No one thought of building churches within convenient distance of factories, nor of facilitating the work of the priest. On the contrary, laicism was actively and persistently promoted, with the result that we are now reaping the fruits of the errors so often denounced by Our Predecessors and by Ourselves. It can surprise no one that the Communistic fallacy should be spreading in a world already to a large extent de-Christianized.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Pius goes on to say:

It may be said in all truth that the Church, like Christ, goes through the centuries doing good to all. There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church. On the bases of liberalism and laicism they wished to build other social edifices which, powerful and imposing as they seemed at first, all too soon revealed the weakness of their foundations, and today are crumbling one after another before our eyes, as everything must crumble that is not grounded on the one corner stone which is Christ Jesus.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, in Pius’s view, liberalism itself creates the conditions for a communist reaction.

On one hand, liberalism and capitalism commit “very real” abuses and tend toward an unjust distribution of material goods. On the other hand, liberalism de-Christianizes society, leaving workers in a state of “religious and moral destitution.” The communist, Pius teaches, comes into this situation promising to remedy the former situation, and a de-Christianized society is incapable of responding to the system the communist proposes. This point bears underlining: Pius XI taught that liberalism both creates the circumstances that spawn pernicious ideologies and renders its subjects incapable of responding to those same ideologies. In a sense, liberalism sets up not only its failure but also the success of worse ideologies. This is, of course, a scene we see playing out even now, as more men and women realize that liberalism is a dead end. They, rightly seeing the injustices created by liberalism, look to all manner of potential ways forward, both to the right and the left. However, liberalism has left many of them incapable of discerning the ways in which the ways forward do and, more important, do not comport with the divine and natural law. And it is with his incisive diagnosis of liberalism that Pius returns to the question of the Christian state and of political economy.

If liberalism invariably sets the stage for communism, then addressing the faults of liberalism is in a sense prophylaxis against communism. One fault that Pius identifies is the atomized, individualistic relationship between man and society—that is, between man and the state—that liberalism fosters. Consider this passage explaining the correct understanding of that relationship:

But God has likewise destined man for civil society according to the dictates of his very nature. In the plan of the Creator, society is a natural means which man can and must use to reach his destined end. Society is for man and not vice versa. This must not be understood in the sense of liberalistic individualism, which subordinates society to the selfish use of the individual; but only in the sense that by means of an organic union with society and by mutual collaboration the attainment of earthly happiness is placed within the reach of all. In a further sense, it is society which affords the opportunities for the development of all the individual and social gifts bestowed on human nature. These natural gifts have a value surpassing the immediate interests of the moment, for in society they reflect the divine perfection, which would not be true were man to live alone. But on final analysis, even in this latter function, society is made for man, that he may recognize this reflection of God’s perfection, and refer it in praise and adoration to the Creator. Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.

Man cannot be exempted from his divinely-imposed obligations toward civil society, and the representatives of authority have the right to coerce him when he refuses without reason to do his duty. Society, on the other hand, cannot defraud man of his God-granted rights, the most important of which We have indicated above. Nor can society systematically void these rights by making their use impossible. It is therefore according to the dictates of reason that ultimately all material things should be ordained to man as a person, that through his mediation they may find their way to the Creator. In this wise we can apply to man, the human person, the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, who writes to the Corinthians on the Christian economy of salvation: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” While Communism impoverishes human personality by inverting the terms of the relation of man to society, to what lofty heights is man not elevated by reason and Revelation!

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Now, an Aristotelian and a Thomist knows that it is natural for man to live in society in peace and unity. And Pius takes this point to respond to a mass of errors. On one hand, the relationship between man and society makes class struggle in the communist sense impossible—to say nothing of state terror. On the other hand, man may lawfully be coerced into living up to his obligations to society; that is, the atomization of society under liberalism is itself forbidden. Man is a social animal, we know from Aristotle and Thomas.

In this vein, Pius goes on to condemn the leveling impulse of communism in strong terms:

In this same Encyclical of Ours We have shown that the means of saving the world of today from the lamentable ruin into which a moral liberalism has plunged us, are neither the class-struggle nor terror, nor yet the autocratic abuse of State power, but rather the infusion of social justice and the sentiment of Christian love into the social-economic order. We have indicated how a sound prosperity is to be restored according to the true principles of a sane corporative system which respects the proper hierarchic structure of society; and how all the occupational groups should be fused into a harmonious unity inspired by the principle of the common good. And the genuine and chief function of public and civil authority consists precisely in the efficacious furthering of this harmony and coordination of all social forces.

In view of this organized common effort towards peaceful living, Catholic doctrine vindicates to the State the dignity and authority of a vigilant and provident defender of those divine and human rights on which the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church insist so often. It is not true that all have equal rights in civil society. It is not true that there exists no lawful social hierarchy. Let it suffice to refer to the Encyclicals of Leo XIII already cited, especially to that on State powers, and to the other on the Christian Constitution of States. In these documents the Catholic will find the principles of reason and the Faith clearly explained, and these principles will enable him to defend himself against the errors and perils of a Communistic conception of the State. The enslavement of man despoiled of his rights, the denial of the transcendental origin of the State and its authority, the horrible abuse of public power in the service of a collectivistic terrorism, are the very contrary of all that corresponds with natural ethics and the will of the Creator. Both man and civil society derive their origin from the Creator, Who has mutually ordained them one to the other. Hence neither can be exempted from their correlative obligations, nor deny or diminish each other’s rights. The Creator Himself has regulated this mutual relationship in its fundamental lines, and it is by an unjust usurpation that Communism arrogates to itself the right to enforce, in place of the divine law based on the immutable principles of truth and charity, a partisan political program which derives from the arbitrary human will and is replete with hate.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) The leveling tendency of socialism was a great concern for Leo XIII and St. Pius X in their treatments of these topics. That is, the desire to make absolutely equal what nature has made unequal is a defect of socialist thought. Pius echoes their condemnations of the idea.

As we said—and as we have explained previously—the common good is peace and unity. What Pius XI (and Leo XIII and St. Pius X) explains is that the leveling tendencies of communism, the political choice to enforce absolute political equality, is ultimately contrary to the common good. There is a hierarchical structure to society and ordering oneself to that structure is ultimately ordering oneself to the common good. Trying to obliterate that structure, however, is almost by definition an act against peace and unity. While the flaws of socialism with respect to leveling are well demonstrated in the magisterium, we wonder if socialism alone is subject to the charge. Could one argue that liberalism no less than socialism attempts to enforce absolute political equality? Pius sees in liberal thought a radical individualism that seeks to unmoor man from society. To our mind this seems no less a leveling of the natural hierarchy of society than the collectivism of the communists.

A brief word about hierarchy and reform: the popes do not conflate natural hierarchy with “the way things are,” as Pius demonstrates amply in both Quadragesimo anno and Divini Redemptoris. It would be, we think, an error to assert or imply that reform or reconstruction of society requires the leveling of the communists or the liberals. The fact is that Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI all condemned the unnatural leveling of society; it may not be said, therefore, that it is an acceptable component of necessary reform or reconstruction.

Turning to a broader discussion of the social question, Pius sets forth the rights and duties of capital and labor once more, following his teaching in Quadragesimo anno. One passage is particularly significant today, given the understanding and misunderstanding of the term social justice:

In reality, besides commutative justice, there is also social justice with its own set obligations, from which neither employers nor workingmen can escape. Now it is of the very essence of social justice to demand for each individual all that is necessary for the common good. But just as in the living organism it is impossible to provide for the good of the whole unless each single part and each individual member is given what it needs for the exercise of its proper functions, so it is impossible to care for the social organism and the good of society as a unit unless each single part and each individual member—that is to say, each individual man in the dignity of his human personality—is supplied with all that is necessary for the exercise of his social functions. If social justice be satisfied, the result will be an intense activity in economic life as a whole, pursued in tranquillity and order. This activity will be proof of the health of the social body, just as the health of the human body is recognized in the undisturbed regularity and perfect efficiency of the whole organism.

But social justice cannot be said to have been satisfied as long as workingmen are denied a salary that will enable them to secure proper sustenance for themselves and for their families; as long as they are denied the opportunity of acquiring a modest fortune and forestalling the plague of universal pauperism; as long as they cannot make suitable provision through public or private insurance for old age, for periods of illness and unemployment. In a word, to repeat what has been said in Our Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: “Then only will the economic and social order be soundly established and attain its ends, when it offers, to all and to each, all those goods which the wealth and resources of nature, technical science and the corporate organization of social affairs can give. These goods should be sufficient to supply all necessities and reasonable comforts, and to uplift men to that higher standard of life which, provided it be used with prudence, is not only not a hindrance but is of singular help to virtue.”

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Social justice must, therefore, be seen in terms of the common good—in terms of peace and unity—and especially in terms of work and the ability to support oneself and one’s family. This is a far cry both from a social justice conceived solely in identitarian terms and from a concept of society that denies social justice altogether.

Indeed, one sees throughout Divini Redemptoris the teaching that the way to avoid the modern social errors, both communism and liberalism, is to focus on the common good. This is, of course, the purest Thomism. One sees in the De Regno and the Treatise of Law from the Summa Theologiae that society is ultimately ordered—if it is rightly ordered—to the common good. When a society departs from the common good, either into individualism or collectivism, Pius appears to teach, the society sows the seeds of its own destruction.

More on the Roman epiclesis

Fr. John Hunwicke has another excellent blog post on the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite. This time, he ties the question into the propers for the Octave of Pentecost, observed still in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The crux of his ingenious argument is this:

According to the older Roman Rite, the Church offers the Elements to the Father, and it is simply by His gracious act of acceptance that they become the Body and Blood of His Son.  

This is exemplified in the Prayers over the Offerings, the ‘Secrets’, of this Octave week of Pentecost. If the venerable Roman tradition had had the least inkling that the Spirit is involved in the Consecration of Bread and Wine, surely the Pentecost Octave, and the Prayers over the Offerings, would have been its opportunity to offer some sort of hint in this direction.

There is none. The Propers of these days emphasise the role of the Holy Ghost in the Paschal Mysteries of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation. For this connection, of course, there is Biblical and Patristic evidence galore. And the renewal of the hearts and lives of the Faithful by the outpouring of the Spirit is expressed.

(Emphasis in original.) This is, we think, a hugely clever argument. Notwithstanding the absence of an epiclesis in the Roman Canon, one would assume that the Pentecost propers would make some reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the elements of the Eucharist, no?

We note, with some amusement, that some commenters at Fr. Hunwicke’s blog point to the Veni Sanctificator in the offertory as a Roman epiclesis. However, we observe, as we did some time ago in response to Martin Mosebach’s otherwise brilliant essay, that the Veni Sanctificator, like the rest of the offertory prayers, was a later addition to the Roman Rite (coming from the Mozarabic Rite), and it cannot be said to be the ancient Roman offertory.

“Burying Benedict,” tradition, and unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you did say it.

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

Social conflict and the common good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Maltese farce

The saga of the Order of Malta gets stranger and stranger. Today, Edward Pentin reports that Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Holy Father’s special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and substitute for general affairs in the Secretariat of State, has written to Fra’ Matthew Festing, erstwhile grand master, “asking” him not to come to Rome for the upcoming Council Complete of State, convened to elect Festing’s successor. Pentin provides a scan of the letter from Becciu to Festing. The request comes as a bit of a surprise, since it has been widely reported that the Holy Father has expressed no objection to Festing’s reelection, if the Order returns him to office. According to Becciu, “many have expressed their desire that [Festing] not come to Rome and participate in the voting sessions.” (It is not difficult to imagine who “many” is.)

Archbishop Becciu makes this request as an “act of obedience.” All of this underscores completely the fact that the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is under the direct administration of the Holy See, which has definite ideas about how it is to be run going forward. This, of course, would not be so extraordinary but for two facts. First, the Order was once presumed sovereign under international law. Second, the Holy See appears to favor one clique definitively in the internal governance dispute, taking extraordinary step after extraordinary step after extraordinary step to ensure that the interests of Boeselager and the German Knights are advanced. One wonders whether these actions—probably unprecedented—will have effects beyond the question of the Order of Malta. For example, will high officials in the Curia start banning other allegedly divisive figures from coming to Rome? Will the Italian state object to the Holy See setting, even on a very limited basis, its immigration policy? 

One thing is clear: it pays—and pays and pays—to have friends in the Secretariat of State.