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?

The year of Paul VI

Here is a prediction for 2018: it will be the year of Paul VI. In addition to canonization talk, there are two important anniversaries connected with Paul’s papacy. On July 25, the feast of St. James, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s landmark encyclical On the Regulation of Birth, known around the world by its incipit: Humanae vitae. Shortly before that, on June 30, we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Paul’s Credo of the People of God, which Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre called, “an act which from the dogmatic point of view is more important than all the Council.” Both events—the promulgation of Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God—are of acute importance at this moment in the life of the Church, when the role of the Petrine ministry seems to be hotly contested. Both events saw Paul acting as a guardian of tradition against the innovations urged upon the Church in the wake of the Council. These events, however, contribute to Paul’s complicated legacy as a pope who was staunch in his defense and appreciation of tradition one day and who indulged the reformers’ whims on another day.

As noted above, there is already talk that Paul VI will be canonized this year. There are reports that the medical and scientific experts have already reported favorably upon the second miracle necessary for canonization. There remain some steps for canonization, according to the Crux article, including the approval of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and approval by Francis. However, these steps are largely administrative. The idea, according to the reports, is that Paul would be canonized during the ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops this fall. Paul, you see, established the Synod of Bishops in the wake of the Council. It would also be appropriate for a meeting already deeply penetrated by Boomer notions about young people to see the canonization of the Boomers’ pope.

Paul’s canonization will likely be controversial, despite the events of 1968 discussed here. At New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo anticipates that “St. Paul VI” will be used to argue that the reformed post-Conciliar Mass is to be regarded with the same reverence as St. Pius V’s Tridentine Mass. DiPippo argues that canonization does not erase mistakes that saints made during their lifetimes, pointing most notably to the example of St. Alphonsus Liguori. He also notes that canonized popes, like Pius V and Pius X, initiated liturgical reforms that had both foreseen and unforeseen consequences—not all of them good. For example, St. Pius X’s reform of the breviary was extremely radical and resulted in ancient liturgical traditions being discarded practically overnight. So, DiPippo argues, there is no reason why Paul VI’s canonization would have any effect on the merits of the Novus Ordo. (Or at least the ongoing debate over its merits.)

Now, it is far from clear that the canonization actually matters to the partisans of the reform. In August, Francis, citing, among others, the example of Paul VI, declared “with magisterial authority” the liturgical reform “irreversible.” (It is not exactly clear to us what that means, however.) Furthermore, Francis, anticipating one of DiPippo’s arguments, observed that Paul VI’s liturgical books were “well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council”—not including Alfredo Ottaviani or Marcel Lefebvre, one feels inclined to add. In one sense, therefore, the canonization of Paul VI means as little to the defenders of the reform as it does to DiPippo. They have arguments about the merits of the Novus Ordo that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint, just as the partisans of the traditional Mass have arguments that do not rely on a missal promulgated by a saint.

However, it seems to us that the rock-ribbed traditionalists who argue that the Novus Ordo is in some way bad or noxious to faith and morals (or illicit or invalid or whatever) will have a problem if Paul VI is canonized. Indeed, DiPippo seems to anticipate this argument somewhat with the example of St. Alphonsus. The controversy of the Regolamento is not easy to understand, but it boils down to this: in 1779 or 1780, for a variety of reasons, the Redemptorists wanted the approval of the Neapolitan monarchy for their Rule. The Rule was finally submitted, and edited grievously, with the connivance of Alphonsus’s friends and colleagues. (The Neapolitan government did not want the Redemptorists to be a religious order, so one of the chief amendments was the removal of the vows of religion.) Alphonsus was induced to sign it and the king approved it. Redemptorist priests reacted sharply and quickly, telling Alphonsus in no uncertain terms that he’d wrecked the Redemptorists. They also appealed to the pope, Pius VI, whose relations with Naples were strained. Following a trial, Pius essentially suppressed the order outside the Papal States, installed a new superior general, and effectively expelled Alphonsus and the Neapolitan members of the order. In 1793, the Neapolitan government recognized the original Rule and the order was reunified.

Now, on one hand, the parallel between Alphonsus and Paul VI is fairly easily made: just as Alphonsus was tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Rule, so too was Paul VI tricked (essentially) into ratifying a bad Missal. Fair enough. However, we are not sure the example quite meets the argument. A Rule is not the Mass, and an imprudent Rule, at variance, however great, with the high and noble purposes of an order is not necessarily noxious to faith and morals or illicit or invalid. It may be administratively destructive and morally harmless. Consequently, it seems to us that the canonization of Paul VI is liable to have some impact—though just what impact, we cannot say—on the argument that the Novus Ordo is positively harmful. It will be, we think, awfully tricky to argue that a canonized saint did something as pope that is bad (or whatever). Obviously, the arguments about its prudence or historical correctness or aesthetic merits remain unaffected.

But liturgical arguments are not the only arguments about Paul VI’s legacy that 2018 will see. As mentioned, 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae, the moment when Paul stood up in the face of the world (and many of his own cardinals, bishops, and priests) and proclaimed the intrinsic immorality of artificial contraception. Paul’s prophetic act was a true sign of contradiction and an exercise of the most fundamental duty of the Petrine office. It was widely anticipated that Paul would approve at least hormonal birth control methods—i.e., “The Pill”—not least because a papal commission, managed by the Dominican Henri de Riedmatten and the American philosopher John T. Noonan, had almost unanimously reported in favor of that resolution. Paul, however, was unwilling to take that step, not least because Pius XI’s Casti connubii proclaimed, possibly infallibly, that most forms of artificial contraception were intrinsically evil. Assisted by Cardinal Ottaviani, and famously Fr. John Ford and Germain Grisez, Paul prepared Humanae vitae and declared clearly that even hormonal birth control, which does not interfere with the reproductive act itself, was immoral.

The progressives and modernists in the Church have never forgiven Paul for his iron-willed refusal to surrender to the spirit of the age.

It is also clear that the same progressives and modernists, taking full advantage of the opening offered to them by the Holy Father’s marriage document, Amoris laetitia, intend on taking the opportunity of the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae to gut the encyclical. In the summer of 2017, reports broke of a four-member commission, established with some degree of Vatican approval, to study the historical circumstances that led to Humanae vitae. Of course, the original deliberations of the papal commission played out in the press, with the majority report, minority report, and schema of an encyclical leaked and analyzed at length. (You can read many of the original documents at Grisez’s website today, and we encourage you to do so.) The current commission, allegedly headed by Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, has allegedly been given unprecedented access to Vatican archives, including the usually sealed archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as part of its mission to study the encyclical. The suggestion is that the historical commission will discover what everyone knows: that the papal commission was almost unanimously in favor of some forms of birth control. Based upon this finding, the fear is that the commission will propose a modification or reinterpretation of Humanae vitae. Now, there was a lot of back and forth about just what the Vatican commission was—beginning with the question of whether it even existed? If it existed, was it a commission tasked with reinterpreting the encyclical or was it just a private study group? Given the climate of this pontificate, it is understandable that official denials are given perhaps less weight than the officials issuing the denials might hope.

But setting to one side the question of an official reconsideration or interpretation of Humanae vitae, it is clear that the modernists and progressives, emboldened by what they see as official support, will seize the opportunity to undermine Humanae vitae. We will hear, no doubt, that some great majority of Catholics, especially Catholics in the United States and Europe, not only support but use various forms of birth control. (It may be suggested that a lot of Catholics “have left” the Church because of the Church’s inflexibility on this point.) We will be told, we imagine, that Paul’s teaching has not been “received” by the faithful. We will be told that so-called natural family planning, a doctrine developed in large part by Pius XII but approved quite definitively by Paul VI, is not infallible and, moreover, is a serious burden on some Catholics. We will be told that the Church needs to attend closely to pastoral realities of couples, especially couples who, for whatever reason, live together without being married. In sum, we will hear all of the arguments in favor of bourgeois sexual ethics from Boomers.

This is, of course, not new, but the proponents of such errors will no doubt state their case louder and longer and with a more favorable reception by the hierarchy, as it will be implied that their views are, as we noted early, shared by prelates in the very highest circles of the Church. Perhaps there will be a press conference or an address to this or that association that gives fuel and oxygen to the fire.

And this is why it is so important to commemorate Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God. When he made his profession of faith, Paul recognized that the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter was to confirm the brethren in the faith. The Petrine ministry, Paul observed, requires the pope to resist even those in the Church who are seized by a desire for novelty, lest the faithful be perplexed and scandalized. Both Humanae vitae and the Credo of the People of God are moments when Paul resisted the innovators and proclaimed doctrine clearly part of the deposit of faith—good, old Christian truth, to put it another way. Indeed, the documents of the Second Vatican Council ought to be read through the lens of Paul’s Credo, as some points that are murky in the Council’s documents are admirably clear in Paul’s creed. Today, unfortunately, the Pope’s loudest supporters see the pope as a magical figure, who is infallible in every utterance and who has (apparently) the power to amend the doctrines handed down from the apostles, who received them from God.

Of course, it must be mentioned that 1969 and 1970 mark the fiftieth anniversary of the full implementation of the liturgical reform. And it is impossible to separate Paul’s prophetic acts of 1968 from the difficulties posed by the liturgical reform. It is strange, for example, to read in the Credo of the People of God a ringing reaffirmation of the sacrificial dimension of the Mass knowing within a couple of years, the sacrificial dimension would be obscured for many in a haze of optional texts. It cannot be said that Paul did not understand the Petrine ministry, either, given his clear summation of his mandate on June 30, 1968. Instead we are left to grapple with both aspects of Paul’s legacy and come to what conclusions we can.

Liberius’s honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Emphasis supplied.)

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

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

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

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

“Merely frustrated tyrants”

The common good is both in itself and for us more lovable than the private good. But there could still remain a confusion, for one can love the common good in two ways. One can love it to possess it, and one can love it for its conservation and against its diffusion. In effect, one can say: I prefer the common good because its possession is for me a greater good. But this is not a love of the common good as common good. It is a love which identifies the common good with the good of the singular person considered as such. “To love the good of a city in order to appropriate it and possess it for oneself is not what the good political man does; for thus it is that the tyrant, too, loves the good of the city, in order to dominate it, which is to love oneself more than the city; in effect it is for himself that the tyrant desires this good, and not for the city. But to love the good of the city in order that it be conserved and defended, this is truly to love the city, and it is what the good political man does, even so that, in order to conserve or augment the good of the city, he exposes himself to the danger of death and neglects his private good.” And St. Thomas immediately applies this distinction to supernatural beatitude in which the notion of common good exists most perfectly: “Thus to love the good in which the blessed participate in order to acquire or possess it does not make man well disposed towards it, for the evil envy this good also; but to love it in itself, in order that it be conserved and spread, and so that nothing be done against it, this is what makes man well disposed to this society of the blessed; and this is what charity consists of, to love God for himself, and the neighbor who is capable of beatitude as oneself.” Hence one cannot love the common good without loving it in its capacity to be participated in by others. The fallen angels did not refuse the perfection of the good which was offered to them; they refused the fact of its being common, and they despised this community. If truly the good of their singular person should have been first, how could they have sinned against the common good? And most of all, how could the most naturally worthy rational creature fall away from the most divine good that exists?

A society constituted by persons who love their private good above the common good, or who identify the common good with the private good, is a society not of free men, but of tyrants—”and thus the entire people becomes like one tyrant”—who lead each other by force, in which the ultimate head is no one other than the most clever and strong among the tyrants, the subjects being merely frustrated tyrants. This refusal of the common good proceeds, at root, from mistrust and contempt of persons.

– Charles De Koninck, The Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists. (Available in a slightly different translation in 2 The Writings of Charles De Koninck 63, 79–80 [1943; McInerny ed., 2008].)

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.

Newman on the brain

At Gloria.tv, there is a translation of a conference that the late Carlo Cardinal Caffarra would have given on October 21 in London. Cardinal Caffarra’s address would have touched at length on Bl. John Henry Newman’s doctrine of conscience, especially as conscience relates to the papacy. Rather than quote from Cardinal Caffarra’s lecture, which you ought to read, we shall quote from the fifth chapter of Newman’s Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'”

(Emphasis supplied.) Cardinal Caffarra quotes from this section, but turns also to chapter five of the Grammar of Assent. (We have no wish to upstage Cardinal Caffarra, especially now, so we will not parallel his argument, and instead again encourage you to read both his address and the relevant passages of Newman.) Turning back to the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, we see also that Newman recognized that almost no one spoke in these terms when referring to conscience in his day:

When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is no less true today than in 1874 that conscience is man’s apprehension of the divine and natural law laid down by God, which must be obeyed at all costs. And it is no less true today than in 1874 that few understand by “conscience” what Newman, relying on authorities no less weighty than Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, meant. Indeed, it seems more true in 2017 than in 1874 that people view conscience as “the right of self-will.”

Indeed, in so much recent discourse in the Church, it seems that the world’s definition of conscience has been taken instead of Newman’s. Not so long ago, an American bishop, now raised to the purple by the Holy Father, spoke of conscience not as God’s law apprehended by a rational creature, but as a decision, made at the end of a process. Now, it is true that this bishop did not go so far as the liberals of Newman’s day, but once one accepts conscience as a sort of judgment, rather than an individual’s implementation of God’s “sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority,” one is already skipping down the primrose path of liberalism. And no one was a stauncher opponent of liberalism than Cardinal Newman. Difficult questions of moral theology—questions of adultery, homosexual behavior, and access to the sacraments, to name but three—are once again being debated, with liberals invoking conscience in support of their positions. Liberalism is on the march again in the Roman Church. And, as an opponent of liberalism, Newman stands squarely against any attempt to turn conscience into nothing more than private judgment, into the more or less educated decision of a person to comply or not with God’s law. It is no wonder then that Newman was on Cardinal Caffarra’s mind.

As it becomes clear that progressives in the Church insist on relitigating every battle since 1965—as they obviously think that the Holy Father will give them their every wish, whether he will or not—it becomes equally clear that a return to theologians like Newman is necessary. You have no doubt heard the disquieting rumors that even Humanae vitae is in the sights of the modernists and progressives, to say nothing of the recent fights in Catholic social media over homosexuality. We do not think the Holy Father is prepared to go as far as the modernists and progressives demanding this or that accommodation, but it is in the nature of modernism for its adherents to go beyond legitimate authority. At this moment, it is necessary to recover the entire anti-liberal teaching of the Church, including the great papal teachings from Gregory XVI to Pius XI, in addition to Newman’s thought. Liberalism is nothing new, however new and upsetting the assault of the progressives may be. And the great anti-liberal popes and thinkers like Newman fought liberalism to a standstill.

 

Pius IX and the ecclesiology of Twitter

We heard today that roving gangs of cyber-bullying Catholics are a problem in terms of the institutional Church. Indeed, we heard today that this has ecclesiological consequences. Even assuming that this is not the continuation of a Twitter beef in highfalutin terms, an assumption we ourselves would not readily make, the assertion is a little silly. (The author mostly seems to complain about anyone interested in orthodoxy qua orthodoxy, since he also complains about the Holy Office in the 1950s under the great Cardinal Ottaviani.) In this context, Pius IX’s 1863 Letter to Archbishop von Döllinger of Munich, Tuas libenter, makes an extraordinarily interesting point:

Dum vero debitas illis deferimus laudes, quod professi sint veritatem, quae ex catholicae fidei obligatione necessario oritur, persuadere Nobis volumus, noluisse obligationem, qua catholici Magistri ac Scriptores omnino adstringuntur, coarctare in iis tantum, quae ab infallibili Ecclesiae iudicio veluti fidei dogmata ab omnibus credenda proponuntur. Atque etiam Nobis persuademus, ipsos noluisse declarare, perfectam illam erga revelatas veritates adhaesionem, quam agnoverunt necessariam omnino esse ad verum scientiarum progressum assequendum et ad errores confutandos, obtineri posse, si dumtaxat Dogmatibus ab Ecclesia expresse definitis fides et obsequium adhibeatur. Namque etiamsi ageretur de illa subiectione, quae fidei divinae actu est praestanda, limitanda tamen non esset ad ea, quae expressis, oecumenicorum Conciliorum aut Romanorum Pontificum, huiusque Apostolicae Sedis decretis definita sunt, sed ad ea quoque extendenda quae ordinario totius Ecclesiae per orbem dispersae magisterio tanquam divinitus revelata traduntur, ideoque universali et constanti consensu a catholicis Theologis ad fidem pertinere retinentur.

(Emphasis supplied.) A translation may be found at DH 2879. The Second Vatican Council cites Tuas libenter in a note to Lumen gentium 25. We would also direct the interested reader to Ford and Grisez’s 1978 essay, Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, pages 274 and 275.

Food for thought, no?