The call is coming from inside the option

Rod Dreher has decided that none of the critics of The Benedict Option have understood him.  Either they are reading things into the book that he did not put there or they are working out obscure personal grievances. This is, of course, a risible assertion, not least since Dreher has written (and written and written and written) about the Benedict Option over the past several years. It is also in keeping with Dreher’s near-constant redefinition of the Option in the face of criticism. The idea is very simple: Christians have lost pretty much every political engagement they’ve fought over the past, oh, fifty years (draw a straight line between Roe and Obergefell, if you like), and they need to withdraw from society. But what happens when they withdraw from society? Dreher is convinced that most Christians possess only a watered-down faith. The problem, we think, is more serious than that.

Giving us a gentle ribbing, the blogger Subsannabit suggests that it is error to think that modern western liberalism is doing politics. Subsannabit, in an interesting post about true radicalism, also observes that most people simply do not do politics. Of course, Subsannabit may err by setting the bar for doing politics too high (cf. ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co. & ad 4; Ia IIae q.96 a.4 co. & ad 3), but s/he is not wrong about the fact that modern western liberalism is not really politics in any meaningful sense, at least as the term is rightly understood. Certainly the liberal is not interested in applying practical reason to frame laws to make people simply good. Such a process would force a modern western liberal to concede a bunch of things he would be loath to concede. The modern liberal prefers to write laws to create in essence a neutral playing field on which everyone can pursue his or her personal good without much restraint or even much interference. The common good does not factor into this sort of thought. And, for this reason, this sort of liberalism is, of course, corrosive of the very idea of civil society (Grenier, 3 Thomistic Philosophy no. 1154, pp. 455–56). For proof of the thesis, one has only to open a newspaper or turn on the TV.

Such liberalism is, for most people, an omnipresent, omnipotent force. The law, we know, is a teacher, even if the lesson is a bad one. There is simply no escape from it. Some people can see the problem and even sketch proposals for a solution, but it is hard to imagine the implementation of such proposals without adverting to liberal ideas. After all, liberalism is, for most westerners, as natural as the air we breathe. And this is fundamentally the problem with Dreher’s Benedict Option—and any number of similar proposals—retreating from society will do no good if you bring liberalism with you. Whatever polity or society you create will have the same flaw at its heart as the one you left behind. It is like the scene in any number of horror, science-fiction, and thriller pictures, when Our Hero or Our Heroine reaches a safe spot, only to discover that he or she is Not Alone. Or worse, when Our Hero or Our Heroine has asked the phone company to trace the menacing calls, only to be informed that the calls are coming from inside the house.

And Dreher, whether he understands it or not, wants to bring liberalism with him. Religious liberty, however helpful it may be to Christians at the moment, is the lynchpin of the liberal order. Once one puts truth and error on the same plane, the rest falls into place quickly. And it has the same consequences that liberalism always has. Leo XIII explained this admirably in Libertas praestantissimum (nos. 19–22). And this is, as it was expressed in Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate, a major problem for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, holding to the Church’s traditional teachings, even beyond those difficulties posed by the New Mass. To say then, that Christians, withdrawing from the most part from society, will remain politically engaged to the extent that it is necessary to defend religious liberty—which is what Dreher has said—is to say that Christians will carry with them the seeds of liberalism. This guarantees that they will get to their communities, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and turn around to discover that they are Not Alone. The menacing calls from liberalism are coming from inside the Option.

If you don’t like the analogy to popcorn flicks, consider the emotional climax of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen: Act Two of Die Walküre. Wotan’s long-suffering wife, Fricka, has demanded that Wotan do something about the incestuous adultery of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, despite the fact that Wotan was Siegmund’s father and teacher (“So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Göttern?”). In point of fact, Fricka demands that Wotan do nothing when Sieglinde’s husband comes to settle accounts. Wotan hoped to raise a free hero who could recover the titular Ring, which, as one remembers from Das Rheingold, Wotan himself cannot touch, lest he break the contracts that give him his authority (“Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich”). Wotan then has to explain the situation to his daughter, Brünnhilde, and comes to the realization that in all his efforts to make a free hero, he finds only himself (“Nun einer könnte, was ich nicht darf”). That is, all his creatures are, just that, creatures, and they reflect him and his all-too-real flaws. The optioneers will discover, Wotan-like, that they’ve made communities resembling primarily themselves: good liberal subjects.

This is, in part, why we have talked so much about a ressourcement of Aristotelian-Thomistic political theory, which finds its best modern expression in the magisterium of Leo XIII. Without a proper understanding of the polity, how just laws are framed, and a proper conception of politics, it is simply not rational to expect a withdrawal from society in any meaningful sense to spark a restoration of Christian life. One will most likely create enclaves of religiously flavored liberalism that rely ultimately on liberal concepts such as religious liberty to survive. Now, perhaps the withdrawals proposed are not withdrawals in any meaningful sense. Perhaps they are merely histrionics, designed to emphasize to secular liberals the age-old point “You’ll really miss us when we’re gone.” Such histrionics are understandable—as we say, draw a line from Roe to Obergefell—but ultimately not productive. Either way, no progress is going to be made against the forces of liberalism without rediscovering the teaching of Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII.

Mosebach, the Extraordinary Form, and the Offertory

At First Things, Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness, has a provocative essay reflecting upon the restoration of the Roman Rite under Benedict XVI. It is a long essay, and well worth reading and reflecting upon at length. We doubt that you’ll need much incentive to check it out, but we wanted to call your your attention to a couple of excerpts. (And to criticize, very gently, a statement Mosebach makes about the offertory in the Roman Rite.) He concludes,

The movement for the old rite, far from indicating aesthetic self-satisfaction, has, in truth, an apostolic character. It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied. Above all, the old rite runs counter to the faith in progress that has long gone hand in hand with an economic mentality that is now curdling into anxiety regarding the future and even a certain pessimism. This contradiction with the spirit of our present age should not be lamented. It betokens, rather, a general awakening from a two-hundred-year-old delusion. Christians always knew that the world fell because of original sin and that, as far as the course of history is concerned, it offers no reason at all for optimism. The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.

Reform is a return to form. The movement that seeks to restore the form of the Latin Rite is still an avant-garde, attracting young people who find modern society suffocating. But it can only be a truly Christian avant-garde if it does not forget those it leads into battle; it must not forget the multitude who will someday have to find their way back into the abundant richness of the Catholic religion, once the generations who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, sought the salvation of the Church in its secularization have sunk into their graves.

(Emphasis supplied.) We add that what is true of the Mass is true too of the Breviary and other time-honored forms of the Church’s liturgical prayer, like the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are reminded of Bl. Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s observation, made near the end of his life (translated a couple of years ago by Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement):

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

(Emphasis supplied.) To join so many of our forebears in prayer is to begin to join them in other ways, and, bit by bit, to leave behind the blandishments of the modern world for the faith that they passed down to us.

Now, we cannot discuss the question of the traditional Roman Rite without engaging in some harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement. And we found ground for disagreement in the way Mosebach characterizes the offertory and the necessity of the epiclesis in the traditional Roman Rite. This is, as you’ll see in a moment, a bit of a capital-T Thing. Mosebach observes:

This hope of restored liturgical continuity was connected to the concept of a “reform of the reform,” a notion Benedict had already introduced when he was a cardinal. What Ratzinger wished to encourage with the idea of reform of the reform is exactly what the council fathers at Vatican II had in mind when they formulated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. They wanted to allow exceptions to the use of Latin as the common language of the liturgy, insofar as it should be beneficial to the salvation of souls. That the vernacular was presented as the exception only emphasized the immense significance of Latin as the language of the Church. They imagined a certain streamlining of the rite, such as the elimination of the preparatory prayer at the steps of the altar and the closing Gospel reading, which would have been highly lamentable losses without any noteworthy advantages, but which would not have damaged the essence of the liturgy. Of course they left the ancient offertorium untouched. These prayers over the bread and wine make clear the priestly and sacrificial character of the Mass and are therefore essential. Among these, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical.

(Emphasis supplied.) While the loss of the traditional offertory was by no means something to be happy about, we should not allow ourselves to get carried away when lamenting its loss. Recall that Mosebach is talking about the restoration of the traditional Roman Rite, not a comparative study of the various liturgies with apostolic or patristic origins.

Mosebach’s first mistake is characterizing the offertory as “ancient.” In his article on the offertory in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue observed:

Originally the only Roman Offertory prayers were the secrets. The Gregorian Sacramentary contains only the rubric: “deinde offertorium, et dicitur oratio super oblata” (P.L. LXXVIII, 25). The Oratio super oblata is the Secret. All the old secrets express the offertory idea clearly. They were said silently by the celebrant (hence their name) and so are not introduced by Oremus. This corresponds to the oldest custom mentioned in the “Apost. Const.”; its reason is that meanwhile the people sang a psalm (the Offertory chant). In the Middle Ages, as the public presentation of the gifts by the people had disappeared, there seemed to be a void at this moment which was filled by our present Offertory prayers (Thalhofer, op. cit. below, II, 161). For a long time these prayers were considered a private devotion of the priest, like the preparation at the foot of the altar. They are a Northern (late Gallican) addition, not part of the old Roman Rite, and were at first not written in missals. Micrologus says: “The Roman order appointed no prayer after the Offertory before the Secret” (cxi, P.L., CLI, 984). He mentions the later Offertory prayers as a “Gallican order” and says that they occur “not from any law but as an ecclesiastical custom”. The medieval Offertory prayers vary considerably. They were established at Rome by the fourteenth century (Ordo Rom. XIV., 53, P.L. LXXVIII, 1165). The present Roman prayers were compiled from various sources, Gallican or Mozarabic. The prayer “Suscipe sancte pater” occurs in Charles the Bald’s (875-877) prayer book; “Deus qui humanæ substantiæ” is modified from a Christmas Collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary (P.L., LXXVIII, 32): “Offerimus tibi Domine” and “Veni sanctificator” (fragment of an old Epiklesis, Hoppe, “Die Epiklesis”, Schaffhausen, 1864, p. 272) are Mozarabic (P.L. LXXXV, 112). Before Pius V’s Missal these prayers were often preceded by the title “Canon minor” or “Secretella” (as amplifications of the Secret). The Missal of Pius V (1570) printed them in the Ordinary. Since then the prayers that we know form part of the Roman Mass. The ideas expressed in them are obvious. Only it may be noted that two expressions: “hanc immaculatam hostiam” and “calicem salutaris” dramatically anticipate the moment of consecration, as does the Byzantine Cherubikon.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fortescue makes much the same point on pages 304 to 308 in the 1914 edition of his The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. When Mosebach describes the offertorium—in the context of the traditional Roman Rite—as “ancient,” he is saying something simply not supported by the historical development of the Roman Rite. They’re old enough, but they’re not as old as the Canon Romanus itself. And the prayers of the offertory are not uniformly Roman; in fact, they’re mostly Gallican and Mozarabic. Perhaps this is merely traditionalist exuberance finding tremendous antiquity and Romanità in every corner of the traditional Roman Rite, as a very sharp friend of ours has suggested. However, writing a prose poem about the value of the traditional Roman Rite and then getting sloppy about the development of the traditional Roman Rite is something else.

Mosebach makes a more serious mistake when he turns to the matter of the epiclesis. Indeed, Fortescue clearly establishes that Mosebach goes too far when he says “the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical” in the context of the traditional Roman Rite. It is, we submit, not “critical” to the Roman Rite by any stretch of the imagination, and we’ll see in a moment that it may not even be an especially Roman idea. In an appendix to The Mass (pp. 402–07, 1914 ed.) devoted to the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite, Fortescue argues that the Roman Rite originally had some sort of epiclesis (a point with which John Hunwicke might disagree, but more on that in a second, like we said), but that it was dropped from the liturgy as a result of patristic insistence on the words of institution as the form of the consecration. We don’t know, Fortescue says, what this primitive epiclesis looked like, as it disappeared before the various sacramentaries were prepared. But, according to Fortescue, the primitive epiclesis likely came at about the same place the Supra quae and Supplices come now. (And the Supra quae and Supplices came in essentially the same form and in essentially the same place in the Gelasian Sacramentary, as one can see on page 235 of Wilson’s edition. Likewise the Gregorian, viz. p. 3 of Wilson’s edition.) The upshot is that the epiclesis was so important in the Roman Rite that it was omitted very early on in order to avoid confusion over the form of the sacrament. Whether this prompted heartburn among the popes of the age is another question.

There is no question, however, about conflating the offertory with the primitive Roman epiclesis. In Fortescue’s judgment, this Roman epiclesis came after the words of institution. At any rate, the Roman offertory could not have been this primitive epiclesis, since, at the time when the epiclesis was purportedly part of the Roman liturgy, the offertory was simply the secret, with the congregation singing the offertory chant. (The prayer, Veni Sanctificator, included in the offertory prayers as codified by St. Pius V, was a much later addition from the Mozarabic Rite, as Fortescue notes.) Now, John Hunwicke would object strenuously (and did over a series of posts in 2015) at the idea that the Roman Rite had to have an epiclesis. He suggests that, theologically, the Quam oblationem is the quintessentially Roman prayer in this context. However, regardless of the theological question: he is manifestly correct: the primitive Roman epiclesis was omitted to avoid confusion about the form of the sacrament. The Roman Rite did not need an epiclesis, whether or not it had one in its early form.

And this does not take into account the orientalizing battles in the 20th century about the epiclesis. Perhaps it should, though. Mosebach talks about the conservative—organic?—reforms envisioned by the Council fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and then dives right into one of the favorite topics of the professional liturgists who hijacked the liturgy in what Mosebach characterizes as the “Spirit of 1968.” (We might quibble with that, too, and call it the “Spirit of 1910” or the “Spirit of 1955.”) Now, all of this might be harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement, not to say waspishness or pedantry, but it goes to a point Mosebach tries to get at in his essay. He argues:

The time has come to set aside a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church that the liturgy and religious education are in good hands with the clergy. This encourages passivity among the faithful, who believe that they do not have to concern themselves with these matters. This is not so. The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) If the faithful are to involve themselves in the liturgy—especially with a view to defending the traditional forms of the liturgy against the professional liturgists who, quite unlike Wotan in Die Walküre, seem entirely thrilled to find only themselves in their creations—then the faithful must know the history and theology of those traditional forms of the liturgy.

“I believed myself to be doing good”

Yesterday, Edward Pentin ran a lengthy interview with Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, about his new book about chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. It is a stunning interview, especially given Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s role as one of the Church’s top lawyers. In fact, as we read it, we had the sense that it was going disastrously and, what’s more, the participants knew how badly it was going. An excerpt:

Isn’t it better to try to stop the situation of sin completely?

How can you stop the whole thing if that will harm people? It is important that this person doesn’t want to be in this union, wants to leave this union, wants to leave, but cannot do it. There are two things to put together: I want to, but I cannot. And I cannot — not for my own sake, but for the sake of other people. I cannot for the sake of other people.

If the two can live together as brother and sister, that’s great. But if they cannot because this would break up the union, which ought to be conserved for the good of these people, then they manage as best they can. Do you see? That’s it. And it seems this whole complicated thing has a logical explanation, motivation. If others depart from other points of view, they can also arrive at other conclusions. But I would say there would be something missing of the human person. I can’t damage a person to avoid a sin in a situation that I haven’t put myself into; I already find myself in it, one in which I, if I am this woman, have put myself into without a bad intention. On the contrary, I’m trying to do good, and, at that moment, I believed myself to be doing good, and certainly I did do good. But maybe if, already at the beginning I had known, if I knew with moral certitude that this is a sin, maybe I would not have put myself in that condition. But now I already find myself there: How can I go back? It is one thing to begin, another to interrupt. These are also different things, no?

(Emphasis supplied.)

In keeping with our Lenten suggestion, here is a passage from St. John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (no. 81), which seems to be relevant to this idea:

In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”.

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) John Paul went on to teach (no. 82):

Furthermore, an intention is good when it has as its aim the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end. But acts whose object is “not capable of being ordered” to God and “unworthy of the human person” are always and in every case in conflict with that good. Consequently, respect for norms which prohibit such acts and oblige semper et pro semper, that is, without any exception, not only does not inhibit a good intention, but actually represents its basic expression.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider the full effect of what John Paul taught. First, one cannot, by means of “trying to do good” and believing oneself to be doing good, transform an objectively evil act—like adultery—into a good act. The most they can do is make it less evil. Moreover, an intention to do an objectively evil act, even, one suspects, if it is a convenient or congenial intention, cannot be a “good intention.” In other words, the intention to do an objectively evil act does not lessen the evil of the act.

In any event, it is an open question for us whether one could reasonably believe that one acted with a “good intention,” though we know that that belief would be objectively mistaken, if one intended to do something objectively evil. Again John Paul, discussing conscience (no. 58):

 The importance of this interior dialogue of man with himself can never be adequately appreciated. But it is also a dialogue of man with God, the author of the law, the primordial image and final end of man. Saint Bonaventure teaches that “conscience is like God’s herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God’s authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force”. Thus it can be said that conscience bears witness to man’s own rectitude or iniquity to man himself but, together with this and indeed even beforehand, conscience is the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul, calling him fortiter et suaviter to obedience. “Moral conscience does not close man within an insurmountable and impenetrable solitude, but opens him to the call, to the voice of God. In this, and not in anything else, lies the entire mystery and the dignity of the moral conscience: in being the place, the sacred place where God speaks to man”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.)

 

A suggestion for Lent

As you may know, dear reader, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. We are sure that you have all manner of mortifications and penances planned for your spiritual improvement. We would not presume to suggest to you anything in addition to those mortifications and penances you have planned for yourself. But we do wish to suggest a Lenten exercise of an altogether different sort: take some time this Lent and read John Paul’s 1994 Encyclical “On Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching,” Veritatis splendor. Increasingly we are convinced that a knowledge of Veritatis splendor is absolutely essential for this moment in the Church. More than that, it provides a crash course in freedom and the moral law, which seems especially appropriate for a penitential season. It is lengthy, but manageable if, say, one reads a little bit of it over forty days or so.

The political Church

We have had on our mind for some time to write a comment about the political approach to the Church and the damage it does. But, for a variety of reasons, we simply have not gotten around to writing it. However, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., well known to readers of Semiduplex, has gotten around to writing such a piece. At his blog, Sancrucensis, he writes, taking a sermon then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave in the United States in 1990 as his theme:

I have been thinking a lot about that sermon of Ratzinger’s recently, because of the controversies about Amoris Laetitia, which have made the ever present danger of dividing the Church through a party spirit apparent. I have to ask myself: am I being faithful to Christ, or am I dividing Him. Is my position an “I am for tradition” in the way in which a Corinthian party might say “I am for Paul” and look down on the naïve party of Cephas? Conversely, of course, certain others should ask themselves whether they are really being faithful to Peter, or whether they are saying “I am for Cephas” because the opinions of the current pope fit their preferences. Now, I do not think that I have been motivated by a party spirit in what I have said and written about Amoris Laetitia. But then, as Nietzsche says, “we are unknown to us, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing at Sancrucensis.

Some political meditations

We do not delude ourselves: our discussing endlessly the interpretation and consequences of Amoris laetitia must be tiring for you, dear reader. And, if we are being honest, it is tiring for us at times. Likewise, reading the tea leaves of every Vatican political development is likely to grow tiresome for you, even if we find it evergreen. Though do yourself a favor and read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s shocking piece at The Week about certain moves afoot to withdraw jurisdiction over priest sex abuse cases from the efficient, severe judges of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and transfer it back to the less efficient, less severe judges of the Congregation for Clergy and the Roman Rota. This is important stuff. But there are other important things to think about. And, therefore, to give ourselves and you, dear reader, a break from the drumbeat of doctrinal crisis and ecclesiastical politics, we have thought about them. We have thought, we note with some pride, about civil politics. And we thought about them primarily in the context of the Church’s teaching. So perhaps it is not as big a difference as we might have first hoped.

This is still Semiduplex, after all.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, we have seen, elsewhere, many people running to join radical political groups. Some of these people are Catholic. On one hand, good for them. The Democrats decided that the appropriate response to Trump was Hillary Clinton. This was a credibility-destroying move on their part. Despite the Democrats’ attempts to blame Russia, FBI Director James Comey, the Electoral College, or any number of other factors, most people acknowledge that a major problem in Hillary Clinton’s campaign was Hillary Clinton. But at no point has Donald Trump given especially strong or especially credible indications that he intends to govern especially justly or especially in line with the common good. All indications is that he will form another standard Republican government. Perhaps he will push back a little bit against the Republican orthodoxy regarding free markets, but it is unlikely that he will get far. And other aspects of his administration will be, we fear, much less good. So, for many people there is a natural desire to resist Trump.

But such a purely negative view—i.e., forming a politics on the basis of resistance—is not really a proper basis for politics. Indeed, the proper basis for politics is to form a virtuous populace. Aristotle tells us at the very end of Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics,

it is difficult to get from youth up a right training for excellence if one has not been brought up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people, especially when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary. But it is surely not enough that when they are young they should get the right nurture and attention; since they must, even when they are grown up, practice and be habituated to them, we shall need laws for this as well, and generally speaking to cover the whole of life; for most people obey necessity rather than argument, and punishments rather than what is noble.

(1179b32–1180a5, Barnes ed.) Aristotle goes on to argue:

if (as we have said) the man who is to be good must be well trained and habituated, and go on to spend his time in worthy occupations and neither willingly nor unwillingly do bad actions, and if this can be brought about if men live in accordance with a sort of intellect and right order, provided this has force,—if this be so, the paternal command indeed has not the required force or compulsive power (nor in general has the command of one man, unless he be a king or something similar), but the law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time an account proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and intellect. And while people hate men who oppose their impulses, even if they oppose them rightly, the law in its ordaining of what is good is not burdensome.

(1180a14–24, Barnes ed.) Most modern liberals would reject the notion that the law is supposed to be a teacher of virtue. At most, they would say that the law is a framework that permits those who are inclined to pursue virtue. We will not bore you with a recitation of Aristotle’s definition of virtue, which you probably know already, but the bottom line is that to frame laws to point citizens toward virtue means that careful, prudential choices must be made. These choices are entirely incompatible with the studied agnosticism of liberalism. One cannot permit all ideas to compete for support on one hand and on the other hand map out a course of virtue for one’s citizens. Moreover, with virtue rightly conceived in mind, it is obvious that the choices pointing toward virtue cannot be made from a position of mere opposition; at some point one has to begin moving in a positive direction.

The Church, of course, has long been aware of these home truths. Consider, for example, what Leo XIII says in his great encyclical, Immortale Dei:

So, too, the liberty of thinking, and of publishing, whatsoever each one likes, without any hindrance, is not in itself an advantage over which society can wisely rejoice. On the contrary, it is the fountain-head and origin of many evils. Liberty is a power perfecting man, and hence should have truth and goodness for its object. But the character of goodness and truth cannot be changed at option. These remain ever one and the same, and are no less unchangeable than nature itself. If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption. Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law. A well-spent life is the only way to heaven, whither all are bound, and on this account the State is acting against the laws and dictates of nature whenever it permits the license of opinion and of action to lead minds astray from truth and souls away from the practice of virtue. To exclude the Church, founded by God Himself, from life, from laws, from the education of youth, from domestic society is a grave and fatal error. A State from which religion is banished can never be well regulated; and already perhaps more than is desirable is known of the nature and tendency of the so-called civil philosophy of life and morals. The Church of Christ is the true and sole teacher of virtue and guardian of morals. She it is who preserves in their purity the principles from which duties flow, and, by setting forth most urgent reasons for virtuous life, bids us not only to turn away from wicked deeds, but even to curb all movements of the mind that are opposed to reason, even though they be not carried out in action.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, of course, a clear continuation of Thomas Aquinas’s project of rescuing Aristotelian philosophy from its pagan roots and applying it in the context of Christ and the New Law. Now, the New Law is no insignificant thing in this context. We know, of course, that Christ committed to His Church the special authority to interpret and defend the natural law, what Aristotle perhaps wrongly called “a sort of practical wisdom and intellect,” and, therefore, the Church becomes inextricably linked with politics. Again, before Dignitatis humanae and some of the other documents of the Second Vatican Council, these were not especially provocative propositions among Catholics.

The natural law being what it is, of course, most people have an innate sense that politics cannot be founded upon mere opposition. And this is ultimately why many people, including some Catholics, have sought out radical political groups in the wake of Trump’s election. They have a sense, probably rightly, that Trump will not further the common good and that “not Trump” is not coherent. And radical political groups, especially those groups on the left, usually offer something like a coherent positive philosophy upon which they propose to govern. These days, regardless of how they characterize themselves, these groups tend to be focused on social justice, fairly broadly described. Given the nastier elements that attached themselves to Trump—seemingly to Trump’s amusement, if not with his encouragement—social justice as a cause appeals to many people. Certainly no one is really interested in coddling racists or treating foreigners shabbily. We do not mean, of course, the sort of political correctness most popular on university campuses that masquerades as social justice. Often times these groups will describe themselves as socialist.

Now, a word on cooperation with socialists generally. We have written about this before, so we will not bore you with a full rehearsal of the question, especially after trying your patience with Aristotle and Leo XIII. Bl. Paul VI, in his apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens, teaches us that Catholics may, with careful discernment, cooperate with socialists. Of course, “socialism” may be said in many ways, and papal condemnations of “socialism” generally ascribe specific ideological content to the term. (Cf. Leo XIII, Quod apostolici muneris nos. 2, 5–9.) For example, the popes never condemn simply supporting a juster distribution of private property or a just wage, even though in modern American political discourse, such positions would be undoubtedly “socialist.” And Paul recognizes this point, acknowledging that, “[d]istinctions must be made to guide concrete choices between the various levels of expression of socialism: a generous aspiration and a seeking for a more just society, historical movements with a political organization and aim, and an ideology which claims to give a complete and self-sufficient picture of man” (Octogesima adveniens no. 31.) The issue, as Paul explains, requires some discernment between those levels of expression, but that is politics more generally. Of course, Pius XI reminds us in Quadragesimo anno that socialists really ought to become Catholic if they are truly interested in these shared goals, since it is ultimately the Church that furthers them. (He also says that socialism and communism would not have existed if rulers had heeded the Church’s many warnings about justice, but to insist on that point may seem like gloating.) But the interplay between the Church and every conceivable socialist tendency is not ultimately the problem we are interested in. 

The issue we think is that most refugees to radical political groups are ultimately refugees from liberalism. The problems confronting most people most acutely are a function of liberalism, especially the sort of neoliberal economics most popular in the world’s financial centers and central bank boardrooms. Consequently, there is a desire to move beyond liberalism into something that even promises to be better. However, these groups themselves are by no means free from conventional liberal ideology. And first and foremost among their commitments to conventional liberal ideology is their commitment to a “right” to abortion. Indeed, various interactions that we have seen indicate that these supposed radicals are as committed to abortion as any Democratic candidate, and, indeed, many of them seem to believe that commitment to abortion is necessary to adopt meaningful radical politics. For many Catholics, this is enough: the Church has warned us and warned us about collaborating with abortion extremists. But it seems to us that there is another very good reason to reject the radicals who insist upon abortion as a core value of a just society: it undermines fatally the coherence of any claims they might make to advance a positive vision of social justice.

Every claim for social justice is, at its bottom, founded upon solidarity. In Sollicitudo rei socialis, St. John Paul II teaches us that solidarity consists in seeing the other not in purely instrumental terms, but as a neighbor (no. 39). The capitalist must view the worker as a neighbor, not a tool. Likewise, rich countries must view poorer countries as neighbors, not means to ends. This shift in perspective leads to justice and development. (Cf. Bl. Paul VI, Populorum progressio no. 76.) Abortion, however, denies that the unborn other is a person, much less a neighbor, “to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God” (Sollicitudo rei socialis no. 39). The logic of abortion, therefore, is fundamentally the logic of instrumentality, of convenience. The child is reduced to instrumental terms and judged by her convenience vel non to her parents. And the magisterium has made manifest this point in recent years. In Laudato si’, Francis explicitly draws a connection between the compulsion for convenience of a diseased anthropocentrism and abortion (nos. 120, 123). Such logic is incompatible with solidarity.

In Caritas in veritate (no. 28), Benedict XVI makes a more remarkable assertion: “When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good.” Benedict goes on to argue that, “[i]f personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (ibid.). In other words, abortion is corrosive to not only to other forms of acceptance but also to the pursuit of the common good itself. With this in mind, Benedict makes explicit the connection between abortion and solidarity:

By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual.

(Ibid.) To see the other as a neighbor, as St. John Paul describes solidarity in Sollicitudo rei socialis, necessarily involves respecting the other’s right to life as a person called to the most high dignity of son or daughter of God. Abortion is a flat denial of that right to life. It is plain to see that abortion is inimical to true solidarity. Therefore, no coherent claim for social justice can be articulated without a claim for justice for the unborn.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on a point Benedict made in passing: abortion ultimately causes “other forms of acceptance that are valuable to society” to “wither away” (ibid.) Claims for social justice extend beyond mere economic justice, beyond mere claims for just wages. Frequently, one hears of opposition to racism, sexism, ableism, and violent malice against persons struggling with same-sex attraction. Yet none of these claims are ultimately tenable, Benedict teaches us, if abortion is permitted. The same instrumentality and compulsion for convenience that leads to abortion will lead to racist, sexist, or ableist behavior. One cannot contain such approaches to other persons, or limit them only to one sphere. Indeed, there are intimate connections between racism, sexism, and ableism and abortion itself. For example, one has only to read Margaret Sanger’s bloodthirsty response to Pius XI’s great encyclical on marriage and procreation, Casti connubii, to see the eugenicist, classist roots of the modern abortion and contraception movement.

While Sanger’s response to Casti connubii contains many passages of breathtaking savagery, one example will suffice to make clear my meaning (and turn your stomach):

It is a damaging commentary on our civilization that the rich, with their knowledge of scientific birth control, should have received so little encouragement to make that knowledge available to the poor, that the educated should have been prevented by superstitious and narrow-minded law-makers from providing information to the ignorant. Although the birth control movement has recently made remarkable progress in our country, as will be shown later, there are too many states in which doctors are forbidden to tell their patients about contraception; and the federal laws still prohibit the sending of information and contraceptive materials through the mails. This stand on the part of organized society is both a cruel and a short-sighted policy, because the race is vitiated by the breeding of diseased, defective, badly nourished children.

With such thinking underpinning the movement, can anyone seriously contest Benedict’s point? Can abortion, intended to prevent “the breeding of diseased, defective, badly nourished children” (ibid.), do anything except corrode “other forms of acceptance that are valuable to society” (Caritas in veritate no. 28)? By no means! It is impossible to advocate simultaneously for a juster, more inclusive society and for abortion. You might as well advocate for good health for your parents while poisoning their soup.

With all this in mind, it becomes clear, we think, that support for abortion undermines gravely any attempt to formulate a coherent case for social justice. Abortion is an unspeakable crime, which is always and everywhere not only contrary to the common good but also completely incompatible with solidarity. Returning to John Paul’s terms, one does not reduce one’s neighbor to instrumental terms, and condemn them to death based on questions of convenience. Thus, the very foundation of social justice, solidarity, is undermined by the logic of abortion. More than that, the modern abortion and contraception movement is founded upon explicitly eugenicist, classist rhetoric. There is simply no aspect of abortion that is consistent with society ordered to the common good and any organization that advocates for abortion ultimately sets itself at odds with the common good.

Much of this is not especially news to Catholics, especially Catholics who spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. However, it presents for Catholics an opportunity in this post-Trump moment, which we have previously discussed. Instead of playing the games of liberalism, which anyone with half a brain knows have gotten us into this situation, it might be more useful for Catholics to articulate an authentically Catholic politics. And the first step to doing that is to propose a fundamentally Aristotelian politics, acknowledging, as Leo XIII and Paul VI teach us, that the Church has special competence, granted by Christ Himself, to articulate, interpret, and defend the natural moral law. In other words, Catholics should seize the opportunity to remind their fellow citizens that politics is ultimately about virtue, and the Church is the “true and sole teacher of virtue,” as Leo put it.

A moving reflection from Matthew Schmitz

There is something going on at First Things. Yes, Rusty Reno and Mark Bauerlein jumped on the Trump bandwagon, but we’re not talking about that. There are a lot of very sharp, young Catholics writing for First Things, expressing something other than the neocon, neo-Cath fusionism of Fr. Neuhaus’s circle. Among the bright lights of the magazine is literary editor Matthew Schmitz, who has written today “How I Changed My Mind About Pope Francis.” An excerpt:

I was not then, and never will be, against Francis. In June of that year, I celebrated the publication of Laudato Si’: “Francis’ encyclical synthesizes the great cultural critiques of his two most recent predecessors.” I was glad to see Francis smashing the false idols we have made of progress and the market.

Then Amoris Laetitia came out. In it, Francis sought to muddy the Church’s clear teaching that the divorced and remarried must live as brother and sister. “I have felt the Church’s teaching on marriage land like a blow, yet I take no encouragement from this shift,” I wrote. It was clear by then that my initial rosy assessments were wrong. Francis meant to lead the Church in a direction that I could not approve or abide. He believes that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” This renders him unable to resist the lie that says a man may abandon one wife and take up another. Instead, he reassures us that we can blithely go from one partner to the other without also abandoning Christ. This is the throwaway culture baptized and blessed, given a Christian name and a whiff of incense.

My admiration for Laudato Si’ has only grown with time, but I fear the import of that document is bound to be obscured by Amoris Laetitia. A pope who speaks with singular eloquence of our need to resist the technocratic logic of the “throwaway culture” seems bent on leading his Church to surrender to it. What is more typical of the throwaway culture than the easy accommodation of divorce and remarriage?

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Schmitz’s reflection, moving as it is for his frank admission that he got it wrong and tried too long to explain what, in retrospect, was clear, is all the more moving because it points to the unrealized promise of this pontificate. Laudato si’ is a brilliant dissection of the sickness at the heart of modernity. The environmental stuff is ballast. That is not to say that the pope does not have the authority to pronounce on such matters—he certainly does—merely that it is less compelling than his diagnosis of the disease that has atomized society, disconnecting man from himself, his neighbor, his world, and, most destructively, his God. Yet the Holy Father does not seem all that interested in revisiting these issues.

Consider also the opportunity missed on the subject of integral human development. While Cardinal Müller has a reputation as a rock-ribbed doctrinal enforcer, if largely ignored these days, he has done a lot of important work on liberation theology, especially in correcting some of the errors condemned by the Church. And, of course, Francis’s time as Jesuit provincial in Argentina was marred by his conflict with his brethren who were very enthusiastic about liberation theology. Thus, the Holy Father and his doctrinal chief have extensive experience dealing with theology aimed at development and liberation, while being clear eyed about the errors that crept into liberation theology. Imagine, then, the work they could do in articulating an authentic, orthodox vision in the vein of Pacem in terris, Populorum progressio, and Caritas in veritate. However, instead of an encyclical building upon not only Laudato si’ but also the previous social magisterium, we are dealing with Amoris laetitia and the pressing question of how the Pope can admit bigamists to communion without formally admitting bigamists to communion. One cannot escape the sense that time and energy are being wasted.

But the problem confronting many Catholics is more serious than merely wasted potential. Wasted potential in and of itself would not be a huge problem. After years of a pope’s reign, it is easy to look back and see missed opportunities and mistakes. No, the situation is more serious. Schmitz goes on to observe:

I was inspired this week to revisit my past writings by Austen Ivereigh’s recent interview of Antonio Spadaro, one of the pope’s close advisers. Ivereigh notes that it’s “striking how many of AL’s critics are lay intellectuals, rather than pastors,” and suggests there is “a basic division in the reactions to AL between, as it were, the pastors and legalists.” Spadaro seems to agree. Am I, as a lay critic of Amoris, guilty of an unpastoral legalism? Probably so, if it is legalistic to wish that Francis’s defenders were as ready to offer doctrinal clarifications as they are to hand out psychological diagnoses.

But I also wonder at the assumption in Ivereigh’s question. If fewer pastors than laypeople have criticized the document, is that because the pastors approve of it? Or is it because they fear the damage that would be done to the Church by a public division? If the latter is the case, I wonder what Francis would have to do or say before more bishops begin to speak out. Is it unobjectionable for a pope to contradict his predecessors, the faith, and Christ himself, so long as he doesn’t explicitly say that’s what he’s doing?

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.) This is, we think, a question that many Catholics are now asking themselves. And, at this point, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Father means to contradict Familiaris consortio and Veritatis splendor. His supporters—especially men like Ivereigh and Fr. Spadaro who have a lot of their professional prestige wrapped up in the “Francis revolution”—will talk about what St. John Paul really taught and how he really would have agreed with Amoris laetitia. But this is window dressing: they know as well as the next person that if St. John Paul had meant to endorse communion for bigamists living more uxorio he would have done so.

In a certain sense, it seems to us, the so-called Francis revolution is deeply reactionary. The Holy Father and his supporters apparently want to roll the clock back to 1975 or so, when all things indeed seemed possible in the wake of the Council. The careful theology of St. John Paul and Benedict XVI, intended largely to continue the work of the Council in applying the magisterium to modern problems (to say nothing of correcting the erroneous perceptions of the Council), has been jettisoned for the most part. And rightly so for the men and women who saw the Council as an opportunity to make the Church in the world’s image. The bitterness of their disappointment on that October night in 1978 has only recently become manifest. They saw, it now seems, the period from late 1978 to early 2013 as a deviation from the course marked out by the Council.

But this is an anxiety that only men and women alive in 1975 or so can share. To those who grew up as spiritual children or grandchildren of St. John Paul and Benedict, these concerns are not only dated but also wrong. Those of us who remember John Paul and Benedict remember that, whatever else they did and whatever their flaws were, they treated us like adults who were prepared to take up our crosses and follow Christ as Christians in the modern age. That is not the message we see uniformly from Santa Marta these days, which is often as not deep pessimism about our ability to do what Christ tells us He will help us do. Schmitz concludes:

Francis says his critics desire rigidity. Once I disregarded the polemical edge of that word, I came to see that he is right. In a world that has been massively deregulated, both morally and economically, people are bound to desire the security of structure. Is seeking this structure a form of “rigidity” to be mocked and denigrated, or an honest human need worthy of consideration by any pastor? Francis wants the Church rebuilt to suit the freewheeling ways of the baby boomers. It’s no accident that their children don’t like the changes.

(Emphasis supplied.) The only younger Catholics excited by what they see are those young Catholics with a primarily political agenda. (This includes clerical careerists, would-be spinmeisters, and political operatives sent into the Church by secular politicians.) But it is unclear, from our limited experience, that serious young Catholics are all that committed to this revolution, not least because, as Schmitz rightly observes, they have long paid the price for the free-to-be-you-and-me world dreamed of by the men and women of 1975.

Read the whole thing at First Things. It’s very good.