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The unsplendor of untruth

Thoughts on reading Veritatis Splendor:

  • The errors the Pope discusses mostly have to do with the view that the world can’t mean anything very definite. Since the world can’t mean much of anything we produce our own meanings. People think that’s a good thing: to let the world tell us anything that binds us morally would be heteronomy, a sort of slavery. It would be especially bad to let the physical world—our bodies, for example—tell us anything. That would be physicalism or biologism.
  • From such views it follows that morality consists in deciding everything ourselves, perhaps with the aid of some extremely abstract principles and orientations (“maximize good”), as well as more particular rules of thumb (“thou shalt not kill”) that we follow or not as seems best. All this seems rather at odds with a religion that tells us God created all things and called them good, and that the human body is so intensely expressive that it can express even Deity—that God can become flesh. For that matter, if the world doesn’t bear particular meanings, but our decisions and interpretations are everything, it’s hard to see what sense can be made of such notions as “revelation” and “humility.”
  • Part of saying the world can’t mean anything in particular is saying that an act can’t have an essential nature but is only a node in a web of cause and effect and can be intelligently described and evaluated only as such. On this view an act like “refusing to use contraception,” depending on its consequences, might better be described as “willfully undermining the possibilities of marital communion” and so judged immoral.
  • An obvious difficulty with the line of thought is that if things don’t have essential natures then it’s not clear what the meaning can be of “marital,” or for that matter of “communion,” which presumably refers to the sharing of meanings that are not simply dependent on the passing intentions of the parties. It seems impossible to think about human life without reference to the essential nature of particular human acts—to what people are really doing. If that’s so then moral philosophy should clarify rather than attempt to debunk essentialism.
  • There’s something odd and evidently illegitimate about attempts by experts and functionaries to revolutionize a religious institution. Religion has to do with the most fundamental things. Bureaucrats—including academics—are concerned with things that can be handled without much personal engagement by men of moderate talents trained in certain accepted procedures and standards. How much overlap can there be between the two? To the extent they are connected, which comes first?
  • On the whole, the errors the Pope describes look like the errors of prosperous, secure, unimaginative, well-placed and self-satisfied men who think they should have the right to say what things are and what should be done about them. To say they’re anti-Catholic doesn’t capture the full scope of what’s wrong with them.
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The Social Gospel no Gospel

The attitude that puts social justice at the center of moral life is anti-Catholic.

One of the special strengths of Catholic Christianity is that it deals unflinchingly with the problem of evil. The visible focus of every Catholic church is the Crucifixion—God abandoned and tortured to death. The point of the image would be lost if evil could be managed and made innocuous. Hope may be a theological virtue, but worldly optimism is not.

Moral evil exists because man—every man—is free to err and so do serious injury to himself and others. Without that freedom man would lose his dignity, and since the freedom is real it will sometimes be acted on. Such considerations impose limits on attempts to make the world better through social reform. Such attempts may often be prudent and right, but it’s a serious mistake to make a religion of them.

To say that sin is a matter of social structure is to say that evil can be managed away, but it can’t. Oppressive social arrangements—those that make it harder for man to live and be as he should—are the consequence of man’s individual sinfulness. To say the contrary, that it is sinful social arrangements that come first, is to say that at bottom others make man what he is, and so to turn him simply into the creature of those in power. Human dignity thus requires that social injustice be fundamentally derivative.

Insistence that social structures are fundamental is natural for those who wish to justify their ambition for power through claims that people need nothing beyond what rulers can deliver them. Even if you ignore the huge suffering such views have led to, they are valueless for those they pretend to benefit. What the Gospel of Social Justice tells the poor and suffering is that the truly human life is the life of secure comfort. How does that give hope and comfort to those—in the end, all of us—who have nothing? When we lack all else we need God’s immediate presence. It is the Crucifixion and the Eucharist and not utopian fantasies that give that to us. Whatever the value of concern with social arrangements it cannot be what constitutes the Christian life.

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Christianity and the “mainstream”

“Mainstream” has become the term for things that don’t seriously oppose contemporary advanced liberalism. The current situation regarding “gay rights” shows that there’s some point to the expression: advanced liberalism dominates public discussion so thoroughly today that you really do have to go out on a limb to oppose its most radical demands.

That situation creates serious issues for the Church. Since 1960 the Church has emphasized what might be called “mainstream Christianity”—a kind of Christianity that rejects separatism and the fortress mentality. For the past several decades the Church has wanted above all to accept the established public order, recognize the achievements of modern life, and speak to all men by engaging the culture and participating in it.

The problem with that approach is that in the modern world it’s very difficult for it to remain Christian. To be mainstream, Christianity must speak the language of the modern world, and thus accept the definitions of reality and the good upon which that language and the modern public order are based. However, public life in the West today is based on the presumption that the only world we can know is the one we explore through logic and the methods of the modern natural sciences. Its fundamental ethical principles are equality, which means that no man or goal can claim moral authority superior to any other, and the satisfaction of whatever preferences people have. Anything else is thought to be a construction based on personal preference or the will to power.

Under such circumstances there is no room for the transcendent. So fundamental to the contemporary outlook has rejection of the transcendent become that it seems an act of bad faith to claim knowledge that goes beyond formal logic and publicly available sense experience. Such claims seem to reject reason, make serious discussion impossible, and threaten social peace. They almost constitute a hate crime.

To stay within the mainstream Christianity must therefore redefine itself so it no longer claims to be true. If the public world of sensory experience and formal logic is the sole authority, religion becomes a myth, a story that explains things poetically but not factually. As a result aspects of the Christian myth that rely on transcendence must be done away with. Christianity can, if it wishes, still declare the created world good and man potentially divine. However, it must change its view of them as radically fallen and in need of salvation from above, since there is no “above” that can concern us. It must therefore become a sort of pantheistic evolutionary humanism. Man must become God. The human other must become the Holy, all men collectively the Church, their evolving consciousness the Holy Spirit, progressive political action Providence, the free and equal play of human desire Beatitude, and the conformity of the world to those desires the Kingdom.

All of which may seem sensible to some people, but what good can it do? A myth that is recognized as false in fact may be a pretty story but not a compelling one, especially when there are other myths that public discourse must recognize as equally valid, and when to retain public legitimacy it must continually remake itself in accordance with the evolution of the dominant outlook.

Conclusion: a Church constituted by social engagement, like WomanChurch, has no future. It simply fails to give us what we need from religion, even for purposes of this world: contact with something capable of putting mundane concerns and conflicts in their place. The Christianity of the future, like the Christianity of the past, will therefore be transcendent and orthodox.

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The freepers meet the patriarchs

The freerepublic “latest threads” on religion are worth a visit now and then. One amusing bit I just picked up there is a collection of short pieces from http://www.theoniondome.com/, the EO answer to The Onion. I thought they were hilarious but it could just be me. (It helps to know just a little about intra-EO disputes.)

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Rising down under

Oriens, the journal of the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia, has a worthwhile website with a good selection of articles, reviews, and other materials connected to the restoration of the traditional Latin Mass and its bearing on the situation in the Church generally. Among the articles I particularly noticed were The Papa Luigi syndrome and Think Catholic, Act Locally. Both are concerned with the need for spontaneous traditionalism locally and an end to hyperactive global reform from the top—a topic I’ve discussed here. (The “Papa Luigi” comes from combining the “L’etat c’est moi” of Louis XIV with the “La tradizione sono io” of Pio Nono.)

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Why natural evil?

Some comments I made on the problem of evil in alt.religion.christian.roman-catholic:

Peter> one could ask, if one believes in the traditional idea Peter> of an omnipotent, omniscient, loving God, how does one Peter> reconcile that with the fact that this God, allows Peter> innocent children to be periodically killed by natural Peter> disasters?

You’re asking why God would create a world in which there is natural evil. I don’t think any very definite answer is possible, because none of us know what’s involved in creating a world and it’s hard to imagine what a world with no natural evil would be like.

I suppose the general answer is that the possibility of natural evil makes possible a greater good. One can think of ways in which that might be so. For example, if there were no possibility of natural evil, if we lived in a sort of Lubberland in which all our needs and desires were taken care of without risk or effort, it’s not at all clear that would be for the best. In such a condition why would we ever look beyond our immediate sensations? Are we really best off in a world in which everything revolves around us?

That’s speculation of course. My basic response to the problem of evil is to say that the real question is how there can be a real distinction between evil and good, and whether you need the notion of purpose in the Universe—and therefore God—to make sense of that distinction. If you do, then the problem of evil becomes an objection that can be handled by pointing out that it’s possible that the presence of some evil may make more good possible.

Peter> I do not think it is compatible with the idea of an Peter> omnipotent, omniscient, loving God because such a God Peter> would be capable of miraculous powers if he chose to use Peter> them. Such a god would therefore not need to introduce Peter> evil to make more good possible.

But we don’t know what making a world is like. It’s hard for me to imagine a world of finite beings with intelligence and responsibility for running their lives in which no one could get hurt. For all we know it would be impossible to create such a world in the same way it would be impossible for God to make a rock so big he couldn’t move it.

Peter> You have a point, but if it is true, it could be equally Peter> difficult for God to provide us with a risk free heaven.

Quite true. I know even less about constructing heavens than I know about constructing earths. As always though I can speculate. For example, heaven is said to involve eternity and the beatific vision, both of which suggest a sort of all-at-once quality. So quite possibly there’s no risk in heaven because “before” and “after” don’t have the same significance there as they do among us here and now. Or so one can guess.

Remember that from my standpoint all I have to do is show that the existence of evil doesn’t make an all-good and all-powerful God impossible, that there could be some reason for such a God to permit evil to exist. So I don’t have to demonstrate that a risk-free version of this world would lose something essential, or that a risk-free heaven wouldn’t. All I need is to show that those things are possible.

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Goodbye, Good Men

Another book finished: Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men. It’s not a must-read, and I didn’t read the whole thing. It’s an accumulation of horror stories tending to show that many Catholic seminaries in recent decades have been dominated by homosexual cliques, heretics or both, that responsible officials have been disinclined to do much about it, and that Church bureaucrats with NewChurch inclinations have campaigned to keep qualified orthodox men out of the priesthood. Even unfavorable reviews admit that there’s something to most of the stories, but there’s no need to read all of them—a couple of reviews will give you enough specifics to get the idea.

The book does end on a somewhat hopeful note: some of the worst seminaries have self-destructed, others have reformed a bit, seminarians have taken a decided turn toward orthodoxy, and it’s becoming ever more obvious that orthodoxy is the best remedy for a lack of vocations. Maybe the book will help the shift in the correlation of forces. It may also encourage men thinking about the priesthood to look where they’ll land before they leap. I wouldn’t wish some of the places the book describes on anybody.

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The Rhine flows into the Tiber

I just finished Ralph Wiltgen’s The Rhine flows into the Tiber. There was nothing very surprising in the book—to my mind it reaffirmed what I’ve thought before, that it’s an odd idea to call an ecumenical council to have open-ended discussions on what to do in general and make universally binding decisions. It’s a situation that naturally leads to undue influence on the part of any coherent minority that knows what it wants—which, on Wiltgen’s account, is just what the result was. (Here are some further thoughts I’ve had on the Council.)

The governing arrangements of other institutions don’t work that way. American government has elections, political parties, federalism, and the limitation and division of powers to help ensure that the various possibilities of action are adequately thought through and discussed before anything decisive is done. The Supreme Court, which is an institution mostly designed to preserve and pass on the doctrine it has received, has principles like “ripeness” and “case or controversy” that limit its decisions to particular concrete situations and to principles that have been adequately developed at a lower level. Previous ecumenical councils had in effect followed the Supreme Court model—they were called to deal with particular problems that had been causing serious practical problems, so the council fathers were ready to act collectively in an informed way. Vatican II did not have that safeguard. It just had the Pope, who on several occasions had to intervene at the last minute to prevent serious compromise of doctrine. Those interventions were an impressive demonstration of the importance of the papacy, but decision by last-minute intervention doesn’t seem a good arrangement as a general thing.

I suppose the basic thing that bothers me about Vatican II and later developments, including the growth of Church bureaucracy and the peripatetic papacy of John Paul II, is that they try to do too much at too high a level. The result is to make the Church less traditional—and therefore less the possession of the faithful as a whole—and more a structure of authority that must continually reformulate and reassert itself to be viewed as relevant to what’s going on. Contemplation and implicit faith are lost, and even the liturgy becomes a matter of assertion, noise, physical action, and self-expression.

A problem with newly formulated assertions coming down from above—even if they are correct—is that they don’t persuade everybody and not everybody understands them the same way. The result is that people go off in different directions and divide into parties. “Conservatives” are those who attach themselves to John Paul II, “progressives” those who line up with the thinking of certified “experts,” and too much of the life of the Church becomes a battle between the two. The result is that average Catholics mostly lose interest and drop out, and if they still come to church their reasons for doing so become extremely vague.

If that’s so then the way forward in the Church will have to involve stability at the top, grass-roots recovery of tradition below, and in the middle getting rid of lots of functionaries who think they can invent something better. The Church, we are told, is the People of God. The life of a people exists with the aid of common habits, attitudes, understandings and beliefs—that is, with the aid of tradition. Without such things all that’s left is orders coming down from above trying to give form to impulse and confusion below, and in the case of something as subtle and profound as religion that can’t possibly work.

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I’m glad there’s no problem

Writing in U.S.Catholic, Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham has some problems with the way the word “dissent” is used today. He points out that it can be OK for a Catholic to discuss doctrinal or a moral issues with the intent of clarifying them, as in the case of certain novel reproductive technologies, or object to a church practice like the requirement of priestly celibacy. It can even be OK to call for the resignation of a bishop. On the other hand, someone who

“den[ies] the trinitarian nature of God … cannot make such a denial and be a Catholic. Similarly, there can be an advance in the church’s moral understanding so that if one wishes to affirm the legitimacy of capital punishment today one is dissenting from the clear direction of Catholic moral thought.”

I would have thought that “dissent” had to do with settled teachings rather than apparent trajectories of thought, but it’s a vague term and maybe it’s more encompassing than I thought. Be that as it may, Cunningham thinks the term is grossly overused:

“With the word dissent thrown about with such abandon, it is well to a remember that discussion is not dissent and critical thinking is a not heresy … it does great harm to the church to make unwarranted charges of dissent or heresy when, in fact, persons may be a exercising their right to raise questions or challenge ideas that do not touch on the core of the faith. There is far too much of a that sort of disedifying behavior in the church today.”

So it appears that there is indeed such a thing as “dissent” in the Church today. Some people say capital punishment is OK. Nonetheless, the word is used far too much. In particular, one supposes, speaking of “dissent” in connection with the Notre Dame theology department would be disedifying behavior.

Cunningham undoubtedly believes that those who are called dissenters do good things. It’s harder to accept that he believes that the examples he gives represent the kinds of things at issue. He is writing as a certified expert attempting to clarify things for the Catholic public. His main point is that there should be much less suspicion of what liberal academics, activists, functionaries and what not are up to. The way he argues the point doesn’t give me the feeling the suspicions are unfounded. He’s writing like someone who wants to presume on his authority to obfuscate issues.

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Scholarship does gospel

Philip Jenkins has written an interesting paper on the dodgy background of current scholarly images of Christ. Yesterday it was Madame Blavatskaya, today it’s Elaine Pagels. I had been inclined, in a broadbrush fashion, to view most current New Testament scholarship as a bunch of experts turning their predilections into expertise. Jenkins provides a more detailed but not inconsistent story.

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A thought on knowledge and faith

There is a paradox in the notion of ultimate goods. They set our goals and measure our actions, so we need to align ourselves with them if our life is to hang together. However, we can’t define what they are without diminishing them. To state them fully would be to subordinate them to what defines them and demonstrates their goodness, and so to deny that they are ultimate.

We can’t do without ultimate goods, but we can’t really grasp them either. It is that situation that makes faith, humility, and consciousness of sin the necessary human condition, at least in a society that is complex enough for there to be serious moral indeterminacy and conflict. We are obligated to act in accordance with certain goods that we cannot fully identify. We can therefore only act in faith, and in fear and trembling.

Nonetheless, the faith must have some positive content to do us any good at all. But how can the “evidence of things unseen” have positive content that is concrete enough to use? And how can that content go beyond the propositional, since propositions are too limited for ultimate things? Catholic Christianity—faith in God become man and still present among us through a visible authoritative Church—is intended as a solution to the problem. It is hard to think of any other that could work.

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God and the world

From a well-known Catholic blogger: “Parish programs are supposed to be about strenghtening [sic] parishioners to live the gospel out in the world. That would, you would think, be the point of religious ed programs or liturgy committee meetings.” You hear such things all the time, and that was certainly the point of the updated Episcopalian liturgy I used to attend every week. But is it true that the point of Christianity is to have people go out and do things in the world? If so, it’s not clear why Christ put love of God before love of neighbor. (Matthew 22:35-40.)

It seems to me that Christianity is not primarily a religion of moral striving or good social relations. I admire Confucianism, but it’s not Christianity. The Mass and the other sacraments—which are the main thing in a parish—are God’s way of making himself available to sinners, and the point of a parish and its programs is to facilitate acceptance of the gift. As the gift is accepted people’s lives will change and they will do different things in the world, but that’s a result and not the main point. God has his own worth, and however good social engagement may be it is not the reason we are concerned with Him. Which is—unfortunately—what is conveyed by saying that the point of a parish is to strengthen the laity to go out and do things.

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When ICEL hit the wall

I just ran into Cardinal Medina’s letter from early last year rejecting the ICEL version of the Roman Missal. It’s an extraordinary document, both for the complaints about bureaucratic footdragging and for the substantive comments on the ICEL translation.

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Mel Gibson’s Passion

Here’s the latest script for interfaith understanding, produced and presented with the help of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: swipe a draft of Mel Gibson’s script for The Passion, get some revisionist scholars to look it over, and leak their report to the press. The result of the effort is that what is apparently a straightforward re-enactment of the Gospel narratives becomes for Andrea Peyser, a Jewish columnist for the New York Post, a collection of antisemitic slanders. I would think that the function of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs would be, among other things, to advance understanding of the Gospel among Jews. Is that what it’s doing?

The relations between Catholics and Jews are a difficult business, but since the difficulties aren’t going to vanish the sensible thing is to keep a cool head and stick to fundamental principle. It’s right to examine ourselves for attitudes that might contribute to catastrophes like the Holocaust or the Gulag. What’s not right is to turn eradication of everything that can be associated with such events into an absolute command of morality. For example, the view that some social institutions are bad and should be done away with, that oppression by the rich of the poor is wrong, and that Christian hierarchs have sometimes done what they should not do facilitated the communist murder of 100,000,000 innocents. Those views are not therefore wrong. Nor are Jews evil, simply because so many Jews have been communists.

Similarly, the authoritative traditional scriptures and beliefs of the Catholic Church are not wrong simply because they interpret sacred things in a sense radically opposed to the Jewish interpretation and therefore put the Catholic Church and the Jewish community at odds in an enduring and fundamental way. That remains true even though the opposition between the two has contributed on the human level to wrongs comparable in enormity to the wrongs perpetrated by the communists. Nor, in spite of the apparent view of the scholarly advisors to the USCCB, is there anything wrong with a straight presentation of the Gospel accounts of the Passion—which are central to the Catholic faith—simply because they raise the issue of the opposition between Judaism and Christianity and take the side of Christianity. We do not have it in our power to eliminate all oppositions. What is in our power is to attempt to live in charity with conflicts we cannot avoid. Whether Gibson’s Passion does so we cannot know until it is released. If it does not it will betray its subject. Let us hope and pray it is truly faithful.

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Vatican II and trends in the American Church

What does it mean that the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, the only comprehensive compilation of statistics regarding trends in the American Church before and after Vatican II, gets mentioned only 32 times on the web, mostly in connection with a WorldNetDaily column Pat Buchanan wrote last December? I suppose the answer is that there were no surprises in the compilation. Everyone knows that for the Church in America before the Council things to all appearances were going up, up, up, and after the Council they’ve gone down, down, down. So the only issue is what to do with the facts.

I can’t say that I find the mainstream conservative Catholic view, that the Council was a great event that has been widely misinterpreted, persuasive. Does it make sense that thousands of bishops and periti would go off to Rome, discuss things in a blaze of publicity for 3 years, return home with no idea what they had done, and never make up for their ignorance? It’s true that the documents are much more moderate and often point in a rather different direction than what was done in their name, but that’s true at all levels in the Church. The new liturgy was more radical than one would expect from reading the documents. Does that mean Paul VI didn’t understand the Council?

There is of course an important element of good sense in the mainstream conservative approach. It is only the documents of Vatican II that are authoritative, each in accordance with its clear intention and nature. So the way to recover from the disorders and losses that the Vatican II event appears to have provoked is to emphasize the distinction between Vatican II as an event—which would include the spirit of those involved and inspired by it—and Vatican II as authority. It does seem to me though that the process of disengagement from the disastrous spirit of the Vatican II generation, and coming to grips with what the documents of Vatican II actually mean in light of the whole tradition of the Church, will be easier if hyperbolic claims that Vatican II was a special act of the Holy Spirit are abandoned. The appropriate response to catastrophe is sobriety and realism, not assertions of superloyalty.

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Georgetown Jesuits do their thing!

There’s no substitute for seeing what’s there: Cardinal Arinze’s comment at Georgetown sparks protest. Mention that homosexuality mocks the family, and a theologian can’t bear to share the stage with you and 70 of her colleagues sign a letter of protest. In a way it’s all to the good—the more direct personal experience those at the highest level in the Church have of what Catholic institutions have become the better.

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Why I am a trad

Some reasons I prefer the kind of Church the traditional Latin Mass suggests to the kind of Church that—to my eye—appears to have come out of Vatican II:

  • In general, the LM Church accepts the limitations of this world and orients itself toward transcendence. The post-V2 Church strives for God—the unlimited—in this world, and in visible ways.
  • The post-V2 Church therefore does things—holds rallies, marches around, participates in social movements, provides services, develops enthusiasms and whatnot—and tends to view its action as the action of God in this world. The LM Church is more contemplative and humble, and more likely to view what it does as preparatory.
  • The LM Church wants to stay in touch with what is and has been, and let the new arise of itself: “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation” [Luke 17:20-21] might be its motto. The post-V2 Church wants to make things new in a very direct and this-worldly sense, through the actions of hierarchs, administrators, experts, committees, activists, congresses, and so. So we get a new mass, catechesis, architecture, rosary, religious life and what not else, all put together by people who can prove they know better.

The question, though, is why it is so important for the people who are around now to control everything. What’s the problem with leaving something alone? If we know everything and can do everything, why do we need God? The idea seems to be that if we didn’t do it, it isn’t real. There’s an aspect of modern thought that points in that direction, but is it one the Church should buy into? All in all, the traditional Latin Mass symbolizes to me a much saner and sounder understanding of the world, and the relation of man, God and Church, than the dominant tendencies of the last 40 years.

UPDATE!

The rumors that Rome make allow much greater availability of the old Mass are getting more concrete. Inside the Vatican says they’ve interviewed Cardinal Arinze on the subject and he’s confirmed it!

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Happy talk and the old Mass

On a whim, I stuck “dream of a church” into Google. What came up, it seemed to me, was rah-rah stuff from people who want the community spirit of the church to substitute for God. It’s a kind of bootstraps approach to religion that doesn’t make much sense, because the whole point of religion is that we can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

The unreformed Mass reflects what church can do for us much more accurately:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me.

Quia tu es, Deus, fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?

Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua.

Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

Confitebor tibi in cithara, Deus, Deus meus: quare tristis es anima a mea, et quare conturbas me?

[I will go to the altar of God.

To God, the joy of my youth.

Do me justice, O God, and fight my fight against an unholy people, rescue me from the wicked and a deceitful man.

For Thou, O God, art my strength, why hast Thou forsaken me? And why do I go about in sadness, while the enemy harasses me?

Send forth Thy light and thy truth: for they have led me and brought me to thy holy hill and Thy dwelling place.

And I will go to the altar of god, to God, the joy of my youth.

I shall yet praise Thee upon the harp, O God, my God. Why art thou sad, my soul, and why art thou downcast?]

The text assumes that we’re not flushed with confidence, that a lot of things are going badly, that we suspect the best days may be past, and that we don’t feel that close to God. It presents those as the very things that make us feel the need to approach God through the sacraments.

Modern religious proclamations use happy talk that does nothing for us. The text of the old Mass does something much more useful.

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A backward look

Looking back on protestantism, the thing that strikes me most is its collective nothingness. There are admirable individual believers and small groups, but in the absence of a principle of concrete authority larger groups become utterly mindless. There’s really nothing there. For evidence, consider the newsclips from the mainline protestant denominations at The Institute on Religion and Democracy. Why would anybody be tempted to bother with institutional protestantism? What’s the point of “dialoguing” with such zeroes?

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Catholic Rome isn’t

40 years after the Church threw open the windows, the better to reach out to Modern Man, a poll shows Catholicism is all but dead among young Romans and the Spaniards seem not far behind. The only encouraging point in the picture is the rather startling absence of happy talk in the first story.

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