Unto Caesar?

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Darkened mind

My thanks to all those who have held the Watchtower whilst I finished my chapter – and especially to Neo, who has got the wing-man role off to such perfection that he might as well have been the model for it; with two more long pieces to write before late September, I am unlikely not to need help any time soon.

We have had much discussion, naturally, about the decision of the American Supreme Court on same-sex unions, and continuing rumblings about the many ways in which our secular society is going to hell in a handcart. There is not a lot to add to that – except to say that there is nothing in it St Paul would not have recognised. The society in which the Christian faith was planted was one very like our own – which is why so much of Romans seems as though it could have been written yesterday. The last fifty years have seen Christianity’s influence decline in the West, and it is hardly surprising to see a reversion to the mores of the later Roman Empire. Like its inhabitants, we are the heirs of Empire, and likes its inhabitants, many of us have the leisure to consume more than is good for us and to indulge other appetites, the satisfaction of which bring us temporary relief from a sense of inner emptiness: fornication, consumption, selfishness and egotism are all part of our fallen nature.

Of course, most of these things never went away. At best, a Christianised society helped provide some controls against them and a social framework which encouraged virtue and discouraged vice. At its worst, it encouraged a pharisaical tone to vulnerable people who fell short of its required standards, whilst quietly covering up the failings of the powerful. At its best, it gave rise to systems of social welfare and education which made the lives of people much better than they would have been; it encouraged us to see everyone as a child of God, and to value human life in all its forms, which meant not aborting babies in the womb of killing old people because they were in some ways inconvenient to us. At its worst, it colluded in being coopted by ruling elites into their power struggles, adapted itself all too willingly to secular norms, and forgot its core mission. In short, although of Divine Foundation, it is staffed by humans who endow it with our failings. The sure sign of its Divine Foundation is that it survives our failings and, at its best, helps us to be so much better than we would be without it.

Prosperity and social acceptance, whilst comfortable things for us, are not always good for us as Christians. Where it is the norm to say you are a Christian, everyone will claim to be so, whether they are or not; nominal adherence is sufficient for social purposes. We might be well-advised to see what is happening now as a necessary winnowing of the chaff from the wheat; when to be a confessing Christian is a social disadvantage, only those genuinely committed will make that confession. There is, of course, a time-lag. Many of our leaders are of a generation when there was still social pressure to conform to Christianity, and it is to be expected that there will be more chaff than there will be in the future.

We can only, in our time, bear faithful witness to what we have received, and remember what Our Lord said about how the world would regard His followers. Caesar has always had an exaggerated idea of that portion of our lives he can demand, and it may be that, like our forbears, we shall have to make some choices which will make our lives less comfortable. Compared to what so many of our fellow Christians suffer on a daily basis, this is, God knows, a small enough sacrifice; but we should not fear to make it.

Too much about sex?

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Joseph

One problem the churches have with the subject of this post is that they tend to discuss it in the secular language of rights and inclusion. Once you do that, you jettison two thousand years’ worth of teaching and end up on the slippery slope we’ve seen so often; we, in effect, concede Christian attitude are incompatible with liberal modern morality and either change them, or, at best, stop defending them. This we did with fornication, and, effectively, adultery, so when we got to homosexuality, it looked odd and vindictive. Bad parallels are drawn with things such as the position of women and slavery, which were never treated as moral issues for most of the history of the church – unlike our use of our body. Here, there are, or were, types of behaviour which were always considered morally wrong.

No one should have any problem about revising attitudes in the light of modern knowledge – but we should take it in the context of what the Churches have always taught. Since there was no such word as ‘homosexuality’ for most of history, the Church never condemned such a thing – what it did, and what the RCC and Orthodox still do – is to condemn the sexual actions that same-sex attraction often leads to Just because something is ‘natural’ does not make it acceptable to a Christian. Because it is hard to get that across to the modern world by referring to fornication or adultery, we sometimes resort to mention pedophilia and incest, which gets homosexuals cross, because they don’t like the notion we’re comparing them; but we are doing so only insofar as all three come from sexual instincts misapplied. Because our society thinks of sex solely in terms of acts, we can only try to make them understand by reference to acts they find immoral. It seems not to be able to understand a sexual attraction which is not a fit action, so we can only get it across to them by referring to ones they will generally agree with us upon.

If you feel like entering into a sexual relationship outside marriage, the Churches used to teach a very simple mantra – don’t do it!. The homosexual issue is, though obsessive to those involved, at best a side-show – we sin when we look on a woman with lust to whom we are not married, but I can’t recall last time I heard a bishop go on about that. So, to that extent, the homosexual lobby is right to feel discriminated against – they are just the last set of sexual sinners the Churches felt able to point to. The bishops know that lay people don’t want to be told they are sinners, they want ‘mercy’ and cheap grace, they want to break the rules and be told that Jesus loves them; well he does, but he tells them to repent and sin no more – that’s the bit the bishops and too many pastors leave out. Perhaps they don’t want to be thought old-fashioned or ‘moralistic’.

I can’t recall when I last heard a sermon on a subject I used to preach on – which is how Christian teachings on the family are inspired by the Holy Family. Old Joseph, working away to provide a stable (pun intended) home for his foster-son and Mary – setting the tone and an example. Patriarchal, you bet? Maybe he really wanted to tune in and drop out, but he stayed there doing the day job – it was necessary, and a good example to the boy. And Mary, what of her? She’d done God’s will, she’d been willing to suffer reproach and even being set aside, and now she did that mother thing without which no child can prosper. Yes, maybe she’d rather have sat back and chewed the fat with the girls, but she didn’t. It’s a model which has served mankind well for millennia, and it’s not about sex, it’s about mutual service and love. Guess that’s now too hard for clever folks?

Going Forward.

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I was saddened and disturbed as many of you were with the decisions SCOTUS made last week. Much of my dismay with the decisions themselves has to do with definitions and the philosophy of the Common Law. What really bothered me was the indecorous celebrations led by so many including our the president. Unseemly, at the best. But it was not the best, was it?

Geoffrey and Servus did an outstanding job of speaking to how most of us feel but, still we must go forward. One of the people that I read is the Reverend Karl Hess of St. Peter Lutheran Church, and his sermon last Sunday shows why. Here’s a piece of it:

God is merciful. Thank God.

He is just and righteous. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. (Exodus 20:5-6)

But He is also merciful. The words of our Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading tell us, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.

One dictionary defines mercy as “Compassion or forbearance shown to one (such as an adversary or offender) having no claim to kindness.”

That’s what God is and does. He shows compassion toward His enemies, even though they have no claim to kindness. He forbears; He holds back His wrath and judgment so that people may repent and turn to Him. He gives life and provides food and clothing, everything necessary for life, even to those who defy Him to His face. He has mercy on them.

God is merciful. But our society is not asking for mercy. It is taunting God by calling homosexual unions “marriage.” It flaunts this rejection of God as a great advance in morality. The White House makes itself the rainbow house, dying itself in the colors of the homosexual flag. How could our country proclaim more clearly that it does not believe in the God who speaks in Scripture? It has made an idol which it claims is the God of our fathers.

Our society has built a golden idol. I’m not sure what its name is, but one of its faces is same-sex marriage. And just like the golden image Nebuchadnezzar built in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s day, you will be expected to bow down when you hear the harp, bagpipe, flute and every kind of music. Though voices talk a lot about tolerance, there is no tolerance for those who don’t want to bow down to this image. Do you remember the bakers who didn’t want to make a cake for a gay “wedding?” Out of business. Don’t expect mercy from the world. Our society shows no mercy to millions of its infants in the womb who are slaughtered legally every year. If it has no mercy on helpless babies in the name of “freedom”, why would it have mercy on Christians who stand up and say, “This is wrong”?

There’s a reason why we can’t expect mercy from the world. God is merciful, but his enemy, the devil, is merciless. He is like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter). And Jesus told the people in his day who did not believe in Him that they were children of the devil. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44) And what Jesus taught was repeated by the apostles. Human beings are by nature children of the devil and under the power of the evil one.

Since human beings are under the power of the devil, who is merciless, by nature they don’t understand mercy. They don’t want to receive it and they won’t give it. They are completely depraved and dead to God. And this includes us by nature as well.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32

Yet even though this is the natural state of human beings, God has mercy. He does not reckon up our sins, but instead freely deals with the world in His grace. He continues to provide us with life and everything necessary to support it. He sustains body and soul and provides food and clothing even to those who are estranged from Him and don’t want to know Him.

Continue reading at De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine,

Which is all well and good, and I found Karl’s words comforting, but we sometimes have to retire to assuage our wounds, physical and mental. And that’s all right as well. Erick Erickson the editor of RedState has noticed this, also. I’m not, frankly, a huge fan of Erick’s, he’s got a bit too much ego for my taste, but still, he’s not wrong here. he spent some time on his radio show talking about this and I’ve included the of Monday’s show, which covered the topic.

And finally I would remind you of the finish of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy.

Prudent men are accustomed to say, and not by chance or without merit, that whoever wishes to see what has to be considers what has been; for all worldly things in every time have their own counterpart in ancient times. That arises because these are the work of men, who have and always had the same passions, and they must of necessity result in the same effect. It is true that their works are more virtuous now in this province than in that, and in that more than in this, according to the form of education in which those people have taken their mode of life. To see a nation keep the same customs for a long time, being either continually avaricious or continually fraudulent or having some other such vice or virtue, also makes it easy to know future by things past. (III.43.1)

Where do we go from here?

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End times

Throughout the Western world the number of professing Christians is shrinking. Even within their ranks, the definition of what constitutes a ‘Christian’ is ambiguous, and even within the Catholic Church, in one way the last redout of orthodoxy, we have priests arguing for the acceptance of the ‘gay’ lifestyle and accommodation with this fundamentally anti-Christian culture. The siren voices of ”accommodation” are to be heard in the land. Homosexuality is not, after all, a subject on which Christ spoke, it is culturally conditioned, we know better, science tells us … etc., etc., etc. So, all we need is to ignore two thousand years’ worth of tradition and consistent Christian teaching, and the world will love us. After all, all you need is love and love wins! Ignore the reasons for which love exists, it’s all about sex, not the creation of a unit into which children can be born and nurtured, or a place where we learn to put our own needs second to those of others, and where we restrain some of our ‘natural’ instincts in higher cause; love is contextualised and the context is that it is not all about us. That runs so counter to our culture that it is no surprise that it would not get it. Everything is about ‘me’ and ‘my satisfaction’.

But orthodox Christians are not going to fall for such sophistry. We know Jesus stood by the moral law, and we know what that means for all sexual sins. We know that the consistent teaching of all churches until recently is not to be disregarded because of a combination of hireling ministers and a desire not to be ‘harsh”. But we also know that this world isn’t going to change any time soon – it is going to insist on having its way. Some want to go head to head – as though that is going to work. Others suggest withdrawing to a spiritual catacomb. Pugnacious by instinct, I’m in favour of fighting – but as I look at the line of battle, I come to the conclusion it isn’t worth it. The State has a right to define its version of marriage as it chooses, and non-Christians cannot possibly be expected to agree that they cannot have a State version of marriage because a minority group in our society wishes to deny them that opportunity. It makes no sense to them, and we cannot win that fight. Into the valley of death and all that – but the last ditch smells for a reason – it is full of dead bodies.

Better, I think, to continue to make the case that churches are not going to do this. If there are tax exemptions we lose, so be it; let Caesar have what he wants. Here, we don’t get this anyway, at least not for my lot, and it strengthens my view that having nothing to do with the State is the best way to be. We will get on, live our Christianity as an example to the world, resisting where it is necessary.

Crowns of Glory and Honor

It seems to me that marriage has a very specific historical and cultural, specifically religious, understanding that has never, at least until very recently, had anything whatsoever to do with interpersonal love and the like. Marriage, for most of human history, has been about child bearing, community building, legitimacy, and inheritance—affairs of the state, so to speak. Of course, within the Church, which was the state in the West and the East for a time, marriage was also symbolic, of salvation, divine love, the Trinity, etc, but even still St Paul thought it of little worth “it is better to marry than to burn with lust.” (1 Cor. 7.9)

Indeed the RCC didn’t make it officially a sacrament until the 12th century. The Reformers didn’t even think it worthy of being made a sacrament when they broke from the Church as it didn’t meet their requirements of being founded by Jesus, preserved by the Apostles, and codified by the early Church. And, moreover, outside of marriage’s symbolic function in the Church, while spiritually refreshing, was miniscule in importance when compared to the weightier matters of inheritance and procreation, which were the primary drivers of marriage’s societal significance.

So, this rather modern idea that marriage is about romantic love is nonsensical. It’s not. Never has been. Of course friendship and interpersonal love have a part to play in marriage, no question, but only insofar as they accompany any relationship worth having, sexual or not. But romantic love is to be distinguished from marriage in much the same way that a person’s appearance is to be distinguished from that person.

However, what is happening in modern society is the secularizing of a religious custom by re-defining marriage as solely constituted by romantic love, as if the historical, cultural, specifically religious, context matters not, and all the responses in protest to this idea by means of natural law and the like miss the boat entirely, for that approach concedes the initial assumption—that marriage is, entirely, about earthly or human love, that is, interpersonal love, romantic love, eros. Given that assumption, there is no compelling secular argument against gay marriage, unless I am unaware of persuasive sociological data that clearly demonstrates the adverse social effects of gay sexual relationships (some recent data has been interpreted as demonstrating the adverse social effects of gay sexual relationships, but it is not clear to me what that data says).

Of course, there is no need to concede the assumption because it is plainly false, not only as a matter of history and culture, but also as a matter of a logically consistent metaphysics. For romantic love, not only in marriage, but in itself, only makes sense within the context of a sensible metaphysics with an accompanying spiritual symbolism; that is, when sexual and interpersonal love is directed toward some transcendental end, some deeper truth—the Good, for instance.

Indeed the irony here is that the best articulation of marriage being about romantic love is a distinctly Christian or, at the very least, religious or Platonic or what have you apology. That is, human love apologetics is a coherent elucidation of marriage only within a sufficiently religious or mystical metaphysics, where the destination of all love and desire is love and desire as such, that is, Love itself, the Good itself, Beauty itself, that is, God, properly understood.

Now, sure, the religious symbolism of marriage can be appropriated for secular purposes, as much religious symbolism has been over the centuries, but love, as modern society understands it, only makes sense when operating within some appropriate metaphysical system, where the signposts of that system point, beyond themselves, to deeper, more transcendent truths. Otherwise, love is mere sexual attraction or the gratification of desire or sensual pleasure or what have you. Consequently, it is no longer love, at least not the sort of love that modern society talks about in bad novels and superficial magazines and dreadful romantic comedies—unifying, conquering, social-norm-defying, dignity bestowing, and so on, love, the love of the Beatles song lyric, “all you need is love,” the supererogatory, extraordinary, non-obligatory kind of love.

Naturally, most of modern society agrees—“these are consenting adults who love each other” is the popular sentiment amongst folks of my generation concerning marriage, love and private choice being emphasized here.

But that sort of love, the dignity bestowing kind, is not a lucid and coherent concept when stripped of its metaphysical referents, love is not a metaphysical signification that can be situated in just any old metaphysical system. For instance, how could a naturalistic, materialistic understanding of love preserve the popular, common sense conviction about marriage as a dignity bestowing, love obsessed, eternal institution? It could not, at least not and remain logically consistent.

Indeed it is not so much that marriage, as a legal and social custom, bestows dignity on the persons being married—that is not the secular understanding of marriage at all—but that interpersonal love, romantic love, constitutes marriage as such, and, as a result, bestows dignity on married couples. Modern society thinks that marriage is synonymous with human love, with some legal documents and societal rituals attached. And, although in practice that statement is difficult to justify, I understand the sentiment—in the Orthodox Church, for instance, marriage is not a legal contract. But my point is simply that that understanding of love and marriage is only clear and coherent within the appropriate metaphysics, particularly a religious metaphysic.

However, what I am not saying is that people cannot be non-religious and be in love or religious and not be in love or what have you. I am merely stating that any proper understanding of love, be it romantic or not, must have some element of the transcendent; some final end or purpose, some telos, towards which it is striving, and this directedness toward the Agape immanent in and beyond all things can happen for atheists and theists alike, if it could not, it would not be love.

But to strip love of its metaphysical referents is to strip love of its meaning and its power. It can no longer bestow dignity, mend broken families, give aid to the poor, help the sick, and so forth, because that sort of love requires some non-natural element, some Logos or Agape immanent in all things or at least some transcendental end to be the ultimate destination of all desire as such. For instance, we don’t say that sexual attraction or the gratification of desire or sensual pleasure is dignity bestowing or can change the world for the better, do we? No. In fact, we probably say the opposite. But we do say that love can do those things.

If love is nothing more than biology, it cannot be what we think it is, and it cannot do what we want it to do. It cannot change the world, because it can never point beyond itself to the true reality; it cannot fundamentally alter our vision of the world; it cannot escape the baser instincts and selfish tendencies of our species; it cannot act as our better angels.

Of course, evolutionary origins and genetic analysis and brain mapping may one day explain the neurophysiology of love, but that is just chemical sensations and neuropeptides and what have you, that no more explains love, properly understood, than a bicycle explains how to ride a bicycle. Love inspires self-sacrifice and total commitment to others. Love asks us to go beyond the call of duty, to act in ways that are not morally obligatory, to do the extraordinary, to do things that are not self-serving or instinctual. Indeed love asks us to rebel against our natural drives—to help the poor in Liberia or the dispossessed in Syria or criminals in prison; to love our enemies; to give to those who would steal from us; to love God and man. But scientific theories cannot ask these things of us because science cannot tell us what we ought to do. Scientific theories can predict and explain and unify natural phenomena, but scientific theories cannot act as the Cross on a hill pointing beyond itself to a world filled with love.

But if love carries with it ultimate significance, as the Cross intimates, then its power is limitless, on this point the modernists align themselves with Christ and St. Paul and St. John—love is a world-changer in the appropriate context.

Simply put, human love is not about Eros so much as it is about Agape. Eros is merely an instantiation of Agape, that is, Eros images Agape, Eros participates in Agape, to borrow from Plato. Agape is the essential nature of Eros; agape is the human loves’ essence. Human love, at least the common sense understanding of it, only makes sense within this metaphysical context. And, as such, any conception of marriage must account for this understanding of human love—one cannot infer the desired conclusion from any old set of premises. One cannot get the love of Christ, for instance, from naturalistic premises. And one cannot get marriage as entering a new reality without Christ—no matter the vows; no matter the promises; no matter the contract; no matter how much one person loves the other person.

However, modern society wants to do precisely that: to keep all the good stuff about love but not the metaphysical principles that justify it. Alas…any understanding of marriage that is built on so flimsy an understanding of love is doomed to collapse at the slightest breath of reality.

Of course, I should not be surprised at the banality of our age, where the insatiable thirst for more and more things and more and more desires is shaped and sustained. We are a society obsessed with buying stuff; with gratifying desires; with removing more impediments blocking the gratification of such desires. In such a society, ultimate goods give way to immediate goods. And such a society is, at least implicitly, non-Christian. Our holy texts are bad novels and Amazon; our religious duty is shopping and sex; our faith is private choice.

God becomes just another impediment standing in the way of our pleasure seeking. Christian virtues give way to greed and pride; lust and envy.

Transcendent values have no place in such a society, so they are replaced by price tags and pleasures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting with reality

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Now there’s a provocative title from an old Baptist – ho, ho, ho, a believer in the sky fairy calling for a reality check. Well, there’s not much you can do with a fellow who thinks Christians believe in a sky fairy; anyone who misuses their intellect to that degree isn’t going to be won over until the Spirit moves them. Anyone with any skills in introspection who cannot find original sin, is not looking and will not see what they do not wish to see. Good and evil we do, but why we incline so easily to the bad and find it so difficult to do the good, are questions more easily answered by Christian theology and anthropology than by a secular mindset.

Be that as it may, what reality do I think folk should be connecting with? The first and overwhelming reality is the flaws in our own nature. We see a lot of folk bandying the word ‘Modernism’ about without defining it – for Catholics it is first and foremost the belief whereby people imagine they’ve a right to pick and choose which of the Church teachings to follow, and which to reject – thereby setting up themselves as the highest authority. It’s something common across the spectrum, though, and not just confined to Catholicism.

We live in a society where freedom has become license, and where our natural disinclination to obey receives perpetual encouragement: ‘love’ that cannot express itself in personal sexual gratification is disregarded, which is why the various churches not only have trouble with homosexuality, but with heterosexual sins: fornication and even adultery seem fine as long as ‘you love each other'; in such a moral climate it is no wonder homosexuals feel discriminated against – why should they be the last group to feel the effects of traditional Christian teaching?

The reality we recognise is that of our fallen nature, and instead, as Christianity has traditionally taught, struggling against it with the help of God’s Grace, we are taught to relax into it – to ‘be ourself’. Which self? The self who, given half a hint of a chance will do whatever is easiest and most selfish, or that other self who will go the further mile? It’s not accidental that Jesus so often uses examples from family life, because it is there our best nature is so often revealed. We’ll do things for our children by way of self-sacrifice that we’d not do for anyone else. I can never read the parable of the Prodigal without tears welling up. We are so often at our best when we deal with our children, and the smaller, nastier, more selfish parts of us tend to fall away.

It is that, redeemed and restored reality with which we need to be in touch, it is the Grace working in us upon which we need to concentrate – then we can be who we really are – made in God’s image. It is to that we should aspire – not be ‘being ourself’ in this fallen world’s fallen vision.

 

Useful Idiocy

IN LIGHT OF CHALCEDON’S SUBSEQUENT REMARKS I HAVE WITHDRAWN THE ORIGINAL PREFACE TO THIS ARTICLE. 

Let’s review the implications of Chalcedon’s disturbing errors on the subject of obedience.

From what I can gather of Chalcedon’s position, in particular what I gather from his unwillingness to accept even the most uncontroversial claims of Traditionalists in this matter, all Chalcedonites are surely bound to profess the following:

1. Everything that comes from any Pope as touching faith and morals, whether by word or example, no matter how dodgy it may sound to me, must always be regarded as true and above criticism, unless and until the Pope makes it untrue by a subsequent statement.

2. I must therefore believe it. If I doubted it, that would be disobedient (?!?!?). If it contradicts a dogma of the faith of which I am certain, it’s my Catholic Faith that needs to change, to accommodate what the Holy Father is saying.

CENSURE: Idolatrous and heretical. Idolatrous, because affording a man the absolute infallibility which is possessed by God alone. Heretical, because contradicting the definition of Papal infallibility given in the First Vatican council.

This doctrine is taught NOWHERE by the Catholic Church. It is non-existent. The Church teaches we have a duty of obedience to our lawful superiors, and that this must be an inward affair rather than a mere outward show of obedience in externals.

BUT THE CHURCH ALSO TEACHES in moral theology that an obligation of Faith trumps an obligation of obedience, because obedience – even in respect of the Holy Father – is a moral virtue, not a theological virtue. We should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

I have expounded on this at great length several times before, and will not repeat the exercise again here.

Chalcedon and others like him are, alas, serving as Satan’s useful idiots, by perpetuating the false obedience that allowed the present apostasy so firmly to take hold in the first place. It has been truly said; Satan’s masterstroke was to introduce rebellion in the name obedience.

Obedience and its opposite

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Cardinal Napier arrives for morning session of extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at Vatican

Cardinal Napier shows the right way to do this sort of thing

In his usual trenchant style, our friend quiavideruntoculi has offered some reflections on some aspects of magisterial authority and why now, is appears to him, that some bishops preach heresy. Let us examine these.

He sets out three phenomena which in his view have prevented Bishops teaching heresy. These, we should note, are randomly assigned, with no evidence to support them. Be that as it may, let us take them together. The first, the fact that Bishops are required to have studied some theology, is true, so we must assume that it is not this, but the other two criteria which have been undermined. The second is little less than a slander on our Bishops. We are airily informed from a position of something like omniscience that ‘some (few) bishops believe in God’. It seems to me that whatever credibility might attach to this line of thought falls away here. Any Catholic who begins from the assumption that his fathers in Christ believe in Christ less than he does, begins in rebellion; by all mean make a striking point to attract attention – if one must – but do not do so by insulting the faith of men who have devoted their whole lives to a Church of which you have been been a member for a few years; this is unworthy. And certainly do not go on to attribute venial motives to them in order to explain away your own postulate – which is that our bishops teach heresy and did not, in your own opinion, do so previously, but only for selfish reasons.

We then get to more assumptions which ignore the way the Church works. It is supposed that we, able to identify heresy when those set by God above us to do such things do not perceive it, should correct them. What, one might ask, are the canonical provisions for this? Do we email the Pope and tell him that as far as we are concerned he’s a miserable heretic? There is, in QV’s post a great deal about what we, as individuals ought to do, how we will decided what is heresy, how we will decide how to react to it, and how it is up to us as individuals to do what the Church wants. There is no mention here of Canon Law or the due processes of the Catholic Church, simply a Protestant style of reasoning whereby we, as individual sinners, have the right to judge our fathers in Christ.

What then, we might ask, when we have so judged and found the Church wanting, should we do when the Church disagrees, and when those qualified to pronounce on the Pope do not agree that he is an heretic? To that, there appears no answer offered. But I suppose if one can agree to believe all that the Church confesses, and find almost every bishop venial and the Pope an heretic, there is no real need to provide an answer – the sensus fidelium will surely rise up to recognise one’s own superior wisdom – after which someone else will rise up to denounce one, and so on and so forth. We know where this line of thought leads – from the time of Diotrophes, throught Arius and Luther and beyond, it leads to schism and disunity.

Quite what it is leads some to think, not least after the last Synod, that the Cardinals are simply going to roll over and disregard centuries of settle teaching, I don’t know, is their faith so weak? Loud as such critics are when it comes to liberals disregarding Church teaching, they seem prepared to do so themselves – even before there is a need to do so. Have faith, pray, and pray some more. An end to clamouring that one’s one definitions of the fulness of the faith are infallible, where those of the Holy Father are manifest heresies. If this is what passes for Catholic obedience, we are indeed in a parlous place.

Of course there is a huge irony here. In the sort of Church favoured by QV, his attitude would be denounced and he would find himself under censure, indeed, in his favourite of all eras, he might even have been burned at the stake. Fortunately, whether he sees it that way of not, this is not how the Church now behaves

Gospel for the feast of SS Peter and Paul

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The feast day of SS Peter and Paul is one of the most important in the calendar of the Church. The tradition of the Church tells us that both men were executed in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero; both were buried and honoured there. The early Church Fathers found the verses from Matthew which are the subject of this Sunday’s Gospel reading on which to comment extensively.

Matthew 16:13-19

St John Chrysostom (349-407) points out, in his homily on the Gospel, that the Lord takes the disciples outside the borders of Judea into the territory of the Gentiles where ‘being free from all alarm, they might speak with boldness all that was in their mind.’  Epiphanius the Latin (late fifth, early sixth century), takes up this theme in his ownInterpretation of the Gospels. It was here, in the lands of the Gentiles, that the Father revealed to Peter what flesh and blood had revealed to no man. This foreshadows the fact that it would be the Gentiles who, through faith, would come to acknowledge Christ as the Son of God, where so many of his own people in Judea, would not recognise that. Theodore of Heraclea (d. 355), whose works survive only in small fragments, of which the commentary on this passage is part, notes the didactic purpose in what Jesus does. He asks the question in order to discover what opinions about him were current among the Jews. His use of the term ‘Son of Man’, highlights the fact that Jesus is unchangeably man without ceasing to be God. Chrysostom takes this further, showing how Jesus leads his followers into a dialogue which will draw them into a ‘more sublime notion’ of who he really is. The dialogue comes after Jesus had performed many miracles and given many proofs of his divinity and his union with the Father, but even these had not lifted the veil of incomprehension from the eyes of his disciples. Only the Divine will could lift that veil, and here we see this truth. Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428), one of the founders of the exegetical school in Antioch, writes that at this stage his disciples were not all clear who he was, with some thinking he might be John the Baptist risen (as Herod did) or Elijah returned, or even Jeremiah.

St Cyril of Alexandria (c.376 – 444 -whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, 27 June) points out that Peter did not say ‘you are a Christ’ or ‘a son of God’, for many are they who have, by Grace, become these things by adoption; but there is only one who is by nature the Son of God. Peter indicates that Jesus is the one with power over life and death and in whom all authority lies.

Jesus says that Peter’s confession is the rock, and that on this rock he will build his church. This, according to Theodore of Mopsuestia, means that Jesus builds his church on this same confession of faith. For this reason, Jesus changes the name of the Apostle from Simon to ‘Peter’, which in the Aramaic means ‘rock’, to signify his authority. To him and the church are given the keys to the kingdom. He who is a member of the church has access to the kingdom; he who is not, does not.

Christ, Epiphanius, writes, is the rock which is never worn away of can be destroyed. Peter gladly receives his new name to signify the established and unshaken faith of the Church. The devil will forever seek to undermine the church, but he will fail because it is based on unshakable foundations.

Pope St Leo the Great (440-461) notes that in saying that the Father has revealed to Peter the truth of his identity, Jesus goes on to to invest Peter with authority. Of course Jesus is the cornerstone and the rock, but he now says to Peter: “you also are rock because you are made firm with my strength. What properly belongs to me, you share with my by participation”. This confession will not be restrained even by the very gates of hell, for it is a declaration of life. It lifts up to heaven those who confess it, and those who deny it sink into hell. The right to bind and loose is given to all the Apostles, but it is entrusted in a unique way to the one whose name is changed to signify he is the rock chosen by Jesus.

 

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