Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stellman: JK's Take

I watched the whole interview, and I have a few general comments. First, we're talking about Jesus Christ, and what he does. Being sons of the Catholic Church is not a matter of waving a flag, or wearing a pin on your lapel. If you accept her authority, the only defensible reason to do so is because what she guards and protects has been revealed by God. Catholicism isn't so awesome in the practical living out that "smells and bells" would be enough without this. Please pause and reflect on the inanity of what you are saying before you accuse any convert of doing this for an aesthetic reason primarily. [climbs off soapbox] Are our liturgies rightly executed beautiful? Of course. But they are precisely that because they are true. God, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty has revealed Himself.

If you make the effort to claim that the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited to the Catholic Church, but is invisible, including all true believers from whatever tradition you want to name, you must be willing to explain how this is not an innovation that is unknown to our ancient brothers and fathers, and wrestle with the dogmatic implications; no believer would have access to what God has actually said on any matter of any consequence. Whether we could legitimately claim any one person was guilty of ecclesial consumerism, we can clearly see that this state of affairs would fuel it.

What struck me about Stellman's telling was how he found some thread of truth at every place. The next step in the journey was not a negation of the last, as such. This is the reason we call the Church the "fullness of truth," and also because Christ dwells within. What if those elements of sanctification and truth (undeniably) outside the Catholic Church really do belong to the Catholic Church, as LG, 8 says? What if we belong to the Catholic Church? Trying to love Christ without being Catholic would be like stealing your mom's car to go to Disney World with your friends, while telling them you bought the car yourself. [You just compared Heaven to Disney World.--ed.] It's an imperfect analogy. [Very imperfect.--ed.] OK. [So invincible ignorance would be like sleepwalking/driving all the way to Disney World in your mom's car, and she's not mad, because the whole family was supposed to meet there, anyway, and they all know you were just excited.--ed.] I'll go with it. But the question for the rest of you is, "Why are you trying to go to Disney World without your mom?" Father told you they don't like your "friends" many times. They're arrogant, disrespectful, and more importantly, wrong. I digress.

You made sense to me, Stellman. You made sense to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

I'm not saying there's no good in reading fiction; I just don't have an infinite amount of time in which to read the things I must read, the things I'm inclined to read anyway, and anything else. And I just flat-out don't agree that fiction is superior, anyway. They're all stories; at bottom, human stories, so I don't see the difference, myself. You need imagination and creativity to make a difference for God and people in this world, in any case. And I'm telling you, if you don't think you can get it from reading non-fiction, you need to read better non-fiction.

And there's no merit badge at the end for having read Middlemarch. It's true I don't trust people who willfully don't read anything at all; it's quite another to tell people what they must read, and why. You can't possibly know that.

I'm only insistent about this point because I am but a mortal man, and because "for pleasure" has no meaning in my universe at all. I do absolutely everything for a purpose. Even my "leisure" serves that purpose. And I've got to work around my "crazy". I'm physically disabled, and whether it's medical or not, I absolutely cannot focus on one thing for longer than 15 minutes. Even when I pray, it's insane. This is why I prefer Eucharistic Adoration to other prayer, because at least when I become distracted, I am distracted with Him. Also, in the quiet, others don't realize you are insane.

This is why I told Bob to take a bunch of little breaks when reading theology and doing our stuff; we're similar people; if we burn out from forcing ourselves to focus too intently for too long, we'll blow 6 days thinking about the anatomy of flying purple unicorns, and miss what we're supposed to do entirely. Keep your deadlines firm but broad, and keep your diversions semi-relevant to the major tasks at hand.

My Ten Books

The Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me:

10. Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella

9. War, by Sebastian Junger

8. Dead Man Walking, by Sister Helen Prejean

7. Anthem, by Ayn Rand

6. Radical Son, by David Horowitz

5. Congress: The Electoral Connection, by David Mayhew

4. The Days Of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Jim Bishop

3. Upon This Rock, by Steven Ray

2. Dune, by Frank Herbert

1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I could easily do another 10, and perhaps I will. But these were the 10 I first thought of, and my basic criteria are:

1) I say, "This book changed the way I think and feel about the world," or 2) Someone else said I needed to read it, and I finally did. I didn't put any books up that I haven't finished, and I won't. So, there are dozens and dozens more books I have yet to finish, so I can't mention them. Also, if I read a book, and I feel I can't articulate the main theme or purpose, (that is, understand it) you won't see it on a list like this.

Recently, others who have read more fiction have critiqued it for lacking some of the great works of fiction. Well, I have two great interests (other than sports): Theology and politics. Even when I read fiction, these are the lenses I read it through, because I am me. In other words, too bad. Some are called to read the great works of fiction, and others think about humanity and its destiny. It's probably not fair to those great works if I did read them all, because what we owe to any author is to connect with his purpose, not our own.

By the way, I suppose I should comment on sports for a moment. There is a segment of intellectuals for whom sports is a little too common, a little too "Average Joe." You know what? If you were a real intellectual, you'd at least be conversant with sports. Stupid people may love sports, but brilliant people definitely love sports. This is different than being a fan, though those aren't mutually exclusive. The games we play and watch, even in all their intricate details, are a big, giant human interest story. As are the people who watch them. If you have no desire to get inside that in some way, well, you're beyond my help.

I used to say that I lived and died with the St. Louis Cardinals, and perhaps once I did. Don't get me wrong: I am a huge fan. That community, love, and passion is a real thing. I saw on the social media that a friend of a friend from Chicago remarked that watching a baseball game with Cardinals fans is very special. He said there was a "reverence" for the game and the people who play it that is rarely duplicated. Some of us surely are idolators. Even so, I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the most religious cities in the world has among the most devoted baseball fans. The pinnacle of human achievement, community, and interest points at the transcendent, even when it goes wrong. Sports doesn't build character; it reveals it, as they say. This must be at least partially true.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Principled Difference, Again

Today, a Reformed person said this: "The 2nd commandment means something. But the idea that it prohibits absolutely all images doesn't add up. As Brian pointed out with the carved cherubim. But recall that those cherubim were not at the focus of Israel's worship. When a church sets up an image of Christ or the saints in a central spot to where you can't help but look at it during worship, and then you have people kneeling, engaging in prayer, bowing etc, that's a problem. "You shall not bow down to them or worship them" means the 2nd commandment has a liturgical context to it. God is warning us away from vain liturgy that forsakes the Word and tries to capture God in a picture."

This is why we have ecumenical councils, my friend. No one really cares what you or I think about what the 2nd Commandment means. Any dude with a Bible can pick it up and attempt to tell someone what it means, in any place. And an ecumenical council isn't one unless it's recognized as such by the authority of the visible Church that Christ founded. Otherwise, I not only have to sit through some opinion as to what the Bible means, but I have to listen to some dude's revisionist history with respect to what a true Council is. The first revisionists were called "heretics" and "schismatics." He might even be a learned dude. Who cares? If the historical-critical method and the tools of lexical analysis were what it took to be right about the Bible, Bultmann would be the immortal Vicar of Christ.

Practically speaking, you are wrong. We are Catholic. We have images of everyone, and everything. You're not going to be distracted by any one thing. And, this is why there are principles to sacred art and architecture: to train the human heart to put things in right order. "Right order" is not the negation of art and beauty, nor the natural human instinct to give to mere persons the respect they are due. Fun fact: We have statues of angels and saints to remind ourselves that when we participate in the liturgy, Heaven and earth are connected, and those holy ones are worshipping God also! God is so gracious, He shows up.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

They Went Out From Us...

A little note on this new propensity for people to call themselves, "Reformed Catholics". It's dishonest. If you believe that the Catholic Church has distorted the gospel (and in all fairness and sympathy, this is what the children of the Reformation believe) then separation from a false 'Church' is an honest and principled course. In fact, if I may make a brief digression into Catholic moral theology, it is a sin to act against certain conscience, even if that conscience turns out to be badly misinformed. This is why a person who grows up in what was a schism is not a schismatic, properly speaking. If a person knowingly persists in schism, knowing that it is one, that's a different story. That's why Lumen Gentium, 14 is so carefully worded, with respect to knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ: If you know that, and refuse to enter or stay, you're rejecting Christ, not some guys calling themselves the 'Catholic Church'. If I were to leave, I give you permission to fear for my soul. What the Church does with the motives of credibility--that is the reasoned reasons to trust Christ and His Church--is question the credibility of those witnesses who believe other than what she teaches. That's what she did to me. If Leithart honestly believes that his differences with us are not significant enough to live in doctrinal and ecclesial contradistinction to us, then don't do it. If they are, then do. But you're not Catholic until you are.

Behind all the discussions I had about what 'catholic' really meant, (and actually, the whole time, we were discussing the disputed meanings of all 4 of the traditional marks of the Church), eventually, I heard God's voice in a certain way, saying, "This is the faith of My House; take it or leave it." (But more love, for sure.) Mother Church doesn't question anyone's earnestness or zeal; only God knows hearts. But she does question your authorities.

This is why I do not 'hate' the Reformed faith I once loved. I must vigorously protest this charge. I only questioned and do question those authorities from which we learned it, in this respect: their capacity and authority to speak for Jesus Christ with respect to what has been revealed. This is why a good Catholic can say to everyone in the world: "You are right in what you affirm, and wrong in what you deny."

Another quick note: There are lots of denominations, it's true. I've heard Catholic apologists mention this before, and it's not altogether invalid. But it's important to recognize what the true point of that is. It's not, "Stupid Protestants, HA, HA!" No, the point is, "How do I know where God has spoken, and what has He said?" The Noltie Conundrum is only a true crisis when you presume that the other guy is closer to God than you are. It becomes a theological problem in the strict sense. We can wax eloquent about the fallibility of man, but you kind of want to say, "OK, the Humility Cards have been played. Now, what did God say?"

Kenny Loggins, Redux

Granted, I like Kenny a lot. I've been hanging out with his music a lot, as a result. One song I really love by him is called, "Forever". I was thinking about this song recently, and it came to me: Change the gender in the second verse, and this whole song verse corresponds to Song of Songs 3:1-3. Stew on that for a while. And in general, the song captures that theme throughout the book: "Love is as strong as death."

Have I said this before? I don't know. But alas, here are the words to that verse:

Once, I dreamed that you were gone
I cried out, trying to find you
I begged the dream to fade
Away, and please awaken me
But night took a hold of my heart
And left me with no one to follow
The love that I lost to the dark
I'll always remember...

[Me again] I'll bet you don't read the text or hear the song the same way again. You're welcome.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Unity And Life In Christ

One of the things that I appreciate about holy mother Church and our deepening understanding of the implications and the depth of the riches of Christ is that we don't have to choose between unity and truth, for Christ is the fullness of those things; that unity and truth is defined in Him, and by Him. Some people think that Vatican II fundamentally changed the way Catholics understood the manner in which the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded. They see the conciliatory words toward especially Protestant communities as a concession to a modern ecumenical reality. We have to reject this, even as we are aware that many groups within the Catholic Church had explicitly or implicitly adopted a(n) hermeneutic of discontinuity in their thinking about the Council. But let's define "ecumenism" first. Ecumenism is dialogue for the purpose of establishing agreement in the truth concerning God. Ecumenism is not a passive acceptance of mutually exclusive dogmas or principles; indeed, it cannot be, for dogma pertains to that which has been revealed by God; to allow it would call God a liar, or say that He is not one, but many.

If that is the case, then an unavoidable feature of ecumenism is disagreement, discussion, and even polemics concerning the sources and content of dogma. We'll come back to this.

Consider this section from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in its eighth article: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity."

This part acknowledges truth outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church, which it identifies as the society governed by the successor of Peter, and the bishops in communion with him. Many non-Catholic Christians are fond of thinking of the "church catholic" as including the Catholic Church possibly, but not synonymous with it, which is fine, as far as it goes, but for the fact that, in a dialogue concerning the nature of the Church, this would constitute begging the question. Moreover, were this claim of the Catholic Church completely unsupported by evidence, that would also be begging the question, that is, assuming the very point in question. So, if it were an open question, I could say, "I needn't accept what the Catholic Church says at face value, but I can see that they believe themselves to be the Church that Christ founded." I could also say, "Suppose the Church were not visible fundamentally. That is, it cannot be strictly identified with one visible community. What are the implications of this, and what would be the means of its self-delineation?" It doesn't take long to see that the Catholic Church has a means of delineating itself. What really caught my attention during my search/exploration/etc. was how an invisible Church had been assumed by me, taken for granted as true. It was the wholly intolerable implication of this assumption--the loss of identifiable dogma--that caused me to question it in the first place, from within my theological system. Had this not been the case, I could not, and would not have even looked seriously into the Catholic faith at all. So, I must reject the notion that I assumed the truth of the Catholic faith first. It could not have been so. Pardon the personal digression.

One potential problem with holding a looser view regarding the Catholic Church and its claim to be the Church Christ founded is that it fails to do justice to the final line of the very quoted paragraph. How could the many elements of sanctification and truth existing outside the Catholic Church impel toward catholic unity if that unity has already been achieved? Good question, no? And what are people being impelled toward, at least according to these bishops, if not the Catholic Church?

Much confusion with respect to this has been caused by an incautious reading of article 16 of the same Constitution. The passage in question is this: "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience." This is what I like to call, "God's escape hatch." Allow me to explain. Rather than this be an acceptance of other religious systems as such, or an unwillingness to preach Christ and His Church exclusively, it is rather a recognition that God is alone and finally the judge of all things. It is He who decides culpability and imputability, praise and blame. A strict universalism would posit that all were saved by the mere fact of Christ having died for them. This is not in view here. But, fair to say, a standard Protestant evangelicalism or fundamentalism finds this abhorrent. But did you catch the "moved by grace" there? This would be troubling for several reasons, not least for those who believe grace to be irresistible, and to be only of one kind. But for the Catholic, grace is always resistible, unless it's an individual, personal grace that isn't, (if I stopped to explain this, we'll get off-track) and it is not tied by necessity to the will of God in some deterministic sense, such that grace and faith fall out consequently from an irrevocable act of predestination before the world began (Calvinism). There are, in the main, two kinds of grace; one kind is for the purpose of doing a particular thing, and the other is for salvation, properly so called. This latter one is called "sanctifying grace." A person in a state of grace, as we call it, has sanctifying grace as a habit of the soul, through which faith, hope, and charity (love/supernatural agape) are infused as theological virtues. The grace to do something particular is called "actual." You can see working or doing in the root there. Every person receives actual graces in some measure all the time. We may refuse any, or all of them. This would make it much harder to receive sanctifying grace if it isn't already possessed, and a general lack of receptivity to grace makes one vulnerable to those sins which destroy charity in the soul (mortal sins). If we die without charity in our souls, we will be damned. In general, the Church sees every person as inhabiting one of a series of concentric circles, closer to Christ in the Church, and progressively further away. And yet, it is possible to be a member of the Church, and be damned, because one does not have supernatural charity. Indeed, it is also theoretically possible to be outside the Catholic Church, and be very much alive! Those who are alive, in fact, stand a very good chance of being impelled right to the heart of the Catholic Church, if time and breath permits, and quickly, at that! No one is damned for what they do not, and could not know. They are rather found culpable for what they do know, should have known, and did not do.

Consider this text from LG, 14: "Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." This chilling sentence, following upon one affirming the necessity of faith and baptism (and the Church) for salvation, could not be clearer. Even before I knew that the Catholic Church was the source of the truth about Christ, and quite literally the dwelling of Christ in a sacramental mode, I had this powerful desire to know Him truly, more deeply, and to see the truth about myself and my place in this world. It is indeed possible to read the Church Fathers and not conclude that the Catholic Church is the Church. But absent a prior commitment that it could not be so, which depending on its strength, can even dismiss an overwhelming preponderance of evidence as irrelevant, this position is hard to maintain. As I said, I had a problem, a problem such that I had no overweening loyalty to the Reformed. I argued the points from that system, insofar as doing so was in defense of Christ, as I understood Him. We should celebrate whatever unity we do possess as Christians, but if Christ in fact is the one Savior of the world, we should expect that the examination of history--really and truly the outworking of the of the dominion of the Son of God--implies the abandonment of principles that (intentionally or not) imply His abandonment of us. I could not posit a Great Apostasy in 200, 500, or 1200, because He promised us it would not be. My community was either organically a part of the Church He promised to protect, or frankly, it is an aberration, created and subsisting on the premise that Christ had in fact failed in that promise. If there could not be a Great Failure, there is no need for a Reformation, or a Restoration, or whatever you wish to call it. Now, men may sin against God in all manner of ways, but that which He has given as truth, as dogma, cannot be false. This is the real meaning of "Let God be true, and every man a liar." So, it's a question that demands an answer: Do you protest the moral failings of the leaders of the Church, or the doctrine of the Church? The latter, like it or not, presupposes that Christ has lied. The doctrine concerning the Eucharist is not one in 529, and another in 1570, no matter the wickedness of those charged with defending it.

That's why the organic continuity with what Christ established, and that specific community's authority and capacity to transmit dogma, becomes the most important consideration. That which we must hold for salvation, is dogma, the content of our highest end, rejoicing in truth with Him who is Truth. Some charism of infallibility must be present, else there would be no way that fallible humans would know what they need to know to reach that end of communion with God.