Friday, October 28, 2016

Called To Communion (Ratzinger) Chapter 1

Prior to the first world war, there had been a dominant liberal hermeneutic for Scriptural interpretation: this "Jesus" was anti-cultic, anti-institutional, and the goal was to embrace the Kingdom, which transcends these especially Old Testament notions of sacrifice, Temple, and people.

The war destroyed that consensus. Part of what Ratzinger calls the "moralism" of this view was upended by the savagery of the conflict. The second war deepened the disillusionment. Old ideas die hard, though, and its proponents reformulated this anti-cultic tendency with an eschatological twist.

A new angle was that this re-formulated concept meshed easily with ascendant neo-Marxism, and its morality play of oppressed versus oppressor. They could pit the "institutional" Church against the popular Church.

Ratzinger says that these views are bad candidates for reality as it is, precisely because they bear the marks of the times in which they were created. We can be respectful of new ways of thinking about the Church, says Ratzinger, but aware that the liturgy carries the living memory of the Church herself. Anything that doesn't tell that story cannot harmonize with the truth.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What Is It With History, Anyway?

Among faithful Catholics, there is a confidence that Christian history bears out the conviction that the Church of the New Testament, the Church that Christ founded, is the Catholic Church. Consequently, all Christians should be members of the Catholic Church.

At the popular level, you might hear someone say, in response to a question about them seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, "I read the Church fathers." It's kind of a quick answer that may not tell one anything at all. And you might be well aware of Protestants who read and know the Church fathers.

I believe that one can say there is a theological significance to the passage of time, and to the gradual refinement of the articulation of dogma. The Incarnation and the totality of the paschal mystery means that the world as it was made, and all the people therein, belong again to God through Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. So, it would be reasonable to expect that the same faithfulness that characterized the unfolding of salvation history would characterize the age of the Church as well. Not, however, as an ultra-optimistic expectation of total victory with ease, but indeed, with at least an expectation that God Himself would make truth known, and provide ways for people to assent to it, and to live it out.

It is amusing to consider that, at the moment when some people realize the implications of God's free offer of salvation in Christ, and that it could entail full communion with the Catholic Church, they claim that knowing anything supernatural or infallible is impossible. That's a curious and alarming stance for any Christian to take. It's understandable, given the prejudices and fears about the Catholic Church many people have. Still, it ought to be beyond question at least that if God wants us to believe things he has revealed, they would be knowable in some manner, and not open to question in themselves, as having the quality of Him who can neither deceive, or be deceived.

The Protestant says that everything we need to know about God and ourselves is in the Bible. Leaving aside the somewhat awkward problem that he is not in agreement with the Catholic Church about the number of books in the Bible, it's at least a thought.

But what or who exactly is the Church? We can understand together that Jesus mentioned His Church, and that he would protect it from harm by the devil, at least to the extent that it would not be destroyed (cf. Matthew 16:18). St. Paul tells St. Timothy that the Church is the household of God, and the pillar and bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). That sounds good; where is it?

Protestants claim today that the Church is invisible, that the "saved" are all those who profess the "true faith." In what does that true faith consist? I might entertain the argument that two people could be united invisibly in the "true faith" despite the fact that one is a Methodist, and one a Lutheran, if it were possible to know precisely what the content of the true faith was. I might also add that I can't see the help of a pillar and bulwark I can't find. And if it were true that believers are united despite their differences, then it follows that none of those differences constitutes an essential part of the true faith. At that point, it becomes clear that most people aren't consistent with their principles. Try out that argument; see how it goes. Actually, it goes bad either way: he either professes a body of truth he can't be certain is from God, or you win him over, to indifference.

But the witness of history produces an exciting but challenging possibility: Suppose that every Christian division is evidence of variation on a Catholic theme. Indeed, what if the Catholic Church is the baseline, the vital center? If indeed you find Catholic faith, sacraments, and governance in the history of Christianity, that is what you have found. You might also find people you thought were heroes, professing the wrong thing, dividing the Church, or both. But the reason a person can challenge you with the question, "Do the fathers seem more Catholic, Protestant, or something else to you?" is because God is faithful. If Christ's coming is the ultimate expression of God's love for us, then history since will be an extension of it, at least on God's part.

The pope, apostolic succession, Eucharist. If you find these things in the writings of the fathers, you'll understand why the Catholic Church claims to be the Church Christ founded, because these three things are exactly what the Catholic Church today rests its claim on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Continuing Ruminations

I'm actually shocked, shocked (!) that middle-aged (and older) white guys in trucker hats think Trump is obviously the better choice. Of course, this isn't an argument. But the funny thing is, the Democrats have always said we were trying to turn back the clock. Maybe they are right this time. I have to admit that there is a real generational aspect to this whole thing. I'm 36. I couldn't even finish Trump's introductory 3 minute commercial. I get nostalgic about Nintendo games, and Matlock, not about an America that never actually existed. Call it liberal if you want, but I think it's actually pretty patriotic to realize that not everyone got a real slice of the American pie in the "good old days." Tell the truth, make amends, (if possible) and go forward. But there's nothing forward-looking about Trump. There's nothing reflective or self-critical about him. Can you honestly say you feel proud of what he represents? Forget about the Democrats; can you picture a even a grudging respect for the man from his opponents in 20 years? C'mon, man. To use "Trump" and "statesman" together seems like a bit on The Daily Show. I have said it before: I don't want Trump to win. Secretary Clinton may well be worse, but the Democrats never really have represented me. I don't expect as much from them. If that seems silly or unfair, I'm sorry, I guess.

"Abortion! Judges!" they shout, and though I'm sympathetic, we in my generation have waited our whole adult lives for Roe v. Wade to fall. I think it will, maybe even soon. Not because we poured ourselves out for the Republican Party, but because we have modeled and lived lives of sacrifice and service. Donald Trump may have glimmers of that inside, but let's be real: his life to this point is the opposite of a Christian life. Why, Christian, have you sold out so easily? The truth may well be that for a few too many people, church is just a cover for the maintenance of stability and (white) power.

This resonates with me as an explanation, not because I have some great fondness for Marxism, but because it explains a ton of the data points. Did Barack Obama get any benefit of the doubt when he made promises about subsidized health care? Trump did. Did Obama even dare suggest that Bush lied us into war? Nope. But Trump did. I'm not aware of any open advocacy of war crimes by Obama, though of course, some actions taken under an admitted framework of situational ethics may actually be war crimes. But Trump did. Do not kid yourself that Obama would be defended by the public at large, had a tape surfaced of him bragging about sexual assault. Trump is still the GOP nominee for president--although he is mind-bogglingly ill-informed, and otherwise unfit--because he is old, (the right generation) rich, and white. You don't have to be consistent or conservative, if you make enough of the right people believe that you are one of them, and will protect their interests.

This isn't to say we're all bigots, we have never had anything good to offer, and we should become Democrats. It does call us to a frank acknowledgment of present reality when it's staring us in the face.

We need to face up to the truth about our decayed political culture, and the unhealthy patterns of our engagement, before we can change it.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Still Don't Disagree With This

Welp. The GOP got itself stuck with Trump. This articulates pretty well my thoughts since last November. I don't agree that Never Trumpers have simply failed to put on their "big-boy" and "big-girl" pants, to just vote for him. Judicial myopia. With a hat-tip to Anderson for some help there. I have never responded to the battle-cry, "Judges!" before now, and I'm not starting now.

If I could disregard social issues, (abortion, gay unions/"rights", etc.) I'd vote for Hillary without hesitation. If you don't live in the thought-world where that might be an option, well, there are no locks on the metaphorical doors; I will leave you to whatever emotivist rage against me you are feeling.

The argument goes something like this: As her e-mails and Goldman Sachs speeches might show, she is a relentlessly triangulating careerist. She's no progressive ideologue. She's tough as nails; that's why we don't like her. She's smart, and she's at least as good a deal-maker as the Republican nominee, and probably better. She'll want her signature things, but she's all too happy to quietly help Paul Ryan re-build his brand, even if it's on the hush-hush, and she takes the credit. Most importantly, she's had half-thoughts before her morning coffee better than anything her opponent has said or written. We probably won't cease to exist if she wins.

I can't disregard abortion, and all those other attacks on human dignity that are actually a part of the Democratic platform. There is a non-negligible chance that Hillary Clinton believes in abortion et al, really believes in it, and is willing to persecute those who fight against it. The worst-case scenarios might be real; the practice of religion in the US may be irrevocably changed. This is all the reason I need not to vote for her.

We haven't even talked about her e-mails yet. I've heard of innocent mistakes by good officers being punished far worse. And Secretary Clinton's willingness to continue lying about it speaks volumes about her temperament and judgment. I wouldn't be overly stunned if someone decided to prosecute after the election. Poor Nixon thought he was in the clear 2 years when it all came crashing down.

And what Clinton did is far worse.

No need to belabor that point. If you want the truth, I'm ashamed and disappointed that so many solid Catholics are simply falling in line with Trump. This is not Mitt Romney. This is not George H. W. Bush. This is not John McCain. The fact that this man shares the title "Republican nominee" with these good and heroic men slanders them, and brings us deserved shame. I don't think it's too strong a point. Character matters, and it still matters, even if you are blinded with the galling hypocrisy of the Democrats. I'd feel the same way if Trump were winning. The fact that he is not makes it easier, to be sure. I hope, however, that these strong words are making some of you uncomfortable. I think a good number of you have been ignoring your gag reflex this entire election cycle. If we do that for too long, no one continues caring about what Christians in public have to say. Worse still, we will be like the rest.

As a side-point, there is a narrative in vogue with Republican interventionists (or "hawks", if you like) that Democrats are weak in foreign policy, that even their well-intentioned hesitations embolden our enemies, and make us less safe. We have believed it for decades, and used it to win countless elections. It's false, and it has no basis in fact. We should be far more concerned that a willingness to use force is not joined with prudent moral reflection concerning the conditions under which force will be employed, and that this malady affects both parties.