All posts tagged: history

Vatican I: Loss and Gain in the Governance of the Catholic Church

Let us begin by reminding ourselves of three basic points that are pertinent to our topic. First, every decision is a choice between two goods. Otherwise, we would not have to go through the process of decision-making. This means decisions seem almost by definition to entail some measure of loss. Second, every decision is subject to the law of unintended consequences. Decisions enter into the give-and-take of the historical process and get mauled by it. When we make a decision, we cannot foresee all the contingencies that will affect how it later fares. Third, many decisions entail implications of which we are not aware at the time, which means that sometimes we are not doing what we think we are doing. The First Vatican Council issued only two decrees, the first, Dei Filius, on the relationship between faith and reason, and the second, Pastor Aeternus, on papal primacy and infallibility. Although it is not obvious, both decrees were intended as statements against the modern world, that is, the world that came into being in the …

The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space

Can there really be special holy places and holy times in the world of Christian faith? Christian worship is surely a cosmic liturgy, which embraces both heaven and earth. The epistle to the Hebrews stresses that Christ suffered ‘‘outside the gate’’ and adds this exhortation: ‘‘Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him’’ (13:12). Is the whole world not now his sanctuary? Is sanctity not to be practiced by living one’s daily life in the right way? Is our divine worship not a matter of being loving people in our daily life? Is that not how we become like God and so draw near to the true sacrifice? Can the sacral be anything other than imitating Christ in the simple patience of daily life? Can there be any other holy time than the time for practicing love of neighbor, whenever and wherever the circumstances of our life demand it? Whoever asks questions like these touches on a crucial dimension of the Christian understanding of worship but overlooks something essential …

An African Reflection on the Common Good, Migration, and the Youth Synod

As a young African I am happy that the topic of migration has emerged in the Synod’s discussions. Migration is a crossroads issue since it is one of the peculiar burdens that the hands of the developed world are forced to carry with those of the developing world. The Church has long defended the dignity of migrants partly because of her keen understanding of the difficult choices faced by them. In Pacem In Terris, Pope St. John XXIII laments the social instability wrecking the precarious lives of those we now refer to as “economic migrants” (§120), something I know too well even as a scholar abroad. For many young Africans, the decision to leave home or remain abroad in pursuit of legitimate aspirations, no matter the difficulties associated with them, is reflected by the waves of truth that ripple throughout the stanzas of “Home,” an acclaimed poem by the British-Somali writer Warsan Shire.[1] This is especially the case for those fleeing from the violence perpetuated by institutionalized greed and intolerance. The Church in Africa, already …

The Roman Church as Casta Meretrix

You (=Jerusalem) committed fornication because of your renown, and you lavished your fornication on every passer-by. —Ezekiel 16:15 We should realize that everything said about Jerusalem applies to . . . the Church. —Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel Origen is speaking of the members of the church. . . The more “ecclesiastical” they are, the more he has them in mind. Above all, he is thinking of those who are the Church’s official leaders and preachers. He spares them as little as the prophet spares the whore Jerusalem. —Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Casta Meretrix” As the current wave of the clerical abuse crisis began to rush over us, I could not help but think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s essay “Casta Meretrix [The Chaste Whore].” He opens that essay with Luther’s fiery denunciation of the Roman Church as the whore of Babylon. But then, in a surprising turn, he shows that such an identification preceded Luther by over a millennium. For nearly a hundred pages, he lays out text after text from dozens upon dozens of …

Kant and de Sade: The Modern Recalibration of the Monstrous and the Demonic

Demons and Monsters With regard to the imagining of who we are, and who we could become, 1794 was no ordinary year. This was the year in which the ever-reliable Immanuel Kant, whose walks in Konigsberg were such that you could set your watch by them, wrote a strange and spectral book called Religion within the Boundaries of Reason Alone, a book that seemed at once to recall the thinker of a few years earlier while also presenting a stranger who was more familiar with evil than anyone—including his erstwhile self—might have guessed. If Kant surprised himself by feeling compelled to write about “radical evil” in book 1, he shocked Goethe who, feeling betrayed, decried what he judged to be an inexplicable regression to the hateful Christian doctrine of Original Sin. Goethe was only somewhat right in linking Kant’s view of radical evil to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and if right at all perhaps only by accident in that certainly Kant intended to debunk Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin and any of its …

A Quasi-Defense of Gallicanism

Taylor Patrick O’Neill’s article on the recent (mis)use of the term “ultramontane” as an insult rightly pointed out certain pitfalls afflicting the contemporary Catholic conversation about papal authority and our duties towards it. Some recent rhetoric indeed risks “moving the goalposts” in unhealthy ways. Both the “traditional” and the “progressive” have been guilty of this, especially during the papacies of Bendict XVI and Francis, respectively. I cringed during the papacy of Benedict XVI when I heard a Ratzinger devotee gleefully advance the thesis that, in light of the expanded permission to celebrate the Latin Mass in Summorum Pontificum (2007), from now on all good Catholics ought to anticipate the mens (will) of the Holy Father by attending both forms (not follow his teaching, but anticipate his mens!). Now in the age of Francis the shoe (though not, apparently, the red slipper) is on the other foot, and Francis-cheerers gloat about brow-beating their opponents over everying from climate change, to Amoris laetitia, to the death penalty amendation/development. Some of these folks are open about their schadenfreude at …

The Orthodox Schism Under Western Eyes

A schism is underway between two major Orthodox Churches, one with significance for Catholicism. And yet, in Catholic media the phenomenon—called by many the biggest split in modern Orthodoxy history—has gone conspicuously unnoticed. A single Catholic News Agency article from October 14th summarizes the problem tellingly and laconically: The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, claiming his recognition of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine departed from Orthodox Christian norms . . . . . . Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority. There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church in 1054. Something is afoot that should capture the Catholic imagination. It has something to do with unity, authority, and Apostolic Christianity. Its precise meaning, however, remains elusive not …

After Galileo: Modern Science Has Deep Parallels with Theology

Galileo is probably best known for his work The Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, the book that triggered his ill-fated encounter with the Inquisition. However, when it comes to Galileo’s role in shaping our understanding of the modern scientific enterprise, it is his 1623 work The Assayer that has had a much larger impact. In one of the most quoted lines in the book, Galileo sums up his view of science, a view that has come to dominate our understanding of science ever since: Philosophy is written in this grand book the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth. Galileo saw, clearer than most, the uncanny ability of …

A Defense of Ultramontanism Contra Gallicanism

The term “ultramontanism” has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent Catholic conversations as a pejorative used by both traditional and progressive Catholics. In so doing, both sides align themselves with doctrinal heterodoxy. Brian Flanagan has recently published a brief study of the term in the National Catholic Reporter, noting the return of the term in “First Things, The New York Times, and the Catholic blogosphere and Twitter.”  Like those involved with the term in Catholic journalism and social media, Flanagan too misunderstands the Church’s teaching on ultramontanism. The extension of the term has shifted in recent years. During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it was used against traditionally-minded Catholics (those who lauded Pope Benedict’s words, actions, and even shoes) by those who would self-identify as progressive. Today, traditionally-minded Catholics use the term against the progressive or liberal members of the Church who treat interviews with Pope Francis as infallible. In short, a perceived shift between the academic-conservative papacy of Benedict and the pastoral-collegial papacy of Francis has effected a shift regarding who …

The Contemporary Question of Images and Early Christian Art

“Where do we go from here? Today we are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions,”[1] notes Cardinal Ratzinger, in the chapter “The Question of Images” of his three-volume work The Spirit of the Liturgy. There he examines the contemporary crisis of art through a detailed history of the image and the icon. He invites us to remember the purpose of Christian art, and of art in general, by looking back at the liturgical and mystical power of early Christian visual exegesis. Our earliest dated examples of Christian art are from the third century, and they are mostly found in funerary contexts, particularly in the frescoes in the Roman catacombs. These images: Simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and …