04 July 2007

Of gnats and camels

In a column about the recent article in U.S. Catholic magazine about betrothal in which the authors wrote, "Given the current research that demonstrates that not all cohabitors are alike, we propose the re-introduction of an ancient ritual of betrothal for nuptial cohabitors, followed by intensive marriage preparation in the Catholic pastoral tradition," Archbishop Chaput wrote
... I believe in the intelligence and good will of the authors. I also believe that their argument is bafflingly naïve. If the Church, in her reflection on the Gospel, has always taught that sex outside marriage is morally wrong, then for the Church to now bless “nuptial cohabiters” amounts to colluding in sin. Ritualizing a sinful behavior, or calling it a nicer name, does not change its substance. The very last thing we need in a society already awash in confused sexuality is a strategy for accommodating it.
Now, before I go any further, let me say that I deeply respect and admire Archbishop Chaput. Having said that, I would remind him that
"...the law of abstinence embodies a serious obligation whose transgression, objectively considered, ordinarily involves a mortal sin."
Oh, no, wait - it doesn't.

Actually, in all fairness, this document did not, in any way, rescind the requirement of Friday abstinence. (However, in its own way, it is an example of the dangers of naiveté, isn't it?)

(And, before I get comments about tradition and custom vs. law, let me point out that the authors of the article base their argument on the idea that cohabitation and marriage are matters of custom rather than law. Therefore, they would say that it's as useless to condemn premarital cohabitation as it was to condemn eating meat on Fridays.)

There has been much reference to "The Spirit of Vatican II" in the last 40 years. In its usual sense, this phrase uses "spirit" in the non-personal sense.

Well, friends, I'm here to tell you that there was a spirit, all right - but no benign, sterile philosophy. It was an intelligent, extremely subtle and clever being, resolutely dedicated to undermining all the good the Catholic Church has and is. In order to face down this malevolent spirit, we must be equally as dedicated and resolute.

"Barney masses" not quite the thing one has in mind, here, if you get my drift.

There's a remarkable document over at the Vatican. It's remarkable to me because its tone seems almost breathless in its urgency. Its language is from 1907, so it's hard to read, I know; but it's chilling, because its writer clearly foresaw the impending disorders, and wanted so much to head them off.

It remains for Us now to say a few words about the Modernist as reformer. From all that has preceded, it is abundantly clear how great and how eager is the passion of such men for innovation. In all Catholicism there is absolutely nothing on which it does not fasten. They wish philosophy to be reformed, especially in the ecclesiastical seminaries. They wish the scholastic philosophy to be relegated to the history of philosophy and to be classed among absolute systems, and the young men to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live. They desire the reform of theology: rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma. As for history, it must be written and taught only according to their methods and modern principles. Dogmas and their evolution, they affirm, are to be harmonized with science and history. In the Catechism no dogmas are to be inserted except those that have been reformed and are within the capacity of the people. Regarding worship, they say, the number of external devotions is to he reduced, and steps must be taken to prevent their further increase, though, indeed, some of the admirers of symbolism are disposed to be more indulgent on this head. They cry out that ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic departments. They insist that both outwardly and inwardly it must be brought into harmony with the modern conscience which now wholly tends towards democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy and even to the laity and authority which is too much concentrated should be decentralized The Roman Congregations and especially the index and the Holy Office, must be likewise modified. The ecclesiastical authority must alter its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political organizations it must adapt itself to them in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, and are to be more encouraged in practice. They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty, and that in their ideas and action they should admit the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, gladly listening to the teaching of their Protestant masters, would desire the suppression of the celibacy of the clergy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed by them and according to their principles?
All emphasis mine.

As we know, this was not just "paranoia." From 1914:
There are to be found today, and in no small numbers, men, of whom the Apostle says that: "having itching ears, they will not endure sound doctrine: but according to their own desires they will heap up to themselves teachers, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables" (II Tim. iv. 34). Infatuated and carried away by a lofty idea of the human intellect, by which God's good gift has certainly made incredible progress in the study of nature, confident in their own judgment, and contemptuous of the authority of the Church, they have reached such a degree of rashness as not to hesitate to measure by the standard of their own mind even the hidden things of God and all that God has revealed to men. Hence arose the monstrous errors of "Modernism," which Our Predecessor rightly declared to be "the synthesis of all heresies," and solemnly condemned. We hereby renew that condemnation in all its fulness, Venerable Brethren, and as the plague is not yet entirely stamped out, but lurks here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully here and there in hidden places, We exhort all to be carefully on their guard against any contagion of the evil, to which we may apply the words Job used in other circumstances: "It is a fire that devoureth even to destruction, and rooteth up all things that spring" (Job xxxi. 12). Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: "Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down." In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: "Old things, but in a new way."

All emphasis mine.

Even in our day, John Paul II wrote:
"In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of “modernism”. Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth to which theology is called to respond."
Archbishop Chaput is absolutely right when he calls the premise of the article "bafflingly naive," but I am just as baffled at the naiveté of protesting a conclusion which is the natural outgrowth of all we've been commanded to tolerate over the last thirty some-odd years.

What brought all this on was some time spent in Eucharistic Adoration yesterday evening, in the church where I was baptized 36 years ago. As our Holy Father works with such dedication to heal the rifts left by the "smoke of Satan,"* let us pray and be holy and behave in charity towards those who have fallen prey to Modernism - but let us also be wise and strong and unafraid to unmask those errors of thought and belief wherever they appear. Archbishop Chaput has done so much, and he will do more, God willing. But let's not leave it all to him. Let's defend ourselves against anything that leads us away from trusting God, instead of our own weak, fallible, limited selves.

*"Riferendosi alla situazione della Chiesa di oggi, il Santo Padre afferma di avere la sensazione che «da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio». C’è il dubbio, l’incertezza, la problematica, l’inquietudine, l’insoddisfazione, il confronto..."

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