Prayer of the Congregants at the Penitential Rite

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men: we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, have most grievously committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings: the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Lenten Plan for 2018

Well, tomorrow's Ash Wednesday. Lent is finally upon us. I'm planning to spend a few days off social media, but before I log out, I thought I'd share my Lenten plan, in case anybody'd like to join me in it.

1. Fasting and Abstinence. For Catholics of the Roman Rite, including the Ordinariate, Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent are days of obligatory abstinence from flesh meats. This basically means anything warm-blooded (fish, shellfish, amphibians, and reptiles are allowed, so if you have a serious craving for some frogs' legs or an alligator steak on a Friday in Lent, knock yourself out, I guess). Additionally, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting, which means no more than one full meal and two snacks per day. These rules only apply to those older than 14 and younger than 60, and the sick, the infirm, and pregnant or nursing mothers are also exempt.

I generally go meatless throughout Lent, and this year I'm going to take a stab at going fully vegan on Fridays. The Ordinariate also preserves the custom of Ember days: during the first full week of Lent (i.e., the week following the first Sunday), Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are observed with fasting and abstinence, thus opening the season with a more emphatic transition from ordinary life into a penitential frame of mind.

Do remember that, as my director likes to say, Lent is not a diet plan. The purpose of fasting is the discipline of the soul, not a beach body.

2. Almsgiving. This is the more correct term for what's usually referred to today as charity. Charity, that is, love, is a virtue that embodies considerably more than giving to the poor; however, giving to the poor is one of the most traditional and beneficial acts of charity (it blesseth him that gives and him that takes). Though alms are always appropriate—whether in the form of donations to charitable causes, volunteering in a soup kitchen, or just giving to panhandlers on the street—this is a specially fitting time to distribute them.

3. Lenten Discipline. This is entirely voluntary, and may or may not involve giving something up for Lent (although that exercise is so common that many people don’t realize there’s anything more to Lent than giving something up for it). Adding something, like a daily recitation of the Rosary or reading from Scripture, is just as fitting if not more so. This year, I’ve chosen to read through the Catechism. I’ve dipped into it before, chiefly as a reference work, but I’ve never actually read the thing cover to cover. Including Sundays—which are normally left out of the count, but to spread the task out a little more—it comes to a little over sixty paragraphs a day, which is ambitious but doable. Most of these paragraphs are only a sentence or two long, and many of them are summaries of earlier sections. The schedule I plan to follow, together with the topics treated in the segments being read each day, are as follows. (Dates marked with an asterisk are days when normal Lenten disciplines like abstinence are not obligatory. For Catholics of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, February 22nd, the commemoration of the Chair, is observed as a solemnity and is also exempt from Lenten rules.)

14 Feb. §§1-64. Using the Catechism. Man’s capacity for God; God’s self-revelation; Israel.
15. §§65-119. The finality of revelation; Scripture.
16. §§120-184. The canon. Faith.
17. §§185-248. The creeds. God’s being; God’s oneness.

*18. §§249-308. The Trinity. God’s power; creation.
19. §§309-370. The problem of evil. Angels; the earth; man.
20. §§371-435. The sexes. The Fall, Original Sin; the Incarnation.
21. §§436-498. The names of Christ; the mission of Christ; the Hypostatic Union; Mary.
22. §§499-560. Mary’s virgin motherhood. The mysteries of Christ’s life; the Kingdom of Heaven.
23. §§561-623. The Law, the Temple; the Passion, the Redemption.
24. §§624-682. Christ’s burial; the Resurrection; the Ascension; the Parousia.

*25. §§683-747. The Holy Ghost.
26. §§748-810. The Church.
27. §§811-870. The Church’s unity, holiness, catholicity, apostolicity.
28. §§871-933. The ministerial and magisterial priesthoods; the laity; consecrated life.
1 Mar. §§934-996. Spiritual communion among Christians; Mary, mother of the Church. The forgiveness of sins. Final resurrection.
2. §§997-1060. Death, particular judgment; Heaven; Purgatory; Hell; the Last Judgment.
3. §§1061-1121. The liturgy; the Trinity at work in the liturgy. The sacraments.

*4. §§1122-1178. The sacramental economy. The celebration of the liturgy; the sacred calendar.
5. §§1179-1245. The church building; diversity of liturgical traditions. Baptism.
6. §§1246-1305. The administration, graces of Baptism. Confirmation.
7. §§1306-1372. The administration of Confirmation. The Eucharist, the Mass.
8. §§1373-1429. The Real Presence; Holy Communion, its effects. Reconciliation.
9. §§1430-1498. Penance; contrition, confession, satisfaction; indulgences; the administration of Reconciliation.
10. §§1499-1553. Unction. Holy Orders; baptismal, ministerial priesthoods.

*11. §§1554-1617. The three degrees of Order; the administration, effects of Order. Marriage.
12. §§1618-1679. Consecrated virginity. Marital consent; the administration, effects of Marriage. Sacramentals.
13. §§1680-1742. Christian funerals. The image of God; beatitude; human freedom.
14. §§1743-1804. Ends, intentions, circumstances in morality; the passions; conscience.
15. §§1805-1869. The cardinal virtues; the theological virtues. Sin: venial, mortal.
16. §§1870-1927. Society; authority; the common good.
17. §§1928-1995. Human dignity; equality, solidarity; the moral law, the Torah, the New Law. Justification.

*18. §§1996-2051. Grace; merit; growth in holiness. The Magisterium.
*19. §§2052-2117. The Ten Commandments. The First Commandment: adoration, idolatry, magic.
20. §§2118-2179. Irreligion; icons. The Second Commandment: blasphemy, oaths. The Third Commandment.
21. §§2180-2243. The Sunday sabbath. The Fourth Commandment: the family, civil society.
22. §§2244-2306. Church and state. The Fifth Commandment: self-defense; murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide; scandal, respect for the body, respect for the dead; civil peace.
23. §§2307-2365. War. The Sixth Commandment: sexuality, chastity; forms of unchastity; fidelity.
24. §§2366-2425. Fertility; adultery, divorce, other offenses against Marriage. The Seventh Commandment: the universal destination of goods, personal property; social justice.

*25. §§2426-2492. Work, the rights of workers; international justice; the poor. The Eighth Commandment: honesty, witness; offenses against truth; privacy.
26. §§2493-2557. Freedom of speech, information; art. The Ninth Commandment: purity of heart. The Tenth Commandment: covetise, poverty of heart.
27. §§2558-2615. Prayer, communion with God. The Law, the Prophets, the Psalms; Christ’s model, teaching of prayer.
28. §§2616-2679. Adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise; the sources of prayer. Prayer in the Trinity; prayer in union with Mary.
29. §§2680-2737. The saints, fellow Christians, aids to prayer. Vocal prayer, meditation, contemplation; difficulties in prayer.
30. §§2738-2802. Perseverance in prayer. The tradition of the Lord’s Prayer.
31. §§2803-2865. The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer; the final doxology.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Christendom and Christianity, Part IV

Dante was born and brought up Guelf, [1] and he liked the sturdy native quality of the Guelfs, their tang of the soil, as of an old-fashioned squirearchy, their rooted republican constitutionalism and their modern liberal outlook, their underlying puritanism in conduct and religion. But he did not like the commercialism and vulgarity of the self-made middle-class plutocracy that was growing up among them, and he came more and more to loathe and fear the temporal power of the Papacy which their policy supported and encouraged; the avarice and corruption of a wealthy church, the appalling prevalence of simony in every ecclesiastical office, and the undignified spectacle of the Vicar of Christ maneuvering, like a bishop on a chessboard, through that game of European politics in which kings and queens set the pace. 
Dorothy Sayers, Introduction to the ‘Inferno’

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I have been writing about Christendom, and why, as a Christian, I don’t hold with it. I consider it a fundamental mistake, a confusion of the proper functions of nature and grace; and I think that the monstrosities performed against heretics and reputed witches [2] are what naturally follows from that kind of confusion.

But there is a counterargument. What if all violent means were renounced by the Church in her evangelization? Which, sure, they should be anyway—they’re clean contrary to the example and express teaching of our Lord, who said My kingdom is not of this world. And sure, technically even the Mediæval Church didn’t itself torture heretics but ‘handed them over to the secular arm,’ even though she knew exactly what that was going to mean, but let’s suppose she was more honest and watchful and didn’t make that kind of hypocritical mistake next time. What if the persecutions and the wars are simply abuses of a fully, but imperfectly, Christian society—and a fully Christian society is, in itself, a good thing?

Well, first of all, let us be quite clear what we mean by a Christian society. Do we mean a society in which everybody is in fact a Christian? If so, I can accept that a Christian society is a good thing; I would add that it isn’t a particularly common or likely thing, but only because most societies are large enough that there is some diversity of belief. Outside of Vatican City, and maybe San Marino, I imagine most if not all societies include some religious diversity. But in that case, nearly every society on earth is not a Christian society and should not be expected ever to become one.

But that isn’t what most defenders of Christendom have in mind when they speak of Christian societies, or call America a Christian nation. They aren’t even (I don’t think) speaking of a culture that is predominantly Christian in confession. What they’re thinking of is God Save the Queen and In God We Trust, prayer in public schools, the President in church, the coronation in Westminster Abbey, Christmas specials with readings from Luke and Matthew; what they’re thinking of is Christianity having a privileged place in secular culture.

I am not totally sure that it’s intrinsically wrong for Christendom in that sense to exist; but I would point out that Christendom in that sense is a thing of virtually no importance. It isn’t something that Christ sought or commanded us to seek, still less to expect; on the contrary, he taught us to expect persecution, and defined persecution as something more and other than merely not being given pride of place. Hath the Lord as great delight in pledges of allegiance and federal holidays, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
And they asked him, saying, ‘Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?’ But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, ‘Why tempt ye me? Shew me a penny. Whose image and inscription hath it?’ They answered and said, ‘Caesar’s.’ And he said unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.’ [3]
The ironical and alarming question here being, what isn’t God’s?

Okay, but what if what we’re talking about is a country that’s built on authentically Christian principles? Not just one with the trappings of Christianity, or even one where the Church has a privileged place in civil society, but one where the ideas the government and the culture operate on are in full accord with the belief of the Church?

Again—what does that mean? Because most of the principles that are actually taught by the New Testament (the primordial specifically Christian document) are not the kind of principles you can actually run a culture, still less a government, on: accept harsh treatment peacefully; endure insults and slanders joyfully; respond to violence not by standing your ground, but by running; give and expect nothing in return; imitate the one who lived and died for the good of his enemies and persecutors. Any civil government that attempted to operate on those ideas would collapse in a month: no law can be enforced when the very cops are rejoicing in being beaten, and citizens must make sure that thieves take any possessions that they missed during a mugging. This isn’t to say that there are no moral principles endorsed by the New Testament that could be embraced by a state: do not steal, do not murder, give to the poor, and so forth. But those are instantiations of justice, not grace; in other words, they are precisely exhortations to rational virtue that men know by their consciences apart from special revelation, not exhortations to the specifically Christian—that is, supernatural—mode of being. And if a Christian state doesn’t mean one that’s built on specifically Christian principles, then calling it a Christian state seems, to me, rather silly.

But I have more against this idea than its philosophical incoherence (if more were needed). I believe that the attempt on the part of Catholics and other Christians to obtain a socially central place for the Church and her beliefs is not only unnecessary, but a radical distraction from the Church’s proper prophetic role in society, and that it has led her astray from her genuine mission of justice and mercy. The ambivalent and tragic role of the Catholic Church in the history of the Third Reich and its treatment of the Jews is, maybe, the most dreadful instantiation of this straying. Fr Martin Rhonheimer, in his loving, exact, mournful piece on the Holocaust in First Things, writes:
The clearest example of this attitude was the pastoral letter of the Austrian Bishop Johannes Gföllner of Linz … which branded as ‘radically un-Christian’ all ‘contempt, hatred, and persecution of the Jewish people.’ No less irreconcilable with ‘the position of the Church’ was ‘the rejection of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament on racial grounds.’ ‘Nazi racial theories,’ Gföllner explained, were ‘regression into the worst kind of paganism’ … At the same time, however, he didn’t hesitate to claim that many ‘irreligious Jews had a very damaging influence in almost all areas of contemporary cultural life.’ This influence was also visible in business and trade, in the law, and in medicine. Indeed, ‘many of our social and political upheavals are permeated by materialistic and liberal principles stemming primarily from Jews. Every committed Christian has … the conscientious duty to fight and overcome the pernicious influence of such decadent Judaism.’ 
… Such an outlook made it difficult for Catholics to develop any clear and fundamental opposition to the Nazis’ Jewish policy. The constantly repeated rejection of ‘hatred’ and ‘persecution’ of Jews, with the insistence that the ‘Jewish question’ could only be solved in a framework of ‘justice and charity,’ should not blind us to the fact that Church spokesmen fundamentally approved of measures to limit Jewish influence. … Catholics were unable to react clearly to Nazi racial policy until the opportunity to influence events had long passed. … It is of course true that the Catholic Church was itself exposed to brutal persecution. Catholics of that time felt that they had quite enough to do defending their own interests. The tragedy is that due to Church-generated anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, [4] and also because of the Church’s initial sympathy for a government that fought against liberalism [5] and communism, the Church itself had done much to legitimize the very regime that persecuted it. 
… A letter [was] written by Cardinal Faulhaber on April 8, 1933 (a week after the Nazi-instigated boycott of Jews), to Alois Wurm. A Regensburg priest, Wurm had written the Cardinal protesting that following the proclamation of the boycott ‘not a single Catholic paper has had the courage to proclaim the teaching of the Catechism, that no one may be hated or persecuted’ … Wurm pleaded for a clear protest by the bishops against Nazi policy. What the Nazis were doing to the Jews, Faulhaber wrote, was ‘so un-Christian that not only every priest but every Christian must protest.’ At the moment, however, Church leaders had more important matters to deal with. ‘The preservation of our schools and Catholic organizations and the question of compulsory sterilization [of the mentally ill] are more important matters for Christianity in our country—especially when we consider that the Jews, as we have already seen in some recent instances, are quite able to look after themselves. We must not give the government an opportunity to turn the campaign against the Jews into a campaign against the Jesuits.’ … And at the same time, Church leaders were hoping they could achieve an understand with the regime regarding the ‘more important matters’ mentioned in Faulhaber’s letter to Wurm.

This is of course an extreme example. It is, also, a historical example; and the hideous fact is that we don’t need to search the archives of history to find instances of this warped approach to the Church. The more recent child abuse scandals are an even handier example: to do them justice, the priests and prelates who concealed abusers may not have been concerned to protect their own reputations as much as to protect the Church’s reputation—and not only ravaged that reputation far worse than the abusers by their hypocrisy, but showed that they literally cared more about the Church’s reputation than her work. On a smaller scale, the recent scandal at Christendom College exhibits the same contempt for the image of God, in its scrambling to keep the image of the Church spick and span (or rather, not even the image of the Church, but of a mere academic institution).

It all betrays a lack of confidence that God can do his work without us: this determination to protect a good name, whether our own or our order’s or our family’s or our chancery’s or that of the very Church Invisible, at the expense of the actual good of any individual. For of course it is expedient that one man should die for the people.

The attempt to build Christendom has had good as well as bad results. I’m grateful for them. But just as abusus non tollit usum, equally, usus non tollit abusum, or in other language, the ends do not justify the means. For the end is contained in the means. Whatever the intention of an act, the means used to effect the end control the end, and political means, however virtuous, however moderated, however gentle, will always and only and by nature effect political ends. Not spiritual ones. Not ever.

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[1] The Guelfs were one of the two principal political factions in Italy in the High Middle Ages, and were (roughly speaking) the constitutionalist, anti-imperial party. The other party, the Ghibellines, were aristocratic and more frequently anticlerical than the Guelfs. The names originally derived from the Germanic noble families of Welf and Wibellingen, though by Dante’s time the names had lost their dynastic connections.

[2] I don’t rule out the possibility that witchfinders and inquisitors may occasionally have captured actual witches. And there are a small number of witchcraft trials, like those of Duchess Eleanor Cobham of Gloucester, Baron Gilles de Rais, Catherine Monvoisin, and the Marquise Athenaïs de Montespan, whose evidence (as far as one can tell, centuries later) does seem to indicate that devils were really invoked in those cases; though it is harder to say whether devils responded. But the nature of mass hysteria is to find convenient scapegoats for the populace’s terror, whether or not they are guilty and whether or not there is in fact any guilt in the matter. And the results of the Inquisition in Spain (which, contrary to popular belief, was very strict about obtaining and checking concrete evidence in witchcraft trials) would suggest that the overwhelming majority of those tortured and executed for witchcraft were innocent, even if nothing else did.

[3] Luke 20.21-25.

[4] Fr Rhonheimer distinguishes between anti-Semitism, i.e. hatred or contempt of Jews as an ethnic group, and anti-Judaism, or hostility to the Jewish religion. The latter has been part of Christian history in varying degrees since the Church’s inception; the former was sometimes rebuked, sometimes tolerated, and sometimes even embraced. Since anti-Semitism received philosophical formulation in the nineteenth century, the Church has seen clearly enough to reject it, spotty though the record of her conduct is.

[5] I.e., the democratic ideals of the Enlightenment, as expressed in the American and French Revolutions. A lot of contemporary Americans, Catholic and otherwise, don’t realize that the Catholic Church and democracy have an extremely rocky, mutually suspicious history; Catholicism had been dealing with monarchies for well over a thousand years when democracies without even a veneer of monarchy emerged, and many Popes, notably Pius IX, preferred to keep it that way. It wasn’t until World War Two and the Cold War forced the papacy into a quasi-alliance with the NATO democracies, that the two began to be viewed as interrelated.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fear and Trembling

An adherent of the Enlightenment, a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him, too, and to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi's room, he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, rapt in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly, and said, 'But perhaps it is true after all.' The scholar tried in vain to collect himself -- his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But Rabbi Levi Yitschak now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: 'My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and neither can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.' The exponent of the Enlightenment opposed him with all his strength; but this terrible 'perhaps' that echoed back at him time after time broke his resistance.

—Martin Buber, Werke [1]
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Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideation

This was a tough post to write, and may be a tough post for some of you to read. However, if you’re going to read it then I beg you to read the whole thing. Each part of it is important to hold together with each other part.

You may have heard of Josh and Lolly Weed, a Mormon couple in a mixed-orientation marriage whose coming out post, ‘Club Unicorn,’ went viral about six years ago. This wasn’t a late-in-life gay identity epiphany or an ex-gay conversion therapy success story; Josh knew he was gay before he even met Lolly, he told her before they started dating, and he never claimed to be a straight man (or an ex-gay one, for that matter). A couple of weeks ago, they announced on their blog that they are getting divorced.

It’s an eloquent, heartbreaking piece. I admire the Weeds for their courage and honesty. And it left me physically shaking, and mentally shaking, too.

Some key excerpts from their (justly) lengthy post, ‘Turning a Unicorn Into a Bat.’
[Josh:] About three years ago, I finally saw how important it was to love myself, to truly love myself as a gay man. It happened when my dear friend Ben Shafer (who himself is straight) turned to me one day and said, ‘Josh, you realize your sexual orientation is beautiful, right? Not just tolerable. It’s beautiful …’ I could hardly even register what he was trying to say. … ‘But what about it being so obviously not what God or biology intended? I’ve just always believed that I was meant to be straight, and that God will fix me someday so that I fit in with the rest of His children. I’ve always believed I was a broken straight person …’ And it was as I said those last words that my therapist-brain kicked and listened to the words coming out of my mouth. And I was stunned. People who view themselves as fundamentally broken, I knew, are not healthy. What I had just said was not healthy. 
… That night I talked to Lolly and told her all Ben had said, still with a vein of skepticism. ‘Can you believe he said that?’ was the feeling behind my words. And she sat for a moment thinking, then said something that surprised us both. ‘Josh, Ben is right. You aren’t just a broken straight person. Your gayness is a part of who you are. And your sexual orientation is beautiful. You are as God intended you to be.’ Though we had never fully embraced these ideas as reality before, we felt the spirit confirm them powerfully in that moment. The truth of Lolly’s words rang in our bodies. … And we were suddenly able to see more clearly the pain that my sexual orientation brought to our marriage. It hurt us both very deeply, and we spent many long nights holding one another and weeping as we thought of the decades to come for us, neither of us experiencing real romantic love. 
… Probably the most motivating factor of all that got me to actually really consider what God had been telling us for a while was my recognition of my own internalized homophobia—the layers of disgust and self-loathing I felt for myself that I was in denial of—and the way that led to my own suicidal ideation. … Guys, my life was beautiful in every way. My children, my wife, my career, my friends. It was filled with so much joy. The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die. …

My suicidality was not connected to depression. That’s how my mind could hide it from me. With no context and no warning, I would occasionally be brushing my teeth or some such mundane task and then be broadsided with a gut-wrenching, vast emptiness I can’t put into words, that felt as deep as my marrow—and I would think in a panic ‘I’m only 37. I’m only 37. How can I last five more decades?’ That thought—the thought of having to live five more decades, would fill me with terror. It was inconceivable for a few moments. 
And then it would pass. 
But the other thing I hadn’t been looking at was something I read, with horror, in a text message I sent to a dear friend during my week in Jacksonville. By the time I read what I had sent, the denial had broken down. Lolly was sitting next to me, holding me as I wept, and I was reading these text messages to her, and it felt like reading the words of another person … The text I had sent one week earlier said: I have thought of putting a gun in my mouth more times than I can count. 
… Do you realize how wrong it is that I have had to face the following cost/benefit analysis: if I stay in my marriage then I won’t disrupt my daughters’ sense of continuity. But I also might take my own life. And if I did die, wouldn’t that end up being way worse for them in the long run …? Is it worth the risk? 
[Lolly:] For me, giving my whole heart to Josh while knowing that he did not love me the way a man loves a woman has always been devastating. We were best friends, but he never desired me, never adored me, never longed for me. People who read our previous post might be confused because we mention having a robust sex life. That was true. We put forth a lot of effort and were ‘mechanically’ good at sex—and it did help us to feel intimate, and for a time that did help us to feel content … Whenever he held me in his arms, it was with a love that was similar to the love of a brother to a sister. That does eventually take its toll on your self-esteem. No matter how much I knew ‘why’ he couldn’t respond to me in the ways a lover responds to a partner, it wears a person down, as if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be loved ‘in that way.’ 
… Almost everyone has said to me, with an air of protective emphasis, ‘Oh, but Lolly, you deserve to be loved in that way! You will find someone else who can love you like that. You deserve to love and be loved in that way!’ And I agree with them. … The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person.

Christian, when you talk or think about sexual ethics, when you study and articulate and defend Catholic teaching on the subject, this needs to be held firmly before your eyes, too. Not only are you not speaking in a vacuum; not only are you speaking to human beings; you are speaking to loving, devout, perceptive people, who have spent time and thought and agony in trying to practice their beliefs faithfully and gained nothing from it but more anguish. It’s easy enough to rationally disapprove of the man who gets high and has unprotected sex with four complete strangers in the back room of a bar; it shouldn’t be so easy to turn that same disapproval against a man like Josh Weed. I don’t say it’s impossible to affirm Catholic doctrine in the face of this kind of testimony, but I do say that any affirmation of Catholic doctrine must acknowledge and grapple honestly with this kind of testimony, with the cost the doctrine imposes. If you refuse, you’re printing counterfeits.

Take time to think, actually think, about the effect of pious clichés. ‘Just take it one day at a time’ is among my least favorite, because what it sounds like is: ‘It doesn’t matter that you’re lonely, because after all, you can survive as long as you don’t think about the fact that it isn’t likely to change.’ ‘We all have a cross to bear’ is, please note, not a quote from St Simon of Cyrene. ‘Your sexuality doesn’t define you’: well, no, but this isn’t about what defines people; it’s about whether they can be happy, healthy celibates if they don’t seem to be called to celibacy. And I’ve seen in the lives of others that relationships and marriage aren’t everything, sure, but masturbating into a sock while crying quietly still gets old after a while.

But what I think I hate the most is when people turn us into mascots. Those of us who are able to lead chaste lives as celibates are exceptional, for exactly the same reasons that chastely celibate heterosexuals are exceptional. And mixed-orientation marriages are very exceptional indeed, again for the same reasons that straight people getting into gay relationships, while it does happen (and adorably), is exceedingly rare. [2] Saying that so-and-so can do it, and therefore so can anybody, is not only a blatant error but a terribly cruel one. No two people enjoy identical circumstances, nor identical graces. Using the transparency of one person to shame or pressure another is hideous behavior.

If our religion is true, Catholic reader, then a lot of gay people have to lead lives of intense suffering. We need you to respect that.

For me personally—like I said, this post left me shaking for hours. I’m scared for myself, I’m scared for my gay brothers and sisters, I’m scared for my Church. I don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing: and as a self-appointed quasi-apologist, I need to say that, publicly and clearly. Anything less would be spiritual fraud.

About the most sense I can make of this experience is in something Pope Benedict wrote:
Both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form of doubt. … Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is his share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him. [3]
Note how ‘solving the problem’ is not at all what His Holiness tries to do here. Eliminating doubt isn’t his goal. Facing the truth is.

And to those of my LGBT readers who may be moved to write me words of instruction, urging me to slough off the unhealthy beliefs my Catholic faith has imposed upon me: please don’t. I’m not in a place where I can process that kind of thing. For all her warts, I love my mother the Church very deeply, and being unsettled about her is not merely unpleasant; it’s a shock to my sense of self. I need to spend my own time with that.

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[1] Though I admit I know the passage only through Benedict XVI’s Introduction to Christianity.

[2] Some people (of various orientations and philosophical alignments) insist that a single instance of erotic interest in the same sex should always be classified as bisexuality. I personally don’t find this a very helpful use of the term; falling in love outside of one’s normal attractions once doesn’t necessarily mean that you had been repressing your other attractions, nor that you are attracted to both sexes in general, &c. But I’m not deeply invested in the terminology here: the only distinction that I would want clearly made is that between people who are attracted to both sexes in general, and those who are generally attracted only to one sex but experience an exception.

[3] Also from Introduction to Christianity.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Christendom and Christianity, Part III

Joints cramped: a double entity
spewed and struggled, good against good;
they saw the mind of the Emperor as they could,
his imagination of the wars of identity.
He walked slowly through his habitation
in the night of himself without him; Byzantium slept …

Phosphorescent on the stagnant level
a headless figure walks in a crimson cope,
volcanic dust blown under the moon.
A brainless form, as of the Emperor,
walks, indecent hands hidden under the cope,
dishallowing in that crimson the flush on the mounds of Caucasia.

—Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘The Vision of the Empire’ 

It may be that, as imperial adviser, my friend Marsilius is better than I, but as inquisitor I am better. Even better than Bernard Gui, God forgive me. Because Bernard is interested, not in discovering the guilty, but in burning the accused. And I, on the contrary, find the most joyful delight in unravelling a nice, complicated knot.
—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
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The reason that I loathe and distrust any prospect of a confusion, or even too close an alliance, between the Church and the state is stated in an ancient maxim: corruptio optimi pessima, or roughly, ‘The better something is, the worse its corruption will be.’ That a blending of Church and state is, intrinsically, a corruption of the Church, even if her members are well-behaved, is intuitive to me and therefore difficult to explain and defend; but I’ll take a stab at it.

The principal thrust of my last post was that the economy of justice (on which civil society by its nature operates) and the economy of grace (on which the Church by her nature operates) are fundamentally different: yes, you have to understand justice before you can recognize grace, but that is because you can only appreciate a gift when you can distinguish it from a payment. Hence, I consider the project of Christendom to be a category error. That makes it sound both abstract and innocent; and innocent it may very well be, but category errors, when we try to force them from abstraction into reality, beget monstrosities.

The two historical grounds on which the Church is most criticized today are perhaps religious wars, especially the Crusades, and state persecutions, especially the Inquisition. I am a little ambivalent about the motives that lay behind the wars; a case could be made that the purposes of the Reconquista or the Jacobite Wars or even the First Crusade were just. And while the persecutors and inquisitors and witch-finders were diabolically wrong, even the devil often deals in half-truths, and the persecutors had a point. That was why they were successfully deceived.
There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. … Mr H. G. Wells has raised its ruinous banner; he has written a delicate piece of skepticism titled Doubts of the Instrument. In this he questions the brain itself … The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defense of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. … With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the miter off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it. [1]
But of course the key and tragic word in this passage is the word blind. Man’s blind instinct was correct enough, but without clarity of vision it became, in practice, an impulse to burn and strangle. Chesterton himself knew this well; as he points out in his biography of St Francis, it is only by understanding the rush and romance that originally attended such causes that we can understand how they ever came to seduce people into evil—and only thus can we arm ourselves against making the same mistake.

And as traditional as I am, especially in religious matters, I think the contemporary secular world is in fact right about the religious wars and the persecutions being wrong and evil. The secular opponents of Christianity often propose rather silly or historically illiterate reasons for condemning religious wars and persecutions, but this doesn’t make their condemnation wrong; and there is some excuse for the violence, but not much. And what excuse there is, set beside the sick things done in the name of serving Christ through violence, is of no consequence.

I won’t multiply examples, but I will provide a few, for the benefit of those who wish to defend or at least ameliorate the project of Christendom.

In the early thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Albigenses, a group of heretics in southern France, after his legate in the region was murdered. In the first year of the crusade, the city of Béziers was besieged and promptly breached. The abbot who was commanding the forces was approached and asked what the soldiers should do about distinguishing Catholics from Albigenses, since of course anybody could escape simply by pretending to be a Catholic. He is reported to have said, ‘Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt ejus’: which means, ‘Kill them. For the Lord knows which ones are his.’ According to the abbot himself in a letter to the Pope, the entire population of the city was slaughtered—men, women, children, the clergy (at the cathedral altar no less)—amounting to nearly twenty thousand dead. He expressed no remorse, sorrow, or condolence. And after all, why should he? The Crusades were performed as acts of worship, and worship always involves a sacrifice. What priest would think to apologize for offering such a voluminous sacrifice to his god?

Turning to persecutions, we may consider the fifteenth century’s infamous Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, which was popular among witch-finders despite its unpopularity with the Vatican and many bishops. Charles Williams describes the methods used to extract confessions from witches, and why they were extracted:
The accused is in prison; she is manifestly guilty. But ‘common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession.’ ‘Common justice’ therefore demands that she shall be tortured to compel her to confess so that she can be put to death. There can be but few sentences in all the strange and horrible past of man so difficult for us to understand—really understand. But here it is at the very root of torture. Judge and assistants were working for common justice. … No-one could be put to death for witchcraft by the evidence of others. Was the idea less than noble? this was the result. In 1676 a certain learned lawyer of Innsbruck added, as it were, a finishing touch: ‘The torture chamber should be constantly sprinkled with holy water and a smoke made with blessed herbs.’
… She may even be promised mercy: ‘let the judge promise that he will be merciful—with the mental reservation that he means he will be merciful to himself or the State; for whatever is done for the safety of the State is merciful.’ Or if she has been promised her life, there are three ways round the promise: (i) it may be kept on the condition that she helps convict other witches, and providing that she is imprisoned for life …; (ii) she may be kept imprisoned for a while and then burnt; (iii) the judge who promises her life may resign the office of passing sentence and leave her condemnation to another judge. [2]
Time and stomach would fail me to give any more detailed account of the hideous torments and treacheries performed in the ostensible service of Christ by professedly Christian societies and individuals: of the siege of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, where, when the city was breached, so many Muslims were killed that the Crusaders’ accounts describe wading through blood up to their ankles, and the Jews who lived there were burned in their synagogue; of the sacking of Byzantium in the Fourth Crusade, in which Catholics killed Orthodox and Pope Innocent III himself condemned the act in horror; of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in the sixteenth-century, in which French Protestants were murdered by the thousands, and Pope Gregory XIII ordered hymns of celebration and commemorative medals with the legend Ugonottorum Strages MDLXXII, ‘The Slaughter of the Huguenots 1572’; of the dozens of Catholic martyrs in England, Wales, and Scotland, and the ridiculous and blasphemous battle-cry of the Scottish Covenanters: Jesus and no quarter; of the tortures employed by the Inquisition in the Netherlands, from which there was no appeal, whose agents hung heretics upside down by their genitalia, burned men to death, and buried women alive; of the insane witchcraft panics in Trier, in Würzburg, in Salem. Knowingly or not, these things were done in the service of He Who Walks Behind the Pews, whom the poets also call Tash, Moloch, Wyrm, and Nyarlathotep. [3]

Societies that regarded themselves as Christian did other and much better things, too. I'm glad of those things. But the aim of civil society is justice, and its means are expediency; whereas the aim of the Church is holiness, and her means are supernatural. Earthly means cannot effect celestial ends, not because they aren't worthy, but because they have no capacity to do so. And when the attempt is made, either the Church is gutted to serve the state, or she is made monstrous by handling the state's sword.

I sincerely believe that the reason these horrible evils have sprung up in the soil of Christianity is that Christianity is true, and that therefore the power it wields over men’s hearts, when they are misled by the attempt to erect the kingdom of God as a kingdom of this world, is lethally poisoned. If Christ had accepted the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, it would have been by worshipping Satan and so becoming Antichrist.

And I believe it is precisely the prospect of restoring Christendom that remains a temptation to many Catholics today, not in spite of but because of their orthodoxy, virtue, and devotion. Satan likes to play on our strengths even more than he likes to play on our weaknesses; it’s ‘better’ style.

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[1] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
[2] From Williams’ history Witchcraft.
[3] Not that Lovecraft himself would have conceived of Nyarlathotep or any of his creations in these terms. But the fact that he disbelieved in the figure he painted does not make the portrait any less accurate.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Christendom and Christianity, Part II

There is certainly a sense in which execution might be done [1]; we might turn vengeance into sacrifice. It is dangerous, but it could be done. … We should say, in effect: ‘We have no right to punish you for what you have done in the past. But we are determined that we shall make it dangerous for men to do as you have done; we shall make it a matter of death. We shall sacrifice you to that new thing …’ The shedding of that blood would be a pronunciation of sentence against us and our children if we denied or disobeyed the law we had newly made. ‘It is good,’ said Caiaphas, and spoke a truth all civil governments have been compelled to maintain—and ecclesiastical also; why else were heretics condemned?—‘that one man should die for the people.’ … Whether it is conceded outside the Church is another matter. But she herself must not tamper with it. Those who sincerely reject the Single Sacrifice may perhaps be driven back on the many types of it, even if—no, because the centrality of all the types is unacknowledged. But belief in the Single must refuse the multiplicity.

—Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins

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It may sound oxymoronic to assert that Christian principles are necessarily in tension with any society built upon Christian principles. But then, the very word oxymoron literally means ‘a sharp foolishness’—as in something that seems stupid at first glance but is actually quite practical or profound. For instance: tungsten has one of the highest melting points of any element, and due to this very little is known about liquid tungsten, for the terribly silly-sounding reason that nobody’s figured out how to make a container to hold it in.

Building a society on Christian principles is, I expect, possible, as it’s probably possible in principle to make a container that will hold liquid tungsten. [2] But history and theory alike suggest that both operations are insanely difficult, and apt to result in a lot of people getting burnt.

I do want to do full justice to Christendom. Our forefathers from Constantine to Chesterton were trying to build, maintain, and defend something that they were deeply convinced was good and right; and not a few among them were saints and heroes, some displaying the kind of grace that puts modern liberals like myself to shame. If they failed—or even if they succeeded and yet it would have been better otherwise—it was not for want of sincere goodwill. I make no secret of the fact that I, personally, think that the attempt to construct Christendom was a fatal mistake; but it was a very natural, plausible, persuasive mistake to make, and it did good as well as harm.

This paradox of Christendom-against-Christianity springs from what society, as such, consists in. Civil society is built on the persons, families, conventions, laws, and governments of the commonwealth in question. Its ‘economy’ is primarily the economy of justice: obligations are distinguished from liberties by enforcement—e.g., paying one’s taxes is an obligation, whereas making charitable donations (even those that may be relevant to taxes) is not. And where obligations end, the state’s power of enforcement ends. Cultural expectations, personal convictions, or individual relationships, may introduce other kinds of pressure, but law and the enforcement of law are ultimately synonymous. [3]

This is quite pointedly not the economy of the Church operates on. She accepts its existence, obviously, as she continues to accept the existence of gravity when celebrating the Ascension; indeed, the economy she does operate on is comprehensible only when the economy of justice has first been grasped, as the Ascension can only be recognized as something remarkable once we’ve noticed gravity. But the essential character of the Church is the economy of grace; of gift; of that which transcends, eludes, and defies obligation. Grace—that is, being filled with the life of God—is not only far past the just deserts of such selfish and flawed beings as ourselves, it’s past what any creature, however, good, could deserve from its creator. We could no more merit grace than a perfect sculpture could merit a sincere proposal of marriage from the sculpture; but our God has proposed to be not only Pygmalion, but Aphrodite to our Galatea.

This is part of which the relationship between St John the Baptist and Christ was, and remains, so important. Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. All the virtues of the ancient world were becoming parodies of themselves, from the stubborn piety of the Jews to the vigilant equity of the Romans. The reëstablishment of the visible ideal of justice was necessary, if the grace that transcends justice was to be seen for what it was by anybody. But when once that ideal of justice had been re-manifested, it was promptly transcended by the gospel. Where the Baptist commanded tax farmers not to defraud anyone, Christ told his listeners to chase after those who had requisitioned their property in order to give the thieves more; where the Baptist forbade soldiers to bully and harass the populace, Christ told those who were humiliatingly struck to peaceably invite a fresh blow. Free, wild, irresponsible self-gift, not to fellow Christians but to fellow men as such, friend or foe or stranger, is the ethic of the gospel.

And it is probably pretty obvious why you cannot build a civil society on that sort of principle. Generosity and forgiveness and pacifism and mercy—in a word, grace—can be lived out within a society built on justice. But you cannot build an economy of justice out of the elements of grace. The attempt to do so corrupts both: either justice will be treated as a gift, as though we did not owe it to our fellow man to respect his humanity by not murdering him or robbing him or lying to him; or grace will be treated as an obligation, not only in supernatural but in civil terms, and things that ought to be accepted as gifts will be demanded as payment.

I think, however, that the difference here is that all exclusion from the economy of grace is self-exclusion. Refusal to forgive is not punished by refusal of forgiveness, in the sense that refusal to pay a debt is punished by imprisonment. [4] Rather, refusal to forgive inevitably entails a rejection of the economy of grace, in the sense that refusal to eat and drink inevitably entails death. The refusal of grace places us squarely back in the economy of justice—where everything must be earned if we are to obtain it. And, considering that we depend on God to sustain every aspect of our existence, dealing with him in the economy of justice is a Sisyphean prospect.

Hence, no matter how good the intentions of those who wish to build Christendom, and even no matter how good their results, I think the project of building it is flawed as a matter of first premises. I don’t believe there can be any kingdom of heaven except the kingdom of heaven; I don’t believe that we can erect any Christian society except that which is in fact ruled by Christ. And that will come—but when it does, it’s the end of the world. Nonetheless there are other problems I have with Christendom, which I propose to go into in my next.

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[1] Williams wrote this during the Second World War, and was addressing what was to be done with, or to, or about Germany by the Allies.

[2] I mean, one that will hold it and not immediately melt and/or catch fire.
[3] This is, in my opinion, substantially the same as what Dante wrote in On Monarchy, that non enim jus extenditur ultra posse (‘law does not extend beyond power,’ i.e. you can only really have laws as far as you can enforce them).
[4] At least, I think this analogy is misleading, in our specific cultural context; but I could be wrong even about that, and whether I am or not, it is an analogy that our Lord did not hesitate to use in his cultural context.