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Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP (1206-1280) – Light of Science, Light of Religion

In a 1988 letter to the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” 

The Gold Mass, which follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of different professions, was selected because gold is the color of the hoods worn by individuals graduating with a Ph.D. in science. It is also the color associated with the patron saint of scientists St. Albert the Great.

The first Gold Mass for scientists and engineers was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Nov. 15, 2016.


-by Kevin Vost, Psy. D.

The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”

Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the terms fideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).

John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)

Though he is overshadowed by the towering figure of his mighty student, Albert was known as Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), even while he was alive on earth. So why was he so great? Because he read so well the books of Scripture, like many great Church Doctors before him, and because he read the book of nature like none before him and few since! He also wrote many books of his own, and both different kinds of books.

Albert was called the Great due to his incredible breadth of knowledge and mastery of virtually every scientific discipline known to man at the time—from A to Z, with contributions to fields as diverse as anatomy, anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, dentistry, geography, geology, medicine, physiology, physics, psychology, and zoology. Some people in his day said you could completely repopulate the forests and rivers of Bavaria with all the plants and animals he had written about. Some said Albert knew all there was to know!

Working without any modern instruments, two hundred years before the printing press, and in the midst of a variety of roles throughout his lifetime, including professor at the University of Paris, bishop of Cologne, and Dominican provincial of Germany, here are some of Albert’s scientific accomplishments:

  • He isolated arsenic.
  • He provided the first description in Western writing of the spinach plant (surely becoming the favorite Church Doctor of Popeye the Sailor Man.)
  • He did early work in the theory of protective coloration of animals—including predicting that animals in the extreme north would have white coloring.
  • He determined that the Milky Way is a huge assemblage of stars.
  • He determined that the figures visible on the moon were not reflections of the earth’s mountains and seas, but features of the moon’s own surface.
  • He predicted land masses at the earth’s poles.
  • He predicted a large land mass to the west of Europe (and a copy of his prediction has been found in the personal library of Christopher Columbus).
  • He determined, with the use of mathematical formulae, that the earth was spherical.
  • He integrated the theories of Aristotle on the nature of human memory with the literature on practical improvement of memory that came down through Cicero.

So Albert clearly was no slouch on the science side of the ledger. As for religion, Albert also wrote many treatises of biblical commentary and was said to be perhaps the most prolific Mariologist of the thirteenth century. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, he cited Albert as a key champion of the Assumption, having gathered the arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers to conclude that the Mother of God had indeed been assumed body and soul into heaven.

Though Albert’s greatest student, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, was as calm and placid as they come, our great Albert could get testy at times, but only because he so cherished the truth. Later in his life, he would speak out with strong words against those opposed to acquiring human knowledge, the fideists of his day: “There are those ignorant people who wish to combat by every means possible the use of philosophy, and especially among the preachers, where no one opposes them; senseless animals who blaspheme that of which they know nothing.”

Albert loved science and philosophy because he loved God. He knew well that the book of Scripture guides us to the book of nature, and vice versa: “For the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator” (Wis. 13:5). Albert never looked at or wrote about a plant, an animal, or even a star without glorying in the fact that each is a creature, reflecting in its own way the beauty and perfection of its creator. That is why the whole world was theology to him.

St. Albert the Great, pray for us, that we may grow in faith and reason, in religion and in science.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Praying w/non-Catholics


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Trent Horn

“One criticism of the second Vatican Council is that it contradicts previous magisterial teaching on the question of praying with non-Catholics. For example, the Council document Unitatis Redintegratio says: “In certain circumstances, such as prayers ‘for unity’ and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren” (8). But in the encyclical Mortalium Animos, written almost forty years earlier, Pope Pius XI said,

It is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it (10).

The key to resolving this discrepancy is to distinguish between active communion and passive communion. The former is an illicit form of worship or behavior that directly imitates worship. It is scandalous because it involves praying the distinctive prayers of another religion as if one were professing allegiance to that faith. That is something Catholics cannot do as a matter of divine law, which no Church directive could ever change.

So we can’t pray with non-Catholics in this active sense . . . but we can pray with non-Catholics in the sense of praying “in their presence.” This is the licit kind of passive communion that Catholics and non-Catholics can share. This kind of distinction can be seen in the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who said, “It is not permitted to be present at the sacred rites of infidels and heretics in such a way that you would be judged to be in communion with them” (Theologia Moralis).

Notice that Liguori adds the qualifier about in such a way, that would intimate being in communion in a false theology, and not mere proximity.

Moreover, when we examine the historical context of the pre-Vatican II discussion on “praying with non-Catholics,” we can see that the directives were not meant to be universal condemnations of any association with non-Catholics in a religious context. For example, in Mortalium Animos, Pius XI criticized believers for calling themselves pan-Christians, arguing for all believers to be united into one invisible Church. This contradicts the fact that Christ established one visible Church with an authoritative hierarchy. But the pope was interested in finding ways to restore unity between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In his book Ecumenical Associations, James Oliver writes:

Much was done by Pius XI for better relations between the Oriental and Latin Churches. The study of the culture, practices and beliefs of the Orientals was very important to him. . . . [The pope] urged the cardinals to work for unity with the East. In an allocution delivered to the Italian University Catholic Federation on January 10, 1927, Pius XI said that most necessary to reunion is for people to know one another and to love one another. He recognized this call as one that would be shared in the relations with those separated during the Reformation (pp. 32-33).

Oliver goes on to say of Mortalium Animos that the pope “both welcomed the separated brethren and clearly stated what was and was not possible for Catholics regarding dialogue with non-Catholic Christians concerning theological differences and unity.”

In 1949, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith likewise released a document on ecumenism that outlined when it was and wasn’t appropriate, so this isn’t some radical, post-Vatican II development. Here’s a part of the instruction:

The previous permission of the Holy See, special for each case, is always required; and in the petition asking for it, it must also be stated what are the questions to be treated and who the speakers are to be. . . . Although in all these meetings and conferences any communication whatsoever in worship must be avoided, yet the recitation in common of the Lord’s Prayer or of some prayer approved by the Catholic Church, is not forbidden for opening or closing the said meetings.

It is true divine law that prohibits active participation in non-Catholic rituals . . . and Vatican II’s declaration on ecumenism does not instruct believers to do that. It says: “Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice” (8).

The “common worship” being spoken of here should be understood as an endorsement of passive communion where attendees pray next to each other or share in a common, authorized prayer like the Our Father. Nothing in the Second Vatican Council contradicts earlier teachings that forbid Catholics from actively taking part in the unique aspects of non-Catholic worship services.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Heresy


-the burning of the pantheistic Amalrician heretics in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. In the background is the Gibbet of Montfaucon and, anachronistically, the Grosse Tour of the Temple fortress. Illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. AD 1455–1460. Please click on the image for greater detail.

Obsequium religiosum is a Latin phrase meaning religious submission or religious assent, particularly in the theology of the Catholic Church.

The Latin term is used in the Latin original document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council regarding the duty of the faithful to give obsequium religiosum (Latin for “religious submission”) of will and intellect to certain teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. The Magisterium is a reference to the authoritative teaching body of the Roman Catholic Church.

The phrase appears in Lumen gentium 25a in the following context, here translated as both “religious assent” and “religious submission”:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

The magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church are graded according to a “hierarchy of truths”. The more essentially linked a proposed “truth” is to the mystery of Christ (the “Truth”), the greater the assent of the will to that truth must be. The document Donum Veritatis[1] teaches the following concerning this gradation of assent:

When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes “in a definitive way” truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.

When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

In its next section, Donum Veritatis states that “some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, … (but) only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress”.

The document, ″Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei[2] (scroll down to find document), gives a detailed description of these three “categories” of truths and gives examples of each.

Withholding assent

Donum Veritatis also allows that, “When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.” However “it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments.”

It acknowledges that a given theologian, “might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him well founded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.” In such a case “even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions,” and is to “refrain from giving untimely public expression to them,” and “avoid turning to the mass media,” but with a humble and teachable spirit it is his duty “to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented,” with “an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him”, prayerfully trusting “that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.”

In so doing it makes a distinction between dissent as in public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church and the situation of conscientious personal difficulties with teaching, and asserts that the Church “has always held that nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will,” while the Virgin Mary’s “immediate and unhesitating assent of faith to the Word of God” is set forth as the example to follow in submitting to Catholic teaching.

While the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, and Joseph Ratzinger (as a priest-theologian) taught that “over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else,” it is not “an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine,” and the Catholic is obliged to form it according to Catholic teaching.


-by Br Linus Martz, OP

“The Church has always identified a variety of acts as sins, including heresy. A sin in the fullest sense (that is, a grave sin), is any choice that cannot co-exist with Christian love; a serious sin is incompatible with our share in the life of God. Even apart from this supernatural perspective, many outside the Church might still agree that some sins exist. But what about heresy? How could holding wrong beliefs about God be harmful, let alone sinful? Why does the Church continue to teach that real heresy is a real sin, and a serious sin at that? Heresy is an unhappy topic, but considering it abstractly will help us see more concretely the divine origin of true faith.

Heresy, according to the Code of Canon Law, is “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” (CIC can. 751; cf. CCC 2089). The very name “heresy” implies a “choosing,” and a baptized believer falls into heresy when he consciously, knowingly, and obstinately chooses to reject a revealed truth (ST II-II, q. 11, a. 1). Whenever it occurs, this choice wounds the soul deeply.

Heretical choice—that is, choosing to believe what one knows contradicts faith—wounds the soul because it radically separates the chooser from God. It forsakes the firm, familiar knowledge of God that faith provides. This happens because when one rejects faith, even faith in a single doctrine, he destroys faith completely.

Why does heresy do this? Why can’t we have faith in just part of revelation? Faith is “faith” when someone believes something because God himself, “First Truth,” has revealed it. When God speaks to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, his own Truthfulness is the “mean” of faith, the source of our knowledge (ST II-II, q. 5, a. 3). It is the cause or the reason why we believe something. But someone who knowingly disbelieves something God has revealed leaves behind this “mean” of faith. One no longer believes something because God has revealed it if he disbelieves anything that he knows God has revealed. Because God cannot lie, to reject what he says about one truth is to reject his truthfulness completely.

To reject one revealed teaching, such as the reality of original sin or the Real Presence, is to substitute human choice for divine authority. But divine authority is the only sound basis for our faith, so whatever truth the heretic retains apart from God he holds without a good reason.

Saint Paul, after warning Saint Timothy about some teachers in Ephesus who were teaching a “different doctrine,” gives us the image of a “shipwreck” of faith (1 Tim 1:3, 19). One breach in the hull will compromise the whole ship’s integrity. So too, a faith that assents and dissents according to personal preference is not faith at all: by definition, heresy sinks the ship of faith and leaves only human opinions.

…We hold the truths that we profess in the Creed only because God has spoken. Human arguments can never replace God’s self-revelation because, left to ourselves, we cannot bridge the span of heaven and touch God’s throne. To conflate faith and reason, therefore, is to sail on dangerous waters. To replace faith with reason is to sink the ship of faith.

God’s mercy and grace can touch the most hardened of sinners, and he can easily repair even the shipwreck of faith through the “second plank” of sacramental Confession. But the faith God infuses and restores isn’t primarily about choosing to believe this or that fact. It’s an assent, through these propositions, to God in Jesus Christ. It’s a choice to believe God. Our life in faith cannot be lived if we choose half-portions. Rather, taking our cue from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, we approach the banquet of Wisdom and choose all, because we choose Jesus, in whom “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is given to us (2 Cor 4:6).”

Love,
Matthew

The Magical, Amazing, Self-Reading, Self-Interpreting Bible!!!

“Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.” – St Vincent of Lérins (d. c.445), Commonitory; 2, 5-6.


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One of the most dangerous ideas of the Protestant Reformation is that Scripture is somehow self-interpreting. According to this view, Scripture is so clear that we don’t need an infallible Catholic Church. The idea originates with Luther, but Protestants often believe it’s something taught by Scripture itself. Professor John Gerstner (1914-1996) argued in favor of this view against Catholicism by saying:

First, Rome denies that the Bible is a self-interpreting revelation. The Bible declares itself to be self-explanatory. This is called the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures (the see-through-ableness of the Scripture). It may be understood in its own light. What is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another. What is incomplete here is completed there. What is a figure in one place is a commentary in another.

The claim that the Bible is “self-interpreting revelation” is not only unbiblical, but incoherent, like saying “the book reads itself.” Someone interprets the Bible. He may do that infallibly or fallibly, well or poorly, but the text doesn’t interpret itself.

We see this in action within Scripture. Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). At St. Peter’s request, he then explains the parable’s meaning (vv. 36-43). The parable didn’t explain itself: Jesus explained it. Likewise, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with two of his disciples and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). St. Luke doesn’t say Scripture interpreted itself to the disciples. Jesus interpreted it.

Likewise, St. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch. “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30-31). Notably, the man didn’t reply, “Of course I understand it! The book of Isaiah is self-interpreting.” Instead, someone (this time, Philip) explained its meaning.

This is the role of the Church, but it’s also the role of the theologian and the preacher. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to “attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:11). That is, he’s called to read Scripture and then to explain what it means, just as Jesus did in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22).

So where does the Bible ever “declare itself to be self-explanatory,” or promise that “what is a figure in one place is a commentary in another”? Gerstner offers no citation for the simple reason that none exists. Even the idea that “what is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another” is question-begging, since Christians don’t agree about which passages are clear and which are obscure. As the Calvinist historian Alister McGrath explains:

Luther and Zwingli were unable to agree on the meaning of such phrases as “this is my body” (which Luther interpreted literally and Zwingli metaphorically) and “at the right hand of God” (which—with apparent inconsistency on both sides—Luther interpreted metaphorically and Zwingli literally). The exegetical optimism of the early Reformation may be regarded as foundering on this rock: Scripture, it seemed, was far from easy to interpret.

In response to the Catholic observation that Scripture needs interpretation, Gerstner says:

If the Bible must be interpreted by the Church in order to render its meaning certain, then the interpretation of the Church will have to be interpreted by another authority to make its meaning certain, and then there will need to be an interpreter of the interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.

If this were true, it would mean that no one could ever explain anything. That is, Gerstner isn’t so much arguing against Catholicism as he is arguing against communication and knowledge of the truth in general. If his argument were true, it would prove agnosticism, not Protestantism.

It’s also logically unsound. Certain passages of the Bible admit of multiple interpretations: they could mean A or B. If the Church clarifies, “It means A and not B,” that clarification doesn’t necessitate some further clarification—the argument simply doesn’t follow. If the Ethiopian needs Philip to explain Isaiah, it doesn’t follow that he must also need someone else to explain Philip, and so on ad infinitum.

But Gerstner gives his whole argument away immediately after this:

Our various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations on most points when such decisions are necessary. But there is a difference between authoritative and infallible decisions. Compare, for example, the necessity for an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution. A Supreme Court performs that task. Yet what American believes the Supreme Court is infallible? Still, its decisions prevail as a matter of necessity. . . .

The Protestant church has provided for authority so that decisions can be rendered when necessary, but has avoided the error of investing this authority with infallibility. The Protestant church, not being infallible, can err, has erred, will err. There is one error, however, which it has not made and that is the greatest of them all—the error of thinking it cannot err.

So Gerstner actually recognizes the need for the Church to provide authoritative interpretations “when necessary.” The difference is simply that Protestant churches’ decisions can’t be trusted, because we don’t know if they’re erroneous, and they can err, have erred, and will err.

This is a remarkable concession for a few reasons. First, if Scripture is as clear and self-interpreting as Gerstner is claiming, why aren’t the Protestant teachings clear? How is it that there’s more than one Protestant denomination, and why isn’t each denomination sure that its own interpretation of Scripture is the right one? In one and the same argument, Gerstner is arguing that Scripture is so clear that there’s no need for an infallible Church to interpret it, but also that it’s so unclear that Protestants can’t escape from continually erring in interpreting it, and that the greatest error possible is thinking that we cannot err in our interpretation.

Second, the stakes here are higher than with the Supreme Court. The Constitution isn’t divinely inspired; Scripture is. If a denomination gets its “authoritative interpretation” wrong, it’s forcing its members to either go into schism or accept heresy, both of which are condemned in the New Testament. But since the “various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations” that contradict one another and cannot be trusted as free from error, that’s precisely what Protestantism has to offer.

The fact that well-meaning and well read Protestants disagree with one another on the meaning of biblical passages should suffice to prove that Scripture isn’t self-interpreting. The fact that God gave us Scripture “to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15) should make Protestants care enough to find a Church capable of reliably interpreting what Scripture means without the constant danger that they might be endorsing heresy.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Explaining Purgatory



Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory, Lorenzo di Niccolò, ca. 1412, Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel, 13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm)Frame: 16 x 26 5/8 in. (40.6 x 67.6 cm), Brooklyn Museum, please click on the image for greater detail

-lighter tone


-by Karlo Broussard

“When it comes to the most misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church, purgatory probably ranks at the top. Often, these misunderstandings are manifested in what everyday folks say about purgatory.

Let’s consider some of these catchphrases here.

“If I don’t get a chance to turn my life around for the Lord here on earth, I’ll just do it when I’m in purgatory.”

This saying exposes perhaps the greatest myth about purgatory: that it’s a second chance for salvation. At least for the Catholic Church, purgatory is only for those who, in the words of the Catechism (CCC), “die in God’s grace and friendship” (1030). The Catechism goes on to affirm that such people are “assured of their eternal salvation.”

The Bible supports this view of purgatory. Consider, for example, Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 confirms the idea that the judgment immediately following death (the particular judgment—CCC 1022) secures one’s eternal destiny.

We’re told that Lazarus died and then “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v.22). After the rich man’s death, he found himself “in Hades, being in torment” (v.23). That their destinies were secure is indicated what Abraham tells the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v.26).

Since the Bible reveals that a soul’s ultimate destiny is secure immediately after death, whether heaven or hell, it follows that the ultimate destiny of every soul in purgatory is secure. And since the Catholic Church teaches that the destiny of every soul in purgatory is heaven (they died in God’s grace and friendship), it follows that every soul in purgatory is secure with respect to his salvation. Purgatory, therefore, is not a place for second chances.

“There’s no point praying for souls in purgatory because they’re all going to heaven anyway.”

Although it’s true that the souls in purgatory will eventually enter heaven, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in praying for them. There are several reasons why we should pray for the faithful departed.

First, it expresses love for them. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone” (Summa Theologiae I-II:26:4). The possession of God in the beatific vision, which is temporally delayed for the holy souls, is the greatest good for the souls in purgatory (it’s the greatest good for us all). As such, anything we do to help them achieve that good, like praying for them, is an expression of our love.

This expression of love for the holy souls in turn brings us consolation, which makes for a second reason to pray for them.

Aquinas teaches that love is not only “to wish good to someone,” but also to wish it “just as he wills good to himself” (ST I-II:28:1). It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

A third reason to pray for the holy souls is that our prayer for them makes their prayer for us more effective. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

The rationale here is that the holier a person is (the less sin or remnants of sin a person has), the more effective his prayers are. St. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). Since the souls in purgatory are made holier (more righteous) as we pray for them, it follows that as we pray for them, their prayers for us become more effective.

“We’re not good enough for heaven, so we should content ourselves to hope for purgatory.”

This statement assumes that no one can bypass purgatory. But that’s not true, according to Catholic teaching. In paragraph 1472, the Catechism teaches, “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.”

The rationale behind this is that when a soul turns to God in conversion, the detestation of sin and love of God can create a sorrow for sin so intense that it suffices as the pain due the soul for the pleasure taken in the sin, thus discharging any remaining debt of temporal punishment. Also, love for God could be so intense that it suffices to purify the soul of any unhealthy attachments to created goods and remit any guilt of venial sin.

Being content to hope for purgatory is not a proper Catholic perspective. Purgatory is not our final destination; heaven is. As such, Christians should strive to attain that degree of holiness such that upon death, we can immediately enter heaven. Like St. Paul, we should desire to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

True Christian hope doesn’t entail a desire to be delayed in attaining our ultimate goal. It entails the desire to attain it without delay. So every Christian should desire to bypass purgatory. It’s that desire that inspires us to order our lives more and more toward union with God in heaven. This is the way of holiness. Sirach 7:36 says, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”

“Purgatory’s not that bad.”

It’s true that it might not be that bad for all. It’s also true that purgatory consists of great joys—joys that far exceed what we can experience in this life. The Italian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa writes, “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in purgatory except that of the saints in paradise.”

However, the purgatorial visions of a fourteenth-century saint, St. Bridget of Sweden (as well as others), suggest that purgatory can be an intense experience of suffering, at least for some. These visions are recorded in Book 6 of her revelations.

Bridget records how she was transported to purgatory. There she saw a highborn woman who had lived a life of luxury and vanities of the world.

“Happily,” she told Bridget, “before death I confessed my sins in such dispositions as to escape hell, but now I suffer here to expiate the worldly life that my mother did not prevent me from leading.”

The soul continued with a sigh, “Alas! This head, which loved to be adorned, and which sought to draw the attention of others, is now devoured with flames within and without, and these flames are so violent that every moment it seems to me that I must die.”

The soul went on:

These shoulders, these arms, which I loved to see admired, are cruelly bound in chains of red-hot iron. These feet, formerly trained for the dance, are now surrounded with vipers that tear them with their fangs and soil them with their filthy slime; all these members which I have adorned with jewels, flowers, and divers other ornaments, are now a prey to the most horrible torture.

All the same, the soul rejoiced in God’s mercy for not damning her.

Such torments for worldly vanities ought to give us reason to re-think our attachments to worldly goods, especially physical beauty.

It also gives us reason to take purgatory seriously—not as a place to give seeking salvation another go, or the only place we can expect to get to, or a place where our departed loved ones don’t need us anymore . . . but a realm of purification, given to us by a merciful God who exhausts every avenue to see us happy with him in heaven.”

Love, pray for the holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

Praying for holy souls in Purgatory


-Mary, Mother of Poor Souls in Purgatory

“Why should we pray for the souls in purgatory if we know they’ll go to heaven?

This question was posed at a recent Theology on Tap event. We know that God holds His children dear to Him, and that if people choose Him, they will eventually enter into heaven. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030).

Purgatory is not a punishment but a response to what we need after death. In heaven, we will experience the fullness of God’s glory and majesty, but if we remain imperfect when we die, we cannot yet experience that glory. Purgatory is the process by which souls are prepared to receive the full gift of life with God in heaven. However, as I heard pointed out at Theology on Tap, if these souls are being prepared for heaven, why bother praying for them?

It is important to instead ask ourselves another question: “If we don’t pray for them, who will?” The souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. They rely completely on the sacrifices and prayers of others. Yet, even though they desperately need us, we tend to forget about them. Occasionally, when praying the Rosary, we may toss in the intention, “For the souls in purgatory,” but other than that rare occasion, when do offer prayers for them? God uses our prayers and sacrifices to purify these souls, so we need to step up and remember them daily.

We need to remember that the souls in purgatory are not some distant group, unrelated to ourselves. Instead, the souls being purified in purgatory are connected to us. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and we are all members of the Communion of Saints. The souls in purgatory are our brothers and sisters in Christ; they are our deceased relatives, friends, classmates, and neighbors, as well as those we have never met. Since they can no longer act on earth and have not yet entered the Beatific Vision, they are dependent on us to pray for them. They are helpless without our prayers. Baptized in Christ, we are a family of love—so we should pray for the souls of the deceased often.

On All Souls’ Day in 2014, Pope Francis said the following in his Angelus address: “Church tradition has always urged prayer for the dead, in particular by offering the celebration of the Eucharist for them: it is the best spiritual help we can give to their souls, particularly to the most abandoned ones. The foundation of prayers in suffrage of souls is in the communion of the Mystical Body.”

There are so many ways to pray for the souls in purgatory. We can add them to our list of prayer intentions for our daily prayers, we can have Masses said, and we can offer sacrifices for them. We can pray the Prayer of St. Gertrude or the Requiem Aeternam. We can visit cemeteries from November 1–8 and gain partial or plenary indulgences for the souls in purgatory. These souls need our prayers; will we help them?

As St. John Chrysostom once said in a homily, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Love, all you holy souls in Purgatory,
Matthew

Why remain Protestant?


-cf Dr. Bryan Cross, PhD, was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, then became Reformed shortly after completing his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan. He then received an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary. In 2003 he and his wife and two daughters became Anglican. On October 8, 2006, he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has previously taught at Saint Louis University, Lindenwood University, and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. He is presently an assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mercy University. His personal blog is “Principium Unitatis.”

“Steven’s first argument for why Protestants should remain Protestant begins with the claim that the “Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches associate themselves with particular teachers in a way that goes contrary to Christ’s teaching.” (2′) To defend this claim he refers (3′) to Matthew 23:8-10, where Christ says, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.”

After describing how Christ’s words applied to the Scribes and Pharisees (5′ – 9′), Steven then claims that while the Catholic Church agrees that “in the truest and ultimate sense” that there is only one teacher, namely, Christ, in practice the Catholic Church contradicts this by prioritizing “tradition to Scripture.” (9′) He adds that the Catholic Church “set[s] up teachers alongside Christ, contrary to what Christ says to His disciple.”(9′) Here he is referring to the Magisterium, namely, the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.1 Steven then claims that Catholics put bishops “alongside Christ rather than under Him as His students.” (10′-11′) He claims that the Catholic church puts forward “certain students as though they were just as reliable as the Teacher Himself, namely the holy fathers and the Magisterium of the Church when speaking under certain conditions.” (12′)

In order to explain the flaw in Steven’s argument, I need to say something first about the Catholic understanding of the relation between Scripture and sacred tradition. In the Catholic tradition we rightly approach Scripture in the Church and through sacred tradition. That is because in the Catholic tradition, Scripture belongs to the Church, and comes to us through the Church, and through the shepherds Christ has established in His Church. This relation between Scripture and the Church is illustrated by the fact that the Church determined which books belong to the canon of Scripture and which do not. Although scholars can and do study Scripture as if it is not sacred, and outside of its ecclesial context, nevertheless, as a sacred text it belongs properly to the divinely established community who received it, namely, the Church, and is understood rightly according to the tradition handed down within that community. This is a very different paradigm from the Protestant paradigm regarding the interpretation of Scripture. See, for example, my essay “The Tradition and the Lexicon.”

This paradigm difference can be seen in Tertullian’s statement that “heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures.”2 Hence as I wrote in my dialogue with Michael Horton in 2010:

Tertullian here shows that those who are not in communion with the Apostolic Churches have no right to appeal to Scripture to defend their positions, because the Scriptures belong to the bishops to whom the Apostolic writings were entrusted by the Apostles. Since the Scriptures belong to the bishops, those not in communion with those bishops in the universal Church have no right to challenge what the bishops say that the Scriptures teach. The sacred books do not belong to them, but to the bishops to whom the Apostles entrusted them. Since the Scriptures belongs to the bishops and have been entrusted to them, they have the right and authority to determine its authentic and authoritative interpretation.

In the Catholic tradition heresy is not determined by interpreting Scripture apart from Scripture and sacred tradition, and then measuring candidate doctrines against one’s interpretation of Scripture. Rather, before we even get to the interpretation of Scripture, we have to consider to whom Scripture belongs, who has the authority to determine how it is to be interpreted, and by what rule or tradition it is to be interpreted.

Now consider Steven’s argument. Steven is making use of a notion from the Protestant tradition, according to which Scripture is not to be understood through what Catholics understand as sacred tradition, to arrive at an interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10. In Steven’s interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10, based on this Protestant notion, to be a student of Christ entails not having Magisterial authority, and not having what the Catholic Church refers to as the gift of infallibility, since those two qualities would place certain students of Christ “on the same level as the Teacher.” (13′) On the basis of this notion from the Protestant tradition regarding how to approach and interpret Scripture, Steven infers that what Jesus said in Matthew 23 in criticism of the way the Scribes and Pharisees used their traditions, applies also to how the Magisterium of the Catholic Church treats sacred tradition, which, according to the Catholic Church was received orally from the Apostles and preserved in the liturgies and the writings of the Church Fathers. In this way Steven treats his interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10 as the authoritative standard by which to determine that the Catholic Church contradicts Christ, and that therefore Protestants should remain Protestant.

But Steven has not shown that Matthew 23:8-10 contradicts Catholic doctrine; he has only shown that his interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10 contradicts Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church, and I as a Catholic, assent by faith to the authority and truth of Matthew 23:8-10, but not to Steven’s interpretation of Matthew 23:8-10. By presupposing the Protestant tradition in his hidden premise, i.e. that Scripture is not to be understood through sacred tradition, Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church, namely, it presupposes the truth of Protestantism and the falsehood of Catholicism. His argument concludes that Catholicism is false, on the basis of an assumed premise that Protestantism is true, and that is circular reasoning. What leads him to make this mistake is not ignorance of logic, but the faulty assumption that his Protestant approach to Scripture is theologically neutral when in fact it is theologically loaded.

Later in his video Steven addresses one objection to his argument:

“Now the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic will say Christ has given authority to the teachers of the church to define dogma and to establish the limits of the faith against heretical opinion. It’s as if they were to say the teacher has given certain students the authority definitively to establish certain teachings as unquestionable. But this point has to be qualified. After all the scribes and pharisees could have claimed the same thing for themselves in response to Christ’s criticisms. It is true that the Church has the calling and the authority to define its faith but it doesn’t follow that every purported exercise of that authority is valid or true.” (16′)

Steven is correct that we should avoid credulity. But he implies here that the only way to avoid credulity is to disbelieve claims to Magisterial authority. And that conclusion does not follow from the obligation to avoid credulity. The motives of credibility give us reason to believe that God has given divine authority to the Apostles and their successors. In this way we (Catholics) are neither in a condition of credulity, since we have motives of credibility, nor rationalists, since by faith we obey God by obeying our divinely appointed leaders and submitting to them. (cf. Hebrews 13:17)

Regarding the Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, where Jesus says “whatever you bind on earth shall be should be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” Steven says:

“but I respond that what Christ says applies to Peter and to the Apostles since He was talking to them but not necessarily to those who come after them.” (17′)

Here again Steven is using the Protestant approach to Scripture (i.e. apart from sacred tradition), to interpret it as he thinks best, and then using that interpretation to oppose Catholic teaching regarding the authority of bishops and the Magisterium. Since he does not find in Scripture a clear prescription for apostolic succession and the continuation in the episcopal successors of the Apostles of the binding and loosing authority Christ gave to the Apostles, he concludes that the episcopal successors of the Apostles do not necessarily have this this binding and loosing authority. But in the Catholic tradition, part of what belongs to sacred tradition, through which we come to Scripture, is the insight that this authority does remain in the Church through the successors of the Apostles.3 So here too Steven’s argument is built on a hidden premise, namely, that Scripture is not to be understood through the sacred tradition. And for this reason, just as above, his argument presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church.

Steven claims that the only appropriate way for the Apostles to bind and loose was by seeing what God had already bound or loosed in a public manner. (19′-20′) He gives some examples of cases where God had manifest His will, and St. Peter made ecclesial decisions based on some public and obvious manifestation of God’s will. Steven then claims that the Magisterium in later centuries did not follow this pattern. I’m going to respond to this argument under Part II below, because in Part II he goes into more detail concerning this argument.

Steven next appeals in support of his thesis to three excerpts; one from Origen, one from St. Augustine, and one from St. Cyril. First he quotes Origen:

If there be anyone indeed who can discover something better and who can establish his assertions by clearer proofs from holy Scriptures let his opinion be received in preference to mine. (23′)

Then he quotes St. Augustine:

For the reasonings of any men whatsoever, even though they be Catholics and of high reputation, are not to be treated by us in the same way as the canonical Scriptures are treated. We are at liberty without doing any violence to the respect which these men deserve to condemn and reject anything in their writings if perchance we shall find that they have entertained opinions differing from that which others or we ourselves have by the divine help discovered to be the truth. I deal thus with the writings of others and I wish my intelligent readers to deal thus with mine. (23′ – 24′)

And lastly he quotes St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the holy Scriptures, nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me who tell you these things give not absolute credence unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning but on demonstration of the holy Scriptures. (24′)

Origen is here speaking in his capacity as theologian. And what he says is the correct attitude of the theologian as theologian. Origen is not denying that what has been laid down definitively in the Church by an ecumenical council can later be rejected or contradicted. Nothing he says here entails that the Catholic Church goes against Christ’s teaching, either in its teaching about the authority of the Magisterium, in its doctrine of infallibility, or in its teaching on the relation of Scripture to sacred tradition. In short, since the quotation from Origen is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, it is not evidence that the Catholic Church goes against the teaching of Christ.

And St. Augustine too is speaking here in his capacity as a theologian; he is making no claim here, in the quotation Steven cites, against the authority of a plenary council to give a definitive decision regarding a question, or against the authority of sacred tradition. Elsewhere he appeals to the authority of the tradition distinct from Scripture.4 He appeals to the authority of the Church when speaking of the interpretation of Scripture (On Christian Doctrine 3.2). And he appeals to the authority of the apostolic tradition regarding the baptism of infants. (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, 10, 23:39; and On Baptism 4,24,32.) So again, because what St. Augustine says here is fully compatible with Catholic teaching, it does not show that Catholic teaching goes against the teaching of Christ.

As for St. Cyril, his statement is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, because St. Cyril is affirming, as the Catholic Church does, that the content of our faith is located in the divine Scriptures; he is not denying the authority of a plenary council to definitively decide a question regarding the faith, or denying the existence and authority of sacred tradition. His exposition of the liturgy (Lecture 23) illustrates the authority of sacred tradition. He explicitly says “But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.” (Lecture 5) If the Scriptures were the only source of faith, then there would be no appeal to the Church when determining what does or does not belong to the faith.

Steven comes back to Origen, and quotes him again:

The holy Apostles in preaching the faith of Christ delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to everyone, even to those who seemed somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge. … The things that the Apostles did not make clear were left for the investigation of later generations. (26′)

From this quotation Steven concludes:

Thus Origen takes the explicit and clear teaching of the Apostles to be the absolute guide for all Christian theology while everything else is a matter of continual investigation and correction as he mentioned in the passage that I quoted earlier. (26′)

The problem here is that Steven’s [sola scriptura] conclusion does not follow from Origen’s statement. To see that, observe that Origen’s statement can be true and all Catholic doctrine can be true, without any contradiction. Moreover, notice what Origen says elsewhere.

The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the Apostles, and remains in the Churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth, which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.” (On First Principles, I.2)

Origen affirms the authority of ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition, preserved through apostolic succession. So he is not claiming that tradition is not authoritative or that Scripture should be approached apart from that tradition. Hence here too Origen’s statement is fully compatible with Catholic teaching, and therefore does not show that Catholic teaching contradicts Christ’s teaching.

Next Steven tells a just-so story to explain the emergence of Catholic magisterial authority:

It seems to me that if you have a group of people who, (1) place tremendous emphasis on the unity of the group, and (2), who center the identity of their group of their community around an ambiguous and debatable topic which can produce multiple perspectives, it seems to me that with these two conditions in place you can find something like this traditionalist structure emerge. Differences in opinion compromise the evident unity of the group and people become identified with the opinions that distinguish them. But the problems of debate cannot be definitively resolved or established to everyone’s satisfaction. So self-identifying authoritative voices emerge whose word must on at least some occasions be unquestionable so that the matter is settled and the unity of the group is preserved. A procedure then is devised which will purportedly lead to the truth so long as it is followed correctly. In other words I am suggesting that the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ traditionalism is a social phenomenon that could in principle emerge anywhere as long as the conditions are right. But Christ identifies its weak point. People can confuse opinions for the things themselves, binding themselves to false ideas simply because of the purported authority of the persons propagating them, and in this way they place themselves on a harmful trajectory. The only way out of this spiral is for someone to come along and to say no, this tradition is bad and it has no authority unless what it says is true and an idea is not true because the tradition says it but rather because it is adequate to its object. But of course the traditionalist can’t hear this because in his mind the truth is too tightly bound up with the tradition and its procedures. (27′ – 29′)

Here Steven is by implicature using this sociological speculation about how authority structures arise to explain the development of Catholic ecclesial authority. This presupposes that Christ did not authorize the Apostles and instruct them to authorize successors. So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic position. The problem with just-so stories is that they are just-so stories. They persuade only by way of suggestion, and only if the hearer knows of no contrary evidence to the just-so story. But there is lots of evidence in the Church Fathers that ecclesial hierarchy was present from the beginning of the Church.5 Likewise, implying that Catholics “can’t hear” the truth because in our minds the truth is “too tightly bound up with the tradition and its procedures” again begs the question, by presupposing the falsehood of Catholicism.

Finally, Steven compares (by implication) the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to government bureaucracies in France and Romania. (29′ – 33′) He gives an example of a government bureaucracy getting itself into a situation requiring it to deny reality. He then claims, without any argumentation, that this is what has happened in the Catholic Church regarding doctrines like transubstantiation, Catholic teaching on Scripture and tradition, the veneration of images, Mary, and justification. I need say no more here because Steven has not here demonstrated his claim that these Catholic doctrines are not true. He has only claimed that the Church’s defining of these doctrines is like a state bureaucracy claiming that a living person is dead. And this claim presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and Catholics.”

“Steven opens his second video by summarizing his second argument:

Now my second argument for remaining a Protestant is that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are sectarian. And what I mean by sectarian is this: I mean that in order to welcome someone into their fellowship they demand that a person assent to the truth of doctrines which are highly contentious and not obviously supported by any properly authoritative sources. (1′)

To illustrate his claim he picks three dogmas: the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma of the Assumption, and the dogma defined at the Second Council of Nicea concerning the veneration of sacred images. (2′) He writes:

My argument is rather that such doctrines are highly contentious and not at all clearly supported by the most authoritative sources, and because they are not reasonably clear it is sectarian to set them up as conditions of fellowship with the Church. Scripture does not explicitly teach that Mary was conceived without original sin nor that she was assumed body and soul into heaven neither does Scripture teach that it is obligatory to venerate icons of Christ and of the saints. (5′)

He grants that these doctrines follow a trajectory set “in certain quarters.” (6′ – 7′) But he argues that these doctrines are neither clearly taught in Scripture, nor were they universally held. And therefore to make assent to them a condition of fellowship is sectarian, and thus a justification for remaining Protestant. Here, to support his point regarding the veneration of sacred images he quotes Origen regarding the practice among Christians of scorning “idols and all images.” (7′ – 8′) These three doctrines are sectarian, according to Steven, because “highly contentious and disputable points of view which cannot be established on the basis of the most authoritative sources are being put forth as non-negotiable conditions of fellowship.” (9′ – 10′) Steven then gives an uncharitable interpretation of the reasons why the Church has proposed these doctrines as dogma, saying:

Now what I think is happening is that a particular church or community of churchmen prefers its own ideas convictions and opinions so much to those of others that it is willing to exclude them from its fellowship unless they agree.” (10′)

This is an example of the bulverism fallacy, but Steven’s argument does not depend on this bulverism. He next says:

The church or community of church men in question takes itself as the standard of truth as though the mere fact that it has come to believe something is a proof that it is right. (10′)

Here Steven’s argument begs the question. His argument presupposes that the only reason the Magisterium of the Catholic Church believes these three dogmas to be true is that it has come to believe them. But in the Catholic tradition, the Magisterium has been given the promises of Christ regarding divine guidance into all truth. Steven’s argument here presupposes that the Magisterium did not receive this divine promise, among others. And in this way his argument presupposes the very point he is attempting to show, namely, that Catholicism is false.

Steven’s argument begs the question again in his following criticism of the Catholic Church:

And this can be seen in Ineffabilis Deus which says “The Catholic Church directed by the Holy Spirit of God is the pillar and base of truth.” Now note well this is not merely a citation of the words of Paul from I Timothy 3:15. It is an identification of a particular Church, namely the Church of Rome and those associated with it, as the Church. (10′)

First, Pope Pius IX is not equating the particular Church at Rome with the Catholic Church. The particular Church at Rome is a particular Church within the Catholic Church. But in Catholic doctrine schism is defined in relation to the bishop of this particular Church.6 Second, Steven’s criticism of Pope Pius’s claim to speak for the Catholic Church presupposes that the papal office is not what the Catholic Church teaches it is, and thus that Catholicism is false. So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question.

Next Steven says:

And instead of measuring its statements against the things themselves and coming to a moderate conclusion about the truth of what it says, the Roman Church takes the truth of its thoughts for granted and declares its belief an infallible dogma and a condition for fellowship. Now to my mind this is sectarian behavior. It is putting oneself forward as the criterion of truth in a matter in which one appears to have no special access to the reality of the matter.” (11′)

Notice that last line “one appears to have no special access to the reality of the matter.” Here’s the dilemma for Steven’s argument. If Steven’s claim remains at the mere phenomenological, the conclusion of his argument does not follow. If to him it does not appear that the Church at Rome has no special access to the reality of the matter, that leaves open the possibility that it does have special access to the reality of the matter, and he has not demonstrated that the teaching of the Catholic Church goes against the teaching of Christ. But on the other horn of the dilemma, if Steven claims that the Church at Rome has no special access to the apostolic deposit, or no certain charism of truth, then his argument presupposes the point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church. Either way, his argument fails.

Regarding the Second Council of Nicea, Steven next says:

But the Council then descends into sectarianism when it continues by saying the following: “This promise, however, He made not only to them but also to us who, thanks to them, have come to believe in his name.” Now notice once more this us does not refer to all Christians but rather to these persons who have gathered at the Council and perhaps also to those who agree with them. Thus the bishops gathered at the Council take for granted without adequate reason that they are the inheritors of the original promise of divine guidance to the early Church. (12′)

Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question when he claims that the bishops at the Council “take for granted without adequate reason that they are the inheritors of the original promise of divine guidance to the early Church.” If the bishops are what the Catholic Church teaches about bishops, and this teaching and authority have been handed down to them from the Apostles, then the bishops do have an “adequate reason” to believe that they are the inheritors of the original promise. My point here is not to establish the authority of the bishops, but only to show that Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question, namely, that the Catholic Church is false.

Next Steven claims the following:

Of course an unwritten tradition is a word that comes from nowhere in particular and can be traced back to no one with certainty. Who can know if an unwritten tradition is genuinely apostolic?(13′)

His claim that an unwritten tradition is a “word that comes from nowhere” is not a theologically neutral claim. It presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic Church, for which there is an unwritten tradition that comes to us from the Apostles. So here too Steven presupposes the point in question. As for his question, this is not a question that baffled the early Church. St. Augustine, for example, in multiple places identifies traditions that were not clear in Scripture (e.g. infant baptism) but were universally practiced as originating from the Apostles.7

Steven next writes:

That is the attitude of a sectarian. He takes himself as the measure of truth and excludes all those who refuse to agree with him rather than putting himself on the same level as those with whom he might disagree and submitting together with them to the truth of things such as they seem.” (13′ – 14′)

Again, for reasons that by now should be obvious, Steven’s argument presupposes the very point in question. If Christ did give ecclesial authority to His Apostles, and they in turn gave this authority to their episcopal successors, and not to the laity, then when the bishops think, speak, and act as though they have this authority, this is not at all sectarian. These are rather acts of faith in Christ and obedience to Him.

Steven summarizes his argument for Part II:

So this is my argument. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches are sectarian because they impose as a condition for fellowship assent to highly contentious and debatable ideas that cannot be clearly established on the basis of the most authoritative sources. That is sectarian behavior. It is an unconditional and relentless privileging of one’s own perspective in some matter of dispute rather than simply submitting to the truth and admitting ambiguities where they where they exist. (14′)

In response, first, two of the criteria Steven is using here to determine whether the Catholic Church is sectarian are “contentious” and “debatable.” Although I could, I’m not going to argue that since the notion that these two qualities are among the criteria for determining what is “sectarian” is itself contentious and debatable, Steven’s argument is self-refuting. Rather, I’m simply going to point out again that the notion that these two qualities are among the criteria for “sectarian” is not theologically neutral, but presuppose the point in question.8 A careful study of the Arian controversy shows that for many years it was contentious and debatable. The same is true of Marcionism, Novatianism, Montanism, as well as the Donatist schism, and many others. If ‘contentious’ and ‘debatable’ were the criteria for sectarianism, there would be no schisms, only branches. But that’s not my fundamental point. The fundamental point is that Steven’s argument in Part II presupposes the very point in question by presupposing loaded (i.e. non-neutral) criteria for determining what is and is not sectarian.

Second, Steven here presupposes that the bishops’ perspective in matters of faith and morals is no more authoritative than that of any other Christian. That’s an implicit premise in his charge that the Catholic bishops are unjustifiably privileging their own perspective. But that implicit premise presupposes the very point in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church, and so Steven’s argument is question-begging.

Next Steven says:

Let me say that I agree that the Apostles and the leaders of the Church that come after them were given the authority to bind and loose but it does not follow that this authority is always exercised properly. (15′)

Steven is arguing that infallibility does not follow merely from the authority to bind and loose. But if on the one hand he is claiming implicitly that the Church did not receive the gift of infallibility, he is presupposing the point in question.9 If on the other hand he is simply claiming that sometimes bishops do not exercise their authority properly, then from this premise it does not follow that the Catholic Church is sectarian, since this weaker claim is fully compatible with the truth of Catholic doctrine.

Steven next says:

So let’s take as an example. Christ promises Peter that whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. That is Matthew chapter 16 verse 19. Now from this perfect passive construction being used here we can discern that the binding and loosing in heaven come before the binding and losing on earth. (16′)

Here Steven is again using a Protestant approach to Scripture, according to which its meaning is determined entirely by exegesis, and not by sacred tradition. In the Catholic tradition, however, the mood and voice of these verbs does not entail that prior to the binding or loosing of something on earth, God will have already bound and loosed it in heaven. That’s because in the Catholic tradition exegesis by itself underdetermines interpretation, and Scripture must be interpreted in light of sacred tradition. My point is that Steven’s argument is here too presupposing the point in question, namely, the falsehood of Catholicism in his argument for the falsehood of Catholicism.

Now Steven comes back to the point he made in Part I, and which I mentioned above but to which I did not yet respond. Here Steven uses the examples of Sts. Peter and Paul making decisions on the basis of God having made a prior, clear and public manifestation of His will, to argue that the Magisterium can rightly make authoritative decisions only on the same basis. (16′ – 20′) That conclusion does not follow from the premise. Even if Steven’s premise is true regarding these decisions Sts. Peter and Paul made, it could still be true that the Apostles had (and the Magisterium has) the authority to make decisions without a public divine manifestation of God’s will. Here too Steven is using his own interpretation of Scripture, apart from sacred tradition, to argue against Catholic teaching concerning Magisterial authority. And that presupposes the very point in question.

Then Steven claims that “nothing like this was happening in the three cases he is considering (i.e. the two Marian dogmas, and the teaching of Second Nicea on the veneration of icons). (20′) That is, for these three dogmas, he claims that there was no prior, clear and public manifestation of God’s will, that could be verified by other Christians. But this claim that to be legitimate, Magisterial decisions must be able to be independently verified by other Christians presupposes the very point in question. Yes there is a sensus fidelium, but as Pope Benedict XVI explained, it is not “a form of ecclesial public opinion, and it would be unthinkable to refer to it to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, since the ‘sensus fidei’ cannot truly develop in a believer other than to the extent to which he participates fully in the life of the Church, and it therefore necessitates responsible adhesion to her Magisterium.”10 As I mentioned above, Steven grants that these doctrines follow a trajectory set “in certain quarters.” (6′ – 7′) But Steven treats the development of a tradition, and what in the Catholic tradition is understood as development of doctrine, as something only arbitrary in its starting point and in its development. The Magisterium, however, recognizes and affirms authentic developments.11 And this is part of the paradigm difference between Protestants and the Catholic Church, in relation to what I’ve referred to as ecclesial deism, since believing that the Holy Spirit is the ‘soul’ of the Church leads us to expect development of doctrine, and further illumination and defining of the deposit. So by denying that the Magisterium has the divine gift by which to recognize and affirm authentic development of doctrine, Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question.

As for the development in relation to the three dogmas Steven has chosen for examples, the earlier Catholic opposition to images was never universal, never a moral consensus, and was never defined. Nor was it based on iconoclastic principle but rather on the prevalence of the pagan culture of idolatry. As that changed toward theism in the Roman empire, and as the two natures of Christ were defined at Chalcedon, the veneration of sacred images came to be seen as an affirmation of the Incarnation and its implications, in opposition to Arianism. Regarding the developments that led to the Church defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, I have briefly discussed here. And I discussed here the developments that led to the Church defining the dogma of the Assumption.

Finally Steven writes:

But I say that it is sectarian to put them forth as conditions of fellowship. To do that would be a matter of taking one’s own tradition one’s own perspective as if it were uniquely identical to the tradition of the Apostles without adequate argument than evidence. (21′)

Here too Steven’s argument presupposes that the Catholic Magisterium is not composed of the successors of the Apostles, and has not faithfully handed down the Apostolic deposit, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In short, here too Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question. As for his claim that the Catholic Church is sectarian because its contentious and debatable teachings are not “clearly supported by the most authoritative sources,” this criterion presupposes that Magisterial teaching must be “clearly supported” by Scripture. But that criteria is not itself part of the sacred tradition. The material sufficiency of Scripture is part of the tradition, but that is not the same thing as “clearly supported by Scripture.” So here too Steven’s argument presupposes the point in question.

In my opinion, Protestants often do not recognize that their arguments against the Catholic Church presupposes the very point in question because the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism is a paradigmatic difference, such that the paradigmatic nature of the difference often remains invisible.12 In the Catholic tradition, faith is not itself established by reason or evidence accessible to reason. If I could see for myself the truth of the faith, my act of belief would not be an act of faith. Hence in the Catholic tradition an essential part of the act of faith is believing Christ by believing the successors of those whom He chose and authorized to speak in His name. Through these successors we receive also the content of faith. In the Protestant paradigm, by contrast, the personal and communal is downstream of the hermeneutical, as Neal Judisch and I argued elsewhere. I hope and pray that my response here will be helpful to Steven and also serve in the task of Protestant-Catholic reconciliation.

All you Holy Saints of God, pray for us.

Solemnity of All Saints, 2021.

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 100.
  2. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum, 37.
  3. St. Augustine writes, “if you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognize that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, though the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichean, 33:9)
  4. “As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful….” St. Augustine, Epistle to Januarius, 54:1.
  5. See our “The Bishops of History and the Catholic Faith: A Reply To Brandon Addison.”
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.
  7. Cf. Letter to Januarius 54.1.1. On Baptism 2.7.1 and 5.23.31.
  8. I have addressed the charge of sectarianism in 2011 in “Ecclesial Unity and Outdoing Christ: A Dilemma for the Ecumenicism of Non-Return.”
  9. See B.C. Butler’s The Church and Infallibility (Sheed and Ward, 1954) and Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser’s The Gift of Infallibility (Ignatius Press, 1986).
  10. Vatican Information Service, December 7, 2012.
  11. See comments #29 and #31 under “The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins.”
  12. I attempted to illustrate one aspect of the paradigmatic difference in “Imputations and Paradigms: A Reply to Nick Batzig.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Survivor’s Voices: meeting with the bishop

“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” – ST. ATHANASIUS
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts” – ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM.
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. JOHN EUDES
“I do not think that there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.” – ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, EXTRACT FROM ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HOMILY III ON ACTS 1:12
“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. ATHANASIUS, COUNCIL OF NICAEA, AD 325.
“It is better that scandals arise than truth be suppressed.” – POPE ST. GREGORY THE GREAT.
“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate, even publicly” – ST THOMAS AQUINAS, SUMMA THEOLOGICA II, II q.33

“Mercy detached from Justice and the Truth about Good and Evil, quickly disintegrates into mere sentimentalism, irrationality and a gross inability to think logically and clearly about right or wrong – or anything at all.” -Paige

“Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


-by Sara Larson

  • I met with my bishop in 2011. It was a disaster. He allocated 20 minutes to talk, with one of his staff at his side. I wasn’t allowed to bring anyone along with me. (A canon lawyer later told me I had a right to have someone else with me. They took advantage of me.) I had 10 minutes to speak. They made clear that it didn’t matter what I said, they had already decided their course of action. I was to be put out of my parish. The staff member said all he could to drive me out of the Church. I left sobbing and threw myself on the floor in front of the chapel. A friend had driven me and was waiting in the lobby. She helped me up and took me home.
  • I met with the bishop of a neighboring diocese in 2018, at the request of my mother who lives there. This bishop was compassionate and agreed to help me contact my own bishop, but he admitted that he could not offer me much support since I do not live in his diocese. A fellow victim of the same priest attended this meeting, and she was able to be engaged in support and healing groups right away. There are no programs for survivors in my diocese. I am on my own.
  • I reported my 2014 assault via the diocesan website in 2019, told my story, and simply asked that they take it seriously. The diocese notified the abbey where my abuser lived, and the abbey sent a representative. She tried to manipulate me into saying I’d be ok with this priest returning to ministry, and she seemed indignant that I’d approached the diocese rather than the abbey. I’m thankful that I went into it expecting to be handed a bunch of BS rather than any real attempt at reconciliation; it probably saved me a lot more trauma. The bishop never offered to meet, and I didn’t see the point of asking for a meeting.
  • I waited four months to meet the bishop. He wore his priestly symbolism even after he was informed that it would trigger me. I wanted to meet with the Abbot of the Order as well; the Abbot would have received me that day if I wanted to. When we met, he was in plain clothes and we met in a room void of symbolism.
  • I went to the bishop with the intention of letting him know this happened to me. He listened, had a compassionate posture. I was skeptical. He chose words carefully so as not to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In the following years he betrayed my trust in several ways. In publications he writes that he “walks with victims and survivors.” That wasn’t true in my case and I never wanted him to walk with me, only do something about the criminal and moral offenses.
  • I was advocating for myself directly with the diocesan victim advocate for almost ten months when I felt the need to return to ministry in my church. Because I reported the priest who abused me, the pastor banned me from all ministry. I addressed him directly first, but he did not change his position. So, I met with the bishop to ask if he would help by asking the pastor to drop the ban (that should have never been applied). I felt punished for not remaining silent. The bishop listened to me, recognized that I was abused, and said he prays for me daily. But when I asked for what I needed to try and reclaim my self prior to the abuse, he said that this isn’t his method of operating. In other words, he declined to intervene. His reasoning? He doesn’t involve himself with local church matters where volunteer positions are involved. He leaves it to the discretion of the pastor. This is what ultimately led to my contacting a lawyer and filing a lawsuit, which was never my intention. By standing up with the power and advocacy of the attorney, I found my voice. It opened the door to deeper self-recovery efforts. I felt heard and validated. My attorney did something beyond just praying for me. Sometimes action is required with prayer.
  • The priest who abused me had told me a story about picking up a male hitchhiker and having sex with him. When I shared this with the bishop, he said that the priest just told me that because he wanted to impress me and hoped I would “think he was macho.” I had no words, and I was in shock that a priest or bishop would think this is “macho.” I knew then that the meeting was a joke, and I lost all hope that he was a holy shepherd who would protect one of his flock. The rest of the meeting continued to spiral downward, and I left disillusioned, with my faith in the Church’s hierarchy starting to dismantle. This was in 2019.
  • One aspect of my healing process was a meeting with the cardinal who was my archbishop. I had never met a cardinal, prince of the Church, before. I was anxious about this meeting. I was conflicted because of my deep respect for his office, but I also wanted to tell my story as a way to unburden myself. I told the cardinal my story of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has had on me and my family throughout my life. The cardinal listened. He apologized to me for the abuse imposed upon me when I was a little boy. Also, I brought family photographs of my abuser at many of our family functions to the meeting and shared them. The cardinal asked about my parents and my siblings. We had a very nice discussion and because of the time he spent with me, and because that conversation was so good, I feel comfortable continuing to practice my faith.
  • In March 2019, just a few weeks after the sex abuse summit in the Vatican, I met with my archbishop. While my hopes weren’t high, I tried to reset my expectations and go into the meeting with a clean slate and an open mind. However, I was immediately disappointed when my archbishop started off the meeting by saying, right up front, “But my hope with everybody I’ve met is that… Even if we can’t have healing with the church because of what has happened…” At least the archbishop made it clear, right up front, that he wasn’t going to do anything to help me. He then preceded to offer to serve as my spiritual advisor, but I couldn’t see how I could accept spiritual advice from a man who could so quickly, easily, and abruptly disregard what was done to my family and me. Rather than react, I simply allowed the archbishop to keep talking, during which time he made it clear to me, multiple times, that he wasn’t around when what was done to me occurred and he didn’t know anything about it. I did try to take up the archbishop on his offer of a follow-up meeting, in an attempt to try to get through to him, but the archdiocese cut off all communication with me.
  • My bishop has not chosen to meet with me, even when a bishop from a neighboring diocese met with me and invited my bishop to meet with both of us. My bishop insisted he could not meet while the criminal investigation was taking place, but he also had not agreed before there was a criminal investigation. The priest is in jail now, but my bishop still has not agreed to meet with me.
  • I met with the new bishop in 2019. He promised to review the file and get to the bottom of it. He never did. I had to recreate the file of evidence and almost a year later take him through each piece. He finally acknowledged that things were not as he was told. He wrote a letter stating I was free to participate in parish life, with approval of the local priest. There were no consequences for the lies the diocesan staff had spread or the harm they caused. No reparation was made. He left me with these words: “I hope you heal. Good luck.”
  • My meeting with the archbishop came after calls with the attorney general, my local prosecutor’s office, the diocesan coordinator and the Diocesan Review Board (Interrogation Panel). The meeting with the archbishop was really at the end of another meeting. Someone told me that he knew I was there and wanted to meet me. It was awkward at best. He stared into my eyes, said sorry, stared some more. I just said thank you and backed away.
  • Initially, I wrote a letter to the archbishop. My heart longed to hear my bishop tell me it wasn’t my fault and that I wasn’t going to hell. Instead, I got a voicemail from him saying he had shredded my letter. I was devastated. When I reached out a second time, asking to meet with him, he told me someone from his office would be getting in touch with me to schedule a meeting, but that never happened. I was so discouraged and angry. To this day, whenever I see his name or people mention him as a “good and holy bishop,” I can feel my blood boiling.
  • I talked to one of our regional bishops about the fact that there is still a bust of my abuser in the church vestibule. This is two years after I reported, and after at least three other victims came forward. The street and a meeting center are still named after him. This bishop’s answer was that there are some other priests under investigation in the diocese, so they do not want to release new names until these cases are settled. Needless to say, I am very disappointed.
  • I was nervous but happy to be able to meet with the bishop in 1997. He had a very good reputation, and I was confident he would handle my case of multiple rapes by a Catholic priest. I had become pregnant and gave my baby up for adoption. He listened, and I provided the proof. He wept and assured me the priest would be put in a monastery for the rest of his life. When this did not happen, I wrote to the bishop over a two-year period. He always wrote back reassuring me of his decision (just long enough for the statute of limitations to expire). Finally, the priest was moved to another country to avoid criminal or civil action. I finally went public on YouTube in 2020 and have been threatened and intimidated by other priests and laity. I have since spoken to other victims from the group, the Society of St. Pius X. This bishop has covered up hundreds of cases.
  • In 2014, I reached out to my diocese and several local newspapers to report what I knew about an abusive cardinal and heard absolutely nothing from anyone. When the news broke in 2018, I was asked why I didn’t say anything. I DID.
  • While it was an extremely difficult thing, and it did not have the ultimate outcome I wanted, I am incredibly grateful for the meeting I had with my archbishop. While it was very tense, and I didn’t see the compassion or care I had hoped to, there were moments when I know that I saw his heart. Past all the fears and defenses, I saw a man who was trying to understand. I saw a man who was woefully uneducated about trauma and abuse, who now was tasked with making these decisions. I saw that it wasn’t that he was trying to cover things up or brush things a way, but that he was genuinely trying to make sense of the situation. I think he believed me – or wanted to – on one hand, but he also believed his priest. I think the face-to-face meeting was such an important thing. It allowed him to see who I am, to know me as a person and therefore, not someone he could just easily dismiss. It allowed me to have a glimpse into his heart. Through all the struggle and ugliness that has come since then, it has helped immensely to be able to hold on to that.
  • After going through my savings, my IRA, and my husband’s IRA in order to pay for treatment to help me with the fallout of ten years of rapes by Catholic clergy and others they were associated with, I ran out of money for the out-of-pocket treatment costs I required, so I applied for the diocese compensation fund. They accepted my claim, but only offered me $25,000 as full and final settlement… for ten years of rapes. I had no choice but to reject that offer as it wouldn’t last even two years. I considered approaching the diocese where the abuse occurred, but I’d heard so many horror stories from other survivors who had attempted that route – where the bishops and/or their representatives or associates had shamed, blamed, or used other forms of intimidation tactics on them – that I decided to not add to my already crushing trauma. I am 69 years old and have required intensive treatment for decades. I’ve worked hard to survive and become at least minimally functional. The last thing I need is to be set back to the stone age by an institution whose track record for meaningfully helping survivors has been dismal at best, and destructive at worst, based on what several other survivors have told me. If the Church truly cared about us survivors, they would not beat us up with manipulation, intimidation, and other methods meant to minimize our plight or reject our pleas for help, nor would they offer such inadequate recompense.
  • One of my greatest regrets in the whole reporting process was that I complied when I was told not to go into the details of the abuse in my meeting with the archbishop, because it “would be too much for him.” I didn’t realize fully at the time how wounding that was, how isolated it made me feel, that they were unable to even hear these things that I lived through, that I still deal with everyday. If I could do one thing over, I would tell him the whole story. It might not have made any difference, but I think I would feel better, having spoken my truth, and not given into the idea that I had to hide what had happened to me.
  • I reached out to our new bishop. I sent a simple e-mail explaining I was abused by a priest and asked if I could meet with him just once. He replied to me that very day and said yes. I was soooooo nervous. I had never met with a bishop at the chancery before, and I was all alone. To my delight (and healing), he met me with humility and treated my story with great gentleness. He gave me the time I needed. My heart breaks for the thousands of survivors who have been treated like garbage and/or a burden/inconvenience by bishops. What started as a one-time meeting, has turned into monthly meetings since January of 2014. I have experienced tremendous healing and freedom. My bishop has heard the most vulgar of language from me and the deepest cries of my heart. He has held my pain with deep reverence. I wish all the bishops would learn from his example.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.  Pray for the souls of the guilty, the abused, the afflicted, the Church, and the innocent,
Matthew

Bad Confessors

A priest hears Pope Francis’ confession during a Lenten penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 29, 2019. In the light of “a worrying negative prejudice” against the Catholic Church, Pope Francis ordered the publication of a document affirming the absolute secrecy of everything said in confession and calling on priests to defend it at all costs, even at the cost of their lives. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters) See VATICAN-CONFESSIONAL-SEAL July 1, 2019.


-by Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., a convert from Episcopalianism

“Christians sometimes find themselves discussing their experiences in confession—especially if they had an unpleasant or confusing experience. They trade stories—some humorous, others jaw-dropping, some of them exaggerations, others misunderstandings. The words and personality of the confessor are always the center of the story—to which, by the way, he can never respond, since he is forbidden by the seal to defend himself from your complaints!

What makes a good confessor? How can we evaluate a confessor as “good” or “bad”? To answer, we need to know what confession is all about. We may be surprised at what we do not know, even if we have gone to confession habitually our whole lives.

First off, going to confession is not about having a conversation. Yes, that’s what I said. It’s not about the penitent’s talking, nor about the priest’s talking. It’s not about asking for advice or giving advice. Neither one is a requirement for the sacrament.

Notice the word sacrament. We call confession the sacrament of penance or the sacrament of absolution or the sacrament of reconciliation. If we understand what a sacrament is, we will go a long way in understanding confession and confessors correctly.

A sacrament is a sign of a particular grace established by Christ in order to convey the saving graces of His holy passion and resurrection. The grace of a particular sacrament corresponds to the different stages and circumstances and relationships of life. The sacrament of penance or confession corresponds to the circumstance of having sinned, especially mortally, after baptism and needing a new cleansing after our first one.

Each sacramental sign is made up of its matter and the form, which clarifies the meaning of the matter, as water and the baptismal words in baptism, or bread and wine and the words of consecration in the holy Eucharist, or the laying on of hands and the appropriate words in ordinations.

So when the priest who celebrates the sacrament of penance with you prepares, what is the matter, and what is the form? The matter is not precisely your sins! A sacrament is an act of divine worship, and we do not offer things that are evil in worship, and our sins are evil. We bring matter that is good, like water, wine, bread, oil, and chrism. The precise matter of the sacrament is contrition for sin, not sin. It is a loving and complete sorrow, not just felt, but willed, for grave sin committed after baptism.

So what is the job of the confessor? It is to determine and ensure as much as possible that the penitent has true contrition—that is, is sorry out of love, and sorry universally.

This is all from the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, by the way. Aquinas teaches that confessing our sins out loud is a super-prudent way of ensuring our contrition. This is so true that Aquinas advises that if we are dying and no priest is available, we may confess to any lay person just to establish our sorrow for sin. This extreme case (or maybe not so extreme in this age) reveals the basic reason for speaking our sins in confession.

Thus, the reason for talking at all is just to signify (sacraments are signs!) our sorrowing love. If we must ask questions, it is to know what to be sorry for. Any other discussion in confession is not part of the sacrament.

The sacrament of confession is not spiritual direction or counseling. Those things may conveniently take place, but they may well, and even best, be accomplished outside the sacrament, if there are other opportunities. Sometimes they may even be a hindrance, filling the sacrament with lots of non-sacramental discussion.

Ironically, too much talk, even pious talk, may undermine the penitential and loving purpose of our verbal confession, dissipating our attention from the experience of confessing our love of God. So the priest may need gently to correct us if we talk outside the purpose of the sacrament we are celebrating. If the penitent is uncomfortable and needs to be encouraged, the priest may talk a little more as well, but that is only to make it easy for the sinner to be sorry out of love, and not nervous or afraid of the priest or the circumstances.

All talk should point to loving contrition. This is true of almost everything we say at Mass, from the Kyrie to the “Lord I am not worthy.” This means that the priest also should not talk too much or ask too many questions or dwell on any details beyond what is necessary to clarify what sin was committed and whether the penitent intends to struggle against it. This is especially important regarding sins against chastity.

Sometimes a priest may be a little chatty. If he is, and it is not to the point, don’t encourage him. Just ask him for penance and absolution as sweetly as you can, and make room for the next penitent.

Often one hears the complaint, usually legitimate, from a devout penitent that a confessor will tell him he comes to confession too often, that he has only venial sins to confess. This is nonsense and an insult to the freedom of the faithful in approaching the sacrament. Even so, it is an opportunity to point out that venial sins never have to be confessed, and they do not all have to be confessed in any case. So if there is a long line, and you intend to confess many venial sins, you might be so kind as to limit your confession to the ones that threaten your love the most. There is no obligation to be complete when there is no question of mortal sin.

In fact, the best thing to do, better than confessing venial sins, is to renew your confession of some mortal sin already confessed for which you are especially sorry and which makes you especially aware of how you have offended our loving Lord. Renew your sorrow and confess past sins of adultery, theft, violence, abortion, the things that have wrecked your life and hurt others the most. Some priests do not understand that you are free to confess past sins already confessed. Just tuck it in after some venial sin you are also sorry for, and ignore Father if his lack of instruction makes him wonder at your devout practice.

After all, the form, the absolution, works off the matter, and in confession, the closer the matter is to the form—that is, the more intense the loving sorrow—the greater the effect of the form. The sorrier you are, the more you get out of confession. So if you have reached a point in life when you no longer commit many new sins, that does not mean that you cannot have confessions more contrite than when you were a fresh, young sinner. It is love that counts, and we can become more and more grateful and loving as the years go on.

So imagine if the priest is unkind to you, even cruel. Recognize that none of the sacrament depends on his priestly ministry in the strict sense for anything but that he can pray the words of absolution over you. If you come to confession with a sincere, loving, and universal contrition, nothing else matters except the words “I absolve you from your sins . . .”

To be sure, talk is important, and instruction is important, and our feelings are important, but “love endures,” and any experience of the priest, good or bad, is nothing in comparison with the amazing power of the instant when our loving sorrow meets the power of absolution.

Think of it. At your last confession, you may be unconscious, and the priest may not even know you, and there will be no talk, but only this: that he was told you are a Christian who desires the forgiveness of the Savior. Your confessor will recite the words of absolution over you, in obedience to the institution of Christ, and this will usher you into eternal life.

Then it will not matter whether he was a good or a bad confessor, and it will not matter how good or bad you were in life. As St. John of the Cross says in a way so perfectly in line with the matter of this sacrament: “In the evening of this life we will be judged on love.” You will be safe in the loving embrace of the Savior, Who will continue to purify, perfect, and delight you forevermore. Amen.”

Love, pray for priests! Our Lady, Queen of Priests, pray for priests, and us, too!!!!
Matthew

Excommunication


-Excommunication of Lord Gilbert, servant of King Henry II, scene from “Becket” (1964) film starring Richard Burton as St Thomas a Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II. “Becket” was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.

The phrase “bell, book, and candle” refers to a Latin Christian method of excommunication by anathema, imposed on a person who had committed an exceptionally grievous sin. Evidently introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century. This ritual persisted until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

“Idcirco eum cum universis complicibus, fautoribusque suis, judicio Dei omnipotentis Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, et beati Petri principis Apostolorum, et omnium Sanctorum, necnon et mediocritatis nostrae auctoritate, et potestate ligandi et solvendi in coelo et in terra nobis divinitus collata, a pretiosi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini perceptione, et a societate omnium Christianorum separamus, et a liminibus sanctae matris Ecclesiae in coelo et in terra excludimus, et excommunicatum et anathematizatum esse decernimus; et damnatum cum diabolo, et angelis ejus, et omnibus reprobis in ignem aeternum judicamus; donec a diaboli laqueis resipiscat, et ad emendationem, et poenitentiam redeat, et Ecclesiae Dei, quam laesit, satisfaciat, tradentes eum satanae in interitum carnis, ut spiritus ejus salvus fiat in die judicii.”

In English:

“Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive him and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.”

After this recitation the priests would respond: “Fiat, fiat, fiat” (“So be it! So be it! So be it!”) The bishop would then ring a bell, close a holy book, and he and the assisting priests would snuff out their candles by dashing them to the ground. After the ritual, written notices would be sent to the neighboring bishops and priests to report that the target had been anathematized and why, so that they and their constituents would hold no communication with the target. The frightful pronouncements of the ritual were calculated so as to strike terror into the ones so excommunicated and bring them to repentance.

Prior to the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the Catholic Church expected adherents to shun an excommunicated member in all matters. In 1983, the distinction between vitandi and others (tolerandi, secular intercourse/business was still allowed with the excommunicate) was abolished, and thus the expectation is not made anymore.


-by Jimmy Akin

“Excommunication is widely misunderstood. Probably the most common misunderstanding is thinking that it means you can’t go to Communion. That is part of excommunication, but only a part.

Another common misunderstanding is that excommunication means being kicked out of the Church. It used to mean that, but it doesn’t anymore.

Today, excommunication is a penalty with very specific and clearly stated effects—that almost nobody knows.

So what is it, and why is it so often misunderstood? Let’s talk about that.

The two common misunderstandings both have the same source: trying to figure out the word excommunication based on its word origins instead of its current usage.

People have the idea that ex- means things like “former” (an ex-wife as opposed to a current wife), “out” (to export rather than to import), or “deprive” (to expropriate rather than appropriate).

Communion is understood in terms of either receiving the Eucharist (sacramental communion) or being part of the Church (ecclesiastical communion).

To excommunicate would thus mean to deprive someone of the Eucharist or kick him out of the Church.

Or so you’d think. The actual way to figure out what excommunication is and does is by looking at canon law, and this has changed dramatically over the centuries.

For much of the twentieth century, canon law was embodied in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (CIC), but that was replaced by a new code in 1983. This year (2021), Pope Francis replaced Book VI of the Code, which deals with penalties, including excommunication.

So what is excommunication? In the first place, it’s a penalty, which is why it’s dealt with in Book VI of the Code (“Penal Sanctions in the Church”).

People often think of penalties as punishments intended to satisfy justice by inflicting pain on someone who deserves it. But there is more than one kind of penalty, and excommunication is what’s known as a censure.

Censures are mainly medicinal; they are meant to wake up a person to his wrongdoing so he can repent and return to normal functioning within the Church. Penalties that go beyond the medicinal and are primarily focused on achieving justice rather than healing are known as expiatory penalties.

The primary, but not exclusive, purpose of medicinal penalties, or censures (e.g., excommunication), is breaking contumacy [stubbornness], or contempt of Church authority, and reintegrating the offender within the community.

In contrast, expiatory penalties such as deprivation of office primarily envision restoring justice and repairing the ecclesial damage done by the offender (Beal, et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, at can. 1312).

If excommunication’s function is primarily medicinal, what effects does it have?

Under the 1917 Code, a person was kicked out of the Church. It provided that “excommunication is a censure by which one is excluded from the communion of the faithful” (can. 2257 §1).

However, this was not repeated in the 1983 Code, and so it lapsed (CIC [1983] 6 §1), so today, being excommunicated does not mean one is no longer in the Church.

Instead, the current (2021) revision prohibits an excommunicated person from doing a variety of things (can. 1331).

Thus, he is prohibited “from celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.” This means that an excommunicated priest could not celebrate any of the sacraments, and a layperson could not baptize anyone or get married.

Excommunicated clergy and laity are equally prohibited “from receiving the sacraments,” so it’s true that you can’t receive Holy Communion if you’re excommunicated, but that’s not what excommunication is. If it were, every time a person commits a mortal sin, he’d be excommunicated, and that’s not the case.

Clergy are called upon to administer sacramentals (e.g., blessings) and participate in non-sacramental liturgies (e.g., the liturgy of the hours). Laypeople can administer some sacramentals and take active parts in the liturgy of the hours, but when excommunicated, both clergy and laity are prohibited “from administering sacramentals and from celebrating the other ceremonies of liturgical worship.”

This does not mean that excommunicated people can’t be present at liturgies. In fact, they are still required to fulfill their Sunday obligation. But they are prohibited “from taking an active part in the celebrations listed above.”

They also are prohibited “from exercising any ecclesiastical offices, duties, ministries or functions.” In the case of laypeople, this would mean not functioning as catechists, altar servers, lectors, and so forth.

Finally, excommunicated people are prohibited “from performing acts of governance”—something that normally applies to clergy, as typically only they can perform legislative, executive, or judicial acts within the Church’s internal system of governance.

These are the basic effects common to all forms of excommunication, but there can be additional effects.

Currently, there are two types of excommunication: latae sententiae excommunication, which takes place automatically upon the commission of a particular crime, and ferendae sententiae excommunication, which is imposed after the bishop has warned a person but he keeps offending anyway.

If a bishop imposes a ferendae sententiae excommunication or declares that a person has automatically excommunicated himself, then canon 1331 has additional effects.

For example, an excommunicated person might want to defy the prohibition on celebrating the sacraments, receiving the sacraments, administering sacramentals, or being only passively present at such celebrations. If he seeks to violate these prohibitions, then he “is to be removed, or else the liturgical action is to be suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary.” In other words, he is to be escorted out of the church, and the service may be suspended if he won’t go quietly.

Although all excommunicated people are prohibited from performing acts of governance, these acts can still be valid even though they aren’t lawful. However, if the excommunication has been imposed or declared by the bishop, the excommunicated person “invalidly exercises any acts of governance”—meaning they are null and void.

Similarly, a person in this situation “is prohibited from benefiting from privileges already granted.” A privilege is a special favor granted by the competent authority. For example, if the bishop has created a diocesan tax, a person might benefit by being granted a privilege so he doesn’t have to pay it—but not if that person goes on to have an imposed or declared excommunication.

If the person has been deriving an income from the Church, this also can be impacted, for the Code provides that he “does not acquire any remuneration held in virtue of a merely ecclesiastical title.”

And, finally, he “is legally incapable of acquiring offices, duties, ministries, functions, rights, privileges or honorific titles.”

Does excommunication still occur today? Yes, though bishops are hesitant to impose it.

Probably the most common way it happens is through the handful of canons that provide for automatic or latae sententiae excommunication, such as knowingly, deliberately, and directly participating in an abortion (can. 1397 §2). Such automatic excommunications may never come to public attention.

However, even when the Code provides for such an excommunication, it may not take effect. There is an extensive list of factors that may stop an automatic excommunication from happening (can. 1321-1325). Not the least of these is being unaware that the excommunication exists (can. 1323 °2).

Since bishops don’t like imposing excommunications ferendae sententiae, they will often announce that a person has excommunicated himself in latae sententiae manner. This helps make it clear to the public that the excommunicated person is responsible for what happened to him and that the bishop isn’t being cruel or capricious.

For example, in 2020, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento declared that Fr. Jeremy Leatherby had incurred excommunication latae sententiae by placing himself in a state of schism (cann. 751; 1364 §1) since he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Pope Francis.

However, there are cases when bishops warn people and then excommunicate them ferendae sententiae. Thus, in 2008, then archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis excommunicated a woman for simulating the sacrament of holy orders (can. 1379).

Even when such imposed excommunications take place, their purpose is medicinal. The Church prays for excommunicated people to repent and longs to welcome them back into normal Catholic life.

As Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).”

Latae sententiae penalties

Excommunications

Unless the excusing circumstances outlined in canons 1321–1330[6] exist, the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposes latae sententiae excommunication on the following:

  • an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic;
  • a person who throws away the consecrated Eucharistic species or takes and retains them for a sacrilegious purpose;
  • a person who uses physical force against the pope;
  • a priest who absolves his accomplice in a sin against the commandment against adultery;
  • a bishop who ordains someone a bishop without a papal mandate, and the person who receives the ordination from him;
  • a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession;
  • a person who procures a completed abortion;
  • accomplices without whose assistance a violation of a law prescribing latae sententiae excommunication would not have been committed (such as those who performs an abortion, assisting medical personnel, one who provides transport or financial assistance to procure an abortion);
  • a person who attempts to confer a holy order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive it.

Legislation outside of the Code of Canon Law may also decree latae sententiae excommunication. An example is that governing papal elections, which applies it to persons who violate secrecy, or who interfere with the election by means such as simony or communicating the veto of a civil authority.

The ipso facto excommunication that applied before 1983 to Catholics who became members of Masonic associations was not maintained in the revised Code of Canon Law that came into force in that year. However, the Holy See has declared that membership remains forbidden and that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion”.

Interdicts

A censure forbidding the faithful, while still remaining in communion with the Church, the use of certain sacred privileges, such as Christian burial, some of the sacraments, and attendance at liturgical services. It does not exclude from Church membership, nor does it necessarily imply a personal fault of any individual affected by the interdict. When imposed for a fixed period, it is a vindictive penalty because of some grave act done against the common good of the Church by one or more parishes. Usual religious services are curtailed, but sacraments may be given to the dying, marriages celebrated, and Holy Communion administered if the interdict is general or local (not personal). A general interdict may be inflicted only by the Holy See. Parishes or persons may be interdicted only by the local ordinary.

Instances in which one incurs a latae sententiae interdict include the following:

  • using physical force against a bishop
  • attempting to preside at Eucharist, or giving sacramental absolution, when not a priest
  • falsely denouncing a confessor for soliciting a penitent to sin against the commandment against adultery
  • a perpetually professed religious who attempts marriage

An example of an interdict that is not latae sententiae but instead ferendae sententiae is that given in canon 1374 of the Code of Canon Law: “One who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or moderates such an association, however, is to be punished with an interdict.”

Suspensions

Automatic suspension applies to clerics (those who have been ordained at least to the diaconate) in the following cases:

  • a cleric who uses physical violence against a bishop;
  • a deacon who attempts to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass; or a priest who, though not empowered to grant sacramental absolution, attempts to do so or hears sacramental confession (the empowerment or faculty in question is granted either by the law itself, for instance to those who hold certain offices, or by certain ecclesiastical superiors of the penitents and penitents in danger of death can be validly absolved even by a priest without the faculty to hear confessions, and even if a priest with the faculty is present);
  • a cleric who celebrates a sacrament through simony;
  • a cleric who has received ordination illicitly;
  • a cleric who falsely denounces before a church superior a priest as having committed the delict of soliciting, in connection with confession, to a sexual sin.

Ferendae sententiae suspension (along with other punishments) is to be inflicted on any cleric who openly lives in violation of chastity and on any priest who “in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession” solicits a penitent to a sexual sin.

Truth in Love,
Matthew