gaudium in veritate


As we wait for Spring, here’s a game to while away the wintry evenings. Which event from the past would you most like to have witnessed? It can be something public or domestic, famous or homely (I except the events of our Lord’s earthly life, as being too sacred to set into the balance with others.)

Someone, I suppose, might choose the founding of the city of Rome, or else, going maybe further back, desire to have heard Homer sing the Odyssey or the Iliad to his lyre. We might have heard great Homer in his hall, begins one of Belloc’s ballades. Or would you choose to have seen Joseph discover himself to his brethren; or further back by far, our common father when he came forth from his mighty ship and saw a whole world made new?

Or to return to a more recent antiquity, what about watching the 300 take up their places at Thermopylae, and hearing one of the Spartans say to General Leonidas (trying to keep the fear from his voice), ‘The Persians are so many that their arrows will blot out the sun!’, and hearing Leonidas answer, ‘So much the better – we shall get to fight them in the shade’?

It would have been fine, too, to have heard Socrates and the others at the world’s most famous dinner-party discussing the nature of love; or to have been at the Academy on the day when a promising young student from Stagira ventured to put up his hand and ask Professor Plato whether there weren’t some difficulties involved in the theory of the forms.

What would one not give to have been in Rome on the Christmas morning of 800, when like the lightning that come out of the East and passes even to the West, the Pope translated the empire to the brows of Charlemagne, and then, as if awed by the boldness of his own deed, threw himself to the ground before the monarch of the world?

Or perhaps one would choose to have been present three centuries later when another pope preached the first Crusade in the heart of France; or when the French knights whose faith and imaginations he had kindled scaled the walls of Jerusalem? Or on into the very heart of the middle ages, dining at the same table with St Louis and St Thomas Aquinas, seeing the friar bring down his fist upon the table with a bang, and the king, amused, called for pen and paper to be brought him?

What a scene, too, in Augsburg, when Cajetan met Luther! Will there ever again be so perfect an encounter of reason and anti-reason? Some good Protestant who plays the game might like to have been a spectator when Friar Martin nailed his theses to the castle door. Alas, it seems it never happened. Or again, some bold republican might wish to have been in Paris on an August night in ’92 to hear the tocsin sound and watch Danton set to work; or even to have shivered by the guillotine a few months later when a blameless king knelt beneath the blade, and an Irish priest murmured holy words into his ear: Fils de Saint Louis, montez au Ciel!

Turning back to peaceful England, how I should like to have sat in a church in Oxford in the 1830’s and listened to the silvery voice reading the sermon from the pulpit of St Mary’s, as the shadows began to lengthen down the High; but even more to have heard Newman himself afterward talking with Keble and Pusey and Ward and Froude, late into the night; yes, and to have joined in too.

Yet if I must make my choice, I think I must settle upon the Council of Nicaea. To have been there when the 318 came in, so many of them noble and saintly confessors; brethren of the martyrs; men who had come through the Great Persecution and washed their robes therein. To have seen Constantine the Great enter, and kiss their scarred and mutilated limbs, expiating thus the crimes of his forebears, and refusing to sit until they had first sat down. Then to have heard the debates, as bishop after bishop bore witness to the truth handed down from the apostles, of the true divinity of the Son. To have seen St Alexander of Alexandria, or St Nicholas of Myra, and, combining the freshness of youth with the gravity of age, the deacon Athanasius. And the men sent from the west, from the throne of Peter, presiding over the discussions by undisputed right.

To have beheld the Eusebii, also; seen faithless Nicomedia confuted, and ambiguous Caesarea disconcerted. And the poor Novatian bishop silenced by the emperor’s wisdom:

For aiming at ecclesiastical harmony, he summoned to the council Acesius also, a bishop of the sect of Novatians. Now, when the declaration of faith had been written out and subscribed by the Synod, the emperor asked Acesius whether he would also agree to this creed to the settlement of the day on which Easter should be observed. He replied, ‘The Synod has determined nothing new, my prince: for thus heretofore, even from the beginning, from the times of the apostles, I traditionally received the definition of the faith, and the time of the celebration of Easter.’ When, therefore, the emperor further asked him, ‘For what reason then do you separate yourself from communion with the rest of the Church?’, he related what had taken place during the persecution under Decius; and referred to the rigidness of that austere canon which declares, that it is not right persons who after  baptism have committed a sin, which the sacred Scriptures denominate ‘a sin unto death’ to be considered worthy of participation in the sacraments: that they should indeed be exhorted to repentance, but were not to expect remission from the priest, but from God, who is able and has authority to forgive sins. When Acesius had thus spoken, the emperor said to him, ‘Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.’

Then to have heard the great Symbol recited by all save a wretched few, and to have watched as they processed into the basilica, to sing some liturgy even more ancient than those of St Basil or St Chrysostom; for these men were not yet born. Yes, I should be glad to have seen those things.

 

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Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labour, on the rights of the labouring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV. There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.

– Pius XI

Hamish Fraser once observed that the universal restoration of the traditional liturgy would not solve the crisis in the church. The traditional liturgy was, after all, universally observed before the crisis arose and it did not prevent it. That which was not upheld and which would have prevented the crisis, the absence of which led to the crisis and the restoration of which alone will solve it, is the preaching of the Social Kingship of Christ. However, as Hilary White has recently and eloquently observed the Kingship of Christ exists exclusively for the salvation of souls. When His disciples could not find Him in Capharnaum they found the Lord alone in the hills praying. He said to them “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” As I once heard a very holy monk observe, the word here translated as ‘came out’ is ἐξῆλθον the same word as Our Lord uses in John 8:42 to describe His eternal generation. He went out into the hills to prepare to preach to the people. He came out from the Father in eternity that He might breathe forth the Spirit. He came into the world to save mankind, but that salvation consists in going out from the perishing city as He went out from Capharnaum to share in the eternal processions of the Divine Persons through prayer – the one thing necessary. Only in this light are any temporal benefits (such as the people of Caphernum sought) even benefits. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

St Benedict says “To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.” But he is not addressing would-be statesmen or even the fathers of families, he is addressing would-be monks. The Social Kingship of Christ consists in the reordering and subordination of temporal realities to the supernatural end. Its foundation lies in the recognition of the utterly surpassing nature of that end. Its foundation is in the monastery and the monastery’s foundation is in heaven. Without this all temporal Christian struggle is worthless. The path of restoration proceeds from the monastery through the liturgy to the capitol and back again, but cut off  from its source and destination it will nought avail.

I have had the opportunity over the years four times to celebrate the feast of Christ the King on its traditional date in the United States of America according to the traditional rite. On one of those occasions the Mass was arranged by a lay ‘Latin Mass Community’ who ensured that it was celebrated with gusto. A High Mass with full choir, Blessed Sacrament procession and the solemn intoning of the Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the other occasions the Mass was offered by the FSSP. Now the FSSP are splendid fellows but the liturgy was not at all celebrated with the vigour and pomp one might expect for the Feast instituted to combat social and political modernism, the consecration was recited in a frankly perfunctory manner (and one occasion omitted entirely), there was no procession and the Blessed Sacrament was not exposed. Most seriously of all there was absolutely no mention made in the sermon of the Social Kingship of Christ on any of these occasions.

Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in order to compel the clergy to preach this doctrine.

[A]lthough in all the feasts of our Lord the material object of worship is Christ, nevertheless their formal object is something quite distinct from his royal title and dignity. We have commanded its observance on a Sunday in order that not only the clergy may perform their duty by saying Mass and reciting the Office, but that the laity too, free from their daily tasks, may in a spirit of holy joy give ample testimony of their obedience and subjection to Christ. The last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for this purpose, because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect. Make it your duty and your task, Venerable Brethren, to see that sermons are preached to the people in every parish to teach them the meaning and the importance of this feast, that they may so order their lives as to be worthy of faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.

Hamish Fraser famously described the American Catholic as “a Protestant who goes to Mass”. There is, alas, all too much truth in this ungenerous observation. One is often struck by the way in which American Catholics will say “I’m Catholic” rather than “I am a Catholic” as if ‘Catholic’ were one among a number of flavours of Christian. They will even talk about ‘Catholics and Christians’ as if there were some other sort of Christian or as if Catholics were not Christians or as if there were some kind of generic ‘mere Christianity’ approximating mildly conservative Protestantism upon which Marian devotion and five sacraments and the Real Presence are (hopefully) harmless baroque accretions.

Fr Brian Harrison observes:

[R]ejecting papal authority in favour of one’s own individual judgment was a perfect recipe for religious anarchy. And in medieval Christendom it was much easier to see that fact – and also to see that such anarchy is thoroughly undesirable – than it is in modern Western society. Desensitised after several centuries spent under a socio-political umbrella that shelters multiple coexistent Christian denominations, we have now, as a society, baptised this chaotic anarchy with the bland name of “religious pluralism”, and have come to see it as an instance of normal and healthy progress, rather than of pathological decline from the revealed norm of a Catholic polity that recognises the kingship of Christ. (After all, isn’t such ‘pluralism’ a cornerstone of democracy and a guarantee of individual liberty?) Those of us who are converts to the faith can testify from experience that for modern Protestants right across the liberal-evangelical-fundamentalist spectrum, the co-existence of many Christian denominations or “churches”, while theoretically acknowledged as falling short of the biblical ideal of Christian unity, is for practical purposes taken for granted as something normal, natural and inevitable – pretty much like the co-existence of many different countries, languages, styles of music, or ice cream flavours. From that perspective it is precisely “Rome” that appears as the renegade – the black sheep in the Christian fold – by virtue of her “arrogant” claim to be the one and only true Church. And let us recall the full radicality of this Protestant critique. It is not that the Southern Baptists (let us say) object to the aforesaid claim simply because they consider their own denomination, rather than “Rome”, to be the one true Church. That would basically be the same kind of objection that many claimants to this or that national throne have made over the centuries against rival claimants: “It is not you, but I, who am the rightful king!” No, the Protestant position cuts much deeper. It is like objecting to someone’s claim to the throne of England on the grounds that no such throne exists! It’s like protesting that anyone at all who claims to be England’s rightful ruler is ipso facto an impostor and potential tyrant whose pretensions must be firmly resisted! For the common position now shared by Protestants is precisely that no single Christian denomination may claim to be the Church founded by Christ, and, therefore, that no leader of any one denomination may dare claim the authority to make doctrinal or governing decisions that bind all Christians. Rather, it is said, each denomination should respectfully recognise many (or even all) of the others as being true, that is, real, “churches”, and so limit itself to making the modest claim of being preferable to the others in one way or another – for instance, by virtue of possessing what it believes is a better understanding of Scripture. In other words, the different organised “churches”, according to this ecclesiology, are seen as being in this respect pretty much like banks, schools, cars, brands of toothpaste, or any other sorts of commodities and services. It is considered legitimate to promote one or other as being of better quality than the rest; but just as it would be outrageous and beyond the pale for Wells Fargo to claim seriously that none of its competitors is truly a bank, or for General Motors to claim that nobody else makes real automobiles, or for Colgate ads to proclaim that what you’ll get in tubes of other brands is not just inferior toothpaste but fake toothpaste – so Protestants right across the liberal-conservative spectrum consider it theologically outrageous and beyond the pale for any single Christian denomination (read: Roman Catholicism) to claim that it is the one and only real Church.

The analogy of a disputed throne versus ideological republicanism is quite apt. The nonsense that legitimate governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” goes hand in hand with nominalist contractualist ecclesiology. It is this Protestant vision and only this vision that could make sense of an intended adherence to the Gospel and a simultaneous acceptance of the ‘separation of Church and State’ as desirable for its own sake. The superstitious awe in which the citizens of the USA are expected to hold the Freemasons and Deists who composed their constitution and Declaration of Independence forbids the very idea of taking an axe to the First Amendment. American Catholics are expected to fly the flag of the US in the very sanctuaries of their Churches. This is extremely rare to non-existent even in countries that are or were formally Catholic, but this is the flag of the first western polity since the Edict of Theodosius in 380 to withhold recognition from Christ and which substituted the five pointed star for the Cross on its flag. This secularised banner is often, even in churches, hoisted on a staff surmounted by a golden eagle, the very symbol the Labarum supplanted and which was employed to desecrate the Holy of Holies in 70 AD.

Between the World Wars liberal economics and politics seem tired. The world was torn between totalitarian ideologies that demanded the whole person. The Church thrived in this context with an integral vision of God and man that answered all the aspirations of the human person in freedom and ranged her against “the modern world in arms”. The Leonine formula of indifference to the form of regime but implacable insistence on the conformity of the civil order to the Divine and Natural Laws made vast strides against Modernity. In the wake of the Second World War the USA was left as the hegemonic power and the ideology of its founders has eaten away at the Church. The ‘Boston Heresy Case‘ was a disaster as the quasi-condemnation of Feeney’s garbled version of explicitism seemingly justified the complete surrender of the American church to the spirit of Thomas Jefferson. The United Kingdom, born of the revolution of 1688, has this paradoxical advantage: the sovereign is subjected to a religious test. The Jacobites, like the colony of Maryland, became entangled in the dubious cause of religious liberty. The rectification of the British constitution, upon the conversion of the Monarch and the people, requires only a single Act of Parliament.

Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux!

 A system of morality based exclusively on human reason robs man of his highest dignity and lowers him from the supernatural to the merely natural life. Not but that man is able by the right use of reason to know and to obey certain principles of the natural law. But though he should know them all and keep them inviolate through life-and even this is impossible without the aid of the grace of our Redeemer-still it is vain for anyone without faith to promise himself eternal salvation. ‘If anyone abide not in Me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire, and he burneth’ (John XV., 6). ‘He that believeth not shall be condemned’ (Mark XVI., 16).

–  Leo XIII, Tametsi Futura Prospicientibus 11

It would be a very serious error to conclude that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a ‘balancing of the goods in question’. But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ’s redemptive act, but to man’s will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act. God’s command is of course proportioned to man’s capabilities; but to the capabilities of the man to whom the Holy Spirit has been given; of the man who, though he has fallen into sin, can always obtain pardon and enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit

– St John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 103

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Oh Camellia sinensis!

Each time the kettle starts to hiss,

Oh praise Him! Alleluia!

Dihydrogen monoxide too,

Infuse their leaves the whole way through!

Oh praise Him! Oh praise Him!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Triumph_orthodoxy

“For those who reject the grace of redemption preached by the Gospel as the only means of our justification before God, Anathema!”

Canon in honour of St. Thomas Aquinas: Ode I

 

by John Plousiadenos (1429 – 1500)

Longing to praise the famous teacher of theology,
I approach You, O Christ, as one of infirm utterance.
Inspire me with wise speech so that I may worthily adorn him
by songs and harmonious melodies.

As a star from the West he illumined the Church of Christ:
The musical swan and subtle teacher,
Thomas, the wholly blessed, called Aquinas the sagacious.
Coming before him let us cry: Hail, teacher of the universe!

Sweet-smelling and pleasant myrrh gushed forth
from the precious coffin in which your all-holy
and lawgiving body reposes, most reverend father,
teacher of piety and the opponent of impiety.

I confess that all men from Adam, even to the consummation of the world, having been born and having died with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created, the one from the earth, the other, however, from the rib of the man [cf. Gen 2:7], will then rise again and stand before the Judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he has done, whether it be good or bad [Rom 14:10, 2Cor 5:10]; and indeed by the very bountiful grace of God he will present the just, as vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory [Rom 9:23], with the rewards of eternal life; namely, they will live without end in the society of the angels without any fear now of their own fall; the wicked, however, remaining by choice of their own with vessels of wrath fit for destruction [Rom 9:22], who either did not know the way of the Lord, or knowing it left it when seized by various transgressions, He will give over by a very just judgment to the punishment of eternal and inextinguishable fire, that they may burn without end. This, then, is my faith and hope, which is in me by the gift of the mercy of God, in defence of which blessed Peter taught [cf. 1 Peter 3:15] that we ought to be especially ready to answer everyone who asks us for an accounting. 

– Pope Pelagius I, Humani Generis, 557 [D228a/DH443]

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