The best (or worst) thing about having a blog is that it can be used as a platform for sharing random thoughts; some serious, some not so much. To wit:
• The Holy Father is not abdicating simply because he is old, tired and weak and needs his rest. Don’t get me wrong, he is old, tired and weak, and could probably use as much rest as any man his age, but to narrow one’s understanding of yesterday’s announcement to this alone is essentially to say that the pope is being selfish. Rest assured he is not. He believes before God that the battles that must be fought in order to defend Holy Mother Church and Her children in this day are best fought by another. Someone with more physical strength, yes, but the war at hand is just as it has ever been; an essentially spiritual one.
• While outright alarm is the wrong reaction, many seem to be treating Pope Benedict’s abdication almost too lightly. Clearly, the Holy Father considers the needs of the Church pressing, and likewise he seems to understand the necessity of a more vigorous pope to meet those needs somewhat urgent. Another way to say this is that he apparently believes that the Church is facing challenges that are so substantial, that delaying the transfer of power he desires to effect would not be prudent.
• If Cardinal Dolan is elevated to the Chair of St. Peter, perhaps we might look forward to seeing him bestow the honor of a papal knighthood upon Barack Obama just as he prepares to run for his third term.
• While some commentators are convinced that John Paul II set a non-negotiable precedent for the papacy in our day, such that it henceforth requires a man who can meet the physical demands of extensive global travel and an intense schedule of public events, I’m not one of them.
• On a related note, there is nothing endemic to the nature of the papacy that requires the degree of mobility to which we’ve become accustomed in recent decades. Indeed, one can reasonably argue that a “stay-at-home” pope might perhaps be more effective in managing a curia that all too often works against the Supreme Pontiff. As for the times and how they’ve changed, modern day communications make it all the easier for a stationary pope to effectively govern from Rome.
• If Cardinal Daneels is elevated to the Chair of St. Peter, one wonders if we should expect him to continue beating the drum for “collegiality” and the democratization of the Church.
• Not to rain on anyone’s papal parade here, but the Holy Spirit will not choose the next pope; the cardinals gathered in conclave will do so. Sure, we can be confident that the Lord will assist the cardinal-electors in the process, but there is no guarantee that they will collectively carry out His will.
• If Cardinal Mahony is elevated to the Chair of St. Peter, Archbishop Gomez might look forward to a new assignment.
• Any time between now and February 28th would be most opportune for the Holy Father to conduct at least one bit of unfinished business by celebrating a Solemn Pontifical High Mass according to the usus antiquior. (I might suggest doing so for the intention of a holy and intrepid successor.) As things stand today, Pope Benedict’s unwillingness to give public witness (not to mention episcopal example) to the infinite and enduring value of the ancient rite, has left the door open for a future pontiff, who may very well lack an appropriate love for the Tridentine Mass, to justify treating the contents of Summorum Pontificum and the Instruction that followed four years hence as if they are little more than the glorified personal sentiments of Josef Ratzinger.
• Some well intentioned folks in the more traditional-minded world are seeking comfort in the idea that no pope would dare undo the programs put in place by their immediate predecessor; e.g., Summorum Pontificum. While I don’t expect the next pope to formally reject his predecessor’s intentions in this regard, he could do harm enough simply by doing very little or nothing to promote them, or by deliberately consecrating bishops and creating cardinals of men who are ambivalent toward the ancient rite.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis!
In a previous blog post, I proposed the above as a Catholic alternative to those feel good, can’t-we-all-just-get-along, kumbaya, group hug, COEXIST bumper stickers that we see so often these days. A number of people responded by saying, “You make ’em and I’ll put one on my car!”
I must admit, I think it it looks pretty good on the rear window of my tailgating wagon (aka pickup truck). If you want one for your own ride (or to surreptitiously place on the bumper of your Obama worshiping neighbor’s hybrid) now’s your chance to order one.
If you’re in the U.S., they’re $5 (shipping will be added at check out, but choose First Class as this is the least expensive) and you have my word that the massive profits will go toward funding my nefarious plan to shine the light of sacred Tradition on the conciliar text come Hell or high water. BUY NOW
If you want a stack of them to disperse as you see fit, shoot me an email and I’ll make sure they’re cheap.
It really would be cool, in my opinion, to see these things popping up all over the place. (Especially the USCCB parking lot.)
Some of the feedback I received from my last column leads me to believe that some people missed the point when I said:
It would seem that in giving Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI wasn’t so much pressing the limits of Christian fortitude as simply reiterating that which was already infallibly taught, a doctrine ever moored to Tradition as evidenced by the Universal Ordinary Magisterium. As such, I cannot help but ask an important question that few, to my knowledge, seem to be asking: What exactly moved the Holy Father to appoint a commission to study a doctrine that was already part of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium?
Here’s an analogy:
Imagine a 14 year old boy asking his father for permission to smoke marijuana in the house, because… well… times have changed, and after all, most of his friends’ parents are OK with it.
Dad responds by saying that he wants to assemble a committee of parents with varying opinions to debate the question, after which he will give his official answer.
Shocked that Dad is even considering it, Junior is all but convinced that his father’s blessing is just a matter of time.
After much anticipation, Dad finally musters up the gumption to tell the kid “no” and to explain the reasons why.
The kid is flat out angry. So, he fires up a bowl at the kitchen table, blows the smoke in his father’s face and encourages his siblings to do the same, all of which earns him little to nothing in the way of a meaningful reprimand.
Now, there isn’t a reasonable observer who wouldn’t wonder what kind of father feels the need to appoint a committee to explore something that every parent in their right mind already knows is harmful. No one, at least that I know, would applaud this father for the way he ran his household; rather, they would look upon this man as a failure.
Why then do so many Catholics feel compelled to treat Pope Paul VI’s handling of contraception as praiseworthy?
It’s not uncommon for faithful Catholics to point to the Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, as the “crowning glory” of the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, applauding it as an example of his faithfulness, and even his heroic virtue. Trouble is, they have it exactly backwards.
There are three modes, or organs, of infallibility; ex cathedra statements given by the pope, de fide teachings issued by an ecumenical council, and the universal ordinary magisterium of the Church. This latter mode refers to those doctrines that have been taught constantly and definitively over a period of many centuries by the bishops of the world, in union with the Roman pontiffs.
As an example of the latter, consider:
When a Dubium was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994, asking whether or not the teaching given by Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, concerning the restriction of the priesthood to males only, is infallible, Cardinal Ratzinger replied in the affirmative by virtue of the universal ordinary magisterium of the Church.
According to numerous theologians, not the least of whom is the eminent moral theologian Dr. Germain Grisez, who also happens to have been a member of the commission appointed by Pope Paul VI to study the question of contraception, the doctrine at hand had long since belonged that very same category.
This being the case, in giving Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI was simply reiterating an infallible teaching that had ever been moored to Tradition as evidenced by the universal ordinary magisterium of the Church.
As such, I am moved to ask an important question; one that no one in the Holy See, to my knowledge, seems to be asking, even though it has serious implications.
What moved the Holy Father to appoint a commission to study a doctrine that was already part of the universal ordinary magisterium?
When one considers how much the simple fact of the commission’s creation contributed to the atmosphere of anticipation that existed before Humanae Vitae, and therefore contributed to no small degree to the havoc that ensued in its aftermath, the answer to this question would seem highly relevant to the relative “heroic virtue” of Pope Paul VI.
It would seem to me that a sober assessment of the pontificate of Paul VI prior to Humanae Vitae, to say nothing of his handling of the rebellion that ensued in its wake, gives the children of the Church far more to lament than to celebrate.
In conclusion, rather than applauding Humanae Vitae as an achievement of Paul VI, it is perhaps more appropriate to recognize it as solid evidence that points directly to the protection of the Holy Ghost who would allow no other outcome.
Catholic News Service recently posted the following video in which Bishop Athanasius Schneider discusses Dignitatis Humanae of Vatican II and the topic of religious liberty.
I have a great deal of respect for His Excellency and applaud his efforts with regard to the reception of Holy Communion, but he is off the mark with respect to religious liberty.
First, he speaks of the traditional approach to church-state relations by pointing to the 19th century as an exemplar of that model. He describes this as a time during which the papal magisterium on this subject confined itself to “Catholic countries like France or Italy” and attempts on the part of non-believers to make them “not Catholic, and therefore the popes wanted to reject this form of religious liberty.”
This simply is not correct. Yes, the popes of that time wanted to stand up against those who sought to eliminate the Catholic State, but their teaching was not so narrowly focused; rather, it was intended for every nation and every people.
Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” (Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas 18)
Secondly, Bishop Schneider goes on to address “religious liberty in the 2oth century” with a similarly narrow focus; one that is also inaccurate.
He speaks of the approach taken at Vatican II as being directly aimed at atheistic regimes such as “the former Soviet Union” wherein “all society was not Catholic… and religion itself was prohibited.”
Dignitatis Humanae, Bishop Schneider maintains, can be understood as addressing the question, “How can I argue with a government who is atheistic… I have to argue with them on the level of reason only… on the natural level.”
He goes on to say that one cannot simply demand that such nations embrace Catholicism, since it is the one true faith, because “they will not understand this.”
“So I have to argue,” he continues, “‘Give us religion because this is the demand of human dignity.’ And so what we have in common with the atheist is at least to save the human dignity.”
This, according to the Bishop Schneider, is how we should understand the “intention of the Council” and of Dignitatis Humanae.
There are a number of major problems with this kind of thinking.
Number one: We do not have saving human dignity in common with the atheist. An atheist, by definition, is an enemy of human dignity, even if only by ignorance.
That said, it is utterly untrue (and frankly, un-Catholic) to suggest that human dignity is upheld, expressed or developed through the practice of just any religion. The “demand” of human dignity in this regard is better understood as the first demand of justice; to worship God in truth as He Himself has established. There is only one way.
Secondly, all one needs to do is read Dignitatis Humanae to discover that it is clearly directed at all of the nations of the world; it is far more than just a program for evangelizing communist / atheistic nations. Vatican II also produced Ad Gentes – On the Missionary Activity of the Church, wherein such a discussion would have more appropriately been addressed if that were the intent.
Furthermore, the intention of John Courtney Murray, the architect of Dignitatis Humanae, was very much tied to the realities of life in the Untied States and the plight of Catholics in her political system.
In any case, the results are in. The Church no longer behaves as if the Catholic State is even desirable, and it is inaccurate to pin the blame solely on a simple misunderstanding of the intention of Dignitatis Humanae.