Dressing Like a King is Not Unobtrusive

Hello.

Father Dwight again challenges reason:

The priest’s robes are a ceremonial vesture—a uniform of their sacred office. They are meant to effectively obliterate the priest’s personality. They are also, by the way, meant to be unobtrusive. They should not be creative or clever or call attention to the smart vestment designer or the wonderful seamstress. They are simply to dignify the office of the priest and dignify and beautify the celebration of Mass.

If the Mass is the Royal Marriage Feast of the Lamb, then the priest should dress up for his entrance into the royal court. The robes should therefore be regal in their dignity, their simplicity and their style. As much as possible their beauty should be shown, not by cleverness of design or ornamentation, but through quality materials and fine workmanship.

Why should the priest dress like a king? Because he reminds the whole people of God that they serve Christ the King, and the priest is in persona Christi. Furthermore, they remind the people of God that they too are a chosen people, and a royal priesthood. The priest focuses in his own person and ministry the royal priesthood of the people of God.

The question is why priests still dress in a medieval manner when the church has opened the windows to and come alongside the modern world. Not even Queen Elizabeth dresses like a priest.

Aesthetic Relativism

If you don’t have standards for beauty, how do you have them for truth and goodness? Father Dwight doesn’t explain:

If you are a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism or Anglicanism or any other form of tasteful religion, then you will have to deal with Catholic kitsch. What are we to do with the trashy trinkets, the horrid holy cards, the sappy statues? How do you put up with the banal hymns, bad preaching and sentimental religiosity? . . .

It’s true Catholics have some awful music and bad hymns. But we also have Palestrina, Elgar, Mozart and Byrd.

Yes, we do have plastic glow in the dark rosaries and those night lights you plug in where the plastic statue of the Blessed Mother lights up. But we also have the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

It’s true we have brutalist churches that look like a cross between a flying saucer and a parking garage, but we also have Chartres, St. Mark’s in Venice, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s and Mont Saint-Michel.

This is the authenticity of the Catholic faith. It is universal. It has room for the peasant and the aristocrat, hoi polloi and high falutin’, the learned and the ignorant, the tasteful and the tacky, the sinner and the saint.

With that kind of tolerance, why would you ever reject Protestantism?

But Father Dwight insists he has standards:

“If I were choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican. I didn’t become a Catholic because I liked the Catholic Church.” I retorted. “I became a Catholic because it’s the true Church.”

How would he know? Because the bishop with all the high end art told him?

You can’t argue this stuff up.

You Cannot Argue with This

Nor does it redound to the great intellectual tradition.

It is Father Dwight’s conversion narrative about the Immaculate Conception. He concedes that it is not an ancient dogma and that Thomas Aquinas “didn’t believe it.” But when an overweight priest told him, “We believe in the Immaculate Conception because the pope tells us to. Pass the fried chicken,” Longenecker knew his interlocutor was right.

Still, he needed to own the Immaculate Conception. Here is how he had a really, really personal relationship with Jesus:

I was traveling in Normandy in France. I wandered into Bayeaux Cathedral. As in most of the medieval cathedrals there were lots of little side chapels. I was pretty much the only person in the cathedral. I stopped in a little chapel and saw the finger bone of St Thérèse who had lived just down the road in Lisieux.

Then I stopped in another chapel and knelt to pray. I don’t know what I prayed — maybe the Rosary. I don’t know. I was caught up in prayer for some time. Then I walked out of the cathedral and the morning sun was bright and clear in the plaza outside, and I suddenly realized that I believed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Then I also remembered who the little chapel was dedicated to in which I was praying. It was St. Bernadette — to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared and confided, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

I no longer simply understood the dogma and the logic of it, but I saw the beauty of it and the wonder of the simple girl of Nazareth becoming the second Eve. As I realized I believed in the Immaculate Conception I also suddenly became more aware, in a deeper way — a way very difficult to articulate — of the reality and historical concreteness of the incarnation itself.

Suddenly Jesus Christ — Son of God and Son of Mary — was more real than he ever was before, and I also grasped why the Church requires this belief and does not allow it to remain a pious option.

It is because the Church wants us, through the Marian dogmas, to be introduced to Christ in a more real and powerful way.

Could this be the explanation for evangelical conversions to Rome? Too little doctrine, too much experience?

Jesus Only Christianity

Since a new set of interlocutors has emerged of late I am going to persist with a contrast between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism that seems to be fairly crucial for considering the Reformation — namely, what to do about Mary. May seems to the month of our Lord’s mother, hence a number of posts at National Catholic Register (see what EWTN did there?) about Mary. To contrast the liturgical and national calendars, please keep in mind that for Americans May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month.)

Mark Shea persists with a defense of Mary’s immaculate conception and concludes that the church arrived at a two-fold doctrine of salvation (and we’re not even talking about God’s covenant with Jews — though since Mary was Jewish, I guess we are):

Jesus saves from sin in two ways just as a doctor saves from sickness in two ways: cure and prevention. Mary was prevented from contracting original sin in the moment of her conception by a singular act of grace through Christ. In her, we see, not the absence of Christ’s saving grace, but its fullest expression. Hence, she is “full of grace” and praises “God my savior” (Luke 1:47).

For confessional Protestants, that seems like a stretch since we believe in only one mediator between God and man. This implies that some persons can have a different relationship with God. If one has a unique relationship with God, why not a lot more? Why didn’t God simply reboot after Adam’s sin and “prevent” Cain and Abel from sinning?

Meanwhile, Dwight Longenecker tries to explain why Mary as Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix is not an offense but affirms the sole mediation of Christ:

Once we have recognized that Mary suffered with Jesus we should take a moment to try to understand the depth of that identification with her son. Remember she is linked with her son like no other Mother and her son is like no other Son. How often have we seen and experienced the deep identification between a mother and her child? The child suffers at school. Mama bear steps in for she has suffered too. The child experiences hardship and tears. The mother’s heart is broken too. Only when we understand the depth of Mary’s suffering and the depth of her unique identification with her son will we begin to understand the Catholic doctrines of Co-Redeemer and Mediatrix.

We should be clear that we are not saying that Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross was in some way insufficient. Neither is his work as mediator between God and Man inadequate. We acknowledge that his redemptive suffering on the cross was full and final and totally sufficient. We acknowledge that he is the only saving mediator between God and Man. So what do we mean with these titles for Mary?

What we mean is that she participates in the full, final, sufficient and unique work of Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world. She walks beside him and through his work she joins in that work. It is like Christ’s love and sacrifice is a fast flowing river, but Mary swims in the current of that river. Her work is dependent on his work. Her participation and co-operation could not happen without his work going before and enabling all that she does.

But again the question arises, why single out Mary? Aren’t all believers united to Christ? Don’t we all swim in the current of his work? And wouldn’t it be fair to say after a reading of the New Testament that the apostles (and prophets before them) participated much more directly in Christ’s work than Mary (who is on the sidelines for most narratives)? Why not at least call Peter a Co-Redemptrix? He is after all the original Vicar of Christ. And why appeal to a special relationship between mother and child when Christ himself said that his followers bore a special relationship to himself in ways that were closer than blood relations (“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.’ But he answered them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it'” [Luke 8:19-21].)

The point here though has less to do with some of the questions that Longenecker and Shea raise (even as they try to answer objections). It is instead this: what would Christianity lose if Mary was not understood the way these apologists conceive her? Would Christianity be somehow deficient without the immaculate conception or Mary as co-redemptrix?

Simplicity is not always a good thing. But one way of reading the Reformation is as an effort to remove the clutter that had accumulated after a millennium of passing on the faith. Anyone who has changed residences knows the unenviable task of deciding what to do with the basement. Reformers did just that with the western church in the sixteenth century. Some might argue that they donated too many boxes with useful items to United European Charities, Inc. But if Longenecker really does affirm that Christ’s work was sufficient in and of itself (along with Christ’s Spirit, of course), why the attachment to Mary? What does her uniqueness profit the gospel or the Christian religion more generally?

And if Protestantism is really about trying to exalt the work of Christ — and doesn’t mind stepping on traditions that get in the way of seeing Christ’s sufficiency — why would it generate the hostility that it did from Rome?

Why Worry About Change?

When you can always interpret.

George Weigel tries to get out in front of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the family. But he couldn’t beat Cardinal Kasper (and, oh, by the way doesn’t a Cardinal outrank a layman in teaching authority?):

As is his wont, Cardinal Walter Kasper was first out of the starting blocks, announcing that the apostolic exhortation (whose date of publication he got wrong) would be a first step in vindicating his proposals for a “penitential path” by which the divorced and civilly remarried could be admitted to holy communion—despite the fact that his proposal had been roundly criticized and rejected at both Synods and in various scholarly articles and books in between. The Kasper spin was then picked up by some of the usual media suspects, who called on the usual Catholic talking heads on the port side of the Barque of Peter, who took matters further by speculating that the apostolic exhortation would open up even more revolutionary paths, involving the Church’s eventual acceptance of same-sex marriage and other matters on the LGBT agenda.

But not to worry, the Council that many think unsettled the church has actually settled what popes can do:

By declining Paul VI’s suggestion about a papacy “accountable to the Lord alone,” Vatican II made clear that there are limits to what popes can do. On the bottom-line matters at issue in the two recent Synods, for example, no pope can change the settled teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, or on the grave danger of receiving holy communion unworthily, because these are matters of what the Council’s Theological Commission called “revelation itself:” to be specific, Matthew 19.6 and 1 Corinthians 11.27-29. Nor has Pope Francis indicated in any public statement that he intends any deviation from what is written by revelation into the constitution of the Church.

Michael Sean Winters is even later to the pre-publication spin and offers his own prebuttal.

But what if the bishop whose job it is to interpret Scripture and tradition interprets dogma so it doesn’t change but its meaning does? This was the option favored by Protestant and Roman Catholic modernists. If modernism could happen once, why couldn’t it happen again (as if it ever went away)?

And then we have the problem of reason and what people with minds do to texts. Sam Gregg recently invoked Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address to call not his communion but the entire West to its former high esteem for reason:

One of the basic theses presented by Benedict at Regensburg was that how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we can judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. Thus, if reason is simply not part of Islam’s conception of the Divinity’s nature, then Allah can command his followers to make unreasonable choices, and all his followers can do is submit to a Divine Will that operates beyond the categories of reason.

Most commentators on the Regensburg Address did not, however, observe that the Pope declined to proceed to engage in a detailed analysis of why and how such a conception of God may have affected Islamic theology and Islamic practice. Nor did he explore the mindset of those Muslims who invoke Allah to justify jihadist violence. Instead, Benedict immediately pivoted to discussing the place of reason in Christianity and Western culture more generally. In fact, in the speech’s very last paragraph, Benedict called upon his audience “to rediscover” the “great logos”: “this breadth of reason” which, he maintained, orthodox Christianity has always regarded as a prominent feature of God’s nature. The pope’s use of the word “rediscover” indicated that something had been lost and that much of the West and the Christian world had themselves fallen into the grip of other forms of un-reason. Irrationality can, after all, manifest itself in expressions other than mindless violence.

Gregg warns rightly that “irrationality is loose and ravaging much of the West—especially in those institutions which are supposed to be temples of reason, i.e., universities.”

But if Father Dwight is any indication, irrationality also has its moments well within the confines of Roman Catholic parishes (even beautiful ones). If you wonder why the virgin Mary is the Queen of Heaven, just take a rational look at your Bible:

We simply have to read the Scriptures with Catholic eyes and understand the Jewish context of the Scriptures to see how the Catholic beliefs about Mary are all contained in the Scriptures. The problem is, they are not stated explicitly. Instead they are locked in the Scriptures to be understood and teased out. As the church came to understand more fully who Jesus really was they then began to understand more fully the role of his Mother, and as that became clear they also began to see that these truths were already there in the Scriptures. . . . The truths about Mary are subservient to the truths about Jesus because she is always subservient to her Son and always points to her Son. It is about him. It is not about her. . . .

Luke chapter 1:26-38 and Revelation 12. Consider first the passage from Luke. This is, of course, the story of the Annunciation of Jesus birth by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. . . . The angel Gabriel is called “the Angel of the Lord”. He is the main messenger direct from God. Therefore his words can be taken as a direct revelation from God. His message to Mary is therefore God’s message to the world. He declares solemnly that Mary’s Son will be the Son of the Most High, but he will also be the heir of David and the King of the Jews and furthermore his kingdom will have no end. In other words, he is king of heaven.

In the Jewish understanding of monarchy the Queen of heaven was not the king’s wife, but the king’s mother. Solomon’s mother Bathsheba played this role in the Old Testament. It follows therefore that if Jesus is to be the heir of David’s throne and be king, then his mother would be the Queen. Furthermore, if Jesus is also to reign over the kingdom of heaven, then his mother would be the Queen of Heaven.

At some level, Christians on both sides of the Tiber need to give up the idea that their convictions are rational in the sense that people with well functioning minds will recognize the point of Christianity. Aside from the noetic affects of the fall which predispose unbelievers to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Christians also affirm truths that defy reason — like the resurrection and the Trinity.

But if what Father Dwight does with Scripture is any indication of the interpretations that attend sacred and infallible texts, no amount of bishops and cardinals bringing their conciliar foot down on papal authority will prevent interpreters from interpreting.

#interpretationhappens

If You Pay Them, They Will Build

I had not realized that Dwight Longenecker, the Roman Catholic priest in Greenville, SC, and graduate of Bob Jones University, is married. I should have figured it out. He made this revelation in a recent piece about the limited valued of married priests. First, Fr. Dwight doesn’t think married clergy will solve the sexual scandals that have plagued the church recently.

But more important, he thinks married priests are expensive:

When a Catholic enthuses to me about having married priests I usually ask, “Are you willing to put an extra twenty bucks in the collection plate every week to make this happen?” It’s amazing how quickly the subject changes!

Speaking of the married priest’s family, has no one else seen the most obvious problem? If a young priest is married and he and his young wife are fertile they would be expected to live within the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Yes, it is still Catholic policy that artificial means of contraception are forbidden.

The Catholic priest and his wife would be expected to live within that teaching. Do the parishioners who are so gung-ho about married priests really want to support the priest’s children? Would they want to re-build the rectory to house them? Pay their health insurance, deductibles and orthodontics? Would they be willing to cough up to send the priest’s kids through Catholic school and college? What if the priest had six, seven, eight, ten or twelve kids? It’s not really cheaper by the dozen.

I was surprised to read this because I recall Fr. Dwight posting several pieces about the new (and seemingly expensive) parish in Greenville that he has overseen:

Having seen the attempts at modern churches in other parishes since the Second Vatican Council they were firmly convinced that their new church would be built in a traditional style. But how is this accomplished? Purists sneered at using modern building methods—a steel structure clad with an exterior veneer of brick and a plaster-board interior skin. “That is simply a pastiche!” they cried. “It is a pretend, artificial confection similar to Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland!”

I had to agree with them when I visited a new church built in Texas in an English Gothic style. The stone trim was plastic. The carved wood was molded resin. The steel frame was designed in such a way as to give the walls “the illusion of depth.” The limestone exterior was no more than a thin veneer. Was this a house of God with integrity or just another example of Disney-fied America—where every other building is fabricated in an artificial style? Drive around America and see: here a fake Tudor mansion, there a pretend hacienda; here a mock English castle, there a faux fisherman’s cottage. The whole suburban landscape is like one huge theme park. As a dour Englishman commented on his return from Orlando, “It’s quite amazing what the Yanks can do with plastic!”

So I found a young architect who shared my views. He designed a church built in the Romanesque style with modern building materials: cement block. He had the idea to cover the cement block with modern stucco product and he equipped our church with modern facilities. Here was the answer: to build a traditional church in a traditional way but with modern, affordable materials. The problem was that we still could not afford it.

Turns out, Our Lady of the Rosary (Roman) Catholic Church could afford it, even with a married priest. Could this turn Fr. Dwight’s original point about married priests on its head? The more parishes call married men, the bigger their building budgets will grow?

Some Days You Eat the Bar

And some days the bar eats you.

That equivocation is readily apparent in Father Dwight’s on-again-off-again regard for the papacy.

He recently warned conservatives about being too hard on Pope Francis:

Conservatives, for their part, should take a deep breath, avoid extremist language and disloyalty to the Successor of Peter. If they don’t like their pastor they should thank God that they were never supposed to put their faith in the Pope in the first place and take the opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and Mary, grow deeper in their faith and live out that faith more joyfully in the world.

But wasn’t this the same South Carolina priest who three months ago waxed a tad triumphalist?

Divisions and chaos in church result because of a plethora of questions both small and great, theological, moral, political, economic, cultural, liturgical—you name it.

The Protestants have two ways of coping with this conundrum: schism and heresy. The schism solution means when Christians disagree they simply agree to disagree, split up and form yet another new church. The heresy solution is to sacrifice the unchanging truths in some way, and increasingly that way its to dispense with dogma altogether because, “Dogma divides.”

The Catholic solution is to have an infallible authority. The catechism teaches that Christ is the infallible authority, and that he grants a measure of his infallibility to his church with the successor of St Peter at her head.

We constantly see the Catholic Church exercising this authority to preserve dogma on the one hand and adapt to changing circumstances on the other. The authority is often exercised through conflict in the church. Catholics quarrel over what can be changed and what cannot. Then they discuss further and finally the referee—in the form of the Pope—makes the final call.

Which is it? Or is this an example of “development”?