Founding Fineprint

Lots of apologists insist that the Church of Rome is the one that Jesus Christ founded. That strikes me as a real slight to the Eastern churches and especially to the Church of Jerusalem where Jesus ministered. After all, Tertullian didn’t ask, “What Hath Rome to do with Athens?”

Now it turns out that the original language of the church that Jesus founded was not Latin but Greek:

First, we should know that the Apostles all spoke Greek in addition to their native Aramaic. It was the language of education and business. In Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles as it was known in Palestine) a Jew had to know Greek if he wanted to talk to a gentile. Perhaps Our Lord Himself spoke Greek with the Roman centurion and Pilate. In the synagogues the Jews read from the Hebrew translation of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament. Second, all of the New Testament — with the exception of Saint Matthew’s original Gospel which was written in Aramaic — was inspired in Greek. Third, when Saint Peter came to Rome the Jews residing there spoke Greek, the whole Mediterranean world did. Saint Peter offered Mass in Greek. Around his tomb, deep in the catacombs under Vatican hill (beneath Saint Peter’s main altar), the faithful who were buried all around the Apostle had “Peter pray for us” written in Greek on their own tombs. Fourth, the Roman Latin Rite grew slowly out of Itala Latin which was spoken by the gentile converts in Italy and North Africa and used in the liturgy sometime after Greek fell into desuetude in the West. Classical Latin (Ciceronian) was not used in the liturgy, but was used by the well-educated fathers, such as Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Augustine, in their writings. By the fourth century, Itala Latin, which was rather fluid, dominated in most of Italy and North Africa. Enter Saint Jerome (d. 420). His Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible facilitated the birth of what developed into “ecclesiastical,” Church Latin. Many Greek words found their way into Church Latin on account of their theological and scriptural importance. Ecclesia (church) is only one such word — there was no word in Latin adequate enough to convey such a Greek concept. By the sixth century, Latin became the standard for the Roman liturgy, as we see in the Leonine Sacramentary and later the Gelasian. By the time of Gregory the Great (d. 604) the Latin Canon of the Mass was fixed (canonized) with the addition of a number of Roman martyrs in the Memoriam and the Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus. The Roman Canon remained untouched for nearly fourteen hundred years.

If you want to be the Church that Jesus founded, shouldn’t you use the original language of the apostles you’re claiming to represent?

That’s not what Pope John XXIII thought:

Universal

Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,”8 and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful”9 of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.

When, therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world, or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice acceptable to countless nations.

Immutable

Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.

But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established.

Non-vernacular

Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.

In addition, the Latin language “can be called truly catholic.”10 It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed “a treasure … of incomparable worth.”11. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching.12 It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.

Tell me it’s not odd when you insist on a language that God refused to use when he revealed the gospel.

Window Shut?

When asked about the need for the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII said, “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.” So how can it be that the new encyclical, Laudao Si, may be an indication that the Roman church is shutting the window that Pope John opened? How especially could a seemingly open, affable, and loose pope like Francis, function as a brake on progress in the church?

Just this morning I was reading Colleen McDannell’s fine book, The Spirit of Vatican II, a reflection on McDannell’s mother and the changes that she witnessed in her pre- and post-Vatican II life. Here is part of McDannell’s account of Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

Given that God acted within the world and not against it, people learned his mysterious designs by studying not only society but nature as well. The Constitution admitted that science and technology could foster a detached orientation toward matter that encouraged the denial of God’s involvement in life, but this need not be the case. Conducted in the correct spirit, science and technology could greatly improve the conditions of humanity. Science as well as philosophy, history, mathematics, and the arts served to elevate humanity to a “more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty.” (111-12)

The church, in other words, was opening up to the modern world of science and technology, and trying to avoid an overt association with things medieval.

Such openness is not how some are reading yesterday’s encyclical. Rusty Reno, for instance, thinks Pope Francis has impersonated William F. Buckley, Jr., and has stood up to yell “STOP” to the modern world:

Commentators are sure to make the false claim that Pope Francis has aligned the Church with modern science. They’ll say this because he endorses climate change. But that’s a superficial reading of Laudato Si. In this encyclical, Francis expresses strikingly anti-scientific, anti-technological, and anti-progressive sentiments. In fact, this is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era.

Francis describes the root of our problem as a failure to affirm God as Creator. Because we do not orient our freedom toward acknowledging God, the Father, we’re drawn into the technological project. We seek to subdue and master the world so that it can serve our needs and desires, thus treating “other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination.” By contrast, if we acknowledge God as Creator, we can receive creation as a gift and see that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not found in us.”

In short, without a theocentric orientation, we adopt the anthropocentric presumption that we are at the center of reality. This tempts us to treat nature—and other human beings—as raw material to do with as we wish. For Francis, “a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable.”

Of course, God is exactly what modernity has forgotten, which means that it too is “not acceptable”—exactly Pius IX’s conclusion. The Syllabus of Errors is exquisitely succinct. Laudato Si is verbose. But in a roundabout way Francis makes his own case against the modern world.

Mark Tooley seconds Reno and wonders whether we will have to give up air conditioners after Pope Francis is finished:

The new papal encyclical addressing climate change comes as I’m having central air conditioning installed in my Northern Virginia home. Likely I’m one of the last people in the notoriously muggy Washington, DC area not to have it. For nine years since purchasing my current home, which is 75 years old with radiator heat, I’ve postponed installation, trying to pretend it wasn’t needed, relying on overhead fans, window and floor units. After all, I largely grew up in the 1970s without it. My parents’ home didn’t have it (until after my brother and I moved out!). Neither did my elementary school. Central air was experienced in grocery stores, movie theaters, public libraries, and my grandparents’ house.

Currently I’m out of town, in pleasantly temperate Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending an Acton Institute conference on faith and free markets. But I can’t wait to get home and experience my new central air conditioning.

Interestingly, the new papal encyclical warns against air conditioning as a supposed contributor to climate change:

55. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.

Ironically, a Slate.com column, which praises the papal encyclical as “more like a poetry slam at an Occupy Wall Street rally than a formal church document,” notes that in poor countries like India air conditioning is becoming a “human rights” issue:

An estimated 300 million people there—one-quarter of the country—has no access to electricity at all. Just last month the country endured the fifth-deadliest heat wave in world history. In India air conditioning is increasingly becoming a human rights issue. This is what the pope is talking about when he discusses climate change and poverty in the same breath.

But in fact the papal encyclical implies that Indians should go without air conditioning, and electricity for that matter, as 300 million joining the grid ostensibly would heat the planet. Despite rhetoric about renewables, the provision of electricity to the 1.3 billion in the world currently without it primarily requires more fossil fuel powered electrical generators. African and Asian countries are busily building mostly coal powered plants.

Should we in the wealthy West tell the 1.3 billion that they should live permanently without electricity? Many hundreds of millions more have unreliable sources of electricity. And most people globally have no air conditioning. Would they be wrong for wanting it?

Just at the time I need to open the window to let in a breeze, Pope Francis closes it.

Canonization Fall Out

If you like the social aspect of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, you feel warmed and filled after the recent canonizations:

Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II can rightly be called “the human rights popes.” In their teaching and their actions, they did more to advance the church’s teaching on human rights and to promote the dignity and rights of the human person globally than any other pope. Blessed John’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris brought about a sea change in the Roman Catholic tradition. It declared for the first time the Catholic Church’s full commitment to the modern human rights agenda, encompassing democratic freedoms and economic, social, and cultural rights. Blessed John Paul built on the foundation of John XXIII by unremittingly reminding the world of the inviolable dignity of the human person and her rights on pastoral visits all over the world. This is why in 2011 the United Nations honored him as a “consistent promoter of peace and human rights.” He trenchantly reminded Christians not to dismiss human rights as a product of the Enlightenment, or a “wish list” of political parties. Rather, argued the pontiff, Jesus Christ and his Gospel are the ultimate source of human rights. Moreover, John Paul argued that the rights of the poor and marginalized cannot be postponed because affluent nations and individuals think their “freedom” entitles them to hyper-consumption (see Redemptor Hominis, no.16). He also penned the Church’s most complete ethic and spirituality of labor, Laborem Exercens. John Paul maintained that the Son of God became a carpenter, thereby revealing that all work possesses equal dignity because it is done by a human being. All workers – not just those highly valued by the market – must be guaranteed rights such as a just wage, affordable healthcare, rest, retirement pensions, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, maternity leave, and safe working conditions (no. 19).

But if you are concerned about liturgy and piety, then cool and unsatisfied:

Then we have the canonization of John Paul II, which is being treated in media accounts as the Traditionalist half of a political process. On the same Sunday, both John Paul II and the liberal hero Pope John XXIII will be canonized. We are told that Pope Francis is trying to effect the reconciliation of two spheres in the Catholic world, and consolidate the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to bring the church up to date with the modern world. This narrative leaves me cold.

Like a lot of Catholic Traditionalists, I have extremely mixed feelings about John Paul II. He inspired many of the best men in todays’s church to join the priesthood. But I do not consider him a representative of Traditionalist views. He made additions to the Rosary, which have been thankfully ignored by the faithful. His allowance for the Traditional Latin Mass was insultingly ungenerous. He made bold ecumenical gestures that seem impossible to reconcile not only with the texts of Vatican II, but also with the teachings of the pre-conciliar church.

I find that John Paul’s writings are alternately inspiring, opaque, and incomprehensible. His governance of the church was lax in the extreme, to the point of negligence. Even before his death, my view was that here was a celebrity pope who traveled while Rome burned in scandal.

John Paul II’s record on sexual abuse was abysmal, full stop, even if there may be some room to doubt his personal culpability. I’ve sometimes wondered if his personal charisma blinded him to the obviously un-Catholic spirit of personal obedience written into the heart of the Legion of Christ, led by the noted abuser, liar, womanizer, and drug-addict Marcial Maciel. Or if his view of priestly abuse allegations were shaped by his experience in Poland, where communist authorities routinely accused priests in order to undermine the church. But for over two decades he was the supreme authority in the church, and he did next to nothing to abate this crisis.

There is still much goodness and grace in the church today, and much growth and heroism among its members in Africa and Asia. But for the Western world, the post-Vatican II era, the one that is supposedly being consolidated and sanctified by these canonizations, has been one of shocking decline in Catholic practice, weakness of faith, and demoralizing immorality. Why the rush to canonize those who initiated and oversaw it?

Meanwhile, Jason and the Callers are up to speed with more reflection on Mary (who blogs here).

Show Me Jesus

Unam Sanctam helps sort through the confusion about canonization (especially those of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II):

By virtue of this fact, the second aspect of the person’s canonization, that they are a person of heroic virtue who should be seen as a model for the faithful is not a question that is at all up for dispute. Simply because a Saint makes mistakes in his life, or even makes objectively wrong choices, has no bearing on the matter. A Saint is not a person who lived their whole life perfectly; but rather, a Saint is a person who, by the end of their earthly pilgrimage, demonstrated the fact that through God’s grace they were able to attain to an eminent degree of perfection. For this reason they should be seen by all as a model for the faithful of heroic virtue, and the fact that they have been canonized dispels any doubt there might be in the matter.

This is not to say that elements of the pontificates of John XXIII or John Paul II are not problematic; they certainly are. This is for history to assess. Because of the changes in the process and the manner in which these canonizations are proceeding, it has been the position of this blog that there is an unfortunate confusion in modern canonizations when it comes to saints who also held ecclesiastical office vis-a-vis the question of whether a saint who was personally holy but had significant failures in the exercise of their office should be considered a model of heroic virtue (see here and here). Without reopening that argument, it suffices to say that a saint must always be a role model for heroic virtue in so far as we are talking about their personal holiness, which is the fundamental reason for their canonization. In the case of John Paul II, Cardinal Amato said very plainly that the canonization is based on the late pontiff’s personal holiness, not how he administered his papacy or the impact he had in the world. We may not appreciate that distinction or think it is helpful, but at least in making this statement the Vatican has, in a certain sense, sorted out the question of whether John Paul’s canonization means he was also a model pope. The answer is clearly no, and Cardinal Amato’s answer thankfully allows us to maintain this point whilst simultaneously affirming the legitimacy of his canonization as a true exercise of the infallibility of the pope.

“An eminent degree of perfection” in this life? When did Rome become Wesleyan?

What did Paul say?

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(Romans 7:18-25 ESV)

This is one of those thorny matters the Callers need to ‘splain (like how such perfection is possible apart from Christ).