Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions
1


Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3

Solstice

Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart

Humorous
 


Thematic Meditations
 


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E-mail Policy
Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.
 


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The Cranky Professor is in Rome right now, and recently attended the canonization of Padre Pio, now St. Pio of Pietrelcina. I've never been to Rome, so I have to read his wonderful travelogue in small doses to avoid melancholy.

Also check out his observations on the way these kinds of festivals generate changes in church literature which will help historians hundreds of years down the road figure out what happened when. He asks:

I always like to study the litany of the saints - it's a medievalist habit; one frequently can date or locate a manuscript by saint lists. This one included some folks who must be important locally - who on earth is St. Leopold of Mandic? St. Humilis of Bisignano?

I'm not a medievalist, but here's a tip I learned when studying some liturgical history. Always look at your litany of saints from a few perspectives: chronologically, geographically, according to religious orders, and according to audience or function. These last two will help you discern, for instance, whether a medieval French manuscript came from a cathedral church in Chartres or a nearby monastery or from the chapel of the royal court. (E.g., if the litany is loaded with Dominicans, for example, you can infer it came from a Dominican rite liturgy, and thus a Domincan house.)

The aforementioned "stumper" saints in the canonization liturgy of Padre Pio are good examples of these principles at work. Both St. Leopold of Mandic and St. Humilis of Bisignano are Franciscans. Leopold in particular was a Capuchin. Padre Pio likewise was a Capuchin Franciscan, so there's a connection to the religious order. An historian, working in reverse, could infer this by the invocation of obscure saints only encountered in Capuchin piety.

Function plays a role here too. The lives of these two saints resemble that of the beatus. St. Leopold, like Pio, was a great confessor, and St. Humilis, like Pio, was a counselor to Popes.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 10:17:00 PM | link


The anniversary of the Normandy Invasion came and went without my blogging, since I was back(b)logged. And now, alas, it is too late for a gargantuan post about it. Where would one even begin? Churchill's courageous leadership? The forging of revolutionary advances in cryptography at Blatchley park? The coordination of the largest naval invasion in history? (I recently learned that Eisenhower anticipated such a brutal landing that he contacted every butcher he could find and imported tons of hog entrails to cover the practice beach, so that the men would not suffer shock upon crawling through such carnage to their objectives.) The inauguration of a half-century of French ingratitude? The last time the nation was self-consciously united around a moral cause? Perhaps our lastest tangle with militant Islam will change all that.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 09:51:00 PM | link


New on the DC blog scene: John Lowell's Right Wing Rock Star blog. A campaign to make rock more conservative, a generous helping of social criticism about life in DC, reminiscences about the good ol' days of Martha Quinn on MTV, concert reviews, and the existential question: "Is anyone more fake than ivy leaguers?" Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Downsides to this particular Santa Claus are a Sinead O'Connor fetish, some weird but forgiveable takes on the Catholic Church, and an ambiguous conception of what the good corporate-American does after hours. I think it's a fine American tradition to come home on the weekend and slug back a half case of beer because you hate your job. (My Opus Dei friends may differ.)

And yes, John Lowell, there are people more fake than those in the Ivy League. Start by looking at Wesleyan, Smith, and all those other Ivy wannabes. I've met some truly evil people from there. Like an Everlasting Gobstopper of Fakeness, you get layers of doctrinaire liberalism, sycophantic truckling to the Ivy League's homespun nonsense, tacit envy of all those who are actually at Ivy League schools, and, in the middle, ressentiment about never being able to fully rise into another social class. If you chew on one of these long enough, not only will you find a truly sour tart at the center (pun intended), but one that bites you back. The nice thing about this type of person is that he (or she!) is predictable. He attacks on all sides -- both his superiors and his inferiors. Caught in the middle, his pretension spans the void between solidly middle-class unpretension (e.g., at state schools) and Ivy League unpretension. No one I knew at Yale thought they were a better person just because they studied there.

I dreaded meeting old high school acquaintances during college -- of course they would ask where I went to school. Half the time I said “In New Haven,” and let them presume I meant Southern Connecticut State or University of New Haven, rather than the inevitable which followed upon telling them it was Yale: “Wow! You must be like --- really smart?! What were your SAT scores? What do you do there... I only go to X. It’s a good school, but not, like, YALE or anything.” At this point I’m scanning for a bartender, or trying to feign a sudden incapacitating head injury. But the absolute worst was always meeting those people who ended up at Trinity or Wesleyian. Oddly enough, the reverse is true of those people I've met from lower-ranked Ivies. They're not edgy about their status, and at the same time, they exhibit genuine concern about what's going on in your particular college. My vote for the friendliest Ivy is U. Penn. by the way. In college, I never met a U Penn girl I didn't like. I don't think I met any U Penn guys. Perhaps that skews my prejudices. Or perhaps Mr. Lowell just needs to date a U Penn girl.

Once Lowell gets a sitemeter and an e-mail address, perhaps we can get him to contact the mothership (the Axis of Eve).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 07:36:00 PM | link


Omigosh. Only six shopping months left until Christmas!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 06:59:00 PM | link


I recently read a modern novel as well. (Someone please revive my friends.) Nick Hornby's How to be Good. Strictly on an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend of mine, a German Missouri Synod Lutheran who's a writer by trade, I plowed through it. I haven't seen or read Hornby's other works (High Fidelity, About a Boy), so I can't offer any comparisons or expectations.





Upon cracking the cover, it was clear that I was in the middle of a familiar genre. The novel is unmitigatedly dedicated to exploring the moderately-liberal, upper-middle-class, politically correct morality of a Leeds couple -- and how this ethical system matches up to the unexpected introduction of a radical moral conversion which follows in the wake of the couple's confrontation with the possibility of divorce.

Don't worry, modern reader, there's no explicit mention of Christianity here. Hornby knows that's a turn-off, and after all, the book is on the New York Times bestseller list, so you know it is (German accent:) Christusrein! Or is it? It hard to imagine the radical moral conversion Hornby describes as anything else, and he doesn't put much effort into convincing you otherwise. The religious figure is called DJ Goodnews, a former ecstasy junkie and DJ turned hippie faith-healer.

Goodnews encounters David, the husband, after he's been reeling from his wife's infidelity and request for a divorce. David is a writer for a local newspaper, the self-proclaimed "Angriest Man in Holloway." His relentless acerbic denunciations of just about every minutia of modern culture have alienated his wife. Goodnews is instrumental in changing David's negative personality traits which have caused his wife's marital despair; but along with it, David becomes radically committed to an entirely different mindset about the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill and other unfortunates he would have readily attacked in his "Angriest Man in Holloway" days. His commitment is not abstract: he starts giving away his goods and putting up homeless people in his house, even convincing some of the neighbors to do the same.

Katie, his wife, finds new hope for their marriage in David's sudden and unexpected conversion, but the depth of his transformation triggers an implicit criticism of the inadequacy of their labour-party but bourgeois, armchair-activist worldview, which mixes socialism with the occasional $100 bottle of champagne. A good portion of the book is dedicated to the exploration of whether this liberalism (a/k/a What We All Learned in College) is really anything more than an upper-middle-class attempt to palliate the conscience in light of one's own relatively comfortable existence. Not a bad question, but not a particularly new one either.

Katie frequently returns to the question of whether her vocation as a doctor, their ready support of the welfare state, and the PC education of their children can ultimately justify her existence as a moral human being. As a theologian, I found this twist somewhat interesting, since it points to the inadequacy of any "works-righteousness" in light of what Katie now realizes are truly inexcusable sins in her marriage. While she concludes she hasn't yet learned "how to be good" -- and she admits that perhaps David is on a better track -- they don't wander off and join a hippie commune either. I think Hornby does a good job at assuring the reader that he won't go down this vomit-inducing road by several devices, including the general sketchiness of Goodnews and the clearly tentative nature of David's newfound zeal.

While David's radical conversion has changed his attitude toward the poor permanently for the better, his far-reaching schemes for social reform turn out to be unsustainable -- spiritually, as well as politically and financially. Here the novel makes its most redeeming point IMHO: if you want to truly struggle to right your wrongs and perform extreme acts of charity, start in your own house. While the work is harder, the problems more complicated, and the people more intractable, it is a forum for authentic moral conversion and real sustainable progress, rather than pouring a cup of charity into an anonymous sea of need or trying to architect a worldwide solution to poverty, crime and ignorance while one's own marriage slips off its mooring.

While 95% of the book is a morality play, Hornby prescinds from penning a firm conclusion to the story. Coward. Perhaps he feels it would have been too preachy. After all, it would involve advocating a paradigm for faltering marriages -- one which requires that the married couple be willing to make certain radical commitments to each other and to the fullest sense of their vocations as human beings. Perhaps I'm just not accustomed to impotent modern literature which cannot achieve a true comedy, one free of irony or some kind of permanent ambiguity. The inability to conclude a novel with "And they lived happily ever after" is certainly not unique to Hornby, so I don't fault him for it.

Over all, it was an enjoyable quick read. He throws in a number of humorous jabs at conventional liberal morality, which are somewhat funny, and probably funnier if you're not already a right-wing curmudgeon like me. He raises some deep and interesting questions, and provides only somewhat interesting attempts at a solution.

Dick Clark, I'd give it a five. It's got vivid, clean prose, and a beat the young kids can dance to. It's got a hook that keeps you reading midway through, but the conclusion needs a remix at the studio.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 07:49:00 AM | link


A great book on guns for the novice: Massad Ayoob's In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Defense.



Recommended by a buddy of mine who's a Federal Agent on our most recent afternoon out shooting. It's an all-around beginner's introduction to the legal, moral and tactical issues surrounding handgun ownership.

I was skeptical about a book by a man named Ayoob. That faded quickly. An well-known American marksman, weapons expert, former cop and crime scene investigator, Ayoob is a widely recognized authority who has written many books and whose eponymous stance is currently the favored battle posture for street-fighting federal agents. Introduced to the safe handling of guns by his father at a wee five years of age, and shooting by twelve, Ayoob also knows from personal experience that our right to bear arms can often mean the difference between life and death. When he was a teenager, three armed men robbed the family jewelry store, shooting down his father during the raid. Ayoob shot and killed two of the robbers, shot and paralyzed the third, and saved his father's life (and the family livelihood) by his clear thinking and courage at an early age. He knows from personal experience the significant risks and great advantages facing the armed private citizen.

Even though Ayoob's a cop, the book is strictly written for the average citizen. As such, the book calls for great restraint when considering whether to use lethal force. He carefully reviews all of the ways one can land on the wrong side of a (liberal) jury even when you're the innocent party confronted by an armed aggressor.

He also does a great job at dispelling the idea that one is suddenly equal to an armed opponent merely by having a gun. Ayoob points out a variety of reasons why the street thug probably still has the advantage, and how to avoid common mistakes in an escalating conflict. (Drawing on a drawn gun is suicide, throwing $50 to a robber will cost you less financially and emotionally than if you kill him, three ways a man with a knife can kill you at 25 feet etc.)

That said, he is incredibly blunt about overall strategy: If you have to use your weapon, be prepared to keep shooting until you know the other guy is dead. I enjoyed his debunking of all the more "moderate" alternatives (shoot to scare, shoot to wound, just fire a warning shot, or draw your weapon and challenge the man to drop his). After seeing one too many a crime scene where the thug got a free lawyer and an innocent man's widow paid for his funeral, Ayoob observes again and again that hesitation in the face of a violent aggressor only means one's own death. It's a very sobering series of reflections, but as Ayoob observes: no one wants to make this kind of life-or-death decision, but it's the other man who put you in a situation in which you can't afford to err in his favor.

The book apparently caused quite a stir when it came out. Its detractors accused Ayoob of writing a book about how to shoot someone dead and get away with it. He has a few choice words for the ACLU, and several examples of where a handgun and the resolve to use it have meant the difference between life and death, or rape, or a savage beating.

Ayoob also tells you how to get a home defense plan for your house, what to look for in a weapon, a chapter just for women, and a few chapters targeted at deflating the natural male tendency to inflate one's sense of self-sufficiency just by owning a gun.

He has a few interesting examples of the way in which carrying a gun makes any reasonably knowledgeable man less prone to get into a violent confrontation, provided he knows how legally and morally vulnerable he is when throwing around threats of lethal force disproportionately. [Editorial comment: So this isn't applicable to urban "gangstas" -- the main reason responsible people have such a hard time fighting the anti-gun lobby.] Ayoob recounts armed men saying "I would have punched that wise-ass in the mouth if I hadn't been carrying," or "I didn't have to fight him to prove myself, since I had a gun and he didn't." Given that most people think to the contrary (Guns encourage men to be more violent), these were helpful stories.

One sad observation Ayoob has seen time and again comes from men who shot armed house robbers in defense of their family: 1) The men weren't prepared to face the existential realization that they've just killed a man, and 2) The man expects the wife and children to be proud of him, but often, they are estranged from the father of the family because they have just seen him take a human life, even a guilty one in their own defense. Hollywood, Ayoob maintains, is guilty of creating many such false myths about the ease of gun use and its consequences, causing a blindness to gravity of death, and an image of glamorized cowboy-style armed conflicts.

My favorite was the chapter dedicated to deflating every argument he's ever heard about why women should use some other weapon besides a gun (mace, steak knife in the purse, keys or a hat pin, a coup baton, etc). In short, the advice from women's magazines, the anti-gun lobby, or your schmarmy feminist friends will get you raped, knifed or killed faster than you can say boo.

The only drawback to the book is that it needs updating. It was written in 1980. I am sure the diverse state laws may have changed since then. Perhaps some enterprising lawyer will read it and provide an appendix. Moreover, the pistols and revolvers he reviews are all old models. I'm only a novice, but I am also guessing that the discussion of caliber and ammo types has also evolved significantly over the past two decades. At the same time, this kind of advice is the constant subject of gun magazines. Ayoob's other advice is more comprehensive and enduring.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2002 05:00:00 AM | link


OK. I'm a shank. I haven't posted all week.

But I have excuses! They even include a minor car accident (everyone's fine, just a fender bender, no need to write in about it) and a new job. In college, that would certainly be enough to buy me an extension on a paper, so a fortiori for blogging.

I'm tremendously excited about the job! I actually get to teach Catholics for a change. Until now, I've taught in a secular college, to Wiccans, agnostics, disaffected Christians or angry, lapsed, half-catechized Catholics who badger me with theological topics I'm not supposed to pursue in a secular classroom. Thus I'm really looking forward to teaching young people to whom fides quarens intellectum has a meaning other than "Impenetrable Latin phrase I must memorize for the exam."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/19/2002 05:48:00 AM | link


U.S. Scandals Are Rooted in Seminaries, Says Theologian Father Ivan Fucek of the Apostolic Penitentiary Views the Problem

ROME, JUNE 7, 2002 (Zenit.org).- An underlying problem facing the Church in the United States is that of excessive "tolerance," which has allowed conduct and teachings among seminarians that go against what the Pope says, a Vatican adviser says.

Jesuit Father Ivan Fucek, theologian of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Church's highest tribunal for "inner forum" questions (matters of conscience), made his comments as the U.S. bishops' conference prepares to meet in Dallas, Texas. The bishops' June 13-15 meeting will aim to respond to the crisis over cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests. The assembly is taking place, following John Paul II's meeting in April with representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the country's cardinals and Vatican officials.

ZENIT interviewed Father Fucek about the dimensions and implications of the problem.

Q: From your point of view, what is the characteristic of the North American case?

Father Fucek: I have been in the United States on several occasions, where I met with excellent priests and bishops. But at the same time I noted a certain passivity in accepting candidates to the priesthood with problems of sexual disorder and homosexuality -- an excessive "tolerance" dictated especially by the prevailing cultural model.

The greatest weakness was not to address the problem immediately, when it appeared. In this connection, the Holy Father's intervention was providential, a strong and clear call.

Q: Some observers in Europe think that the Pope's intervention was too energetic, because these are questions that, to a great extent, affect the bishops' decisions and ways of acting.

Father Fucek: It was necessary, because it is imperative to change in a clear way behavior that has spread in the seminaries. Although it is obvious that behind all the noise made by the media, there is the intention to denigrate the Church, at the same time it is
most important that the Church in the United States no longer tolerate certain lax attitudes and criticism of the Holy Father's moral teaching.

The possibility exists of emerging purified and strengthened from this experience, provided that there is a return to the good road. In this connection, John Paul II's intervention was perfect. There was need to intervene in a clear way. There is a good clergy in the United States, but the attitude of tolerance in face of certain problems is not marginal, but rather widespread.

The Holy Father's intervention is not a simple reprimand. It is an occasion for all that is good in the Church in the United States to emerge.

Q: But how could such a phenomenon happen?

Father Fucek: What happened in the United States reveals a serious problem of preparation and formation. Many, too many candidates to the priesthood are not sufficiently knowledgeable in Catholic morality. However, in this connection the doctrine is clear. If the candidate is a practicing homosexual, he must not be ordained. If there is only a homosexual tendency, this must be discerned.

If during all the years of his youth and later as a candidate to the priesthood he has not had homosexual relations (he has not seduced nor allowed himself to be seduced by a man), then that tendency can be regarded as a temptation, which must be conquered with the grace of God.

However, if that tendency is strong, if the candidate at times has fallen, then he must not be ordained. If the tendency is so strong that the candidate to the priesthood is afraid he will be unable to resist, then he must not be ordained.

In this sense, the doctrine is transparent. In particular, I suggest reading the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" (see ZENIT Documents) of Oct. 1, 1986, a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which makes explicit reference to the way one must behave in this respect.

ZE02060707

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/10/2002 12:14:00 PM | link


Ah, one heck of a week. Sorry for not posting. In addition to the aforementioned Friday evening liturgy, I had a job interview, and a spate of 25 exams and paper proposals for the summer course. Also:

Spent 4 hours yesterday at the Maryland Small Arms Range shooting Glocks, Tauruses and Sigs from 9mm to .45 cal with my buddy the federal agent from Arizona. Already can't wait to go back.

We all got plowed at my place later that evening at a soiree including Zorak (of course), Russo, Shamed, two blogless individuals, and Eve, who was wheeled home at 4am after nearly killing herself trying to walk on my slippery, tiled bathroom floor in those treacherous 4 inch heels. (Sounded something like this: *Thud!* "Are you alright in there Eve?" "Yeah...I'm fine." *Clunk* *Clunk* THUD! "Eve??" "Still fine...") Thank yous go out to Russo for the snacks and to Shamed for helping to make quaffable concoctions out of my mixing mistakes.

The best part may have been when a poor, unsuspecting minion of the Yale Alumni Association called in the middle of this to survey me regarding why I haven't been giving to the AYA. Four drunk Yalies couldn't resist the chance to regale her with horror stories about how the money you give to proud mother Yale may end up funding such nonsense as half-naked eco-feminists rolling themselves in mud for Earth day; "F-ck Columbus" rallies on Columbus day, or pornographic, sodomitical magazines named "My Tongue." And I forgot to add: all the abortion and birth control you can consume in four years. (I'm not kidding folks. All of this is true.)

I will blog again after I finish picking up my sticky, sodden apartment.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/09/2002 12:30:00 PM | link


I attended the wonderful Friday evening liturgy in reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to pray for the pederast priests and for their victims, celebrated immaculately by Fr. Jim Tucker. This particular liturgy was part of a national day of reparation initiated by the American Cardinals at the request of the Pope, but Fr. Jim has been celebrating the traditional reparation to the Sacred Heart devotion at his parish for the past few months. I am itching to blog about why this is so good, but I have to postpone that for a little later.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/09/2002 12:10:00 PM | link


Still laughing uncontrollably from one of Zorak's discoveries: a website devoted to bad Japanese Engrish: www.engrish.com.

Go here for more good stuff like this:



and



and


Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/04/2002 08:59:00 AM | link


My wife has the "ask me face." Whenever we are out walking around Washington, whoever is lost within a 20 foot radius will find my wife out of a crowd of people and ask her for directions. She says it is an inherited trait.

I get the kooks. Last weekend when we go into 7-11 late at night to grab a quick sandwich and some soda, the man ahead of us in line turns around and notices our T-shirts. Now, normally, dear reader, I avoid wearing a T-shirt out in public, opting for the button-down Oxford as the minimal level of dress required for polite company. But this was the 7-11, mind you, so I figured I could dress down. That was my first mistake. So the guy says, "Oh, a Yalie and a Dukie Blue Devil." My wife immediately vanishes to find the soda, leaving me to walk that lonely road of kookdom I've walked so often before. The man clearly wants to talk about my education. Inevitably he asks what I study, so I tell him, "theology." If you know kooks, then you already understand that "theology" is the secret code word for "please tell me all your whacked-in-the-head theories about life."

So off he goes: First he tells me about how the Jews have taken over Western culture. Sizing up the beard, the round glasses, and the Austrian face, he reconsiders and adds, "but that's not necessarily a bad thing." (People mistake me for a Jew all the time, but more on that below.) Then he recounts his path to Gnostic illumination: First he went to some plain-vanilla Prot divinity school where he "learned too much for his own good," and realized that world power has proceeded out from the hands of the Jews, to the Catholics, from them to the Anglicans, and from the Anglicans to the Masons, which of course he's joined, and now knows "that's where the real information is at." Forging on to the Masonic arrangement of Washington architecture, the Bible Code, the Matrix People, etc. etc. etc. I figure I'm up for another twenty minutes of torturous conversation, since I'm too nice to be rude to this man. You see, every kook sincerely believes that their Gnostic discovery must be the most exciting intellectual synthesis of the century, and that I must be bursting to hear about it. The funny thing is, when this happens to you often enough, you realize all the kooks sound pretty much the same.

So I'm hunkering down for the long haul while I wait for my ham-and-cheese. Then the guy stops dead. Zorak, my mantis-friend, has returned to my side. She must have been burning the Look of Death right into this guy's skull, for he simply steps aside and says, "I think your lady friend wants to go now." She has no tolerance for kooks, you see. It's an acquired skill.

So this morning I am walking back from the Cathedral to my apartment in Dupont Circle. It is a bright, sunny day, and I've just been to see the Lord, so I'm in a good mood. So good in fact, I was even nodding my hellos to the fellow denizens of Washington I chanced to meet. A few feet from my building, along comes a charming older woman, perhaps mid-fifties, with permed hair, casual outfit, jewelry, make-up, and walking sneakers. I nod hello, and the woman's eyes look up at me.

"God Damn F---ing Jews!"

I did a doubletake. Sure enough, in my optimistic mood, I had let down my kook-dar. She was having a bona fide fit, right there on the side walk . . . about little old me.
"So many god damn Jews! We need to start getting rid of THEM! They got us into this god damn war ... %^&!@"

I found this rather amusing. Having just returned from church, I wasn't about to mess with her head; and if I tried to talk with her, I got the feeling she would have probably maced me. So I returned a polite "But I'm not Jewish!" This sends her over the top. I guess that makes me a crypto-Jew. I've never seen an old woman so violently agitated, shouting racial epithets, except on old video tapes of the forced integration of the Alabama school system.

So there you have it, folks. Another installment of the kook files. This never happens to me in the suburbs...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/03/2002 12:27:00 PM | link


My belated entry to Mr. DeFeo's Thomas Aquinas Jingle contest:

Next best to Rome
Is the venerable tome
That sings like Orlando di Lasso.


If you've lost your way,
And you have all day,
Peruse some old San Tommaso.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/01/2002 06:31:00 AM | link


One thing the Church could use is a robust, orthodox philosophy of gender difference. Karl's working on it over at Summa Contra Mundum. Get your dose of Contemptus Mundi. I await the results.

For my part, I'd throw in some Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein. And a dash of paprika.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:53:00 AM | link


So where'd my archive go? I hit "republish all" on the archive screen, and all I get is a lousy "Error 203:no document element (server:disco)" Sheesh.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:40:00 AM | link


Minute Particulars remarks I "might have been using a sledgehammer where a light tack hammer might have sufficed in his discussion of how our culture resists subordination and gender distinctions." I don't think my wife has stopped laughing at that one, since she's heard me (many a time) on a genuine rant. Sledgehammer? Moi? I've been moderate in everything I've posted so far.... Perhaps later tonight, after three glasses of whiskey and a run-in with something that pisses me off on the local news, I'll get out the sledgehammer. ;-)

And yes, the template is ugly. I embrace its wonderful ugliness (i.e., I made it myself). Perhaps I should spring for one of those artsy ones?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:28:00 AM | link


This man can outdrink Dionysos (I've seen it.) He's a classicist I knew in college with such superb instincts about the ancient world, I am still trying to forgive him for taking up the study of law, albeit Medieval legal history. He's got a blog. I expect great things.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:11:00 AM | link


From the Old Oligarch mailbag. One reader writes:

I'm not a theologian, but as an historian who has written about 17th century France (when the problem of contrition before communion was of such pressing concern) I have read a little about the subject, as above. But I've remained somewhat confused. You state that Catholics have always been expected to confess before communicating.

The historians I have read (those who were also theologians) disagree. The citation below is my translation of a French work and somewhat equivocal. (I don't know whether this was my fault - I noted it some time ago.) At any rate, Braeckmans and others make it clear that confessional practice - esp. regarding penance - in the early Church differed markedly from post-Tridentine practices. Are you able to comment on this? I have no settled opinion: I'm simply looking for more information.

From L. Braeckmans, Confession et communion (1971):

p. 3. Braeckmans says that from the epoch of Saint Augustine, Christians were expected to confess mortal sins before communicating. But because they were admitted to penance only once in their lives, they tended to defer this sacrament until just before the moment of death. This did not prevent them from communicating in the meantime.


Recoiling against every academic instinct to refrain from guessing without doing a bunch more research, The Old Oligarch responds:

The answer to the question you raise involves quite a bit of history. If you want to dig more deeply into the particular history of the administration of the sacrament of penance, three books I've read recently may be helpful to you. They are: Walter Woods, Walking With Faith: New Perspectives on the Sources and Shaping of Catholic Moral Life; Jonsen & Toulmin, The Abuse of Casuistry, and Servais Pinckaers, Sources of Christian Ethics. They are useful in that order. Woods is a good, approachable walk-through of the history of the administration of penance, which better deals with the early church and gets a little overwhelmed in Medieval territory. It's not that theologically deep, but that's a good thing in this case. Jonsen & Toulmin cover the origins of a more complicated administration of penance. Pinckaers is just good theory. Now about your question:

The constant teaching of the Church has been that one cannot receive communion in the state of mortal sin, a teaching which is found preserved both in theology and liturgy. (The exchange "Lord I am not worthy / Happy are they who are called to His supper" immediately before communion is a toned-down instance of the deacon's old admonition to the people before the Eucharist that the unworthy ought not to receive. In some early liturgies with was a reminder that "Holy things are for the Holy" or a paraphase of "Do not give what is holy to dogs." This kind of thing goes back as far as we have documentation -- 3rd century or so.)

Because the administration of penance has varied and developed over the centuries, the implications for Christians changed over time. I can only sketch it here, so there will be glosses and points which really could use more detail, but I won't write a book when others have written about it at length.

In the early Church, questions about penance most often arose regarding what to do with people who violated the "big three:" murder, adultery, apostasy. These were the first to be associated with what you and I would call a "mortal" sin -- one which alienates you from God and the sacraments. Remember that the mortal-venial distinction is a later development, so when you ask your question about how "mortal sin" was handled in the early church, and whether someone in the state of mortal sin could commune, the category you seek to apply is anachronistic, which is probably the source of the confusion.

In the a case of the "big three," communion was definitely not permitted until full confession and satisfaction for the sin was made. Penitential practice was laborous, and could easily take more than a year, sometimes several. (Something to think about the next time you get "Five Our Fathers, and Five Hail Marys.") Penitents first had to display publicly their contrition, and were then only admitted to the parts of the liturgy that the catechumens could attend (i.e. they were dismissed before the Eucharist). After full satisfaction (=when they finished their penance), they were re-admitted to the community. The early rule seems to have been: You get one chance at reconciliation for a major sin. While this may seem harsh, the "one chance" position was actually the more moderate one. Fueled by interpretation of the passage about "He who sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven" certain elements in the early church believed that if you alienated the grace of the Holy Spirit given in the sacraments of initiation, then that was it, you were on your own. Others, reflected in documents like (I think) The Pastor of Hermes argue for one opportunity for contrition.

After the era of persecution of Christians, the question of penance became significantly more complicated because of the large number of "traditors" (=our modern word "traitor"), i.e. those who had betrayed the Church, or specifically, handed over the holy books or holy things to the authorities. Requirements for readmission became even more strict, often taking years. The exact criteria for apostasy had to be worked out, too. Woods speculates that this a "closing the wagons" approach, or perhaps it represents the lingering suspicion or hostility of those who remained firm in the faith towards those who were fair weather Christians returning after the storms of persecution had ended.

The upshot of all this is that by the 4th century, many people deemed it wiser not to blow their one chance at reconciliation with the church in their youth. (This is the same mentality which persists to this day in those who postpone baptism itself until they are on their deathbed.) As a result, in some churches, there were more people in the order of penitents than those who were fully admitted to the sacred mysteries. As far as I can tell from my (very) limited historical investigation of the matter, this would have become a more interesting long-term problem had not the Roman empire (a) accepted Christianity and then (b) collapsed, at which point the general social-political dynamics of Christianity radically changed. In any case, everything I've read has said that Christians in the order of penitents were not admitted to the sacred mysteries (=Eucharist) until after they completed their penance and were publically re-admitted, usually with fanfare at a major feast of initiation like Easter or Pentecost. So no, I don't think they were admitted to communion even in the early church, but at the same time, your author might be confusing the fact that they could attend the Mass with communion itself. Or, perhaps, he's thinking of sins which today we would call "mortal" (such as armed robbery) which back then may not have represented grounds for separation from the church community since the sin was not murder, adultery or apostasy. In those cases, I could imagine someone continuing to receive communion, but at the same time, wanting to make a pious general confession at the end of his life in the same way that anyone today wants to confess his sins before death or serious surgery, or in the same way that we all confess our sinfulness in the Confiteor at the beginning of the Sunday mass. My basic point is: the level of casuistry presumed by your question probably doesn't apply to pre-Augustinian, Mediterrean-centered Christianity.

Private auricular confession (like we have today) arose in Northern Europe (specifically Ireland, I believe) among the monastic communities during the Dark Ages. In this kind of scenario, the monastery or the feudal manor might house the only religious community for miles around. (Compared to the churches in cosmopolitan areas during the Roman Empire where large numbers of people regularly met for worship and could travel easily between cities.) Since the same occasion did not arise for public expression of penitence, the practice arose in which people would seek out the monastics to confess their sins, receive counseling and penance, and then later, be re-accepted back into the church community. In the mean time, the Church had developed a more sophisticated theory of human nature, free will and grace (in response to Pelagius, etc.) so that the one-shot-at-redemption view regarding the administration of penance was no longer current. It is here where we first see the careful delineation of the gravity of various kinds of sins, a development which continued gaining exactitude for centuries. By the time you get to the low Middle Ages (9th-10th cent.), there's a decent casuistry in place, and I think you can also observe at work the traditional principles about not receiving communion in a state of mortal sin before confession.

I'm shooting from the hip here, not having picked up a single book to answer your question, and trusting my admittedly faulty memory, so don't take it as something you can base academic research on. The aforementioned volumes will help alot however.

Yours,

O.O.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 03:53:00 AM | link


Bringing back the neighborhood milkman, electronically.

The Peapod man just arrived. God I love the Internet: Point, click at groceries, and a nice, civilized man brings them right to your door. You don't even have to set foot in the store. It's easier than a list, and takes far less time than actually going there and hunting through the aisles. All for a $5 delivery fee, and your choice of whether or not to tip (I add another $5 for the guy). Well worth it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/30/2002 11:30:00 AM | link


The Ordination of Women has been the topic of discussion last week on several blogs. The Axis of Eve (Tushnet) brought my attention to it, Fr. O'Neal apparently kicked it off, but Sursum Corda has the most commentary by far. I promised myself when I began to blog that blogging would complement my academic work and not become another massively time-consuming studious exercise. So despite every academic instinct in my brain, I'll fire off what I consider a short response. Short for me, viz. without footnotes, a table of contents and section dividers.

How to walk into this multi-faceted question and nest of arguments? Let me state the positive tradition first, then what the issue is not about, and finally, my own two cents.

The Tradition. We have to take a look at what's actually been taught before we do anything else. Few have mentioned much beyond the Holy Father's 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Most note its brevity. It is brief because the issue has been addressed already by the ancient Church and once by the Vatican under Paul VI. Let's start at the beginning. I'll return to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis later.

Catholic Disorientation to the Tradition Part of the reason why Catholics have such a hard time responding to challenges about the ordination of women is precisely because theology about it has been dormant for 1,500 years. Nor was it massively developed at the time. We tend to have a keen theology on a matter (such justification by faith) only after a major, protracted controversy (the Reformation), although this is not always the case. Sometimes theology is driven by a positive cultural current, such as the early Eastern monastics' development of eschatology in their desire for mystical unity with the kingdom of heaven while here on earth. But more often, theology is spurred by questions and challenges arising from culture, academic or popular. This is natural, and happens in secular matters too. Many intelligent and otherwise right-minded individuals are left speechless, for example, when Peter Singer is able to publicly defend why it is OK to kill viable newborns, and is consequently given a chair in ethics at Princeton. Those unaware of the trends in the abortion and euthanasia debate are surprised to find this question even raised, and suffer a temporary bout of complete intellectual disorientation, often responding with an attitude of "Wait -- how did it come to this?" and "But...that's just wrong!" Neither is a laudable response, but it points to the fact that (a) much intellectual ground has already been seized by both sides of the issue, leaving the newcomer to navigate a mine field just to get oriented, and (b) the everyday life of the surprised individual has somehow been sheltered from the source of the controversy. Perhaps this was unintentional, or perhaps he chose to overlook it, hoping the incipient issues which eventually led to Peter Singer's support of the "abortion" of neonates would go away before it ever came to fruition. (To those reading this who support women's ordination: I am not comparing you to Peter Singer. I just wanted to pick an example that every Catholic -- from conservative to liberal -- would be familiar with, so everyone could identify with the same phenomenon of intellectual "disorientation.")

Why do I make these points? First, because I think as time goes on, reason will be illuminated by faith on this matter and there will be more and more salient theology on this topic. I do not think there will a theology that will satisfy everyone: there never is. An element of conversion is necessary in every theological issue.

Second, I think part of the reason why Catholics have been blind to this issue becoming a controversy is probably due to their own fault. Some have stuck their heads in the sand after the sexual revolution. Not wanting the label of anachronistic traditionalists, many have drawn the line at pre-marital sex and abortion, but accepted an otherwise accommodationist, tolerant view towards sexual behavior. Or they draw the line between social convention and "personal" religious observance. Thus, women in the workplace is simply accepted as part of "modernity" and homosexuality as a "private matter of conscience," although the Gospel has something to say about both. I make the point about women in the workplace and homosexuality not to muddy this issue with others, only to observe that Catholics -- compared to evangelicals, for instance -- have not given that much thought to squaring social mores with modern living after the 1950s. (Nor do I defend the 1950s as the bastion of normality. Maybe I'll blog about the 50s later). Now, let's get back to what is already given in tradition. In order to affirm, deny or understand anything, one must know what is there to be affirmed, denied or understood:

The Early Church The question of the ordination of women was addressed by the early church and definitively settled in favor of the ordination of men alone. I first encountered this issue when I was doing some reading of 2nd - 4th century liturgical documents in preparation for a course on liturgical history, documents such as the Didache, Apostolic Constitutions, Constitutions of Hippolytus, and Testamentum Domini.

Some argue that the Church's teaching on the ordination of women stems from a cultural bias against women in the early church. Yet the empirical evidence is to the contrary. The early church departs from both Greco-Roman and Jewish antecedents in many issues regarding women. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul balk at departing from several Mosaic customs, often to the astonishment of their contemporaries. The 1976 CDF document Inter Insigniores notes:

" For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3).

In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection."

St. Paul likewise departs from Judaic law on several counts. The reciprocity of marital rights in 1 Cor 7 is unprecedented in either Greco-Roman or Jewish law. The whole institution of religious virginity he recommends runs counter to the Jewish emphasis on family with which he would have been so familiar. St. Paul clearly involved women in the work of organizing local churches, in both practical efforts and in instructing others about the faith. Yet there is no mention of a woman assuming an office of priestly ministry. Inter Insigniores also notes that while the Holy Spirit descended on all those present in the upper room, a number which includes women, only Peter and the apostles undertake the work of proclamation of the Gospel. Prophecy and other spiritual gifts fall among women as well as men in Scripture and in the early Church, but the office of ruling and governing the church (episcopacy) and priestly sacrifice are apportioned only among men.

I won't even pretend to bring forth every possibly relevant Scriptural passage and evaluate it. The fact can be seen more generally: Christ and the apostles were unafraid to do many counter-cultural things, even things which ran against the grain of Jewish religious tradition at the time, and things which cost them disciples on a regular basis. Jesus did not flinch at losing a great many of His followers on the day he proclaimed: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you shall not have life within you." (Jn 6:52)

The argument that the prohibition against the ordination of women occurred because of cultural bias stands on bad theological ground for a more general reason. It presumes that Christ is not the Lord of History, but rather that He is constrained in His teaching by social forces which are contrary to His intentions. This is a poor, deistic interpretation of divine Providence and a weak Christology. Christ is the Lord of History, and in His divinity knew everything about the age in which He chose to appear, deeming it "the fullness of time." We must have a similar faith that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in matters of doctrine pertaining to faith and morals.

In addition to noting the counter-cultural teachings of the early church on the role of women, we must note that this particular issue actually did arise. Since gifts like prophecy and tongues were found among women, and women were very likely involved in care for the poor and other social labors, the question did come up: Can women participate in the ordained ministry? In the context of public worship, Paul writes to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (1 Tim 3:12), and "As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate" (1 Cor. 14:33-34). The latter passage is even more striking since it is in the context of prophesy and teaching. Paul does not deny that women have gifts of the Holy Spirit, only that they should teach or officiate at church gatherings.

Gnostic and heretical sects frequently fell into the error of ordaining women during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Tertullian and others note these occurrences, often citing Isaiah 3:12 in reproach: "Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people, your leaders cause you to err, and they confuse (destroy and swallow up) the course of your paths." The practice is not approved by any orthodox patristic writer. Some Syrian churches experimented with the practice of ordaining women, and the experiment was condemned several times by both local and ecumenical councils. Much more frequently, the question about the ordination of women arose not about the priesthood, but the diaconate. The most famous article of condemnation is the 19th canon of the Council of Nicea against deaconess. There are also the condemnations of the western councils of Nismes and Orange (411). Pretty much after the 4th century, it is a dead issue, and has remained so until the sexual revolution.

Some misguided or duplicitous people attempt to string together a pseudo-tradition by citing the precedents found in these heretical sects, the condemned actions of scattered churches, and certain ambiguous references in early church documents. This is simply bad theological method and a poor understanding of precedent. No one argues birth control is OK because the Cathars did it, or that Arianism might still be a standing option because many churches affirmed the belief, including, at one point, a patriarch of Constantinople.

Regarding the ambiguous passages, there are references to "deaconesses" in some early church documents which are considered orthodox theological sources. The most famous is the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8:19-20. The deaconess has a clearly defined liturgical role, most notably in the sacraments of initiation. Yet the apportionment of a liturgical role does not equal an ordained ministry. Widows, for example, are given a liturgical role in the same text, as well as virgins.

The deaconess was used in situations where male-female contact would have been inappropriate. Recall that in the early church, baptism involved a full anointing (head, shoulders, chest) and full immersion in water. You also went in naked, just as you enter and leave this world without clothes. (Baptism represents death to sin when you are underwater, and rebirth into new life when you emerge.) Because it was inappropriate for a male minister to give a naked woman a good rubbing with oil, the deaconess did it, and she accompanied the woman into the baptismal pool and assisted her while she was immersed. But it is equally clear from the same text that women do not perform the baptism since Ap. Const. 3:9 says women do not baptize in the liturgy. Moreover, the council of Nicea was aware of this document and clarified that deaconesses do not receive orders. I believe the Synod of Trullo also affirmed this as well in 692, but I don't have the text handy.

It is easy to see how the issue may have been somewhat ambiguous when the early church was forming its institutions, but in retrospect it is also clear that we have all sorts of consecrated life and liturgical positions which do not involve Holy Orders. Virgins are consecrated to the religious life, but do not receive orders; so too religious brothers. To re-muddy the issue is to intentionally blur a synthesis settled since the 5th century. Further ambiguities are also stirred up from much less substantial evidence, such as the practice of calling the wife of a priest or bishop by the female form of the Greek name presbyteros or episcopos, while there is no evidence that the woman did anything more than serve as the wife of the churchman. So too since presbyteros can mean "elder," old women, viz. widows, were sometimes called by the feminine form of the same Greek term. Eve Tushnet tells me that orthodox Jews have a similar designation for the wife of the Rabbi, essentially calling her the Jewish word for "Rabbess" while it is perfectly clear they do not permit women to assume rabbinical office.

In short, there is sufficient evidence in the early Church that the issue was well hashed out, and definitively settled against the ordination of women. Several councils ruled on it, many orthodox fathers condemned it, and more over, it quickly became the universally unquestioned practice of the church for well over a millennium.

The question receives relatively little attention from St. Thomas Aquinas, for instance. The Supplement to the Summa Theologiae, Question 39, Article 2 adverts to it only briefly to say that the ordination of women is not only illicit (contrary to church law) but invalid (without effect) if it is attempted. He notes that this judgment has nothing to do with a woman's capacity for holiness or for gifts of the Holy Spirit. He cites 1 Timothy 2:12 and alludes to 1 Cor. 14:34, clarifies the ambiguous wording of certain early documents about "deaconesses" and "priestesses" in the way I've explained above, and then moves on.

Recent Church Teaching. One reason why John Paul II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is so short is because he believes the question has already been definitively settled by the constant practice of the church, which is what he means by the "ordinary universal magisterium."

Another reason why the letter is so short is because Paul VI already ruled on it when he was prompted by the Anglican ordination of woman to condemn the practice as an obstacle to possible reunification. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Inter Insigniores to address this topic in 1976.

While short on content, John Paul II does make an important contribution to the debate by virtue of his authority -- for those that have ears to hear. The conclusion of the apostolic letter is the most important part:

"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

For those who are familiar with ecclesiastical style, it is clear from the wording of the conclusion that the pope wishes to make a permanent and irreversible declaration. The concluding paragraph establishes that the matter at hand meets the criterion for definitive teaching: (1) It concerns a matter essential to faith and morals, (2) It is given by virtue of his ministry of confirming the brethren, a text cited with regard to the pope's status as head of the college of bishops and his ultimate authority over the whole church, and (3) He intends to make a definitive judgment which closes the matter for any Catholic of good conscience.

There are three grades of church teaching, distinguished by the response given to each. This document requires more than the religiosum obsequium ("religious respect") which is accorded important statements that nonetheless hold forth the possibility of legitimate private dissent. On the contrary, it requires the firm religious assent (de fide tenenda), a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics. To renounce it implies cutting oneself off from the Church.

Liberal theologians expressed great concern when the apostolic letter came out. The strong wording of the language is highly suggestive of a declaration invoking papal infallibility. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was asked to respond, and did so just one year after the definition, which is swift by Church standards. In their brief Responsum ad Dubium," it was asked: " Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith." The CDF responded:

"Responsum: In the affirmative. This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith."

It is clear that the pope believes his declaration regards an infallible teaching. The only reason he did not invoke his own infallible magisterial authority in the declaration is because he believes the issue is already well enough attested by the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church. To further underscore the weight of the CDF commentary, the longer, more solemn form of the conclusion is used, indicating JPII's explicit endorsement of the judgment of the Congregation: "The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published."

So that's a quick overview of the positive content of the tradition of reserving priesthood to men alone. Now:

What it is NOT:

1. The Church's position does not imply that women are less holy than men. The point of religious life is not who gets to "run things", but rather, who runs to God. And the answer is clear: everyone can. Salvation and grace do not fall exclusively or even predominantly in one type of life or vocation per se. You don't have a smaller chance of salvation outside of the ordained ministry. You do have a smaller chance of salvation if you consciously pursue a life contrary to your calling, however. This applies both ways: to those suited for religious life who chose marriage instead, and those suited for marriage who chose religious life instead. Each risks his salvation by his impertinence. There are many gifts and the same Holy Spirit, many vocations and one goal: unity with God. Each is necessary in the Body of Christ. God in his Providence calls each of us to our particular vocations. To spite the Head of the Body because you are a liver, or an arm, or a toe is to harm oneself and the entire Church.

Moreover, the Church has openly declared for centuries the greatness of women saints. It is Mary, after all, who is called "our nature's solitary boast" and the greatest of all saints, most responsive to and most full of God's grace. Where would the Church be without Saints like Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth Ann Seton and countless others? What models of the virtues of femininity in all of its forms!

2. The Church does not have the freedom to change its position. Some people approach the issue of women's ordination as something the church will or will not "let women do." A sincere example of this misunderstanding is implicit in one of the posts from Sursum Corda, about the man's young daughter:

"Although we will raise her as a Catholic and to revere the Mass and what it represents, she will never be allowed to preside at it."

The Church does not chose or "make up" the spiritual powers which it safeguards and distributes. The Church receives all of its sacramental powers through Christ, who established a covenant with the Church. Neither the Church as a whole nor the individual minister has anything by his own power. The Church only has that which has been entrusted to it by Christ. Sacramental power derives from Christ's assurance that if the Church does X, Christ will provide the corresponding grace Y. The old Baltimore catechism defines a sacrament as an outward sign instituted by Christ to confer grace. The actions which the Church performs (the outward signs) would have no effect in themselves (they would not confer grace) without the prior will of Christ. When the Church teaches about the sacraments and how they work, it is simply elaborating the conditions its knows about wherein Christ has assured us He will give His grace.

So the Church judges whether it has the power to confer ordination upon women, not whether it wants to. It doesn't own the sacraments, it didn't make them, and so it can't change them. The Church can only look at what has been handed down to it from the teaching and practice of the apostles. In this case, it has concluded that it simply does not have the power to perform ordination upon women. The action would simply not be effective. To decide to do otherwise would be a sham, an empty gesture. (If you're going to be mad, be mad at God. Instead, I recommend learning from the experience. Vocations are not easy things.) That's the same reason why you can't baptize your dog. It doesn't work, because Christ didn't intend it. Could God deign to allow dogs into heaven once baptized? Of course. He saves our mortal soul and removes our spiritual blindness; He could do the same for a dog's soul. Some might find the dog analogy demeaning, which is not my intention. For a longer example, see the next paragraph, otherwise skip it.

The Eucharist makes another example. To receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege. To partake of it without recognizing the Body and Blood of Christ is "to eat and drink one's condemnation" as St. Paul says. So the Eucharist confers a certain type of grace on those who are not spiritually estranged from God by mortal sin. Confession, on the other hand, restores fallen away sinners. The Church administers both sacraments under certain conditions which must be met both by the minister (the liturgical elements of the sacrament) and the recipient (his actions, and his internal spiritual disposition). Now as many Catholics know, it can sometimes be a chore to go to confession before communion, especially if confession is available once a week during a forty-five minute window of time at a church twenty miles away. The result is you don't receive as often. Wouldn't it be much easier if the Church decided that after next Easter, it would present a new Eucharist to the faithful -- one which both affected the remission of mortal sin and confered the graces of the "traditional" eucharist? What would be the matter with that? And think of the ways it would help people. Of course, in this example, most would respond: But the Eucharist doesn't do that. Christ intended it to be a proleptic participation in the heavenly banquet, and not the means by which we are washed clean of sin. It is meant to strengthen the spiritual body, rather than purge it of dross. Even if the hierachy wanted to add the graces of the sacrament of reconciliation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it couldn't. So too with women's ordination.

Some people seem to think of the hierarchy like a federal government, and sacramental grace like a budget. They become angry because the "higher-ups" did not deign to distribute something equally to their particular class or station in life. The consequences of this view, if taken seriously, lead to real spiritual bankruptcy. If you're thinking like this, it should serve as a warning sign. Such a mindset ultimately implies that the Church is just really one big noble lie, a big social approval game, where grace is the political currency, and aspiring members must court members of the "in club" who jealously guard decisions about "who's in" and what they have to do to earn this privilege.

3. But many women say they feel called to the priesthood. All vocations involve a reciprocity. There is the called person, and that to which he or she is called. Discernment of one's proper calling can be hard enough, but that call must be validated by the community. You need both halves of the equation to have a valid vocation. This happens with men and the priesthood all the time. A friend of mine once believed he had a sincere calling to join a very strict religious order, the Legionaries of Christ. He stayed there for a year, and liked it. They, however, did not believe he was called to join them, and sent him home. He was despondent initially, but now he knows it wasn't for him. The lives of saints attest many men who were turned away from the priesthood to find their true vocation.

There is an analogy with marriage. Suppose there is a man who feels called to marry a certain woman. If she does not feel called to accept him, there are no grounds on which he can claim her hand in marriage. The call must be reciprocated. There is no right to ordination. So too with the religious life of sisters and brothers, who are not ordained. They must feel called to a community and the community must reciprocate and authenticate that call. If one or the other doesn't agree during the discernment, then there is no vocation. The lives of saints are filled with dozens of instances where a woman renounces a man's call for marriage to live the religious life. While she frustrates the man, no doubt, she does God's will.

By the same token, when the Church tells women that their call to serve the Church does not match with the vocational life of the priesthood, that message must be taken seriously. Frustration may follow, but so might discernment. Such a rejection is often an invitation to ponder more precisely the nature of the call.

I can speak to this from personal experience. When I was growing up, I always had great admiration for the priesthood. I was an altar boy from the 5th grade until I left home for college. I knew many priests and religious. I always displayed a concern for religious life and a love for the Church, even during my "wandering years" of adolescence, when I was content to have the Church stay in the background of my life. Not a few priests and parishioners invited me to consider seminary. As I returned to taking Catholicism seriously during college, I perceived the acute need of the Church for good priests. I knew that the studies would not be an obstacle. I didn't mind the thought of living a celibate life with only the company of other men. I thought it was a great honor to offer the Mass, and I esteemed the many sacrifices the priest makes in big and small ways. I had a good friendship with an excellent Dominican friar and knew his community. I went to several evenings of recollection and discernment. I talked to a vocational advisor for my diocese, I met the bishop, and I stayed for a short time at a retreat at the seminary. I was intensely conflicted, for I could see all the objective ways in which the Church needed good priests, and I knew I met all the formal criteria. But whenever I decided, in a somewhat abstract and rational way, that it must be time to take the next step and join the novitiate, a small, quiet voice in my head said: "Wait." It wasn't anxiety, although I wondered sometimes whether it was. At one point, after vacillating several times on the matter, I decided simply to stop dating and let the rest of my senior year go by. One evening in prayer, I told God: "I'm just going to stop dating now. If when I finish college, I'm going to enter seminary, whether I feel "right" about it or not. If you want to send me a sign, you're going to have to do it, and I'll just wait." I met my wife shortly thereafter.

Yet what I thought was a call to the priesthood still confused me, even after I began to consider getting engaged. It took me a while to figure out that I was called to be a lay theologian, and that is what I am today. (I never, by the way, felt called to serve as a married priest. It always sounded like the worst of both worlds to me. I can explain that later, if anyone's curious.)

If one's vocation came down with a trumpet blast, written out plainly on a banner supported by two cherubim, it would be a lot easier. What happens in real life, though, is a much more ambiguous process. I was called to serve the Church, but as a theologian. In an age where the Church sorely needs priests, there are many smart, compassionate, or spiritual people out there who feel called to serve the Church, and therefore assume that it must be as a priest. Discernment is a hard process, and it's even more tricky precisely because it's a two-way street, just like in marriage. I can tell you from my experience in my doctoral program, there are many, many men who are married, lay theologians who went through precisely the same years of confusion about their calling as I did. My advisor spent six years in seminary and called it off shortly before his deaconal ordination. He's now an excellent family man and a much needed theologian in my department. If you are a woman and feel called to the priesthood, don't interpret the fact that the priesthood isn't calling you as a sign that the Church isn't calling you. It very well might be -- as a wife, as a counselor, as a religious sister. There is no reason to consider these vocations second-rate.

So What About the Theology of the Male Priesthood?

I began by stating that I believe the theology is poorly developed, which is natural given the fact that the issue was resolved without much controversy in the early church and it hasn't been a question for over 1,500 years. While this is not an ideal state of affairs for Catholics who are troubled by this issue, it should not cause despair. Judgment about doctrine often precedes full explanation.

History shows this best. Christology was a mess during the period after the Nicea, but before the further definitions of Constantinople and Ephesus. The fact that there were three councils called on the same Christological issue within a short time means the Church was in quite a stir about the correct way to conceive of Christ, and consequently, how to worship Him and honor His mother, Mary. Fights broke out in the streets about whether Nestorius was right or whether Mary could be called "The Mother of God." If you read the literature from the period, you will see a whole host of partially-assembled arguments. If you read the manual theology written several hundred years later, everything is neatly sorted out, organized and packaged for easy consumption. It makes one wonder why they ever fought at all. This impression is especially true in this day and age, where we don't have a sophisticated metaphysics of the immaterial world, like the Greeks did, and when we aren't terribly concerned with the immanent Trinity or the nature of Christ's divinity. Instead, we concentrate on salvation history and Christ's humanity more these days. Culture influences our concerns, while history often sifts the best arguments out of the welter of yesteryear's disagreements.

If you're getting edgy that the Church hasn't brought out a good theology of male ordination yet, imagine how you would explain the Eucharist before the language of transubstantiation! Or better yet, don't use Greek terms at all. Explain it as a Jew, since all the apostles were Jews, not Greeks. (I've actually done this in a paper recently...) A Jewish explanation of the Eucharist might seem alarmingly tentative and dangerously far away from the safe, concise metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, but the Eucharist was first understood through Jewish liturgical categories and only later metaphysics. Yet it was believed by many, many faithful Catholics long before Thomas. A metaphysics of the Eucharist only became an issue with Berengarius of Tours in the 11th century, and later, in the Reformation.

Catholics with a rationalist disposition tend to assume that if some holdover from the past doesn't make sense, then it should be reformed in accordance with modern understanding. The opposite is quite often the case. Tradition often preserves something as a practice long after sophisticated explanations for it pass away because they are neglected or unneeded. Anyone who studies liturgical history will become convinced of this quickly. Modern theologians, for example, think they are being quite modern when they stress Christ's real presence not only in the Eucharist, but in the community and in the Word, a three-fold form of presence of the Body of Christ. Yet I recently pointed out to Eve that this is preserved in the liturgy by the exchange "The Lord be with you / And with thy spirit" and the use of incense once at the beginning of Mass, again before the Gospel, and again before the Eucharistic preface is said. Of course the liturgical gestures are as old as the hills, and it was probably responsible for the recovery of this idea. There are lots of other examples of this happening, but I've gone on long enough. Ok, one more: Pius XI knew that the doctrine of Christ's Kingship over hearts, minds and wills, as well as over Church andstates would be long forgotten if preserved only in his 1925 Encyclical Quas Primas. So he instituted the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, which reminds us of this fact every year.

The same is true for very many items in theology. Lex orandi, lex credendi is the old maxim: the rule of prayer is the rule of belief. The Christological and Mariological problems often involved liturgical observations. In fact, the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception has such profoundly liturgical and monastic influences, it makes many moderns very edgy. They want syllogisms and language about cause and effect. Perhaps that emerges later, but theological understanding rarely begins that way. I believe the same is true with the theology of the priesthood regarding the ordination of men alone. The Church has begun by clarifying what has been passed down in the apostolic tradition, just as Nicea, or Trent, or Vatican II laid down definitions, and whole hosts of theologies grew up later.

So what might such a theology look like? My wife cautions me whenever I wander into this area precisely because many first attempts at a theology of this issue seem like defenses or proofs, when they are not. As a result, readers of the "proof" presume it falls short and so the doctrine should be abandoned. I've already explained why this is putting the cart before the horse. There can be, strictly speaking, no proof of why God reserves ordination to men alone! Just like there can be no proof of why God must have chosen the Eucharist and Baptism as the ways of initiation into Catholic life, or why we receive the Eucharist many times, and Baptism just once, etc. Because sacramental grace is God's free gift to us in history, there is no way to provide a "rational justification" for it. God could have easily done otherwise, but didn't. What one can do, however, is show how the mysteries of faith have an interconnectedness to them, or how faith can enlighten other areas of our understanding.

And so, dear reader, I'll leave you with two things that blind us to understanding the male priesthood, and few suggestions to meditate on.

(a) Our Loathing of Gender Difference. Catholics have a hard time understanding the ordination of men alone precisely because any theology or philosophy about gender roles in the past 50 years is dead, dead, dead as a doornail. If we can recover from the massive movement which insists that women are exactly the same as men, then we might have some insight into resonances between being a man and being a priest. But until we can articulate why women shouldn't go into combat, box men, or leave their children at daycare to find fulfillment in their career, I bet we're not going to get any further in understanding the discord between femininity the priesthood.

The male priesthood, like Ephesians 5, calls to us to reform our views on gender. For that reason alone, it should be approached humbly. When in the practice of our faith we find that our actions out of sync with our culture, that is a call for humility and self-scrutiny, not self-righteousness. In the aforementioned question from the Summa, Thomas simply quoted Paul's prohibition against women preaching and added "because the woman is subordinate to the man." When we stop recoiling in horror at what this might mean, and take it with docility and seriousness, then maybe we can think about gender and the priesthood. The evangelical protestants take a theology of gender very seriously, but unfortunately, they have such a low theology of ministry they don't have anything to lend to us, beyond the general point: Gender difference does not mean gender inequalty.

(b) Our Dislike of Obedience. Liberals and especially liberal women recoil at Biblical notions like "wives be obedient to your husbands" (Ephesians 5). They have no fruitful way to think about obedience, and so they especially dislike an ecclesiology in which women will be subordinate to men, since men are the ordained ministers. We prefer "equal representation" (obedience to the general will) rather than obedience to an authoritative hierarchy. Yet the very nature of religious life is centered around obedience! Priests and bishops, sisters and monks are all called to embrace obedience as a virtue and as an act of faith in divine Providence, even when the decisions of a superior are objectively poor. If one cannot accept the notion of obedience of wife to husband in the family, or of layman to priest in the Church, then it is natural that the same person would resent the fact that women are in some way subordinate to the male ordained ministers in the Church. Our whole culture resists the notion of class and subordination. Yet that notion, to me at least, is in conflict with certain messages in the Gospel and in Church tradition. Perhaps people would not feel the male priesthood is an "injustice" if they had a different view about obedience.

Points of departure:

I'm going to save these for later, since it is 5:30 in the morning, my back is killing me, and it's time to go to bed. Adieu!


Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/30/2002 05:19:00 AM | link


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