Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Do Atheists Exist?"

An excellent article by Nicholas Frankovich on the "religion" of atheism, the fundamental religious consciousness of man, and the Western philosophical tradition related to God's nature and existence.


[...] The Sunday Assembly, a “godless congregation” founded in East London last January by standup comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, now boasts affiliates in Brighton, Bristol, Oxford, Canberra, Melbourne, New York, and Portland, Ore. On September 21, it announced a “global missionary tour”: This past fall, interested individuals in 22 cities across the Anglosphere held Sunday Assembly meet-ups. [...]

Half ironically, the founders allow that the Assembly is a church, dedicated to benevolent acts and the search for transcendence. Though they draw the line at “religion,” insisting that it and atheism are mutually exclusive, the openness with which they borrow ecclesial atmospherics and nomenclature suggests that they see their atheist outfit as not entirely secular either. You might call it a third way, an alternative to religion and secularity both, much as the Church of England was historically a “via media” between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Speaking the language of the many who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” the Assembly draws on an increasingly widespread understanding of religion as something like what “the letter” of the law was for Saint Paul — “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). If “religion” remains the inevitable word for a certain moral and philosophical seriousness, however, atheism is, or should be, counted as religious after all. [...]

And so the Sunday Assembly, its rejection of the label “religion” notwithstanding, joins a distinguished parade of institutions demonstrating that religious practice persists as an anthropological fact even where belief in God is muted or absent.

We live in a post-secular age, having run up against the limitations of procedural liberalism, which, while regulating the market on which God and the Devil compete for souls, remains scrupulously disinterested in the outcome. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, an atheist, created a stir twelve years ago when he began to argue that the secular state has an interest in the distinctive contributions that Judaism and Christianity make to the political order. The Italian philosopher Marcello Pera, also an atheist, goes further, proposing a Christian civil religion to replenish the Judeo-Christian matrix from which the West derives the moral values on which liberal democracy depends. [...]

The third part of the Assembly’s motto, “Live better, help often, wonder more,” reflects a value attractive to souls seeking relief from the cool, or chill, as they experience it, of the secular climate in which they live. “Our modern culture is restless at the barriers of the human sphere,” Charles Taylor writes in A Secular Age. “The sense that there is something more presses in.”

Wonder more: No one disputes that atheism is compatible with wonder at the physical universe and how it works. Wonder at how it came to be just so, however, soon leads to wonder at how it came to be at all, a question that atheists typically sidestep. [...]

[T]he atheist seeking to communicate an accurate answer to the question “Why is there not nothing?” will find himself borrowing theologically inflected terminology. Inescapably, he affirms the most fundamental of theological precepts. He agrees with it implicitly. He asserts that he doesn’t. His disagreement is first of all with himself.

A dramatic declaration of atheism is usually an assertion of disbelief in a god no one else believes in either. Judging the shadowy masculine presence at the center of the Hebrew Bible to be a tyrannical father figure and a lie — Richard Dawkins calls him “the most unpleasant character in all fiction” — atheists who cross over into militant antitheism make quite the show of manfully defying the Lord’s authority to command them. They plant their flag in the ground. There they stand, they can do no other.

They lose their footing when they recoil as they do, reflexively, from classical theism as well. They don’t trust it. If it’s related to Him, they’re not interested; they won’t be seduced. They plug their ears to keep from hearing too distinctly the siren song of sweet reason, which they dodge, rather than confront. Either they see plainly or they intuit that God in his aspect as God of the philosophers is ground on which reason offers no apparent means of escape or resistance. We might as well try to refute the multiplication tables. They are what they are.

“I Am That I Am” is the conventional translation of the enigmatic Hebrew expression by which God in the burning bush identifies himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). In the Greek of the Septuagint, “I am” is egō eimi. Jesus scandalizes his critics when, shifting to the present tense in a context in which you would expect the past tense, he answers them, “Before Abraham ever was, I am” — egō eimi (John 8:58). In first-century Jerusalem, that statement is either blasphemous or a theophany. [...]

The discernment of God as what Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century would term “ipsum esse subsistens” — the “Ground of Being,” in the parlance of Christian mysticism and theology — developed organically over the course of more than a millennium, with no clear moment of birth, although it was mature certainly by the High Middle Ages. Where the approach to God had been anthropological, it was now also philosophical — ontological, to be more precise. [...]

Many people who would never think to participate in the rancor of public antitheism are nonetheless susceptible to the zeitgeist in which atheism flourishes. It’s what they know. Doesn’t it speak well enough for them too? They start from the proposition that God is a person and rule it out as implausible. The argument that God can only be personal because he can’t be less than we are may be cogent in itself, but it needs a lot of unpacking. It has as its premise the God of the philosophers. To begin to make theism intelligible to a modern atheist, you have to bracket the God of the patriarchs and start from the premise.

Atheism is religion for people in a hurry. They’re quick to assume they understand someone who, engrossed in the question of why there isn’t nothing, says a few words to indicate what he sees the question pointing to. They mistake his verbal gesture for an answer that’s intended to close the question or do it justice. To see what he’s trying to get at, they would have to enter into the wonder that the question elicits in him and dwell there for a moment. The closest thing the question has to an answer is the wonder itself. [...]

For their rejection of all “gods” in the familiar sense of the term, Christians in ancient Rome were sometimes accused of being atheists. Now the misunderstanding is turned on its head: Atheists hold the Christian, and indeed any modern theist, to be most glaringly wrong in his understanding that God is a person, like a god of pagan antiquity. Training their sights on the notion of an anthropomorphic god, they excite and distract themselves. God as Being itself barely registers with them. [...]

To ask what [the atheist] means by “nothing” will provoke some eyeball-rolling at first, but the longer you think about it, the more you realize just how stubbornly inscrutable a concept “nothing” is, like “time,” which gave Saint Augustine so much trouble: “I know what time is until you ask me for a definition of it.” [...]

By “nothing,” it turns out, Krauss [an atheist physicist who sought to disprove the ontological argument in his book A Universe from Nothing] meant only the vacuum state, which in quantum theory is a field characterized by the occurrence of fleeting electromagnetic waves. In a withering review, David Albert, a theoretical physicist and philosophy professor at Columbia, dismissed A Universe from Nothing as a fraud and excoriated Krauss for failing to deliver the goods advertised in its title: “Vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields!” [...]

Notice how “nothing” can function for the atheist as “God” does for the theist. Are the two only using different linguistic tokens in parallel efforts to express the same ineffable thought? Their fear and trembling at the prospect of the “eternal nada,” Jones and Evans explain, moves them to cultivate their appreciation for the physical world (Christians call it “Creation”) that tickles our sense organs in the here and now: “Transcendence can be found in a breath of wind on your face or in a mouthful of custard tart,” they write. They pronounce nature “awesome,” a word whose recently acquired colloquial sense still shades into its older, literal sense. Open the door to just that much transcendence, however, and all of it comes rushing in, like a strong wind. Atheists instinctively try to resist it, while those of us who have been blown away by it recommend the experience.

“Wonder more,” the Sunday Assembly urges, and adherents of monotheistic religions echo the advice back to them. No, following wonder to its logical conclusion does not by itself make an atheist suddenly Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. It only means he’s not an atheist. Someone should tell him.


Source: Nicholas Frankovich, "Do Atheists Exist?," National Review Online, December 28, 2013, accessed December 29, 2013,

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fr. Dom Vitalis Lehodey on Receiving Humiliations

The humiliations we procure for ourselves are always too delicate and too infrequent to cause the destruction of self-love. What we require is that others should put us to shame, should bluntly tell us the truth about ourselves, should expose us, should repeatedly denounce us, and make us feel the world of misery and corruption that is seething within us. That is the reason why God deprives us of health, weakens our natural faculties, leaves us in helplessness and darkness, or afflicts us with other interior trials. That is why He buffets us by the hand of Satan, why He moves our superiors to reprehend us, and has imposed on the community the obligation of co-operating with us, according to our usages, in the correction of our faults. It is especially through our associates that He subjects us to the painful but salutary action of humiliation. He employs all in this enterprise, making use of both enlightened and bitter zeal, virtues and defects, good intentions, frailties, and even malice itself. Men are only His responsible instruments; and He will punish or reward them according to their works in His own good time. Let us allow Him this directive role. And attending only to Him, our God, our Savior, our Friend par excellence, let us forget whatever may be disagreeable to nature, and accept as from His hand this very beneficial, if distasteful, treatment of humiliations. Generally, they are light and passing. But if they were more painful and enduring, they would also be, through the mercy of God, in fuller measure "a compensation for our sins of the past, a title to the pardon of our daily offenses, a remedy for our infirmities, a treasure of merits and virtues, a proof of our loyal devotion to God, the purchase-price of intimate relations with Him, and the means of our perfection."

Humiliations foster pride when they are rejected with anger or accepted with discontent. This fact explains why "so many are humbled without becoming humble," as St. Bernard remarks. He alone profits by his humiliations who receives them with welcome; and he profits the more according as he receives them the more humbly, as from the hand of God, saying to himself, for example: "I have richly deserved this confusion, and have also great need of it. Since a slight offense, a little want of consideration, a disagreeable word suffices to fill me with trouble and agitation, pride must still be living and vigorous in my heart. Hence, far from regarding the humiliation as an evil, I ought rather to look upon it as a remedy; I ought to bless God Who deigns to cure me; and I ought to feel thankful to my brethren for the assistance they give me in conquering self-love. And besides, what I should really consider a proper subject for shame, confusion, and humiliation, is to feel myself still so full of pride, after my many years spent in the service of the King of the humble." Ah! if we but clearly realized our past transgressions and our present miseries, we should find it easy enough to convince ourselves that no creature can ever make us endure as much contempt, injury, and disgrace as we deserve. And instead of murmuring when God sends us humiliations, we should rather thank Him as for a wonderful favor, since in return for our acceptance of a slight and transient confusion, He conceals from nearly all mortal eyes the view of our countless miseries, and spares us the everlasting confusion of the lost. Let us not say that we are guiltless in the present instance. For there are doubtless many faults to our charge which have never been punished, and the expiation thereof is not the less due because so long deferred.


Source: Dom Vitalis Lehodey, Holy Abandonment, trans. Ailbe J. Luddy (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 216-218.

Abp. Fulton Sheen on Why People Reject the Faith

When the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen would encounter an ex-Catholic who bragged that he had left the Church, the archbishop would bluntly respond, "Oh, what was your sin?"


Source: Paul Likoudis, "The Shameless Archbishop . . . Weakland's Self-Revelations Are A Cautionary Tale," Catholic Culture Website, May 28, 2009, accessed December 28, 2013,

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ven. John Arintero on the Humility Required for Sanctity

Our purification consists in cleansing our hearts from all stain of sin, in making satisfaction for our faults, and in rooting out all evil inclinations, banishing with them anything that may hinder us in the right practice of the virtues or impede in us the operations of grace and the communications of the Holy Ghost. Consequently we must mortify ourselves to destroy or rectify our depraved affections. We must deny ourselves in all things and completely renounce self, which is filled with vices, weaknesses, and snares, that we may be renewed by the virtue, strength, and fortitude of God, who frees us from our bondage.

I. Humility, the Basis of Sanctity

In order to construct the edifice of true and solid sanctity, we must lay the foundation of a profound and sincere humility. This is effected primarily by the destruction of pernicious self-love, which corrodes and vitiates everything and deceives and blinds us in all things, making us think we are something, when actually we are nothing (Gal. 6:3). Because of self-love we rely on our own knowledge, strength, and virtue without any more title to those things than our own ignorance, weakness, and misery. Further, self-love causes us to seek, unconsciously perhaps, our own selves, even when we think we are seeking only the glory of God.

Since God resists the proud and gives His grace only to the humble, it follows that, because of our hidden presumption, we continually place obstacles to the loving action of the Holy Ghost, who seeks to raise a spiritual edifice on our "nothingness" by creating in us a pure heart and by re-creating us in Jesus Christ in good works. We need, then, to recognize our own nothingness so that He may become our all and fill our emptiness with His plentitude. To hold ourselves in high esteem is to withdraw from Him even while He dwells in us, not only as our Comforter, but also as our Lord and Vivifier. Such action on our part grieves and oppresses Him, and our resistance makes Him abandon us. If He, the Spirit of truth who came to sanctify us in that truth which is the word of God, is to dwell in us and work in our souls according to His pleasure, He must find our dwelling place free and empty. We shall empty ourselves by recognizing our own nothingness on which He, the fullness of being, must work, and by proceeding in all things according to that conviction. [1] [...]

We should likewise realize the necessity of abandoning ourselves to Him without reserve. Doing that, we shall in no way resist His loving operation in us, but we shall always cooperate with the fervor and energy which He communicates to us.

Therefore, when the soul begins to feel within itself an immense emptiness which cannot be filled by any created thing (because God alone can fill it), it then truly begins to abandon itself to the hands of the divine Guest. This spiritual emptiness is the point of departure for marvelous advances in the mystical life. . . . [2] [3]

Since perfect union with the divine will is the norm of our spiritual life and the sure guide of its progress, we ought to renounce all self-interest, personal advancement, human viewpoints, personal caprices, tastes, and comforts, and our own will. We must have no other desire, no other affection, no other wish than those of the divine will.



1. "You must know, My daughter," said our Lord to St. Catherine of Siena (Life, I, X), "what you are and what I am. . . . You are that which is not, and I am He who is. If your soul is permeated with this truth, the enemy will never ensnare you. You will triumph over all his wiles, you will do nothing contrary to My commandments, and you will readily acquire grace, truth, and peace."

2. "Humility," says Ven. Mariana of Jesus, "is never foolishness, just as pride is never circumspect."

3. Interior Castle, sixth mansions, chap. 10: "I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden—without, I believe, my having previously thought of it—the following reason came into my mind: that is, because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who best understands it is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth."


Source: John G. Arintero, The Mystical Evolution, trans. Jordan Aumann (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1978), 2:50-53.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret of Advancing Much in the Spiritual Life in a Short Time

Tauler relates that when a certain holy lady was asked about the means by which she had arrived at such [spiritual] perfection, she humbly replied:

First, whenever I saw that I was seeking myself in anything, I immediately checked myself; secondly, I never defended myself against anything that was falsely said of me, but I made certain that I myself always spoke the truth; thirdly, I was always scrupulous in observing poverty and I denied myself all creature consolation; fourthly, I always fled from honors, but when any abuse came to me, I stood firm; fifthly, there never came to me any sufferings, sorrows, or trials but I desired greater ones, even when I judged myself undeserving of them; sixthly, I never disputed any light or truth infused in me by God, but I resigned myself to it and I never took complacence in the gifts themselves but only in the Giver of all things; seventhly, I continually impelled myself with great love toward that supreme Good which is God; eighthly, whenever I saw anyone do or say anything contrary to the truth, and saw the damage which was caused, I corrected and reproved these defects with pure love; ninthly, after having entered on the way of salvation, I never turned any eyes back to look at changeable creatures; tenthly, both within and without myself I have most strenuously practiced every virtue. I have lived both beneath heaven and in heaven, amid the angels and saints, like an upright man in his own family. As often as I recollect myself, I find within me the image of the sovereign Trinity and I realize that we are one with God. [...]

[Tauler continues:]

The principal reason why so few arrive at this happy state is that they do not persevere in seeking it. The majority of them spend much time and effort with but little fruit.


Source: John G. Arintero, The Mystical Evolution, trans. Jordan Aumann (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1978), 2:46-48.

Fr. Grou, S.J., on Unceasing Prayer

Therefore unceasing prayer is not difficult. If it is rare, that is because many hearts are not well disposed and are not sufficiently generous and faithful so as to persevere in it. No one enters into this state of prayer until he has totally abandoned himself to God. However, a few souls thus give themselves without reserve, for in the very act of giving, there are usually some secret reservations of self-love which manifest themselves later. When the giving of self is complete and sincere, God rewards it immediately by giving Himself in return. He establishes Himself in the heart and there He fashions that continuous prayer which consists in peace, recollection, and attention to God within us, even in the midst of ordinary occupations. This recollection is sensible in the beginning; it is enjoyed and recognized. Later on, it becomes entirely spiritual and is possessed without one's sensing it, and if one should grieve at losing the former sweet awareness and consolation, that is because of self-love.


Fr. Jean Nicolas Grou, Manuel, pp. 224 f., quoted in J.G. Arintero, The Mystical Evolution, trans. Jordan Aumann (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1978), 2:45.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on Devotion to the Blessed Virgin

Contemplation is a fruit of true devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as explained by [St.] Grignion de Montfort. He says that, without a great love for her, a soul will attain union with God only with extreme difficulty. "It is necessary to pass through dark nights, combats, strange agonies, sharp thorns, and frightful deserts. By the way of Mary, the soul advances with greater sweetness and tranquility. Along this way it encounters many crosses and great difficulties to overcome, but our good Mother keeps so close to her faithful servants . . . that, in truth, this virginal road is a path of roses in spite of the thorns." It thus leads more easily and surely to divine union. Mary, wonderful to relate, makes the cross easier and, at the same time, more meritorious: easier, because she sustains us with her gentle hand; more meritorious, because she obtains for us a greater charity, which is the principle of merit, and because, by offering our acts to our Lord, she increases their value. By reason of her pre-eminent charity, Mary merited more while performing the easiest acts than all the martyrs in their tortures. 


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, trans. M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 386-387.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange Describes the Great Aids to the Spiritual Life

The same rule holds true as in the matter of salvation, which is possible to all who possess a developed conscience, even to those not born in a Christian environment, who are strongly inclined to evil, and who have not had an opportunity to hear the Gospel preached. If they ordinarily follow the dictates of their conscience, they will be mysteriously led from grace to grace, from fidelity to fidelity, to eternal life.

Anyone who wishes to advance in the spiritual life and to prepare himself for the grace of contemplation must, to the best of his ability, use the great means which the Church gives us all. The assiduous reception of the sacraments, daily hearing of mass, frequent communion, love of the Eucharist, devotion to the Holy Ghost, filial and incessant recourse to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Blessed Virgin, mediatrix of all graces, are evidently necessary. [...]

Another great means to prepare for the grace of contemplation, a means within the reach of all interior souls, is found in the liturgy, in an ever more intimate union with the great prayer of the Church. "The graces of prayer and of the mystical state have their type and source in the hieratic life of the Church; they reflect in the members the likeness of Christ which is perfect in the body." Liturgical prayer recited with recollection, in union with our Lord and His mystical body, obtains for us holy lights and inspirations which illumine and inflame our hearts. Consequently it is advisable to make mental prayer after the psalmody which prepares us for it; just as after mass and holy communion, it is well to prolong our thanksgiving, and if possible devote an hour to it.

Lastly, the frequent reading of Scripture and the study of sacred doctrine, undertaken in a truly supernatural manner, are other excellent means to prepare the soul for contemplation. [...]


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, trans. M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 386-387.

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on the Interior Dispositions for Contemplation

Of course certain interior dispositions are necessary if we are to make good use of the great means which the Church proposes to all. These dispositions constitute the chief conditions ordinarily required for the mystical life. As a rule they accompany the proximate individual call to contemplation [i.e. entering the dark night of the senses and the signs that accompany that entrance as described by St. John of the Cross]; in very generous souls they may supply for exterior conditions if these cannot be had [i.e. favorable environmental conditions conducive to spiritual growth].

Spiritual authors group these dispositions as follows: (1) purity of heart; (2) simplicity of spirit; (3) profound humility; (4) love of recollection and perseverance in prayer; (5) fervent charity.


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, trans. M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 2003), 388.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fr. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., on Confidence in the Service of God

Apply yourself seriously to serve God and to do your duty, and if you happen to fail in any thing, trouble not yourself, and lose not courage for that; since all the world are failing in their duty. You are but a weak man, you are not an angel or saint; and God who knows very well your weakness and misery, would not have you be discouraged when you fall. He only wishes you to ask new strength of him, that, in imitation of children, who as soon as they fall, rise again, and continue to run; even so you ought quickly rise, and begin anew to run in the way of God's commandments. Fathers, says St Ambrose, behold the falls of their children, rather with compassion than anger; God does the same to us. He loves us as his children, he knows our frailty, and therefore our falls and weaknesses excite him rather to a tender compassion, than to any indignation towards us. As a father pities his children, so our Lord has pity and compassion upon those that fear Him; for he knows of what matter we are made, and he has not forgot that we are dust. (Ps. cii. 13.) One of the great consolations those have who serve God with the fervor they ought, is, to know that though they correspond not to his goodness as they should yet he ceases not to bear with them and to love them; because he is rich in mercy;(Eph. ii. 4. ) so that all our sins disappear before his infinite mercy, and become like wax that melts before the fire. What sentiments of zeal, gratitude and cheerfulness, ought not to be excited in us by the thought, that the many faults we daily fall into through our weakness, do not hinder God from loving us according to his wonted goodness, and do not at all diminish his grace in us?


Source: Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J., The Practice of Christian Perfection (New York, NY: Excelsior Catholic Publishing House), 2:189.

Bl. Palafox on Suffering with a Spiritual Intention

Since you must suffer in your temporal labors, make these works spiritual. Suffer for God, and then you will find happiness. Whatever you suffer with a holy disposition is a crown; without that disposition, it is a torment.... The spiritual man does not consider his days more painful, but more delightful than the days of the lost and dissolute man. In the life of the spirit, suffering is not suffering, but joy.


Source: Bl. Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Varón de deseos, "Breve Exortacion á La Vida Espiritual," nn. 5, 9, quoted in John G. Arintero, The Mystical Evolution, trans. Jordan Aumann (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1978), 2:44.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Abp. Fulton J. Sheen on Misunderstanding the Church

There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.
Source: Foreword to Radio Replies, Vol. 1, (1938) page ix; quoted in

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Manutergium and 1st Stole

Manutergium, alternatively (and legitimately) spelled maniturgium, and also sometimes called the "binding cloth."
On the occasion of their first Mass, it is traditional that the newly ordained priest presents a gift to his parents. 
To his mother he gives the Maniturgium, which was used to cleanse his hands; consecrated and made holy when the bishop anointed them with sacred chrism at his ordination. The Maniturgium is a simple white piece of linen that represents the burial shroud of Christ that protected His sacred body during His 3 days in the tomb. The Maniturgium is given to the mother, because she was the first protector of the newly ordained priest, during his time in her womb. The Maniturgium is a reminder to the people of God of His love and protection – especially towards His priests. When the newly ordained priest’s mother is called home to God, she is buried holding the Maniturgium so that all in Heaven and on Earth will know that she is the mother of a priest. And on the last day when we are raised from the dead, she can present the Maniturgium to Christ the Lord and say, “my son too shared in your priesthood.” 
To his father, the priest presents his first confessional stole. The stole is the sign of priestly office, and the priest wears it when he engages in holy things, like celebrating the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. In the Sacrament of Penance, we experience God’s justice, mercy and reconciling Love. It was the father of the newly ordained priest who first taught him about justice and mercy. And so the purple stole used to hear confessions, where the priest reconciles the faithful into God’s love, is presented to the priest’s father. And like the mother of the newly ordained, when the priest’s father dies, he is buried holding the purple stole so that all in Heaven and on Earth will know that he was the father of a priest. And on the last day when we are raised from the dead, he can present the purple stole to Christ the Lord and say, “my son too shared in your priesthood.”
Source: Father Maurer, comment, January 13, 2012 (1:10 p.m. PST), on "QUAERITUR: Priesthood Ordination Customs," Fr. Z's Blog, January 13, 2012, accessed December 11, 2013,
The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) was a long cloth that was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the Bishop anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism (oil). The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites. [...] 
The use of the manutergium was discontinued in the current Rite of Ordination. Currently, the newly ordained steps aside to a table after his hands are anointed and uses a purificator to wipe away any excess oil. While it is not technically called the manutergium nor is it exactly the same in design or usage, (for the hands are not wrapped by it), nevertheless this is still a cloth used to wipe away the excess Chrism (oil). 
Manutergium redivivus! In recent years many newly ordained have carefully set aside these purificators in a bag with their name on it so that they may retain this purificator and present it to their mother. The same word has been retained for the cloth (manutergium).
Source: Msgr. Charles Pope, "Lost Liturgies File: The Manutergium," Archdiocese of Washington Blog, June 20, 2010, accessed December 11, 2013,
In the EF [N.B.: Extraordinary Form], the anointed hands of the ordinandus are closely joined and tied together with a linen cloth, so as to allow the oil to penetrate into his hands. [The newly ordained], then, becomes “a prisoner of Christ” (Eph. 3:1). It is an external manifestation that priests are bound to Christ, the eternal High Priest.
Source: Rev.Fr. Louie R. Coronel, "The Binding Cloth of the Priest’s Anointed Hands," Priest Stuff Blog, February 9, 2011, accessed December 11, 2013,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joe Heschmeyer on Mary and the Indwelling of the Trinity

Yesterday's [N.B.: December 18, 2011] First Reading was about King David, and his plans to build a Temple for the Lord, to store the Ark. It begins (2 Samuel 7:1-3):
Now when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you." 
But that night, Nathan hears in a dream that David shouldn't go ahead. God hasn't asked David to build him a Temple, and has something better in mind. Namely, God sends a message to David, via Nathan, saying (2 Sam. 7:11b-16):
Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.'"
This prophesy was of both David's son Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), and of Christ (Hebrews 1:5). When it comes to Jesus, the Temple of Christ is His Body.

“The Lord is With You”

But here's what I missed, until Fr. Ruskamp pointed it out in his homily yesterday. When David wanted to build a Temple for God, and create a glorious place, fitting of the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan initially approved by saying, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3). Compare this with the way the angel Gabriel greets Mary in Luke 1:26-33, from yesterday's Gospel reading:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
It's just astonishingly clear. At the end, Gabriel explicitly references God's promise in 2 Sam. 7:11-16 that He'd establish David's throne forever. But given this, how can we deny that his greeting, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” fulfills what had been promised but deferred to David? Mary is going to build (in her womb) the Temple that David didn't get to build.

A Worthy Builder

Don't overlook how beautifully all of this Ark imagery is tied in with the idea of the Temple. We can see this in two different ways. First, as we've just seen, the passage being alluded to in Luke 1:26-33 is 2 Samuel 7:1-16. But this part came almost directly after the next parallel we see, between Luke 1:39-56 and 2 Samuel 6:2-14. Both the Old Testament passages and their New Testament fulfillments occur one right after another. That can hardly be ignored as a coincidence.

Second, David makes clear that the Temple is needed because of the Ark. Listen to how he justifies the need for a Temple: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Sam. 7:2). He wanted a worthy dwelling for the Ark.

And God doesn't disagree with this rationale. In fact, He blesses David for his good intentions. But He forbids David from doing the building, because David was “a man of war, and has shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). The builder of the Temple needed clean hands. That God chose Mary, of all the women who have ever lived, to not only build the New Temple, but be the Gate of that Temple, and the New Ark, is an incredible testimony to her purity and sinlessness.

The Woman of Rev. 12, Revisited

Finally, this sheds more light on the identity of the glorified Woman from Revelation. It does this in two ways. First, Luke 1 (read through the lens of 2 Samuel 6-7) once again ties the Temple, the Ark, and the Mother of God together, just as we see in Rev. 11:19-12:3,
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
The Woman gives birth to Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:5).

The objection to reading this passage as referring to Mary is that some of the details don't fit Mary very well: they fit the Church better. This is true, but 2 Sam. 7:11b-16 contains the answer to this objection, as well. Some of the details don't fit Christ well at all (for example: “When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men”), and fit Solomon better. Protestants have no trouble recognizing that the solution isn't that it's Solomon or Christ, but both:
Moreover, it is certain that God never anticipated that his beloved Christ would “commit iniquity,” and therefore possibly need “chastening” with the “rod of men” (2 Samuel 7:14). In a number of ways, for example, Isaiah 53 affirms the utter perfection of Jehovah’s servant, Jesus Christ. This portion of 2 Samuel 7:14-15, therefore, obviously applies to Solomon alone. 
The prophecy plainly encompasses, however, a far grander scope than that of Solomon’s day, as is suggested by the “last words” of David himself (2 Samuel 23:1ff) and the comments of several inspired New Testament writers.
So 2 Samuel 7 is about Solomon and Jesus, but some details only apply to One or the other. Why shouldn't Rev. 11:19-12:17 be understood the same way in understanding the Woman as Mary and the Church?


Source: Joe Heschmeyer, "How Mary Built the Temple that King David Couldn't," Shameless Popery Blog, December 19, 2011, accessed December 10, 2013,


Christ promises a sort of Trinitarian in-dwelling for those who persevere in love and obedience: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Immaculate Virgin Mary is the exemplar of this Trinitarian in-dwelling, as we see from the Annunciation.

I am thankful to Fr. Randy Soto, who showed in his homily this morning how the angel Gabriel's message to Mary consists of three distinct parts (each of which she responds to separately), and relating the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Mary and the Father (Luke 1:26-29):
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”  
But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.

It's interesting that Mary isn't described as being troubled the appearance of an angel (which would be normal: Matthew 28:5; Luke 1:13). Rather, Luke says that she was troubled by the saying, and wondered what it might mean. Luke doesn't tell us why she was greatly troubled, but let me propose one possibility [N.B.: see article copied above].

The angel calls Mary by the title Kecharitomene, or “Full of Grace,” a reference to her Immaculate Conception (which is why, confusingly, this is the Gospel for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception).

And then he tells her, “the Lord is with you,” a reference to Nathan's message to King David, after the king wanted to build the Temple (2 Sam. 7:3). It was Nathan giving a green light to proceed with the Temple, but has to backtrack on this, after God puts a stop to the plans. Elsewhere, we're told that this is because the blood on David's hands made him unworthy to build the temple (1 Chronicles 28:3).

So now, the angel Gabriel is giving the green light to Mary to build the Temple (John 2:21), after declaring her sinless. An astute Jew would recognize this for what it is: a Messianic promise.

Mary and the Son (Luke 1:30-34):
And the angel said to her,“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 
And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?”
So having found favor with the Father, Mary is promised that she will bear the Son, Jesus. This raises an obvious question: how can will that occur, given that Mary is a perpetual Virgin?

Mary and the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35-38):
And the angel said to her, 
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” 
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
So Mary finds favor with the Father, bears the Son, and is overshadowed by the Trinity [sic; Heschmeyer probably meant the Holy Spirit here instead of Trinity]. This is what I mean by saying that she is the exemplar of Trinitarian indwelling: after all, she literally grew the Son of God in her body.

Immaculate Mary, hope of Christians, pray for us!


Source: Joe Heschmeyer, "The Virgin Mary and the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity," Shameless Popery Blog, December 9, 2013, accessed December 10, 2013,

Louis Bouyer on Sacred Architecture and Liturgy

Jewish origins of Christian worship

One of the characteristics of Pope Benedict’s theology of the liturgy is his emphasis on the Jewish roots of Christian worship, which he considers a manifestation of the essential unity of Old and New Testament, a subject to which he repeatedly calls attention. Bouyer pursues this methodology in his monograph Eucharist, where he argues that the form of the Church’s liturgy must be understood as emerging from a Jewish ritual context.

In Liturgy and Architecture, Bouyer explores the Jewish background to early church architecture, especially with regard to the “sacred direction” taken in divine worship. He notes that Jews in the Diaspora prayed towards Jerusalem or, more precisely, towards the presence of the transcendent God (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Even after the destruction of the Temple the prevailing custom of turning towards Jerusalem for prayer was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. Thus Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God’s people from the Diaspora. The direction of prayer was thus inseparably bound up with the messianic expectation of Israel.

Bouyer observes that this direction of prayer towards the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem gave Jewish synagogue worship a quasi-sacramental quality that went beyond the mere proclamation of the word. This sacred direction was highlighted by the later development of the Torah shrine, where the scrolls of the Holy Scripture are solemnly kept. The Torah shrine thus becomes a sign of God’s presence among his people, keeping alive the memory of his ineffable presence in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Ratzinger notes in his Spirit of the Liturgy that in Christian sacred architecture, which both continues and transforms synagogue architecture, the Torah shrine has its equivalent in the altar at the east wall or in the apse, thus being the place where the sacrifice of Christ, the Word incarnate, becomes present in the liturgy of the Mass.

Syrian Churches

Bouyer’s Liturgy and Architecture made available to a wider public in the 1960’s current research on early Christian sacred architecture in the Near East. The oldest surviving Syrian churches, dating from the fourth century onwards, mostly follow the model of the basilica, similar to contemporary synagogues, with the difference, however, that they were in general built with their apse facing towards the east. In churches where some clue remains as to the position of the altar, it appears to have been placed only a little forward from the east wall or directly before it. The orientation of church and altar thus corresponds to the universally accepted principle of facing east in prayer and expresses the eschatological hope of the early Christians for the second coming of Christ as the Sun of righteousness. The bema, a raised platform in the middle of the building, was taken over from the synagogue, where it served as the place for the reading of Holy Scripture and the recitation of prayers. The bishop would sit with his clergy on the west side of the bema in the nave facing towards the apse. The psalmody and readings that form part of the liturgy of the Word are conducted from the bema. The clergy then proceed eastward to the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist. [...] What is widely agreed, however, is that the celebrant would have stood in front of the altar, facing east with the congregation for the Eucharistic liturgy.

Roman Basilicas

Early Roman churches, especially those with an oriented entrance, such as the Lateran Basilica or Saint Peter’s in the Vatican (which is unique in many ways), present questions regarding their liturgical use that are still being debated by scholars. According to Bouyer the whole assembly, the bishop or priest celebrant who stood behind the altar as well as the people in the nave would turn towards the east and hence towards the doors during the Eucharistic prayer. The doors may have been left open so that the light of the rising sun, the symbol of the risen Christ and his second coming in glory, flooded into the nave. The assembly would have formed a semicircle that opened to the east, with the celebrating priest as its apex. In the context of religious practice in the ancient world, this liturgical gesture does not appear as extraordinary as it might seem today. It was the general custom in antiquity to pray towards the open sky, which meant that in a closed room one would turn to an open door or an open window for prayer, a custom that is well attested by Jewish and Christian sources. Against this background it would seem quite possible that for the Eucharistic prayer the faithful, along with the celebrant, turned towards the eastern entrance. The practice of priest and people facing each other arose when the profound symbolism of facing east was no longer understood and the faithful no longer turned eastward for the Eucharistic prayer. [...]

Another line of argument can be pursued if we start from the observation that facing east was accompanied by looking upwards, namely towards the eastern sky which was considered the place of Paradise and the scene of Christ’s second coming. The lifting up of hearts for the canon, in response to the admonition “Sursum corda,” included the bodily gestures of standing upright, raising one’s arms and looking heavenward. It is no mere accident that in many basilicas (only) the apse and triumphal arch were decorated with magnificent mosaics; their iconographic programmes are often related to the Eucharist that is celebrated underneath. These mosaics may well have served to direct the attention of the assembly whose eyes were raised up during the Eucharistic prayer. Even the priest at the altar prayed with outstretched, raised arms and no further ritual gestures. Where the altar was placed at the entrance of the apse or in the central nave, the celebrant standing in front of it could easily have looked up towards the apse. With splendid mosaics representing the celestial world, the apse may have indicated the “liturgical east” and hence the focus of prayer. [...]

Bouyer acclaims Byzantine church architecture as a genuine development of the early Christian basilica: those elements that were not appropriate for the celebration of the liturgy were either changed or removed, so that a new type of building came into being. A major achievement was the formation of a particular iconography that stood in close connection with the sacred mysteries celebrated in the liturgy and gave them a visible artistic form. Church architecture in the West, on the other hand, was more strongly indebted to the basilican structure. Significantly, the rich decoration of the east wall and dome in Byzantine churches has its counterpart in the Ottonian and Romanesque wall-paintings and, even further developed, in the sumptuous altar compositions of the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, which display themes intimately related to the Eucharist and so give a foretaste of the eternal glory given to the faithful in the sacrifice of the Mass.


Source: Uwe Michael Lang, "Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture," Sacred Architecture 19 (Spring 2011): 14-17, doi:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Louis Bouyer's Resignation from Paul VI's Liturgical Commission

From an interview with Fr. Bouyer about his resignation in 1974:

Father Louis Bouyer: I wrote to the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, to tender my resignation as member of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform. The Holy Father sent for me at once and the following conversation ensued:

Paul VI: Father, you are an unquestionable and unquestioned authority by your deep knowledge of the Church’s liturgy and Tradition, and a specialist in this field. I do not understand why you have sent me your resignation, whilst your presence, is more than precious, it is indispensable!

Father Bouyer: Most Holy Father, if I am a specialist in this field, I tell you very simply that I resign because I do not agree with the reforms you are imposing! Why do you take no notice of the remarks we send you, and why do you do the opposite?

Paul VI: But I don’t understand: I’m not imposing anything. I have never imposed anything in this field. I have complete trust in your competence and your propositions. It is you who are sending me proposals. When Fr. Bugnini comes to see me, he says: “Here is what the experts are asking for.” And as you are an expert in this matter, I accept your judgement.

Father Bouyer: And meanwhile, when we have studied a question, and have chosen what we can propose to you, in conscience, Father Bugnini took our text, and, then said to us that, having consulted you: “The Holy Father wants you to introduce these changes into the liturgy.” And since I don’t agree with your propositions, because they break with the Tradition of the Church, then I tender my resignation.

Paul VI: But not at all, Father, believe me, Father Bugnini tells me exactly the contrary: I have never refused a single one of your proposals. Father Bugnini came to find me and said: “The experts of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform asked for this and that”. And since I am not a liturgical specialist, I tell you again, I have always accepted your judgement. I never said that to Monsignor Bugnini. I was deceived. Father Bugnini deceived me and deceived you.

Father Bouyer: That is, my dear friends, how the liturgical reform was done!


Within a year, Paul VI removed Abp. Bugnini from his position in the Curia, and less than a year after that abruptly assigned him as the pro-nuncio to Iran (see


Source: "Bugnini Masterminded the New Mass in Defiance of Paul VI," accessed December 9, 2013,

Original source of interview excerpt:

Louis Bouyer on Post-Conciliar Liturgy and Catholicism

"... the Catholic liturgy has been overthrown under the pretext of rendering it more compatible with the contemporary outlook ..." [Fr. Louis Bouyer, Religieux et clercs contre Dieu (Paris, 1975), p. 12.]

"The Roman Canon, as it is today, goes back to Gregory the Great. There is not, in the East or in the West a Eucharistic prayer remaining in use to this day, that can boast of such antiquity. In the eyes not only of the Orthodox, but of Anglicans and even those Protestants who have still to some extent, a feeling for tradition, to jettison it would be a rejection of any claim on the part of the Roman Church to represent the true Catholic Church....

"Unless we are blind, we must even state bluntly that what we see looks less like the hoped-for regeneration of Catholicism than its accelerated decomposition." [Fr. Louis Bouyer, The Decomposition of Catholicism (Franciscan Herald Press, 1969), p. 3]


Source: Pertinacious Papist, "Fr. Louis Bouyer on the New Mass," Musings of a Pertinacious Papist Blog, August 31, 2004, accessed December 9, 2013,

Louis Bouyer on Feigned Poverty in the Sacred Liturgy

Poverty is so important in Christianity that “religious” as they are called, have always had the acknowledged task of giving evidence of it by exemplary radicalism. But it is stating a truism to recall that their life-style in most cases . . . is in fact much less poor than that of the great majority of the so-called “secular” clergy, and reflects rather the average level of a free and easy middle class.

. . . The taste for gaudy and useless buildings (which, like Lisieux or Nazareth, are generally abominations), the life-style of high-ranking clergy, the charge-scale for acts of worship and especially for dispensations are but trifles when compared with more profound and hidden evils. . . . (for example, certain scandalous trafficking with Mass stipends). [...]

To my knowledge, up till now this great crusade for the poor Church has accomplished little else but the impoverishment of worship. A certain bishop, whose cathedral possesses a treasury of wonderful old vestments, since his return from the Council now officiates . . . in a sack cloth. It is true that afterwards he returns home in a Citroën, while the most comfortable of his canons may not even have a tiny 2 CV.

I must confess . . . that I find these candle-stub economies particularly degrading. It is the poverty of Judas and not of Christ. Worship is a thing that belongs both to God and to the whole people of God. It is a celebration in which everyone from the poorest to the richest is at home in the house of the Father and is called to rejoice in His presence. Luxury and tawdry showiness are surely out of place, but real and even costly beauty could not find a better place in this world. . . .

Moreover, the idea that a hodgepodge worship will necessarily cost less that a splendid one is childish. Even if quality liturgical art is relatively costly (no more and often no less than the tawdriest), what would be stopping the building of churches or altars worthy of the name, or ceasing to make priestly vestments that are not niggardly or hideous, do for the poor? . . .

Beneath these stingy economies there remains the old confusion between charity and “do-gooding,” a confusion that has never been more deceptive than in our own day. It is even less true today than ever that helping the poor means melting down one’s gold, assuming one has any, in order to give them bread. . . . The horrible tragedy of Biafra ought to have opened their eyes since tons of food and medicine from the four corners of the earth went to rot on the doorstep of the needy because of a lack of elementary good will on the part of the local people. . . .


Source: Louis Bouyer, The Decomposition of Catholicism, quoted in Maureen Mullarkey, "Louis Bouyer, OR.," First Things Website, August 9, 2013, accessed December 9, 2013,

Ronald L. Conte on Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay

Question — 
Are unnatural sexual acts moral to use as foreplay, prior to an act of natural marital relations open to life? 
This all-too-common question asks whether married couples might use various types of unnatural sexual acts — manual sexual acts (masturbation of self or spouse, or various devices used in the same way), or oral sexual acts, or anal sexual acts — in the context of a subsequent, concomitant, or prior act of natural marital relations open to life. Sometimes the question refers specifically to completed sexual acts, i.e. acts that include sexual climax for one or both spouses. Other times the question refers to these same types of acts, but absent climax.
In a comment below, Mr. Conte clarifies that by sexual act, he means, 
... any deliberate use of the genital sexual faculty. Acts that are peripherally related to sexuality, such as flirting, kissing, embracing, are not per se sexual acts, even if they are in some sense sexual. 
When referring to per se sexual acts, Church documents use expressions such as: “the deliberate use of the sexual faculty” or “every genital act” or “every use of the faculty given by God for the procreation of new life”.
Source: ronconte [Ronald L. Conte, Jr.], comment, February 27, 2011 (4:31 p.m. PST), on "Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay," The Reproach of Christ Blog, February 20, 2011, accessed December 9, 2013,

To continue with the article:

There are three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances. The Magisterium definitively teaches that to be moral an act must have three good fonts; any one bad font makes the act immoral and therefore sinful. [...]

The three fonts may be summarized in this way:

FIRST FONT: The intended end (or purpose) for which the act is chosen by the human person. The intention or purpose of the act is in the subject, the person who acts.

SECOND FONT: The intentionally chosen act with its moral nature, which is determined by the inherent ordering of the act toward its moral object. The moral object is the end, in terms of morality, toward which the chosen act is directed, in and of itself. The choice of an act by the human person necessarily includes a choice of the act and its essential moral nature and its moral object. The moral nature and moral object of the act are in the objective act, not in the subject who chooses the act.

THIRD FONT: The circumstances pertaining to the morality of the act, especially the consequences. A moral evaluation of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of the chosen act, in terms of the love of God and neighbor, determines the morality of this font.

There is no other basis for the morality of an act apart from these three fonts. For any act to be moral, all three fonts must be good. If any one font is bad, the act is immoral, even if the other fonts are good. Each and every knowingly chosen act is judged solely by the three fonts of morality. The three fonts of morality are the sole determinant of the morality of each and every knowingly chosen act, without any exception whatsoever. Whoever rejects or contradicts this teaching overturns the very foundation of every moral teaching in the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Analysis of the Question

1. First Font – The intention is to use certain types of acts as foreplay, for the purpose of preparing for an act of natural marital relations. The intended end is good: natural marital relations open to life.

2. Second Font – The Magisterium teaches that, in order to be moral, a sexual act must be marital and unitive and procreative. The marital, unitive, and procreative meanings are the three interrelated good moral objects of any moral sexual act.

Evil is a deprivation of good; moral evil is a deprivation of some good required by the moral law, i.e. required by the love of God and the love of neighbor as self. The love of God and neighbor requires that each and every sexual act be marital, unitive, and procreative. When a sexual act is non-marital or non-unitive or non-procreative, then the act has a deprivation in its moral object, making the object evil and the act intrinsically evil.

An unnatural sexual act is intrinsically evil because this type of act is not procreative; it is inherently ordered toward the procreative meaning intended by God for each and every sexual act. Unnatural sexual acts are also not truly unitive (even if there is a type of mere physical union) because this is not the type of union intended by God for marriage. So even when the two persons committing the unnatural sexual acts are married to each other, the procreative and unitive meanings are absent, making such acts intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

3. Third Font – Sometimes this question is posed with a description of some dire (or supposedly dire) circumstance, such that the spouses would supposedly be unable to achieve natural marital relations without unnatural sexual acts as foreplay, or the wife would be unable to achieve sexual climax without unnatural sexual acts before, during, or after natural marital relations.

I find it difficult to believe that a Catholic married husband and wife cannot possibly consummate their love for one another, within the holy Sacrament established by the love of God, without the use of intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sexual acts. But even if this were the case, the Magisterium teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. [...]

Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically evil due to the deprivation of the procreative and unitive meanings. And the presence or absence of sexual climax does not change the moral object. An unnatural sexual act with sexual climax has the same evil moral object as an unnatural sexual act without sexual climax. The moral object has not changed, and so the moral nature of the act has not changed; it remains intrinsically evil. Therefore, no type of unnatural sexual act, with or without climax, can be used by a married couple at any time, regardless of whether or when an act of natural marital relations occurs.

All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-unitive sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. All non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. [...]

But lest anyone claim that no theologians give this type of answer, consider the following quotes from Catholic theologian Alice von Hildebrand. She wrote an article, criticizing the approach to sexuality used by Christopher West, and explaining the position of her late husband, theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand, on sexuality and in particular marital sexual ethics. Her answer is the theological position of herself as well as her husband, whom Pope Pius XII called a “twentieth century Doctor of the Church.” [...]

Saint Augustine of Hippo, in his moral treatise ‘On the Good of Marriage,’ writes on the subject of sexual intercourse within marriage:
“…nor be changed into that use which is against nature, on which the Apostle could not be silent, when speaking of the excessive corruptions of unclean and impious men…. by changing the natural use into that which is against nature, which is more damnable when it is done in the case of husband or wife.” (Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, section 11).
The expression ‘that use which is against nature’ refers to unnatural sexual acts, such as oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex. Saint Augustine condemns such acts unequivocally. He even states that such unnatural sexual acts are even more damnable (i.e. even more serious mortal sins) when these take place within marriage. For God is even more offended by a sexual mortal sin that takes place within the Sacrament of Marriage, since this offense is not only against nature, but also against a Holy Sacrament. “So then, of all to whom much has been given, much will be required. And of those to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48).
“For, whereas that natural use, when it pass beyond the compact of marriage, that is, beyond the necessity of begetting, is pardonable in the case of a wife, damnable in the case of an harlot; that which is against nature is execrable when done in the case of an harlot, but more execrable in the case of a wife…. But, when the man shall wish to use the member of the wife not allowed for this purpose, the wife is more shameful, if she suffer it to take place in her own case, than if in the case of another woman.” (Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, section 12).
In this passage, Saint Augustine first compares natural sexual relations within marriage, done out of impure desires, to the same natural sexual acts outside of marriage. He teaches that having natural sexual relations within marriage, when done to satisfy a somewhat impure desire, is pardonable, i.e. a venial sin, but that natural sexual relations outside of marriage is damnable, i.e. a mortal sin. Then Saint Augustine goes on to consider ‘that which is against nature,’ i.e. unnatural sexual acts. He condemns such unnatural sexual acts as ‘execrable’ (utterly detestable, abominable, abhorrent). Therefore these acts are among the worst of the sexual mortal sins. He also teaches that unnatural sexual acts within marriage, far from being permitted because they take place within marriage, are even worse, calling them ‘even more execrable,’ than the same unnatural sexual acts outside of marriage. Again, this is because the sin is not only against nature, but against a Holy Sacrament instituted by Christ himself for the sake of our salvation.

Therefore, unnatural sexual acts do not become permissible when these take place within marriage. Instead, unnatural sexual acts are made even more sinful when these take place within marriage because they offend against both nature and a Sacrament.

The answer of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Notice, in the quote [sic] below, that St. Thomas held sexual sins within marriage to be worse than adultery, because the act occurs within the good of marriage. He did not teach that all sexual acts within marriage are moral, nor did he teach that all sexual acts between a husband and wife are moral.
“And since the man who is too ardent a lover of his wife acts counter to the good of marriage if he use her indecently, although he be not unfaithful, he may in a sense be called an adulterer; and even more so than he that is too ardent a lover of another woman.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 8).
The phrasing ‘if he use her indecently’ refers to unnatural sexual acts within marriage. This is clear because the good of marriage emphasized by St. Thomas is the procreation of children (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 2). St. Thomas could not be referring to natural marital relations when he says ‘if he use her indecently’ because even natural marital relations done with some disorder of desire still retains the unitive and procreative meanings. But unnatural sexual acts lack both meanings, and so they are contrary to the good of marriage. The use of unnatural sexual acts within marriage is therefore worse than adultery.

St. Thomas again condemns this same type of act later in the same question.
“Lastly comes the sin of not observing the right manner of copulation, which is more grievous if the abuse regards the ‘vas’ than if it affects the manner of copulation in respect of other circumstances.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 154, article 12).
First, the word ‘vas’ is Latin for vessel, referring to the use of other bodily orifices for sexual acts. If a husband treats his wife lustfully during natural marital relations, he sins. But he commits a more grievous offense, which is called by St. Thomas an abuse, if he sins by committing unnatural sexual acts (i.e. using an unnatural part of the body as a ‘vessel’ for sexual intercourse). Here St. Thomas explicitly (but in discrete language) condemns the sin of unnatural sexual acts within marriage.

Second, it is clear (in the quote from article 8 above) that St. Thomas taught that a married couple is not justified in committing any sexual acts whatsoever within marriage. Otherwise, he would not have taught that a man who is too ardent a lover of his wife commits a sin that is like adultery and yet worse than adultery. Therefore, those who claim that there are no sins for a husband and wife having sexual relations with each other are in error.

Third, neither does St. Thomas even consider the absurd argument that acts which are intrinsically evil and gravely immoral by themselves could become good and moral when combined in some way with natural marital relations open to life. If this were the case, then St. Thomas could not have compared a man who is too ardent a lover of his wife to an adulterer. For if he took the position of certain modern-day commentators, then he would have to say that a husband’s ardent love would be entirely justified, as long as “the semen are not misdirected.” Notice that Saint Thomas takes no such position; he does not sum up the marital act as merely the proper direction of semen, as so many persons erroneously claim today. [...]

[...] consider what the Magisterium teaches about the morality of sexual acts within marriage:

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI explicitly considers the idea that a set of sexual acts within marriage would be justifiable as long as some of the acts are procreative:
“Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act?” (Humanae Vitae, n 3).
This principle of totality is, in essence, what is being proposed by some commentators today, who claim that only one sexual act out of many in the marital bedroom needs to be natural marital relations open to life. They suggest an approach that would justify any arbitrary number and kind of non-procreative and non-unitive sexual acts, as long as these occur as part of a set, or within the same arbitrary time frame, as an act of natural intercourse.

Pope Paul VI rejects this approach:
“The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” (Humanae Vitae, n. 11-12).
The unitive significance and the procreative significance are inherent to the very nature of the marital sexual act. Therefore, the unitive and procreative meanings are moral objects, essential to make sexual acts within marriage good by their nature. And their absence makes the moral object evil, by the deprivation of a good required by the will of God for marriage, and the act intrinsically evil, by its very nature. Unnatural sexual acts are non-unitive and non-procreative, therefore these acts are intrinsically evil. [...]
“Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it — in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.” (Humanae Vitae, n. 14).
The procreative and unitive sexual acts of past or future cannot be merged to form a single moral entity, such that these intrinsically evil acts would become just as moral as natural marital relations open to life. For the deprivation of the unitive and/or procreative meanings is intrinsically evil. [...]
“But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who, in exercising it, deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 54)
Unnatural sexual acts are intrinsically against nature because the conjugal act is primarily directed toward procreation, the begetting of children. Those persons (married or not) who deliberately choose sexual acts deprived of the natural power and purpose of procreation “sin against nature” and commit a shameful and intrinsically evil act. [...]
[...] any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, n. 55) [...]
For all sexual acts are a deliberate use of the sexual faculty, and all unnatural sexual acts are a deliberate choice of act that are inherently non-procreative. If the Pope had wished to narrow his statements to only contraception, he would not have said “any use whatsoever,” or if he had wished to allow unnatural sexual acts within marriage, he would not have said “any use whatsoever of matrimony.” Instead, he unequivocally proclaimed the Magisterium’s definitive teaching, which is also found in natural law, that each and every marital sexual act must include both the unitive and procreative meanings. This teaching necessarily prohibits the married couple from engaging in any kind of unnatural sexual act (with or without climax), because all such acts lack the procreative and unitive meanings.


Source: Ronald L. Conte, "Unnatural Sexual Acts as Marital Foreplay," The Reproach of Christ Blog, February 20, 2011, accessed December 9, 2013,

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Is Fasting from Food So Hard?

Finally, it seems quite odd that in our society—a society in which people gladly and freely spend huge sums of money for diets, most of which recommend that one refrain from red meats and dairy products—fasting is not more widely embraced. How odd that a Jenny Craig consultant or diet guru or physician will tell us to refrain from eating meat or cheese or butter and we will gladly embrace—and pay large sums of money for—his or her advice, while when the Church offers the same advice [at “no cost”] we tend to balk, as if we were being asked to do the impossible.
Source: "Why Fast Before the Nativity?," Orthodox Church in America Website, accessed December 8, 2013,

Eastern Orthodox Perspectives on Marital Fasting

Although sex within marriage is often seen simply as "good," abstaining from sex also provides its own good. This abstention, often referred to as "marital fasting," should be voluntary on the part of both husband and wife. "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control" (I Cor. 7:5). Marital fasting offers an opportunity to resist fleshly desires and redirect energies into worshiping God, just as one fasts from the desire for food. "Rather than repudiating the legitimate pleasure taken in eating and in marital relations, fasting assists us in liberating ourselves from greed and lust, so that both these things become not a means of private pleasure but an expression of interpersonal communion." Marital fasting is advised for all the usual times of fasting, including before partaking of Holy Communion. "[A]s with all other spiritual efforts, this must be done under the supervision and at the direction of a wise spiritual father." "[Fasting] also involves abstinence from marital intercourse, not because there is anything evil in it—it is part of God's creation—but to purify it and to provide us the opportunity to concentrate on the upbuilding of our lives in Christ." [...] 
It is important for one to understand marriage is not a license for unlimited marital relations, but an opportunity for asceticism. [...] 
Abstaining from sexual relations before (and outside of) marriage aids in the ascetic practice of fasting from marital relations within marriage. Sexual arousal, intercourse, and gratification must not be the priority of the couple; however, it is this act and pleasurable experience, which strengthens the bond of love between the couple and assists the couple in growing closer to Christ. Fasting, prayers, continence, endurance of suffering are virtues expected not only for monasticism, but also for married couples. Marriage is to move constantly from the carnal to the spiritual perspective. Such progress is only possible within the perspective of the couple's perfection in Christ. The personal relations of the couple ought to be primarily spiritual in order to preserve and to increase their spiritual communion and union. [...] 
"In Christian marriage, sex, like so many other aspects of our lives, undergoes a transfiguration. In the world, sex is an expression of lust, of conquest, of using others for the satisfaction of self. This is why, in the moral disintegration of this fallen world, preoccupation with sex inescapably leads to and is linked with preoccupation with violence and death. Unbridled, nonsanctified [sic] sexual activity is satanic, filled with the devil's hatred of God, mankind, and life itself. It is suicidal." 
"It is important to note that sex is not always 'good' just because it occurs within the confines of Christian marriage. In marriage, sexual relations which are the fruit of 'passionate lust' or are the expression of violence and/or physical control are not blessed. In Christian marriage, sexual relations must always be freely entered into and must never be forced. Manipulation in sexual matters is always inappropriate. Likewise, any sexual union outside of marriage is a union with death."
Source: "Sex," Orthodox Wiki, accessed December 8, 2013,
It has always been Christian tradition that a man and wife abstain from sexual relations on the evening before Holy Communion. 
This was even the case in Old Testament times before important events. The reason we observe this important tradition is because marriage is an IMAGE of the love of the bridegroom (Christ) for the church, and therefore, of how we should love God. An image is inferior to the prototype, so we abstain from sexual relations, which are inferior to our love for God. 
There is not a shred of feeling that sexual relations are in any way not a holy thing, in their proper context. 
We live in a time when self-restaint [sic] is at low ebb. A couple who sacrifices their “Saturday night”, an “American tradition”, but not an Orthodox one, will benefit greatly.
Source: "Preparation for Holy Communion: 10 Things," St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church Website, accessed December 8, 2013,

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rebecca Harding Davis on Walt Whitman

While the light burning within may have been divine, the outer case of the lamp was assuredly cheap enough.
Source: Born Today Website, June 24, accessed December 6, 2013,

St. Gregory the Great on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

And now, at the eleventh hour, it was said to the Gentiles: Why stand you here all the day idle? The Lord speaks of their carelessness and indifference concerning their salvation, for they had not yet done anything to be assured of it; yet, if you ponder upon their answer to the householder sending them to his vineyard, you will have cause of being ashamed. Their answer to the householder’s question, why they stood all the day idle, was: Because no man hath hired us. Indeed, they, unlike others, had neither patriarchs nor prophets to instruct them. No one had hired them, for no one had shown them the way leading to salvation. As to us, who neglect the practice of good works, and lead an idle life, what shall we answer for our justification? For we received the true faith, so to speak, in the womb of our mother; we heard the words of life when still in the cradle, and we drank the milk of Christian doctrine, given by our holy Church at the time when, for the life of our bodies, we were sucking the breasts of our natural mothers. [...]

Now, consider how some are called, already in their childhood, to lead a perfect and holy life; others in their youth; these in their manly age; some others in advanced years; and lastly others in their old age. Do you understand that all of us are laborers, who may at any time be sent into the vineyard of the Lord? Again, beloved brethren, consider your own lives, and ask yourselves whether you are worthy laborers of the Lord, whether you are mindful of the work you are doing, and lastly whether you labour indeed in the Lord’s vineyard. Be sure that those who work for their own interests only, have not entered the vineyard of the Lord; for those only are accounted as His laborers, who prefer the glory of God to their own profit and interest. Such worthy Christians endeavor to serve God with ardent love and sincere devotion; they strive to win souls to God, and exert themselves to take others along with them to the habitation of the Saints; whereas those who live for themselves and try to satisfy their vices and concupiscences, are condemned as idle laborers, making no effort to work in, or care for, the Lord s vineyard. [...]

We also feel in us the fire of concupiscence, against which we contend, and which we try to extinguish; and this continual fighting may be compared to the burden of the day and the heats. [...]

Though we be aware of our good works, we know not how strictly they will be scrutinized by the great Judge; yea, each of us ought to feel exceedingly happy to receive even the last place in the kingdom of God. [...]

The following words of this Gospel, many are called, but few are chosen, cannot but inspire us with terror; for many receive the light of faith, but to a few only is granted the happiness of heaven. [...] All voices are loud in confessing Jesus, but the lives of those who confess Him do not agree with their exterior acts of faith. The greater number of those here present think it sufficient to follow Jesus in words, whilst by their acts theyare separated from Him. St. Paul points them out to us, saying: They profess that they know God, but in their works they deny Him (Titus 1:16). This is confirmed by St. James: Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). And the Psalmist repeats the words of God: I have declared and I have spoken; they are multiplied above number (Ps 40:6). By these words we understand that, when the Lord calls men through His prophets, the number of believers greatly increases. However, not all those who by the gift of faith obtain the knowledge of the truth will be numbered among the elect. It is certain that when a great number of wicked Christians are gathered together with true servants of God, because of the same faith that they profess, they nevertheless do not deserve to be numbered with the faithful on account of their unchristian lives. For it cannot be denied that, though the holy Church includes in the same fold the sheep and the goats, the Eternal Judge will one day separate the just from the wicked, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:32). Know ye, therefore, and recognize that none of those now given up to the pleasures of the world will be received among the elect; that the Judge will exclude them from the happy fate of the humble, since in this world they were lifted up on the wings of pride. They had received the gift of heavenly faith, but they clung to the earth, and heaven will not be opened to them.

Meanwhile, though a great many people, whose lives are unchristian, may be found in the Church of God, I beseech you, beloved brethren, neither to imitate them nor to think them to be lost. We are aware of the unhappy condition of these people to-day, but we know not what they will be to-morrow. It often happens that those whom we see behind us on the road to holiness, soon precede us on account of their progress in spirituality; then it is with great difficulty that we follow those whom at some time we seemed to precede. When St. Stephen shed his blood for Christ, his murderers laid their garments at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul (Acts 7:57), and who may be accused of having also stoned St. Stephen by assisting the murderers; yet, by his great labors undertaken for the Church, Saul has gone before the holy martyr, to whose death he contributed. Let us, therefore, consider these two things greatly deserving our attention. First, knowing that many are called but few are chosen, no one can help himself without the grace of God, and, though being called by faith, no one is sure of his eternal salvation. Secondly, when we see our neighbor in the clutches of sin and vice, let us not presumptuously think that he will be lost, for God's infinite mercy is unknown to us.


Source: St. Gregory the Great, "Homily on Matthew 20:1-16," The Divine Lamp Website, February 9, 2011, accessed December 6, 2013,

Also quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea, Matthew 20:1-16

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dr. Daren Jonescu, the Church's Embrace of Progressivism, and Naturalistic Reduction

For several decades, the presumption of the Catholic hierarchy, from the Vatican on down, has been that since socialism seems, on its face, to have similar goals to Christianity—caring for the less fortunate, charity, devoting oneself to a goal higher than self—it is the natural political affiliation of the Church. There are a variety of major problems with this presumption of a Christian/socialist affinity, of course: Christianity is doctrinally committed to individual salvation, socialism to collective achievement, at the expense of the individual where necessary; Christianity is doctrinally committed to a higher purpose beyond the material world, socialism fundamentally materialistic in its focus on earthly “equality”; Christianity has a doctrinal reverence for the past (including the extremely distant past), while socialism has grown out of materialist historicism’s disdain for the men and ideas of the past; and so on. [...]

[According to Thomas Aquinas, l]aws do not prohibit all vice, because that would be to restrict unduly the free will of the majority of men, who are imperfect. In other words, virtue in general is a private, which is to say non-legal, matter. The purpose of human law is to restrict the kind of vicious behavior (“murder, theft and such like”) which directly harms other people, thereby, if left unchecked, causing the breakdown of human society. That is, the law ought to restrict only those behaviors which the majority of men, though imperfect, can and will abstain from of their own free will. Stated differently, the law ought not to touch the actions of the majority of men. Laws ought to be of a limited and “negative” character. [...]

This is much more than a matter of Catholic doctrine. It has the deepest implications for all religions, and for moral philosophy in general. Leftist progressivism seeks to impose specific behaviors on all citizens, in order to bring about “desirable” social outcomes, of a material nature. But what is the goal of religious and moral teaching? Is it to achieve materialistic social outcomes, or individual moral outcomes?

By limiting human law to the restriction of those violations against others “without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained,” St. Thomas reinforces the proper Christian theological focus on the salvation of individual souls, which is only possible (short of divine intervention) when men are able to exercise free will in the practice of the virtues which perfect the soul.

In short, there is no virtue in doing that which one is compelled to do. Charity, for example, is only charity (i.e. a Christian virtue) if it is a freely chosen course of action. Government-imposed “charity,” in addition to violating constitutional rights, also short-circuits the moral growth of individual citizens.
Source: Daren Jonescu, "Santorum and St. Thomas Versus the Catholic Bishops," Canada Free Press Website, February 6, 2012, accessed December 5, 2013,

The Catholic Church's recent history of sympathizing with, and even supporting, Marxist progressivism is clear, sad, and indicative of a deeply irrational and anti-individual streak within the modern Church hierarchy. Catholics who care about the Church, its history, and its future -- and also about humanity, reason and freedom -- must stop making excuses for their current spiritual leadership's collectivist authoritarian impulses. [...] 
For generations, the global Catholic Church, at leadership levels, has been deeply invested in progressive collectivism. This has been an awkward relationship, in as much as hardcore Marxism seeks to abolish religion in favor of the deification of the State, and doctrinaire collectivism runs counter to any notion of the value of individual souls. As a result, the Church has, at times, spoken with some force against both communism and socialism. These moments of reasonableness have allowed thoughtful Catholics to defend the Church's political position as basically non-leftist: "See," they repeatedly tell themselves, "the Church is fighting the good fight against Marxism." 
In so far as Marxism includes atheism, the Church could hardly do otherwise. Soviet-style Marxists openly declared religion their enemy, and persecuted believers. Obviously the Church defended itself against this direct assault. But while abhorring atheistic dialectical materialism, practical elements of Marxist theory -- "social justice," economic redistribution, the condemnation of wealth -- struck a sympathetic chord within the Church, which gradually adopted such Marxist language as its own. This baptism of the Marxist vocabulary in the waters of Christian faith has allowed generations of good men and women to deny the disturbing truth before their very eyes, and to persuade themselves that this language, when used by the clergy, is somehow legitimate Catholic moralism. [...] 
Notice that he is specifically calling on political leaders and "financial experts" (57) to undertake a "vigorous change" -- fundamental transformation, anyone? -- in the direction of "balance" and a "more humane social order" which "favours human beings." In other words, [Pope Francis] is not advocating Christian charity, which is, and must be, a private moral decision, since it is through the correct application of his God-given free will that man is to find his path to God. Rather, to state the obvious -- let us finally apply the famous "razor" of a truly great Catholic philosopher here, and dispense with sophisticated explanations of the indefensible -- Francis is advocating socialism: a political system which obviates the morality of free will, and thus violates the foundations of the Catholic faith on the most profound level. [...]

In the U.S., the Catholic bishops firmly and enthusiastically supported ObamaCare, the penultimate step towards completely socialized medicine, until they "discovered" -- or, I suspect, until the Catholic laity discovered -- that abortion and birth control were part of the deal. Like their leaders in Rome and their brothers throughout the Catholic world, the U.S. bishops support progressivism in principle -- the Church has declared healthcare a universal human right, an expressly socialist ploy -- but will criticize particular progressive parties or factions when matters of doctrinal import are directly in dispute. In effect, the Church's war against collectivist tyranny extends only so far as that tyranny encompasses atheism or some other specific affront to Catholic practice. [...]

In its socioeconomic position, a large proportion of today's Catholic hierarchy is unofficially progressive, socialist, even Marxist.
Source: Daren Jonescu, "Catholics and Communists," American Thinker Website, December 3, 2013, accessed December 5, 2013,

But on the other hand, many people, such as Rush Limbaugh and his league of listeners, may very easily fall into the trap of a reduction of the supernatural to purely natural principles.
The point is this—this is impor­tant to under­stand: The pope’s words about the “idol­a­try of money” can­not be under­stood within an ide­o­log­i­cal or dual­is­tic pol­i­tics of Cap­i­tal­ism vs.Marx­ism. Instead, they must be under­stood within the frame­work of the teach­ing of the Church about ethics and our respon­si­bil­ity to the poor. [...] 
The pope attacks both Marx­ism and trickle-down. [...] 
Any defense of the pope, and any crit­i­cism, is wrong if it is meant in the con­text of liberal-vs.-conservative. Catholi­cism tran­scends such cat­e­gories; its teachings—which the pope is con­sis­tent with—are premised on eth­i­cal cat­e­gories, not polit­i­cal ones.
Source: Scott Eric Alt, "A Counterblast to Rush Limbaugh on Evangelii Gaudium 54," Logos and Muse Blog, December 3, 2013, accessed December 5, 2013,


What the last quotation is getting at is the distinction between looking at the world either with supernatural faith enlightening reason or without supernatural faith enlightening reason. Without faith it is sensible to analyze the Holy Father's words through a political or economic hermeneutic. But here I quote Dr. Scruton as I've posted elsewhere on reductionism:
Here we encounter a peculiar use of the phrase 'nothing but' [...] justice is 'nothing but' the power requirements of the ruling class [....] Reductionism of this kind does not merely involve a host of philosophical confusions. It is essentially anti-philosophical, based in the desire to simplify the world in favour of some foregone conclusion, whose appeal lies in its ability to disenchant and so demean us. The reductionist 'opens our eyes' on to the truth of our condition. But of course, it is not the truth at all, and is believed to be true only because it is shocking.
Source: Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey (New York, NY: Penguin Books USA, 1996), 28.

That being said, Dr. Jonescu provides many disturbing facts about the actions and either de facto or explicit positions of many Catholic hierarchy (and laity, I might add), especially regarding relativism, progressivism, and other ways of viewing the world that have been enhanced and crystalized in the post-Enlightenment West. (Here I find it unfortunate that Dr. Jonescu on the one hand praises the development of natural law thought into modern political theory that allows for a capitalist economy or a democratic nation like the US but on the other hand neglects to mention—although he is most likely aware of it—the fact that these post-Enlightenment errors could occur only in such an intellectual milieu as has developed in the modern era. And regardless, despite his Catholic upbringing, he seems more deeply influenced by his political-philosophical views than any faith that can cut through peripheral and symptomatic issues to the core of the problem before us regarding what the Pope may or may not have said about modern economic systems, namely, whether growing in the love of God is our top priority or not.) 

But as Dr. Jonescu rightly pointed out, the pursuit of virtue can be pursued only freely, individually, and with the assistance of laws to protect the majority from the grievously-vicious minority. Charity, whether of the non-profit or supernatural variety, cannot be forced but only desired with all of one's heart. Until then, we will have quite a fuss about how to sort out the obvious fact that we are imperfect.