Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How Relation Is Crucial

How Relation Is Crucial in Human Knowledge, the Sacraments, Signs, and History

In 1970 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book Introduction to Christianity,

Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person, which describes something other and infinitely more than the mere idea of the “individual.” Let us listen once more to St. Augustine: “In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation.”1 Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality.”2

When I first came across this quotation, I was studying Thomistic philosophy at Gonzaga, and although I wasn’t a traditionalist at the time, my first reaction to this quotation was a kind of unreflective outrage. I just felt within me that Ratzinger was saying something philosophically wrong, that some sort of liberal or modernist tendency of his was polluting pure Thomistic natural philosophy, which obviously placed substance as primary and accidents as secondary. Now, a few years later, I must admit that he was right, and his insight contains a key component of the solution to the modernist crisis.

Let me turn to another thinker, quite different than Ratzinger, the Canadian philosopher John Russon, who is well known for his philosophical and historical work on Hegel. Russon states what has become of the modern man:

One of the ideas with which we are most comfortable in our everyday life is the idea that we are self-enclosed, independent beings. We strongly defend our claim to being self-possessed, insisting that “it’s my view, and I have a right to it”, or “that’s mine”, or “I’ll do what I like”. In each case, we identify ourselves as the “I” who is in charge of its own affairs, which means an “I with a unique point of view, with a unique body, and with a unique will to initiate actions. On this view, it is up to each one of us to determine who we are and what we shall do. If this is what we are really like, then tradition has little intrinsic value: if we are in full self-possession, then traditions do not bind us or direct us or generate us, but are at most amusing objects of observation.3

We see contained in this statement a summary of all modern political philosophy, such as is found in Rousseau, and philosophy of human nature. We see in it the inevitable separation between Church and state. All liberalism and modernism, the nominalism of Ockham, the immanence of Luther and the Reformers, the rationalism of Descartes are contained here. Here is the mentality of the “cafeteria Catholic,” who picks and chooses according to his internal whims. Here is the pseudo-spirituality of the New Age as for example in practitioners of The Secret, who judge the value of any pursuit with whether they feel that they are remaining in a state of “high vibration,” which is simply the subjective sense of an absence of stress and the presence of pleasure. Here is the viral popularity of the idea that one can “love Jesus and hate religion,” a notion which excludes the social, traditionally defined aspects of spirituality for the sake of an individual relationship defined by the arbitrary decisions of the individual. This is what happens when man’s real relation to reality is severed.

I believe that on a fundamental level, all of reality can be understood in terms of substances with their accidents and the various kinds of relations that exist on different levels of reality. The reason for this is that reality is a faint reflection of its Creator, and its Creator is a single Divine substance and a Trinity of relations. Hence in creation, it is substance and relation at its root. This needs fleshing out and careful qualification, all of which cannot be done in a short talk, so for today, I want to consider two main points:

1. Changes in the conceptual understanding of relation has had significant impact on the development of Western civilization.

2. The health of a society may be judged by the relations it maintains in its philosophical worldview, in politics, and in religion.

The earliest systematic discussion of relation begins with Aristotle in chapter 7 of his short work the Categories. In this work, Aristotle is seeking to establish the different ways in which reality exists by itself and can be spoken about intelligibly. He’s looking at the largest “categories” of mind-independent reality, the dimensions that cannot be reduced to others. He arrives at his basic distinction between substances and accidents. Substances are individual, existing things. Accidents are properties or characteristics existing in substances, properties such as quantity (having a certain height or weight), quality (being a certain color), location, time, position (seated or standing), etc. One of those categories is relation.

Aristotle defined relation as being towards something else (pros ti). The Latin phrase is ad aliquid, towards something. Relations are that by which something is related to another thing.

Now how are relations related to Sacraments, knowledge, history, etc.? After Aristotle, the idea of relation is covertly imported into theological discussions about the nature of the Sacraments, which are quickly seen to be a kind of symbol or sign. Even in the New Testament, St. Paul speaks of how Baptism and the Eucharist refer not only to the effects they bring about but how they also symbolize certain aspects of Christ’s life. For example, Baptism is a symbol of participating in Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11). The Eucharist is a symbol of the unity of the Church (1 Cor. 10:17). Marriage is a symbol of the bond between Christ and the Church, His Bride (Eph. 5:22-23).

In other words, the Sacraments are signs. What is the unique nature of a sign? Origen in his commentary on the Letter to the Romans says, “A sign is a visible something that suggests the idea of another invisible thing.”4 St. Augustine defines sign in a similar manner in book 2 of De doctrina christiana: “A sign is a thing which causes us to think of something beyond the impression the thing itself makes upon the senses” (Signum est enim res praeter speciem, quam ingerit sensibus, aliud aliquid ex se faciens in cogitationem uenire).5 What we see in this definition of sign is the reality of relation. Without relation, which brings one thing towards another, a sign could never bring us to another thing.

As St. Augustine and many other Church Fathers show, there are multiple relations in a Sacrament: the relation of matter to form, the relation of the sacramental rite to the spiritual effects that it causes, the relation of the sacrament to the church in general. But essential to the notion of Sacrament is that it is a sign of a certain sort. In fact, the importance of defining a Sacrament in terms of the sign led the theologian Pierre Pourrat to state, “[W]henver the definition departed from the idea of sign, it lost something of its precision.”6 It is from these theological considerations, along with debates on how God relates to creation and the nature of the Trinity, that the notions of relation and sign were further developed in the medieval era.

I will pass over the various complexities, but suffice it to say, the scholastics quickly realized that Aristotle’s account of relation was inadequate and admitted of numerous exceptions. Aristotle’s definition of relation applied to what the scholastics called “predicamental relation,” a real relation existing between two physical subjects. This tree is similar to that tree. But if the second tree were cut down, the relation would cease because there no longer is a second tree to compare to. However, the scholastics noticed at least two other forms of relations that Aristotle did not account for: relations between two mental entities, such as concepts in the mind, such as in mathematical equations, and relations between one physical entity and a mental entity, such as the knowledge of the value of a coin.

Key insights developed during the 13th century on the nature of knowledge that form the basis of realism as opposed to future epistemologies based on faulty philosophical views. The immediate object of sensory awareness is the external world. In this process, the human observer enters into multiple relations with his environment. Scholastics realized, however, that the relation between man and his environment in the process of knowledge was one more form of relation that went against Aristotle’s defintion! Nothing on the part of physical reality is modified by our coming to know it, but we change as we come to know reality; hence there is no such thing as the “right side of a column” except relative to someone viewing a column from the right side: the change is in the perceiver, not the column.

14th century nominalism changes things. Ockham begins a process sometimes called the “progressive ‘mentalization’ of sign.”7 Peter of Ailly summarizes this shift by saying that the concept is “the very act itself of knowing the thing.” This move, which flattens the process of human cognition, beginning with pre-conceptual sensation and moving to successive levels of differentiation in perception and then intellection, is precisely what leads to Descartes’ rationalism when the latter claims that “ideas are the only immediate objects of my sensory awareness” (“Sixth Meditation,” n. 6). Ockham rejects the notion that relations exist independently of the mind and without realizing it, thus cuts man off from external reality. On the other hand, Ockham strangely upholds the notion that things can be related to each other independently of the mind, the rejection of which would mean that there could be no such thing as act and potency, causality, or identity:

The intellect does nothing to bring it about that the universe is one, or that a whole is composed [of its parts], or that causes in spatial proximity [to their effects actually] cause [their effects], or that a triangle has three [sides], etc. …any more than [the intellect] brings it about that Socrates is white or that fire is hot or water cold.8

It is likely that Ockham’s involvement in the political-religious dispute between John XXII and the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria prevented Ockham from realizing the full implications and almost self-contradictory aspects of his thought. For if relations themselves are merely products of the mind, then man is immediately cut of from reality.

We come now to the second contention of mine, namely, that the health of a society may be judged by the relations that issue from its collective worldview, especially philosophical, political, and religious. The progression from late scholastic nominalism towards the principle of immanence, in which man is the source and measure of all reality, is very straightforward. Due to the severing of man and reality because of the mentalization of the sign and the reduction of relations to mere beings of reason, which are products of the mind, man can no longer be informed by external reality. He now exists on his own. Thus we return to the dawning of modern thought, the core of which is immanentism.

Ratzinger rightly noted the ever increasing emphasis or tyranny of substance in metaphysics. Descartes defined substance as a “thing that exists in such a way that it doesn’t depend on anything else for its existence”9 and thus rendered substance as absolutely self-existing, without the need of God. Spinzoa in fact would notice this logical consequence of Descartes’ definition and from it develop his own philosophy of monistic pantheism. Leibniz, describing his own version of substance, called a monad, famously said that they “have no windows,” that is, no relation to external reality. He wrote:

Strictly speaking, one can say that no created substance exerts a metaphysical action or influx on any other thing.10


There is no way of explaining how a monad can be altered or changed internally by some other creature, since one cannot transpose anything in it, nor can one conceive of any internal motion that can be excited, directed, augmented, or diminished within it, as can be done in composites, where there can be change among the parts. The monads have no windows through which something can enter or leave.11

Not only man, but every substance in reality becomes increasingly isolated and cut off from each other. Every man for himself. The traditional Catholic writer Roger Buck points out that this all leads to what he calls Enlightenment Despair. He cites the poem “Aubade” (pronounced: oh-bawd) by Philip Larkin:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. […]

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

As Buck strikingly puts it, “Here is the work of a man in hell—suffering acutely from the deathly vacuum [that] materialism has generated. May God have mercy on his soul and the souls of all those afflicted by the same terrible dread, ennui and meaninglessness.”12

The late Neothomistic philosopher W. Norris Clarke, SJ, said that being naturally enters into relations with other beings because it is the means by which a being shares its “ontological richness” with another, a process necessary for the sustaining of all substances.13 Clarke along with a few other philosophers developed the insight based on St. Thomas’s metaphysics that every being in its respective manner simultaneously contains self-perfective and self-communicative dynamics.14 If it is intrinsically self-communicative, then that being is intrinsically relational; thus esse in is simultaneously and always esse ad aliud, being towards or for another, and being towards implies being from (esse ab alio). Communicativity implies the capacity for receptivity (esse ab) as a complement even if the former is not always actually attained between subjects. Receptivity, then, is a necessary condition, for without it a being could not advance towards its full development. Thus there is a micro-trinity within substance: esse in, which is the substance itself, but also esse ad and esse ab, for every finite substance comes from something else and will be the agent of different causal chains, or at least potentially can be. And the whole arrangement and relation of each substance to each is necessary for the flourishing of all finite being, at least when all is properly ordered according to their natures. Of course, given the fallen state of creation, this doesn’t always attain, but its potential remains rooted in the natures of things, which are both existing in themselves as a unity and existing towards others as a relation.

The recovery of the universality and import of relations not only in abstract metaphysics but in day-to-day relations, in religion, in politics is an essential task for Catholics. We say that man is a microcosm of the universe, but we must also see how man is a microcosm of the Trinity, and when in a state of grace, he actually contains the Trinity and stands in a supernatural relation with the Trinity, a relation that all men are called to by the mercy of God. Virtue, prayer, and the proper formation of the intellect all orient man back into reality and establish him more and more firmly in relation to his end, which perfects him. If civilization is the fruit of the habitual orientation of a society in right relations with God, each other, and each man to himself, then it is the re-establishment of these right relations that will restore civilization.

This leads us to the importance of tradition. Tradition is the means by which each generation is related to the past, to the intellectual and cultural riches of the past, and from this relation to properly orient ourselves to the future. And here also is the importance of Sacred Tradition. We defend Sacred Tradition because it is the only sure means to come into a proper relationship towards God, and by means of which save our souls as St. Ignatius put it at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. Maintaining right relations in the present depends on following the sound wisdom and accumulated knowledge of the past, which forms the intellect and guides it to maintain a proper perspective of reality as it enters the future.


1 St. Augustine, De Trinitate, 5.5.6.

2 Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (New York, NY: Herder & Herder, 1970), 132, 137.

3 John Russon, “Hegel and Tradition,” in Hegel and Tradition: Essays in Honour of H. S. Harris, ed. by Michael Baur and John Russon (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 3, quoted in John Deely, Four Ages of Understanding (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 658.

4 Origen, In epist. ad Rom., 4.2.

5 St. Augustine, De doctrina christiana,

6 Pierre Pourrat, Theology of the Sacraments: A Study in Positive Theology (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1910), 36.

7 Stephan Meier-Oeser, “Medieval Semiotics,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed 28 Jan. 2017.

8 William of Ockham, Ordinatio I, d. 30, q. 1 in Opera Theologica iv, 316-317.

9 René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, ed. Jonathan Bennett, http://www.ahshistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/descprin.pdf, I.51.

10 Leibniz, Primary Truths (1689), A 6.4:1647/AG 33.

11 Leibniz, Monadology, n. 7, G VI 607: AG 213-214.

12 Roger Buck, Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2016), 36.

13 Cf. Norris Clarke, “Person, Being, and St. Thomas,” Communio 19 (Winter 1992), 605.

14 Cf. W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Repost: Fr. Paul Sretenovic on Social Relations with the Opposite Sex

From Tradition in Action
(http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/k016rpEmbraces.html; accessed Jan. 3, 2017):

In these matters I am always hoping to speak with the mind of the Church. I am sure that research in the good manuals of Moral Theology and the analysis of healthy customs in Catholic countries of happier times - I mean before Vatican II - will readily confirm these guidelines.

Kisses and embraces
A married man or woman should kiss his/her spouse, his/her children, his/her parents and his/her brothers and sisters. These are the relatives of the first degree. The rule stops here. In-laws, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews are not included in this rule. They are relatives of the second degree and should be treated with more distance.

Appropriate: A mother kisses her child on the forehead

Two exceptions to this norm that are accepted: grandparents may kiss grandchildren; Godfathers or Godmothers may kiss their Godchildren.

Kissing persons beyond this circle is Liberalism. It should be avoided if one wants to follow Catholic Morals and avoid occasions of sin.

The reason for this rule regarding relatives of the first degree is quite simple and wise. Nature normally arrests any sexual attraction among these close relatives. In a well-constituted family that dresses modestly, a brother is not attracted to his sister, or a father to his daughter. The first horror of incest is that it is a crime that violates this natural protection that exists among those of the same blood.

This law of natural protection, however, does not apply to the in-laws. A married man can be - and frequently is - attracted to a sister-in-law. It weakens also with regard to the children of the in-laws - cousins, nieces and nephews.

Obviously, attraction can easily exist in relations with friends of the opposite sex. Hence the prudent rule: Do not get too close. Do not kiss.

Different kinds of kisses

When I say that parents may kiss children, etc, in no way am I referring to mouth-kisses. Unfortunately, it is becoming more frequent to greet one another with kisses on the mouth in our corrupted society.

Parents or relatives should not kiss children on the mouths

Kisses on the mouth should be reserved exclusively to the spouses when they are not in company of others. Spouses should not kiss this way except in private. In front of their children or friends – for example, when a man arrives at home or leaves the house – he should embrace his spouse and kiss her on the forehead or cheek.

Children may kiss their parents on their cheeks and vice-versa. In days past, there was the better custom of children kissing their mother’s or father’s hand, asking her/his blessing. To kiss the hand of parents and grandparents used to be the rule. This rule would admit some exceptions: at the child’s birthday or other special occasions: the mother would kiss her son on his cheek; the father would kiss his daughter on her cheek when she would graduate, leave for a trip and similar situations.

Brothers and sisters normally kiss each other on the cheek. If a brother is much older, he may kiss his little sisters on their foreheads.

Convenient and inconvenient embraces

There are also different kinds of embraces that reflect diverse degrees of affection or friendship.

If she is not your wife don't give her a full embrace

The full embrace is the one where the arms of one person goes around the shoulders of the other and grasps the other person with more or less pressure. This embrace is normally reserved to spouses. After a period of absence, brothers and old friends who are like brothers, embrace each other with sonorous claps on the back. This is admissible and even picturesque as long as the embrace is not too long or does not happen too often. The same full embrace is also understandable among sisters or close friends who are like sisters when they console one another in some unfortunate event or to commemorate some extraordinary occasion.

Brothers and sisters should not give each other full embraces. In-laws, cousins, etc, also should not embrace this way. The same applies to close friends of the opposite sex.

The typical embrace or simple embrace is when one person raises his arms and touches the other on his/her shoulders. The short embrace is when a person touches the other on both elbows. These embraces normally do not last very long.

When are such embraces allowed? A father at times gives an embrace to his grown son to express his esteem. When a man welcomes a guest in his houses, he salutes him with an embrace or a short embrace, depending on the degree of warmth he wants to transmit.

The embrace or the short embrace may be given to relatives of second degree or close friends of the opposite sex as long as they are not followed by kisses.

To be or not to be alone with friends of the opposite sex

As a rule, a married man or woman should avoid being alone with friends of the other sex. For the sake of his/her reputation, as well as the family’s stability and happiness, the person should always look for a third party to be present when a real necessity exists to meet a friend of the opposite sex without his spouse.

Appropriate: A short embrace is habitual between friends

When such a meeting takes place – for example, between a wife and a male friend – she should always tell her spouse where she is so he knows and can be there should he so desire. If such a meeting must take place without a third party present, the doors to the room where they are meeting should never be closed and the persons should be in the sight of others.

These were the wise principles that were born from Catholic prudence. I realize the liberal mentality that prevails today would judge them overly suspicious and expressing a lack of confidence in the spouse. Nonetheless, they actually constitute part of the vow of fidelity in matrimony. When the spouses give each other the full right over their bodies and promise to be faithful to one another, they are also granting each other the right to ensure this fidelity.

This is why the wife has the right to ask her husband to not have a young and beautiful secretary at his office with whom he stays long periods of time alone, but rather an efficient man or an elderly lady. It is also justified for the husband to request that his wife not have private classes with a handsome young man in their home. Such situations, which do not relate directly to your question, are nonetheless good to know in order to maintain the stability of the marriage.

These are some concrete guidelines I can offer to help you be entirely Catholic. I know that according to the fashions of our time, they may seem very out-of-date. But a truly Catholic man or woman never fits in perfectly with the world. To be Catholic is both our cross and our banner.

In Christ Jesus,

Fr. Paul Sretenovic

Repost: Tradition in Action Article on Dancing and Catholic Morality

From Tradition in Action
(http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/k026pDance.html; accessed Jan. 3, 2017):

Unfortunately today, when we live in an atmosphere of complete moral tolerance for all the vices as a consequence of Council Vatican II, it is not rare to see a weak moral approach, even in conservative and traditionalist priests. Although these priests often take good positions on other topics, when it comes to dances, they orient their parishioners in a way that, before the Council, would hardly escape a reprimand.

Your question gives TIA the opportunity to provide an extended answer on the topic to help you and, also, those faithful who have uncertainties on the matter, so that laymen can clearly see what is correct and act accordingly.

This answer is based on the text by Fr. Théophile-Marie Ortolan O.M.I. – Oblates of Mary Immaculate – (1869-1937). He wrote an extensive article on dance for the Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique - DTC, which is a collection quite prestigious for its scholarship. If any criticism were to be made of the general orientation of the DTC, it would be that it leans to liberalism in morals.

General principle

Dance is an art turned to express beauty with the means at its disposal. Now, any art, whatever it is, while it expresses beauty is not intrinsically bad. It becomes bad insofar as it is favors bad morals.


Dance has existed for as long as recorded history. To be fair, theologians have acknowledged that dance is basically a neutral activity. It can be either good or bad depending on the circumstances and the way it is done.

King David dances before the Ark of the Covenant; below, Salome performs to seduce Herod

The Old Testament gives us examples of good dance when the Jews incorporated choreography as a means to express religious piety. King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant, and some women of Israel would dance to celebrate the military victories of the Chosen People. However, strict rules applied to the activity, and it was standard for the Jewish men and women of the Old Testament to avoid the danger of sensuality by dancing separately, not together. These examples show that dance can, in an idealized form, be acceptable.

Outside of Israel, the situation was much worse. Many dances of the Greeks and Romans were conceived specifically to provoke sensuality. Often such dances were made in honor of pagan gods, such as Bacchus or Mercury, and ended in orgies. These pagan dances were condemned even by pagan writers, such as Cicero, who denounced dance as the last vice that follows all the other vices (gluttony, vanity, sensuality etc).

Due to the strong influence of Greek and Roman culture, these degenerate dances began to affect the Chosen People. Let us recall that, at the time of Our Lord, St. John the Baptist was beheaded as the result of a sensual dance that captivated King Herod, who promised Salome to grant her any request.

Teaching of the Church

By the time of Our Lord those good ancient Jewish dances had largely degenerated under the influence of the Roman and Hellenic cultures. Later, in the early Christendom, the bad leaven of pagan heathen dance led the Church to condemn dancing as unfit for Christians.

Bulgarian dancers show that sexes can dance together without embracing or dressing immodestly; below, Brazilian gaucho pairs prove the same thing

The Council of Laodicea (363 AD) forbade Catholics to join in wedding dances. The Third Council of Toledo (589 AD) condemned dancing at the commemorations on the eve of Saints’ feast days and repeated the warning for Catholics to avoid participating at weddings where love was the subject of songs or dances. The Council of Trullo (692 AD) excommunicated any layman who participated in theatrical dancing; it also deposed any cleric who did so.

Despite these condemnations a certain amount of liberty has been given for the innocent folk dances that preserve modesty. Children’s dances and military dances also fall into the category of dances permitted.

Fr. Ortolan quotes theologians who stress that dancing can be an occasion of sin, both for oneself and for others. One must be especially conscious of the sin that one may commit by inciting others to sensuality through dance.

Although some folk dances may fall into the category of innocent, it must be remembered that the waltz and the polka were condemned, since they involve embraces, a romantic atmosphere or even the interlacing of fingers. Passions that arise from such dances and balls are considered deliberately provoked temptations. Several theologians state that going to such dances is, at the least, to invite sins of sensuality, and, consequently, this risk may constitute a mortal sin against the virtue of prudence. The musician who provides the music for sensual dances is deemed unworthy of absolution.

Looking at more contemporary times, Ortolan and other theologians condemn the performing arts, such as ballet, that involve tight clothing, pastel or skin colored apparel and revealing or transparent dresses. Such attire alone is deemed a grave sin against modesty and this is often compounded by the illicit and immoral positions and movements that are part of the dance itself. It is not a mark of virtue that one’s sensitivity to such flagrant immorality has been dulled by overexposure to such immodesty, as is often the case today.

The author reminds us that in times when the Catholic Faith and acts of piety diminish, sins in dancing become the rule rather than the exception. He also notes that those who sin in dance are far more numerous than those who do not.

Modern dances

These immodest outfits and poses are not permitted by Catholic Morals

Given this information a few conclusions seem inevitable.

* When one considers the kinds of dances condemned in the 1920s and 1930s – the waltz, polka, ballet and masquerade balls – it is not difficult to see that most of the dances we find in the 20th and 21st centuries are not fitting for Catholics;

* Regrettably, almost all dances today are unacceptable by Catholic standards. Rock n’ roll, jazz, the twist, swing dancing, and nearly every other dance contrived in the last century – such as tango, samba, rumba, salsa, calypso and even more “conservative” dances like the blues, bolero and fox-trot – fall under the same restriction;

* More rigorously the dreadful-sensual movements that pass for dance in most nightclubs and the modern rock concerts should be rejected.

Criteria for parents

As a practical advice for parents, the general criteria to judge a good dance for a young woman and a young man are to check whether or not:

Basque dancers in colorful traditional dress

Below, Basque girls learning the traditional folk dances in the town square

1. The dresses are modest – no exposition of the body parts except the head, hands, lower arms and lower legs (skirts below the knees), no transparent or see-through clothing, no tight apparel that reveals the shape of the body, especially when it is skin colored;

2. The positions are appropriate – no close embraces where the bodies touch; no leaning of woman’s head on the man’s shoulder; no faces touching; no interlacing of fingers.

3. The movements are decent – no sensual twisting or vibration of the waist, no lifting of the legs or jumps that reveal what the dress covers, no fast twirling that allows the skirts to fly outward, no provocative positions of the derrières, no challenging protrusion of the breasts, no languid abandonment of the arms.

Let us conclude following the advice of St. Francis de Sales. If we have to attend a dance, we should try to counteract this risk by framing a pious state of mind. We should think about the many souls who went to Hell for dancing or sinned because of dancing.

We should take into consideration also the dissipating effect dances have on the mind of a Catholic, and think about those who, in contrast, profitably employ their time in prayer and meditation about God.

Even if one avoids the sins of vanity, immodesty, sensuality and indiscretion, we should remember what St. Francis de Sales said: Even the best of balls are of no value.


TIA correspondence desk

Repost: Fr. Peter R. Scott on Catholics and Dancing

From The Angelus Online (http://www.angelusonline.org/index.php?section=articles&subsection=show_article&article_id=1940; published March 2000, accessed Jan. 3, 2017):

Questions & Answers

Rev. Fr. Peter R. Scott

Q. How should Catholics view dancing?

A. The morality of recreational or social dancing is not a new subject, but one which saints and moral theologians have treated at length. The difficulty lies in the fact that the style, fashion and manner of dancing are in a a continual flux, and that this affects its morality.

All agree that dancing, in itself, is morally indifferent, and consequently that it is not in itself sinful, and that dancing of the right kind, under the right auspices can in itself be an innocent and even beneficial diversion. However, it is equally clear that it is very commonly a proximate occasion of sin in virtue of the circumstances that accompany the dancing, such as place, time, immodesty, company, let alone the sensual nature of many dances, and the intimate physical contact which is an immediate peril for the virtue of purity, and entirely opposed to the respect which is owed to the body, temple of the Holy Ghost.

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 summarizes in this way the Church's teaching:
Undoubtedly old national dances in which the performers stand apart, hardly, if at all, holding the partner's hand, fall under ethical censure scarcely more than any other kind of social intercourse. But aside from the concomitants—place, late hours, décolleté, escorting, etc.—common to all such entertainments, round dances, although they may possibly be carried on with decorum and modesty, are regarded by moralists as fraught, by their very nature, with the greatest danger to morals. To them perhaps, but unquestionably still more to masked balls, should be applied the warning of the Second Council of Baltimore against "those fashionable dances which, as at present carried on, are revolting to every feeling of delicacy and propriety." (Vol. IV, p. 619)
Such is the Church's teaching concerning ballroom dancing, despite the fact that it can be a form of art. It must, at least in general and for most young people, be considered a proximate occasion of mortal sin, and consequently forbidden. However, square dances and folk dances, in which there is not the same intimate physical contact and pairing off, nor the same danger of bad company, are not a proximate occasion of sin and are consequently permissible. Ballet, as an art form, and expression of beauty, can be licit and permissible. However, it must be remembered that it is a sensual art form, and one in which the displaying of the body can be an occasion of sin both for performers and for the audience, and one in which vanity plays a large part, e.g., the ultra-slim figure required. It is consequently not an art form to be encouraged or patronized.

It goes without saying that modern dancing as commonly done these days, being animalistic and extremely sensual by its exclusive emphasis on rhythm at the expense of any ordered, harmonious, bodily movement, is always to be excluded as a proximate occasion of serious sin, in virtue of the music and dance itself, as well as the company and other circumstances. This includes dancing to rock music, and dancing to jazz accompaniment (i.e., swing dancing).

If any young people are so taken with the craze of dancing to hesitate to accept the Church's wisdom on the question, I suggest they read the following passage from the saint who liked to meekly catch flies with honey, and not vinegar, and whose understanding of the situation of people in the world is so clearly manifest in his spiritual direction. St. Francis de Sales had this to say:
In themselves, dances and balls are indifferent things. However, in actual practice they tend strongly toward the side of evil, and therefore are dangerous. 
People dance at night, and in darkened rooms. This favors certain familiarities. People stay up late and this results in their rising late the next day, causing the morning to be wasted. Consequently, they miss opportunities of serving God. Is it not foolish to turn night into day and day into night and to replace useful work with frivolous pleasure? Finally, at balls everyone tries to outdo everybody else in vanity, and vanity is favorable to the evil affections and dangerous loves which dancing so easily spawns. 
Philothea, what physicians say about mushrooms or pumpkins I say about dances: The best of them are not worth much! However, if you must eat pumpkins, be careful how they are prepared, eat only a little of them, and that rarely. In the same way, if you cannot give up going to balls, be careful how you dance, doing so with modesty, dignity and the right intention. Attend balls rarely, because no matter how carefully you conduct yourself at them, there is danger of excess in them, by becoming too attached to them. 
Because they are spongy, mushrooms are said to attract the surrounding rot. The same is true of balls and other such night-oriented gatherings. They usually attract sin: quarrels, jealousies, mockery; sensual loves. These activities open the pores of the heart to be poisoned by some loose word or some folly or some wanton glance of love. Yes, Philothea, such amusements are usually dangerous. They scatter one's spirit of devotion, weaken one's strength and chill one's charity. They awaken countless evil affections in the soul. Because of all this, use them with great caution. 
After eating mushrooms, one is advised above all to drink some good wine. I personally advise you to think some holy and good thoughts after a ball. These will counterbalance the bad impressions you may have received there. 
What are some such holy and good thoughts? While I was dancing, some people were burning in Hell for sins committed at dances or occasioned by their dancing. While I was dancing, monks, nuns and other fervent Christians were chanting God's praise and contemplating His beauty, thus using their time far more profitably than I was. While I was dancing, many souls departed from this world in great anguish; thousands were suffering dreadful pains in hospitals... While I was dancing; the time of my earthly life was hurrying by and death was approaching nearer. See how he mocks and invites me to his dance! In that dance I shall take but one step from this life to the next. (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Ch. 33)

Catholic Magisterium Against Modern Dances

[53] The Authority of the Roman Catholic Church in General Against Modern Dances.

In the history of the Roman Catholic Church, we find that Bishops entrusted with the care of saving souls were very solicitous to eradicate the evil of dancing from their dioceses. The history of the early Church tells us that Bishops assembled in council and condemned vigorously the various dances of their day, especially the New Year's Day, the Twelfthtide, and Shrovetide dances inherited from the pagan Roman civilization. These dances were condemned by the councils of the Church, the most prominent of which was the Council of Tours, held in A.D. 567. It is true there were not round dances in those days, but we suppose that some of the dances were immodest, though not admitting the sinful pose of the present-day Waltz. The condemnation of these Bishops is still followed in the Church and is an argument against modern dancing, showing the spirit of the Church and her Bishops to be against such diversion, and we feel that were these noble men in our midst to-day, they would most emphatically cry [54] out against the sinful practice as a de facto violation of the Sixth Commandment.

Priests are impressed by Benedict XIV.'s [sic] magnificent treatise on the Diocesan Synod, of which it has been said that it should be the manual of Bishops. The true spirit of the Church eradicating abuses is found in that treatise. This great Pope saw the evil of dancing. With fiery words he pronounced balls in general to be filthy amusements. (L. XI., c. 10, No. 11.) See also Bouvier quoting him. (Vol. IV, p. 100, Edition 1868.) We are sure that no conscientious Bishop would approve filthy amusements for his flock. Benedict XIV lived in 1758. Had he lived in 1800 or thereabouts he would have been horrified at the immorality of the modern Waltz, and would in very deed have stigmatized it as the most vehement destroyer of morality.

[55] The First and Second Baltimore Plenary Council Against Modern Dances.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States were fully aware of the iniquity of modern dances introduced into this country from Germany for the corruption of society when they assembled in Baltimore in 1866 to hold the Second Plenary Council. They condemned most severely modern balls and recorded a special decree against them. (Decree 472.) They condemned them as immodest dances, which they said were increasing daily, and just now, 1904, are a perfect fury.

The Fathers certainly told the truth. Modern dances have been on the increase ever since they were introduced into this country. Dancing masters, our modern mephitic corrupters of youth, have invented more daring dances, alluring young people to practice them because of their sensual fascination. Milwaukee, Wis., may be said to be the Germany of America. A few months ago, we read a special dispatch to the "Baltimore American," to the effect that the Dancing Masters' [56] Association adopted the "Five-step" and other dances on June 12, 1902. The dances are "The Lyric," a Polka, submitted by H. L. Walker, of Buffalo; "The Pompadour," a Five-step Schottische, by Isadore Sampson; "The Delmar," a Redowa with a two-step combination, submitted by E. B. Gaynor, of Chicago; and "The Stirlings," by Austine McFaddin. This is the most complicated of any of the dances and is a combination of Minuet, Gavotte and Waltz. It is set to original music and the dancing masters say it is very attractive. Isadore Sampson also presented a children's dance, which he calls "The Eros." It is set to Mazourka music. The new dances were demonstrated before the association by their authors and were greatly admired by the teachers.

The Fathers declare such diversion to constitute an offense against God, society and the family. They included in their condemnation not only those who promote those dances, but also those who encourage them by their presence. The Bishops did not refer their condemnation to the old-style square dances, which exclude bodily contact of the different sexes and which could be performed decently, but they condemned the Waltz and other modern dances which according to the code of corrupted modern society, demand close embrace.

The First Plenary Council of Baltimore (1852) protests [57] against round dances especially, because they are highly indecent. The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (1868) says: "We consider it to be our duty to warn our people against those amusements which may easily become to them an occasion of sin, and especially against those fashionable dances, which, as at present carried on, are revolting to every feeling of decency and propriety, and are fraught with the greatest dangers to morals." And to all those priests who have the care of souls, the same council, in its 472d [sic] decree, says: "Let them ATTACK and BOLDLY condemn immodest dances, which are becoming more and more common every day. Let them admonish the faithful how much they sin, not only against God, but against society, against their families and against themselves, who take part in these dances or at least seem to countenance them by their presence. Let them teach parents particularly of how grievous a judgment they become guilty if they expose their young sons and daughters to the danger of losing purity and innocence of mind by allowing them to be thus entrapped in the snares of the devil." This is the literal translation from the Latin text.

Soon after the council, Archbishop Martin John [58] Spalding enacted in the Diocesan Synod the following statute: "As the Fathers of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, in their pastoral letter to the people, wholly condemned those dances which are commonly called Waltzes and round dances, we decree that they are not to be taught nor to be tolerated in the colleges, academies and schools of the diocese, even for the sake of recreation among persons of the same sex."

If the Fathers of the First and Second Plenary Council of Baltimore call modern dances immodest, they are most emphatically so by reason of the pose. And if they are immodest they essentially constitute a violation against the Sixth Commandment. Parents mark well the above quoted words of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore. You are guilty of enormous sin by exposing your children, yet unconscious, to evil, to be entrapped by the meshes of the devil. It is a sad commentary on the conduct of some of the present-day pastors to think that this very important Decree has become null and void on account of their inactivity and their laxity in enforcing Church discipline.

This serious legislation is still in force and prevaricators only will regard it abrogated. We back up the authority of the II. Roman Plenary Baltimore Council by giving to the American young descendants of the faithful and pure Irish nation the authority of Archbishop [59] Walsh of Dublin, addressing his people in one of his Lenten Pastorals, saying: 

"Never engage in those improper dances imported from other countries and retaining foreign names, such as Polkas and Waltzes, which are so repugnant to the notions of strict morality, are condemned by many of the highest and most respectable members of society and are at direct variance with that purity and modesty of the female character for which Ireland has been ever distinguished."

In addition to the censures above quoted it might not be amiss to add the condemnation of modern dancing by Bishop McCluskey of Louisville, Ky., which is of a very recent date. In his Decree published June 16th, 1903, he says: "In view of the shockingly indecent style of modern dance we hereby forbid dancing of any kind at any of the fairs, picnics, entertainments or outings."

The Cumberland "Evening Times," Md., published the following open letter:


Thus Father Sartori Designates the Modern Dance.

The following is a copy of a letter addressed to Bishop McCluskey, of Louisville, by Rev. Father Sartori, of Midland:

Midland, Md., June 18th, 1903.

Rt. Rev. William George McCluskey,
Louisville, Ky.

Rt. Rev. and Dear Sir:

I read in the Cumberland "Evening Times," Md., June 17th, 1903, your decree condemning dancing of any kind at any of the fairs, picnics, entertainments or outings, giving as a reason for condemnation "the shockingly indecent style of the modern dance." You are right, my Lord, the Waltz is a main feature of the square dances, and together with the Polka, Gallop, Mazourka and other dances of this kind constitutes to-day the most bold and impudent vice raging in the land, threatening to overthrow the Bishops' and [61] Priests' authority for the license pandering to carnal passions.

The modern dance for high and low society is not civilization, but sheer devilization [sic]. It is nothing else but sinful gratification of the flesh. Let Catholics and Catholic Societies be ashamed to practice the modern dance, which is a downright insult to Christ and His immaculate Church.

Congratulating your Lordship, for your timely and noble stand taken in your diocese, and hoping others of your Fellow Bishops will follow your praiseworthy example, I remain, Rt. Rev. Sir,

Yours truly,

Don Luigi Sartori.

Rt. Rev. Wm. G. McCluskey, D.D.

The above condemnations show the spirit of the Roman Catholic Church to be against modern dancing, not because it is a harmless recreation, but because it is a sinful diversion and a source of still more grievous sins to all who engage in it or encourage it by their presence.


Source: Immorality of Modern Dances, ed. by Beryl and Associates (New York, NY: Everitt and Francis Co. and S.F. McLean and Co, 1904), 53–61.

Traditional Moral Theologians on the Immorality of Certain Dances

[49] Modern Theologians on the Question.

It was not our intention to quote modern theologians on the question, because, as we stated when we described the sinful pose, we did not think we could find any. All Catholic theologians, as a rule, base their arguments on old dances which did not admit close bodily contact between the sexes. If these dances were performed modestly and without impure intentions, they were considered by those theologians to be lawful, but yet dangerous. This doctrine, however, has no bearing on the Waltz and other modern dances. Such a doctrine is calculated to mislead people. It is absurd to cite such a doctrine in defense of the modern ball, which excludes modesty entirely. It is wrong to say that modern dances are in themselves indifferent actions intended for joy and that they are not forbidden by any law. The present question is not of dancing in the abstract. Modern dancing does not exist in the abstract. It exists like most things in a certain way, and is a true, actual, concrete thing—a substance with ugly accidents, modes or manners, a social institution, [50] well determined in form, with specific rules, demanding physical proximity and close contact between the sexes, and always inclining by further regulations to multiply opportunities for something more daring.

Modern theologians ought to base their opinions on the pose of modern dances and give their verdict before God on His holy law, otherwise their authority as theologians would be ignis fatuus, simply nil.

Good Christians will never call the Waltz, the Polka, the Mazourka, the Redowa, the Dip, the Glide, the Saratoga, the German, etc., etc., "dangerous," but in regard to the pose assumed in these dances they claim it to be sinful and as such never to be tolerated. They have a right for such opinion, and to be adherent to the realistic camp on this question.

Devout Christians hold round dancing to be immodest in general as well as in particular cases. We do not admit the possibility of round dancing at a distance. This could not be waltzing according to the exigencies and rules of waltzing, etc. In waltzing, bodily contact cannot be avoided. It would be presumption to assume the position of the Waltz and claim modesty and innocence. Men and women are not justified in exposing themselves to lust or to allure partners or onlookers to it. We think this doctrine is according to the teaching of Christ and His Church and her saintly Fathers.

[51] Though it was not our intention, as we have said, to quote modern theologians, we cannot refrain from quoting Bouvier [N.B. 18th century bishop and moral theologian], Gury [N.B. 19th c. Jesuit theologian, leading casuist in the tradition of St. Alphonsus Liguori and ardent opponent of Jansenism], Sabetti [N.B. 19th c. Jesuit theologian, whose moral theology manual was described as "the most influential and long-lasting of the nineteenth-century moral manuals written in the United States. In addition to its use by the Jesuits, ten of thirty-two seminaries training diocesan priests in the mid-1930s still used Sabetti's textbook" (Keenan, A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century, 2010, 10)], and Genicot [N.B. 19th c. Jesuit moral theologian, whose work is praised in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)], all theologians of recognized ability in the Roman Catholic Church. They all teach that round dancing should not be permitted. The weight of their authority may carry conviction to some who have charge of souls, especially Roman Catholic clergymen.

Bouvier says: "Interesse choeris graviter inhonestis ratione nuditatum, modi saltandi, verborum, cantuum, gestuum est peccatum mortale: hinc saltatio germanica, vulgo dicta 'Walse,' numquam permitti potest."

The translation: "To be present at balls seriously indecent by immodest dress, manner of dancing, words, songs, jests is a mortal sin: hence the German dance, vulgarly called Waltz, can never be permitted." (J. B. Bouvier, Edit. 3 Mechclin iuxta 7 Ed. Cenomanensem. Cap. iv. art. iii. § iii., I page, 91.)

Gury, speaking of modern dances, says: "Chorae inhonestae ratione nuditatum, modi saltandi, verborum, gestuum, cantuum, sunt semper graviter illicitae ut patet. Inter illas autem a pluribus recensentur saltationes recentiores quae gallice dicuntur: la Walse, la Polka, le Galop, et aliae istis similes."

The translation: "It is evident that indecent balls by reason of immodest dress or of the manner of dancing, words, jests, songs are always grievously illicit. [52] Amongst such dances according to many theologians must be numbered the modern dances called in French, la Walse, la Polka, le Galop and others of the same kind" (Gury I., No. 242. II. Ratisbona Edit. 4, 1868.)

Sabetti (1902), a well-known and a great theologian, states that some theologians called round dancing "very unlawful." Genicot's Moral Theology, published in 1898, mentions various theologians, who most severely condemned dances which admit close bodily contact between man and woman; and he says it is impossible to avoid a grievous sin of lust while engaged in such dances. He corroborates the statement by the experience and evidence given by penitents.


Source: Immorality of Modern Dances, ed. by Beryl and Associates (New York, NY: Everitt and Francis Co. and S.F. McLean and Co, 1904), 49–52.

Repost: Catholic Morality and the Tango 2

From the New York Times, January 22, 1914:


Patriarch of Venice Issues Energetic Denunciation of It.

VENICE, Jan. 21.—Cardinal Cavallari, the successor of the present Pope as Patriarch of Venice, has issued an episcopal letter which is the most energetic of all those so far published with reference to the tango, and acquires even greater importance, as it is reported to have been inspired by the Pontiff.

The letter condemns the tango in the strongest terms, referring to it as moral turpitude, and adding:

"It is everything that can be imagined. It is revolting and disgusting. Only those persons who have lost all moral sense can endure it. It is the shame of our days. Whoever persists in it commits a sin."

The Cardinal orders all ecclesiastics to deny absolution to those who, having danced the tango, do not promise to discontinue the practice.


Source: http://www.traditioninaction.org/RevolutionPhotos/Snap/A518-Tango_3.pdf

Repost: Catholic Morality and the Tango 1

From the New York Times, January 16, 1914 (emphases mine):


Cardinal Pompili on His Behalf Issues a Pastoral Letter Attacking Recent Developments.


Says the Tango and Certain Newspapers, Theatrical Performances, and Fashions Pervert Souls.

ROME, Jan. 15—Cardinal Basillo Pompili, Vicar General of Rome, representing the Pope, has issued a pastoral letter denouncing the tango and also certain newspapers, theatrical performances, and fashions, which, he declares, are perverting souls. The Cardinal says:

"The tango, which has already been condemned by the illustrious Bishops, and is prohibited even in Protestant countries, must be absolutely prohibited in the seat of the Roman Pontiff, the centre [sic] of the Catholic religion."

He urges the clergy courageously to raise their voices "in defending the sanctity of Christian usages against the dangers threatening and the overwhelming immorality of the new paganism."

He warns parents that if they do not protect their children from corruption they will be guilty before God of failure in their most sacret [sic] duties. [...]


Source: http://www.traditioninaction.org/RevolutionPhotos/Snap/A518-Tango_2.pdf