Mark 9:24

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Meta for a metaphor

In Armchair Apologetics on October 31, 2012 at 2:32 am

Consider that Paul, the inspired author of most of the epistles, having seen the glorified Body of Christ, knowing what end Christ’s body finally meets, and presumably knowing about what language Christ uses about his body throughout the Gospels, uses this specific metaphor: the Church is the Body of Christ.

When Paul was made blind, what truth did he see? What truth did he say, unknowing but inspired?

What could such a metaphor really mean? If it is true, and if it is scriptural, and if it is inspired — full of the Spirit — surely it has at least a divine meaning and purpose. It must speak to some deeper principle. Catholics may point out that Christ will not die, now that the Resurrection shows He triumphs over death. Similarly, the Body of Christ will, in some visible way on this earth, live right up until the end times.

Catholics also may explain this as affirming the four marks of the Church. Like Christ’s body, Catholicism is one, a matter disputed principally by log-eyed men. She is holy, for the Church Triumphant is in heaven and the Church Suffering is headed there, however the visible Church Militant fails us. She is Catholic, which is a word that means simply universal. That the Church is apostolic is simply a way of saying her authority goes back to the apostles, which is important not because of the apostles but because of Christ. There is a real historical claim backing each of these up, putting aside doctrine and scripture, claims which have no analogue among apostasists.

I am curious what apostasists make of this passage on their own, not just what other verses they go to to defend against this interpretation. All I can think of is what apostasists cannot say.

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Heresy, that wayward righteousness

In Lay Meditations on September 16, 2012 at 6:18 am

At the core of many heresies [1], if not the spark or the first impulse, there is some understandable, and sometimes laudable, wish. Though all heresies distort some truth at the cost of others, some simplify the truth while others exaggerate a truth. What man tired of mystery isn’t tempted to want a simpler truth better understood, and what man enamored with a point of truth is not tempted to ignore other truths for the sake of his beloved?

Righteousness brings conviction, which can be a good, so long as it is applied evenly; no man with in the cancer of self-righteousness convicts oneself.

Today, simplification of divine truth is sometimes called modernism. Laughingly so, it must be hoped — accommodationists, seeking to smooth out the hard teachings of the church with a wink or a shrug, have haunted the Church in every age [2], right back to the Arians [3]. Because these Sadducees let fashion or politeness trump truth for the sake of peace, they forget the truth which sustains them; therefore, this sect dies and is forgotten [4].

More sympathetic by far, and more dangerous, is the love of truth. It is not for the hatred of the Church or Christ or the truth that a really dangerous heresy arises, but by obsession with a truth at the cost of others. Not only this, but often it is the same love of truth and hatred of scandal which causes the most lingering schisms from the Church. Take these three: In the early Church was Donatism, in the Middle Ages were the reformers, and in this age exists some forms of traditionalism [5].

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Frustrating the natural end

In Lay Meditations on August 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm

In writing a “Kantian” defense of Catholic sexual teaching some time ago, I accepted the artificial restraint of not mentioning God. This effectively takes a partial view of Catholic moral teaching. It is as if a general practitioner only looked at your skeleton during an annual check-up, indifferent to your beating heart. I began by mentioning several ways to fend off the inevitable; let us finally face the inevitable.

Christians do not hope for the end of Creation; we expect it and should be prepared.

If the death of the universe were to come, there would still be no problem with the Church’s teaching, though the answer comes from an unexpected quarter: God has a plan, and we live this out by discerning our particular vocation. This is no cop-out. Vocations are part of complete Catholic teaching, as inseparable as the Mass. We cannot single out “what if we all behaved like Catholics sexually” to impugn the Church because “behaving like Catholics sexually” does not mean we behave like Catholics in other matters.

With this in mind, suppose we Catholics found our resources completely exhausted; that we really did have nowhere else to turn; that billions and billions years from now the universe finally dies, slowly, coldly of heat death — we may find that our vocations may have prayerfully become some flavor of religious or secular continence. But suppose that God does not call us to continence, for not even continence will prevent the end of things.  If our universal vocation becomes at this point not just holiness but holiness in what we call matrimony, perhaps the best use of the last bit of energy in the universe would be conceiving the last new life our Cosmos ever produced.

Just imagine: One lonely spermatozoon racing from the final stillness which would bring Creation to a final winter, this cell only just ahead of the collapsing cosmos. Finally, then at once, it meets its final end — and, in another sense, we meet ours — in the last mother’s last ovum. In bold defiance of the lord of this world, in bold obedience to the Lord of All, the last act of life is new life. One last act emulating the cross: From death, life; by the will of God.

Vernacular or vulgar, learn it anyway

In Pursue Truth on July 1, 2012 at 12:15 am

There are few lies among ecumenists more irritating than that we really don’t disagree, that we’re just saying the same thing in different ways. This is such a pervasive lie among certain well-groomed leaders that it has in the last decades ruined the name of ecumenism.

The Apostles had the advantage of speaking in tongues. Why would we need any less?

Yet because there is truth everywhere we must acknowledge the central insight: If only sometimes, we are not separated by doctrines but by liturgical language. Case in point: When attending the ordinations for a religious order, there was a great deal to admire in the pomp and ceremony, which contributes to what gets called the extrinsic merit of the Mass. (This is as opposed to the intrinsic merit of the Mass, which is Christ’s one sacrifice on Calvary.) However, when the women in choir came up in cassock and surplice, I was flabbergasted. This is a parish noted for fidelity to Catholic teaching and identity, and a religious order relatively unscathed by the insane 1960s. What do they think they’re doing?

Thing of it is that cassock and surplice worn by women here means something other than what I’m used to, and so my reaction is my problem, not theirs. Here, a woman in a cassock is not active dissent in favor of the ontological impossibility of womenpriests. Here it just means choir dress; here, choir dress just means what the choir wears. There may be something to be said about the appropriateness of cassock and surplice for seminarians and the ordained and there may not. Casting aspersions from assumptions will not get us to understanding. Read the rest of this entry »

Marriage at the nut

In Lay Meditations on June 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Because advocating same-sex marriage — hereafter, SSM — is undeniably a change to the immediate, local standard*, one common tactic asks: If marriage has changed before, why not again?

Modernity, wanting only one thing, will whisper sweet lies, hoping we’ll open up a little. We know better; we do not want to.**

To this end, they may undermine monogamy by historical precedent, specifically by invoking polygamy and polyandry; varying social imprimaturs on divorce may be mentioned; Marriage, A History goes so far as to claim spirit marriages, typically between a dead man and a living woman, are also marriages. See how much these things have changed!

And yet there is the haunting echo that polygamy is between a man and several women; polyandry would be between one woman and several men; spirit marriage, so-called, is nonetheless between a man and a woman. Even divorce has never enabled you to marry whomever you please, civilly or otherwise. What tyrant, what barbarian, even claimed to have married someone of the same sex? And what was the reaction? Athens, frequently invoked as sexually enlightened, may have given attraction between men special status and honor higher than marriage, but this only proves that the philosophers made a distinction.

Marriage, even when not understood as a union of one living man and one living woman so long as they both shall live, always united two halves of an altsexual, warring species. Marriage always united Man and Woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Presumption for Catholicism

In Pursue Truth on June 16, 2012 at 3:11 am

Catholicism, even in a century when it feels tired-eyed and lazy, has a huge, if silent, case going for it. Others stand on their tippy-toes, others on their best behavior, but fat, indolent Catholicism laying drunken in the gutter, belly up to oblivion, from her back to her beating heart still stands taller than everyone else combined.

What sin is greater than silence or sleep when you know you know better?

The more you resemble Catholicism but are not Catholicism the falser you ring; if you share anything with Catholicism at all you must defend it with your life. Otherwise the silent testimony of history and reason would silently convict you of being a second-rate imitation. You must clutch the scripture, ignore Church history and dismiss our fruits if you would win against the silent testimony of ages.

There remains a trickier puzzle. You must prove yourself against centuries of doctrinal scavengers, those before you and those yet to come. An already impossible case multiplies endlessly. All the while, should the plain sense of scripture sometimes seem to point one direction, we can point out another, larger principle to correct our folly. If we acknowledge gaps in historical clarity, we still marvel at how few there ever could be. We admit the worst sinners, but even Jesus said that it is “impossible” that there should not be scandal, that wheat and tares will be sorted but not by us.

Catholicism is at least as scriptural while being more historical and demonstrably fruitful. Here’s the real sting of it: None of the Catholic cases require a well-timed nudge as much as typical Protestant cases.

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Ira pro nobis

In Dramatic Retellings on May 6, 2012 at 4:15 am

There is little on Earth so glorious as a Solemn High Mass, for it is as near we have to Heaven and as close as we’ll get to Calvary. Still, someone thought he could improve it.

As the litanies closing off the 40 Hours Devotion tapered off into the Introibo ad Altare Dei of a Blessed Sacrament votive Mass, a moment of silence opened up. Into this, a man who sounded unbalanced filled it with some extemporaneous blather.

There is something deep, wide, mysterious, solid, and true at Mass.

“Is it all right if I say a prayer?”

He went on for a bit, in forgotten forgettable words, and followed it up with Amen. A burly bass voice, probably that of the heckler’s confrère, replied jovially.

Beyond a solitary shush, everyone near me stayed silent, as if to pity the men for not recognizing a sacred place. Once the choirster pre-emptively kicked off the Kyrie — Lord have mercy, indeed — only infants in their innocence would disrupt Mass. Very small children, you see, are not culpable for stink and noise.

Seeing this kind of prayer so close to a most reverently celebrated High Mass makes parody of presuming parity. Prayers which are so much less than Mass are hardly prayer. In one kind, selfish-seeming men focused on externals and adulation from a crowd utter meaningless noises, conspiring on an occult script so as to elicit an emotional response. The other, and the opposite, is a High Mass.

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Gravitas, the light of the Son

In Armchair Apologetics, Dramatic Retellings on April 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm

What is our Christian innovation but good, clear authority? We owe no allegiance to any king before God, and after God we each owe allegiance to some other king, endowed by God with a limited right to command us. Curiously alone among the faiths, we unmistakably recognize Him as a benevolent authority commanding clearly.

If you did find God, it's because He led you to Him.

With its kind of authority claim, Christianity stands alone. Polytheists of all stripes vary wildly even within their stripe, as the faith always comes down to individual gurus or individual versions of Mars or Jupiter. New Age crystal gazers and certain pagans posit a vague benevolence, but it is a life-force we command and harness. Chinese ancestor worship doesn’t fit, for dead men tell no tales. Buddhists as such lack a loving King.  Jerusalem the dispersed and Mecca the confused, elder brothers and younger cousins of a sort, do not speak as clearly as Rome.

That God, at the end of a brief sojourn while having his glorified Resurrection body, would as his last act appoint an office manager and a supervisory staff of eleven is remarkably audacious, even novel.  On a moment’s reflection, the practicality of this thing reveals, as in the satisfying click of a lightswitch, a wryness about God. Of course that’s the right way to do it, say the pagans, why didn’t anyone think of it before? 

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Lost at sea

In Lay Meditations on April 7, 2012 at 1:45 am

Near the shore of a storm-rocked sea, breaking foam crashing against a cliff, a lighthouse may guide the way. It is a kind of pun, and a kind of parable, to say the Church is such a lighthouse: Christ, who is the light, built His house so that we may know the Way toward Him.

I have a difficult time believing that the one, narrow Way would make so many local ways, springing up and falling down through the centuries as they do.

“If some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness.” — G. K. Chesterton

If there is one peril — Christians, you know there is ultimately one peril, which is Hell — there must be only one lighthouse. There cannot be a cloud of lighthouses. There must also be a clear idea about what that lighthouse means, where the rocks are in relation. This not just a matter of life and death but a matter of eternal life and eternal death, to borrow a turn of phrase. If there is no clear relation, we are be better off with a lifetime’s intuition, “as infants, tossed about by the waves.” But if Protestantism is true, there are two reasonable possibilities:

  • First, there is not now, and will never again be until the Second Coming, a single lighthouse. This is intolerable, if indeed this is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Moreover, if Truth so poorly sustains we are less subject to God than to some terrible Demiurge. Hardly Christian; safely discarded.
  • Second, the true light, the Holy Spirit, we must pursue, and in the fire of pursuit are made saints. But this is also hardly Christian. Assuming your copy of Miracles lacks Chapter 11, I’m happy to explain.

If men pursue God, who therefore changes, this stands not just opposite to the sense of Jewish revelation but contrary to it.

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Horror at the mob of Christians

In On Atheism on March 31, 2012 at 1:23 am

New Atheists invoke the curious case of Hypatia in their mythology of the Christian mob, seeking to undermine the Christian claim of imitating Christ. Though New Atheists abandon good sense along the way, they certainly have the right sense. While Christianity rarely resembles a mob as much as the New Atheism, Christian mobs are always worse.

As Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem, all Christians must lament the watering down of Christianity. Only the repentant return from Babylon, and rarely if ever have all returned.

Let us remember: In the atheist age of Dawkins, there is no common ground among men opposed to God but a single cri de coeur — or is it cri du jour? — for it is a fist in flickering torchlight, raised alone against the Manor and, often, manners. As a whole, New Atheism is led not so much by figureheads but by acclamation, by which their Adams ascend and fall. They are not a community but for one purpose. If some elements dispute this characterization as odious dictionary atheism, it stands that some dispute it and some defend it. The New Atheism is self-devouring in many senses.

If I particularize the New Atheists, do not confuse this with condemning them more than anyone else. Such as it is in the eternal human story, found among pagans of every stripe. Larger devours smaller, shouts drown out saner voices. With no cause but one, such men band together only as barbarians against the eternal city — long enough to divide the spoils, but not so long as to linger together when back home. But Christians — Christians are not made for division.  Read the rest of this entry »