Perhaps no Catholic theologian has been as influential over the past one hundred years as Henri de Lubac SJ. I am mostly new to de Lubac, and I am just getting to know his thought and influence. The more I consider who he was, his life, his theology, and his influence on so many others and on so much of modern Church history, I can’t help but be amazed at his brilliance. I also have been on the side of his detractors. I confess this was because of both my ignorance and because I was getting swept up in the radical traditionalist wave that’s been fomenting anti-modernist and anti-Pope Francis sentiments. I know it’s a complicated mess, but I am pulling back, reconsidering and, to my chagrin, realizing I was going down the wrong path. And this has led me to de Lubac afresh. Below are some videos that, I believe, do a good job shedding clarity on de Lubac’s thought, influence, and legacy.
Among the modern radical traditionalists, or rad trads as some like to call them (and how they proudly call themselves), de Lubac has gotten a bad rap. He is held forth as a modernist whose ideas are to blame for the apparent debacle we call the post-conciliar Church. This is too huge of a topic for this post, but this view has been gaining substantial traction, not least because of some videos by the popular rad trad Dr. Taylor Marshall. In one video, dealing with at the same time the so-called “Pachamama” debacle, Robert Barron, and Henri de Lubac, Dr. Marshall and Timothy Gordon give de Lubac a lashing. Were they fair to do so? I don’t think so, and I’m not the only one:
Note: I confess, I don’t dislike Taylor Marshall, though I can’t take much of him anymore. And I have met Tim Gordon and his family, and I like them a lot. But I can clearly see that Marshall plays well to those who love overly simplistic answers, pietistic rules, conspiracies, and right-wing politics. Consequently, he tends to produce radically unnuanced takes for those folks eager (desperate?) for easy answers and scathing judgments. Thus, he has been weaving a kind of distortion field of critiques and amassing a growing cadre of followers. In this vein, I believe, he and Gordon misread and misrepresent de Lubac – or perhaps they get him partially right but misrepresent the past decades and Vatican II. I’m still learning, and I won’t discount Taylor Marshall entirely. I do think his book Infiltration is interesting and contains many things worthy to ponder, but with great caution.
I have become increasing curious about Liberation Theology. As I continue to become disillusioned by the state of politics in the U.S., including the politics of the Church (or certain prominent sections of the Church), and as I learn more about Latin America and its rich, but also violent, history, and as I have become increasingly curious about Saint Romero and the modern history of El Salvador, I find myself confronted with Liberation Theology. Can Liberation Theology teach us, perhaps even provide a way, for the Church seeking to follow Christ is a deeply broken and anti-Catholic world?
Almost immediately I find vociferous Liberation Theology antagonists. These are primarily conservative and/or traditionalist Catholics. Liberation Theology, they say, is merely Marxism dress up in some Catholic vestments. Ironically, while many of the conservative Catholics revere Saint John Paul II, it this quote from that dynamic and “muscular” anti-communist pope that sparks my interest:
Insofar as it strives to find those just answers – penetrated with understanding for the rich experience of the Church in this country, as effective and constructive as possible and at the same time consonant and consistent with the teachings of the Gospel, of the living and the everlasting Tradition Magisterium of the Church – we and you are convinced that liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary. It must constitute a new stage – in close connection with the previous ones – of that theological reflection initiated with the Apostolic Tradition and continued with the great Fathers and Doctors, with the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium and, in more recent times, with the rich heritage of the Doctrine Church, expressed in documents ranging from Rerum Novarum to Laborem Exercens . ( Emphasis added. Full text here)
Is this not an endorsement of Liberation Theology? Those who say it is actually just Marxism with a Catholic veneer seem to lack understanding. Or do they? I’m still learning.
I am reading Gustavo Gutiérrez‘ excellent and classic work, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. In it I find an excellent explanation of the Catholic faith. Thus far I find no overt Marxist ideology (thus far) and, in fact, I find a challenge to such ideas. I ought to be clear at this point for the sake of honesty: I am not against all Marxist ideas, nor am I against all aspects of socialism. I am against all the evils done in the name, or using the name, of Marxism and socialism, just as in a similar way I am against all the evils done in the name of capitalism, republicanism, democracy, anarchy, fascism, and any other ideologies or systems of political and economic organization that men use against others. Men are wicked and they will wrap their intentions and deeds in whatever language is most convenient to “justify” their actions of power over others. Men will also quickly and effortlessly excuse evils done in the name of their own systems (those they accept) and their own cultures (those in which they were raised, or into which they were adopted, and in which they find acceptance). Thus, I am still cautious. I have studied the evils of man and the systems he builds. I am not yet convinced that socialism, and there are many versions and definitions of socialism, is or must be inherently evil, or must produce evil men. I am also not convince Liberation Theology is or must be fundamentally socialist, even if it informed by Marxist methods of social and political critique.
So I proceed with my research. I am curious.
Cardinal George was once asked about Liberation Theology and he gave a quick answer. It think his answer represents a kind of thoughtful middle ground that I feel I can get behind. However, I also wonder if he, and Cardinal Ratzinger whom he references, had an adequate understanding of Liberation Theology. Thus, I don’t completely buy into it, yet.
I do not think modern Americans (U.S. citizens) can quite fathom the context in which Liberation Theology developed. I certainly have never lived within a context like those in which Liberation Theology developed, arguably, out of necessity. In fact, U.S. citizens are rather notorious for having strange and perverted ideas about Latin American and its history, including U.S. foreign policy towards that Latin America, its governments, its resources and, more importantly, its people. We are also formed through decades of propaganda (for better or worse) to believe anything that is in any way associated with socialism or Marxism must be gravely and irredeemably evil. For most Americans this is an objective and unquestionable dogmatic truth. I am not convinced, but I am not wary either.
If we, for a moment, set aside the wrangling over theories, over political and economic systems, and about the examples of evil men, and simply consider what we Christians are called to do as we live out the Kingdom of God in tangible actions, we might find a calling to change the world. Pope Paul VI gave us some perspective in his encyclical Populorum progressio, an encyclical that informed Liberation Theology’s development, in which he wrote:
It is not just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It is not just a question of fighting wretched conditions, though this is an urgent and necessary task. It involves building a human community where men can live truly human lives, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality, free from servitude to other men or to natural forces which they cannot yet control satisfactorily. It involves building a human community where liberty is not an idle word, where the needy Lazarus can sit down with the rich man at the same banquet table. [full text here]
Liberty must not be an idle word. Is that not the foundation of Liberation Theology? Of course, people will argue over that notorious and wonderful word: liberty.
But when politics and faith become entangled, it can be hard to know if one is talking about one or the other. And yet, how can the gospel not also be political? In God there is no separation, is there? In this world there is truth, there is heresy, there are lies, there is evil, and there is love. These things are present in all aspects of human life. Does not the gospel speak to all of that? Are not politics also under the reign of Christ? And what happens when we open our eyes beyond narrow, single-issue, lesser-of-two-evils, U.S. politics and begin to wonder if others, in others places also have eyes to see and hearts that long for justice? What do we do when they see things differently than we do and speak in foreign tongues and use words that frighten us and yet still call us brothers and sisters in Christ? What ought we to do then?
Still, the history of Liberation Theology and its proponents is interesting and, at times, perhaps troubling even for many in Latin America. But it is also fascinating. And there are, naturally, different perspectives.
This short Religion and Ethics piece gives a brief overview and some perspective, and not without moments that will give a traditionalist Catholic conniptions, make a conservative Catholic cringe, and make a liberal Catholic pause:
Is the Church today under Francis more attuned to Jesus? I don’t believe it is. But I also cannot buy in its entirety the critique of traditionalist Catholics (mostly Americans) who demonize Francis and the Church hierarchy today. There is so much that is bad, but there is so much that is good, and there is much good (I firmly believe) going on in the world beyond the horizon of American Catholics and their limited understandings and their historical prejudices. Perhaps that is where most of the good is happening.
One aspect of Liberation Theology, or at least as something clearly linked to it, is the fact of Catholic priests and bishops renouncing their vocations for political action in the name of Liberation Theology. For example, Fernando Lugo, who was a Catholic priest and bishop, then became president of Paraguay, gave up the priesthood for politics:
Lugo resigned his ordinary from the Diocese of San Pedro on 11 January 2005. He had requested laicization in order to run for office. However, the Holy See refused the request on the grounds that bishops could not undergo laicization, and also denied him the requested canonical permission to run for civil elected office. However, after Lugo won the presidential election, the Church granted his laicization on 30 June 2008. [from Wikipedia]
This bothers me a great deal. Why must they do this? I don’t know. Have they lost the faith, turned from God, or have they made the right choice? I have my opinions, but I’m holding off judgement until I know more. I first came across Lugo in Oliver Stone’s fascinating documentary film, South of the Border. I have a hard time faulting Lugo for making his decision, though i’m bothered by it. I am in no place to criticise him. I also sense that his position became somewhat untenable as he found himself between the Church that tends to side with those in power and Christ’s call to help the poor. And yet, I don’t like the decision he made and I am curious about his eternal destiny. What will Christ do with him and others like him?
Similarly, one of the more prominent theologians of the Liberation Theology movement is Leonardo Boff. Also a former priest and a sharp critic of the Church, he gave up the priesthood for social activism. This documentary gives a rather good picture of Boff and his views:
I am not sure what to do with this. Is Boff’s direction the right one? I’m inclined to think not, and I feel about him much as I feel about Fernando Lugo. And yet, I do agree with the general direction of some of his views, up to a point. I am also concerned about any movement where men give up the priesthood for the movement, or stop wearing traditional clerical clothing. However, I don’t know enough about Latin American history and culture to know the meaning of all that. I also think there is a generational element to it. Older, baby-boomer, 1960’s radicals might have thrown off their religious garb because that was the spirit of that age, whereas younger priests and religious today might insist on wearing more traditional religious clothing for, ironically, similar reasons. I can’t say, but it would make some sense to me. We are all far more children of the zeitgeist than any of us want to admit.
Still, I firmly believe that it’s all too easy to get pulled away from Christ and His kingdom by the enticements of the world and worldly politics, and thus lose one’s soul. I believe Liberation Theology is, at its heart, an attempt to avoid that, but clearly many questions still remain about many of its adherents. I am inclined to read some of Boff’s books eventually.
In summary, I know very little at this point, but I am inclined to believe Liberation Theology is a good thing and ought to be taken seriously, perhaps re-thought and re-addressed, by more Catholics. I also am beginning to think the Church (once again) dropped the ball in a big way by not more fully embracing it and thereby helping guide it rather than leave priests and faithful Catholics essentially on their own, sometimes feeling abandoned by the Church. This, I think, was a huge missed opportunity at a crucial time in Latin America. In a sense, I believe the Church “lost” Latin America, in a sense, because of this.
I welcome any comments pointing me to more resources.
Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president (pres. 1977-1981) that oversaw the giving of military aid to the government of El Salvador during the bloody Salvadoran Civil War. Carter was the first American president that I became aware of as I began to pay attention to the news as a boy. The first American president I voted for was Ronald Reagan (pres. 1981-1989), who came immediately after Carter. The Reagan administration increased the giving of military aid and support to the Salvadoran government. In 1980 the Salvadoran government was behind the brazen assassination and martyrdom of the then archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero, now a saint of the Catholic Church. Thus, my first vote as an American citizen, though not for Carter, and actually for Reagan’s second term which happened years after Romero’s death, is nonetheless indirectly but forever linked to the death of a saint. I only just realized this. Unfortunately, this is the reality of being an American voting for candidates who then go on to promote questionable and sometimes terrible foreign policies. Of course I plead ignorance, but we’re all ignorant of many things, and that doesn’t mean we are not complicit at some level, even if not actually guilty. Perhaps its “structural complicity?”
Anyway, I am learning more about one of the Church’s most recent saints, Óscar Romero. I believe Romero’s concerns were ultimately spiritual and heavenly, but they played out within a volatile political context, and he was martyred for them.
The battle lines of politics are always much more than politics. There are narratives competing with narratives, ideologies with ideologies, and almost always class struggle. In the U.S. we are not allowed to talk about class struggle or the structures of economic inequality or we are immediately labeled a socialist or communist. There is a powerful narrative in that labeling, and that narrative and the hegemonic forces behind it drive a great many other narratives. Human beings, being sinners and fearful, will all too readily kill other human beings for the sake of the narrative they hold dear, often for very selfish and ignorant reasons. From Cain until now we have been killing our brothers. But Christ calls us to love our brothers, our neighbors, and even our enemies. Saint Paul tells us our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is against spiritual forces of darkness. The entire narrative of salvation being written by God in the very fabric of creation tells us to trust in Him and that He will fight our battles. We forget this every day. They forgot that in El Salvador too. But many, including and perhaps especially Óscar Romero, did not forget it.
I know very little about the Salvadoran Civil War, but that is the historical context of Saint Romero’s assassination. I perhaps know only a little more about Saint Romero than I do about the war, which is to say almost nothing. Here are three contemporary news reports on the war, its brutality, and role of faith and the Church.
This 1983 documentary takes a look at both sides of the war and provides an intimate overview of the attitudes and perspectives of each side:
Made by the same filmmakers as the above film, this is an excellent documentary from 1983 on the religious aspects of the war, in particular the ideas of Liberation Theology:
Here is an in-depth documentary about the Salvadoran civil war and the life of Óscar Romero. It was made before he was canonized a saint.
Here is a great lecture by Michael Lee (Fordham University) on the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood:
I suppose little seeds were planted in my life along the way to prepare my heart and mind for caring for and wondering about the life, legacy, and meaning of Saint Romero’s martyrdom and case for sainthood.
In 1984 (the same year I voted for Reagan) a largely unknown, but with a passionate fanbase, Canadian singer-songwriter and brilliant guitarist released a song that became a surprise hit. I vaguely remember that song, but I was so politically, geographically, historically, and socially unaware that I didn’t get what the song was about, except for the fact that I felt as much as anybody that we all need a rocket launcher sometimes. But the song was specifically about the brutal wars in Central America, the dictatorships that promoted and leveraged them, the support those dictatorships received from the U.S. government, and the terrible havoc they wrought on the lives of the people. Here is Bruce Cockburn, 30 years later, performing live and acoustically his song If I had a Rocket Launcher:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
“But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
I’m no expert in these matters. Forgive me if I blunder. But, honestly, I’m not saying anything new here, although I might still be saying a lot of hooey.
Sometimes the world seems crazier than normal. Perhaps it is. Or maybe it’s always been crazy, but we just get used to some kinds of crazy and surprised by other kinds. And not a few people are wondering why, when the very real issues of racism are front and center, thrust upon our collective consciousness once again by the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of several police officers (should we call them thugs?), do we suddenly see passionate and violent young Marxist revolutionaries and anarchists emerging from every nook and cranny. See this, this, this, this (and even this from 2015 – because it’s been going on for longer than most realize).
[Note: I am not using “anarchist” merely or mainly in a pejorative way to only indicate the use of violent chaos to achieve some vague ends, rather I mean the more formal philosophical and political positions found in formal anarchist ideologies. And I am not use “new Marxists” to point to the popular contemporary concept of a postmodern Marxism. Rather, I think the new Marxists, if I am correct, are more or less much like the old, but living out their ideology(ies) in the contemporary world and informed by the continued development of language, ideology, strategy, and technology.]
Clearly we are witnessing an emergence (or re-emergence) of what appear to be a new generation of Marxists rampaging our nation’s streets and social media, calling for the abolition of police forces, seeking to rewrite history, and demanding the redefinition nearly every important word in our language. I realize many protesting, hanging out in autonomous zones, or even acting out violently against police and defacing federal buildings would not necessarily call themselves Marxist. And certainly few today would identify with traditional Bolshevism. But Marxian socialism and its pervasive ideological intentions, often in language that doesn’t sound all that Marxist to many of us, is far broader today in scope and more internalized as self-evident truth than was witnessed in the example Soviet Russia. (I mean, troubling though it may be, we are all a little bit socialist in ways that either we recognize or don’t. It’s because of the “water” we swim in these days. I think many would go to their graves denying this reality.) Today it’s less about structural state Marxism and more about seeking a new life world, a new pentecost with a utopian spirit descending like tongues of fire. For many, they were suckled on the Marxist teet in a plethora of subtle ways and have adopted as the very ground of being the Marxist ideology.
It’s clear today’s protests are not quite the same as (though not unconnected to) Dr. King’s nonviolent, and essentially Christian, march for freedom. But it seems clear the eyes on the prize today are different eyes envisioning a somewhat different prize. And surprisingly, if the images we see are accurate, many or perhaps most of the protestors, are white teens and twenty-somethings. Regardless, though the protestors obviously are protesting racism and police brutality, many are protesting much more. It makes some sense to wonder if some of the protestors, or perhaps some of the leaders of the protests, have hijacked the news of the day to promote a different agenda.
Where do these passions come from? On the surface it’s easy to identify: Just watch the horrific video of George Floyd (or numerous others) getting killed or brutalized at the hands of highly militarized cops, and then connect the dots and no wonder people are literally outraged — raging out their anger. My heart breaks over see such brutality by the very people who are paid to protect us, and I too get angry. But why, given the traditional nonviolent approach of past and successful civil rights protests, do today’s protests so quickly abandon that methodology and cross over into rioting and unabashedly resort to violence? It’s hard to say. One could justly assume that the old ways didn’t completely work so they must be abandoned. But another thought is to consider that Marxian socialism (a.k.a. scientific communism; the most well known of various forms of socialism) happens to be the political and philosophical underpinnings of many of those offering their leadership to these protests. Marxism arises from atheism. God is abandoned and thus the ways of MLK, perhaps adequate for a past age, must now be abandoned as well. For Marxists, fomenting dissent was never foremost about the proletariat and poor working conditions. Rather, it was offered as a religious alternative to Christianity and, by implication, Western Culture. We are, I believe, at a crux moment in history. The stakes are higher than ever. It is not a debate, not even a protest, it is a war.
In short, Marxian socialism is fundamentally religious in its origins, in its language, and in its goals. Nonviolent protests make ethical sense to a people informed, as they once were, by a Christian story and a God who gave his life for others. Nonviolence doesn’t make ethical sense to the Marxist whose narrative flows from Hegel to Marx to Lenin and onwards. Christians ought to know this. In fact, Marxism borrows much of its language from Christianity, which is why it speaks so viscerally and powerfully to its followers. This is by design.
I think a lot of people honestly protesting the evil they see in society would be rather shocked to take a closer look at this. But, I have to say, I’m no expert; I’m just trying to understand.
[Pause: Given the state of the world we are in I must state emphatically that I firmly believe that black lives do matter and this sentiment makes a ton of sense today. It is clear our county has been deeply, structurally racist and at times openly violent, and has a problem with it still to this day — and not only regarding African Americans, but Native Americans and other minorities as well. From a Christian perspective and a full understanding of sin this seems abundantly clear, and sadly, expected. Personally, I completely buy into the historical record that shows the political and economic machinations that led us to this time in history. Loosely paraphrasing George Orwell, for too long we have created a country where “all lives matter, but some lives matter more than others,” which has led to innumerable injustices. It grieves me to know that in ways I don’t even recognize I probably have played a part in this system. I realize writing this may put me at odds with many on the right, including the religious right which I am not a part of though I may have a few “conservative” leanings. But I’m not on the right. And sadly, there seems to be a racist problem within some corners of the traditional Catholic movement, a movement for which I have strong affinities, but also struggle with. But this post is not about the sentiments of many ordinary folks, right or left or other, or what they believe they are fighting for or why they are posting #blacklivesmatter in their social media. The sentiment that black lives matter is a truly Christian sentiment. No follower of Christ can say otherwise. And I must say that I have more sympathies even with some of the views of the radical left than I do with the mainstream left (which I generally oppose because they are much a part of the “system” as the mainstream right), but in Christ there are no distinctions. All human beings are equal before God. He died for us all. He calls us to peace, not violence, not to seeking power over others. Violence begets violence, and sinful man loves violence. But Christ calls us to love our brothers and sisters, to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. And if we find another in need, including one suffering under the burdens of racism, including systemic racism, we are to be the good Samaritan. We are to cross the road to the “other” and care for that person. Ultimately our salvation will not be found in politics or the nation state. You want to be truly radical, follow Christ — completely. Racism is a sin. We are all sinners. I have no solution but to point to Christ. There but for the grace of God go I.]
What we think of as Marxian socialism began even before Marx was Marx as a stated replacement for Christianity. In France it was hoped, during the decade of the French Revolution, that socialism would replace both Christianity and the monarchy, and thus fill the spiritual vacuum left by their absence in the wake of the bloody revolution. In England, the path forward was promoted by Robert Owen as a kind of rational religion based in science that took shape in a short-lived Utopian socialist community he later founded in the United States. In Germany, it took shaped as the logical extension of Hegel’s philosophy. Socialism became a kind of Utopian ideal replacing Christianity as the next step of the great movement of world history. (This is, of necessity, a pathetically brief overview of these origins and currents.)
More to the point regarding the German strand of Marxian socialism, which has arguably been the most influential strand, Gareth Stedman Jones writes in his introduction to the Penguin Classic printing of The Communist Manifesto the following perspective (emphasis added):
[W]hat became of Marxian socialism in Germany in the beginning had nothing to do with industrialization or the social and political aspirations of industrial workers. On the contrary, it emerged from debates among radical disciples of the German philosopher Hegel, about what should replace Christianity or Hegel’s rationalized variant of it, ‘absolute spirit’. […] In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels made a successful effort to cover over these religious tracks and to set in their place a socio-economic genealogy appropriate to their new communist self-image. […] In this way, the history of socialism or communism appeared to become synonymous with the emergence of the industrial proletariat[.] […] But despite the Manifesto, socialism or communism was never to become synonymous with the outlook of the ‘proletariat’. The speculative or quasi-religious origins and character of socialist creeds, including that built upon the pronouncements of the Manifesto itself, continued to shine through the laboriously elaborated socio-economic façade. It was not the mere facts of proletarianization that generated the wars and revolutions of the twentieth century, but the experiences of social and political upheaval, shaped and articulated through the militantly and apocalyptic languages of communism or revolutionary socialism. For this reason, historians have rightly likened the passions, intransigence and extremism of twentieth-century revolutions to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. […] The end of communism was not ‘the end of history’, but the end of an epoch in which criticism of global capitalism overlapped with the rise and fall of a powerful and organized post-Christian religion that, in the name of science, addressed itself to the oppressed. (Marx 8-10)
While the toppling of the Berlin Wall evidenced a powerful shift in global politics, that post-Christian religion really only died in the minds of hopeful neo-cons.
What we see in the passions, the verbal and physical attacks, the shouting down, the autonomous zones, the overturning of cars, the smashing of store windows, the iconoclasm, and the all too common disregard for logical arguments and historical facts, has arisen like some kind of religious cult with it own shock troops, whether they be those of the Antifa movement or any number of far-left groups. And this is why we are not hearing shouts for workers of the world to unite, or diatribes on class struggle, or that the proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. Today it’s not about that, and it never really was. Suffering workers were used as a kind of social lever to move the mountain in the past and anti-racism is used today, but the goal is neither of those things in themselves. It’s bigger. It’s a religious war, like it always has been. It is about the total crushing of Christendom, which is the traditional name for Western Culture, and every possible vestige of it. And if you are surprised by the language, the energy, or the global reach of this “movement,” you’ve been living under a rock.
This is why some who say of course black lives matter and are deeply bothered by racism and stories of police brutality, are perplexed by the apparent hijacking of their hashtags by a violent Marxian agenda. Is this what it’s really all about? Are the autonomous zones the way forward? Why do we need to burn down a restaurant or deface a statue of Mahatma Gandhi?
It can be difficult, probably impossible, to separate agendas into neat boxes. The situation is rather fluid, and people are complex, but that fluidity might be to the benefit of those with specific long-term agendas who have been waiting for large-scale crises they can leverage for their own goals — a kind of disaster Marxism, to borrow and twist a phrase from Naomi Klein. The fact is, many see a connection between global warming, massive scale pollution, slave labor, racism, international corporate control, war, police militarization, the 1%, pandemics, the corporate industrial food system, and the continual cycle of governments lying, lying, and lying some more. Add to this the very real existential crisis of the God-shaped vacuum at the center of every single human soul on the planet and it’s no wonder we are experiencing a tidal wave of angst, rage, and fear washing over the world.
I mean, heck, I actually understand and appreciate Greta Thunberg’s anger.
But still, why all the smashing, why all the destruction? Is it a sign of weakness or a felt helplessness? To some degree, yes. But it’s more than that. With Marxian socialism you eventually get Marxism–Leninism. Vladimir Lenin took the religion of socialism and constructed a plan of action, that is, a truly revolutionary position that is not only unafraid of using violence to achieve its ends, it requires it. The goal was not merely to take hold of the machinery of the the state and make it one’s own. And it’s not actually about fairly distributing goods or leveling the playing field or even creating that so-called socialist economy that so many conservatives fear. The goal is to smash the state as Lenin declared. Rise up! Destroy it all, level it all down to the ground, start over. It’s energy flows forth from a complete and utter lack of faith in the Western historical narrative at nearly every level. It’s all dead. Out with it. Of course, Lenin was not the first to think this. In various forms such sentiments have been around for a long time.
But underneath it all is a hatred of Christ and God’s offer of salvation. (And in no way do I mean to equate state power or the sinful structures of authoritarian regimes with the gracious offer of God’s salvation or the never-fully-achieved ideal of Christendom.) I would hazard a guess that the visible riotous element we see in the headlines represents a tiny fraction of a single percent of the total number given over to the socialist religion. In those rare instances when the cameras pull back to reveal the contexts of the riots, they look small and rather insignificant in relationship to the much larger and actually calm urban landscapes. (Which also implies the headline-driving messages we are typically getting are created, in part, by photojournalists eager to sensationalize.) But we do see everyday the evidence that a post-Christendom West has no tolerance for the Christian message. Reactions go from shrugs to eye rolls to snears to hatred to physical violence as though they are attacking devils. The anti-Christian, and far more common anti-Catholic, prejudices are everywhere just below the surface and often out in the open. But of course most people don’t smash bank windows or peaceniks’ skulls because most don’t want to give themselves over to violence or lose their jobs. (When my new neighbor, as he is moving into the house next door and I’m helping him carry in his furniture, tells me point blank that he hates Catholicism, without prompting or knowing who I am, I am both laughing and crying inside. It’s going to be interesting having them over for dinner.) But the ideas of Marxian socialism, without most people even having a clue, are widespread and internalized by a great many from baristas to city council members to Catholic school principals. We were once warned about the “errors of Russia” and now they are normative “self-evident truths.”
Lenin himself stated: “Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion… We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.” (Quote found here.)
Some might say what they see looks more like anarchists than Marxists. And they would have a point. Anarchism will naturally be less organized than Marxism and much of what’s happening appears more like rampaging than organized action. However, while traditional Anarchism and Marxism have often been at odds with each other, there is also much they have in common. Daniel Guérin writes in his book Anarchism, “The anarchist is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man” (Guérin 12).
Guérin goes on to describe the anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner, one of the most important and foundational thinkers on anarchism and, in many ways, the forerunner of our contemporary anarchist mindset. While using numerous quotes from Stirner’s book published in 1844, The Ego and His Own, Guérin writes:
In order to emancipate himself, the individual must begin by putting under the microscope the intellectual baggage with which his parents and teachers have saddled him. He must undertake vast operations of “desanctification, beginning with the so-called morality of the bourgeoisie: “Like the bourgeoisie itself, its native soil, it is still far too close to the heaven of religion, is still not free enough, and uncritically burrows bourgeois laws to transplant them to its own ground instead of working out new and independent doctrines.”
Stirner was especially incensed by sexual morality. The “machinations” of Christianity “against passion” have simply been taken over by the secularists. They refused to listen to the appeal of the flesh and display their zeal against it. They “spit in the face of immorality.” The moral prejudices inculcated by Christianity have as especially strong hold on the masses of the people. “The people furiously urge the police on against anything which seems to them immoral or even improper, and this public passion for morality protects the police as an institution far more effectively than a government could ever do.”
Stirner foreshadowed modern psychoanalysis by observing and denouncing the internalization of parental moral values. From childhood we are consumed with moral prejudices. Morality has become “an internal force from which I cannot free myself,” “its despotism is ten times worse than before, because it now scolds away from within my conscience.” “The young are sent to school in herds to learn the old saws and when they know the verbiage of the old by heart they are said to have come of age.” Stirner declared himself an iconoclast. “God, conscience, duties, and laws are all errors which have been stuffed into our minds and hearts.” The real seducers and corrupters of youth are the priests and parents who “muddy young hearts and stupefy your minds.” If there is anything that “come from the devil” it is surely this false divine voice which has been interpolated into the conscience. (Guérin 28-29)
So much is packed in these three paragraphs. And Stirner was writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Consider blaming parents and the Church on one’s conscience. Or that what comes from the devil is what the Church teaches. Or the need for “desanctification.” Or that we ought to listen to the appeal of the flesh. Or that the youth must be separated from their parents. One clearly gets the idea that Christendom must be razed to the ground, all systems and structures of political and social power destroyed, and that all authority disregarded and attacked if necessary. Words from more than a century and a half ago, and now again words for today.
Two possible questions of many: For those who have been fearing a socialist takeover of this or any other country, do you realize it’s not fundamentally a battle over which form of government or which economic system wins, but that it’s a religious war over whose god wins? For those who believe that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be confronted and eradicated, do you want to align your goals with Marxists and their larger agenda? I believe it would be wise for us to keep our eyes open even as our passions burn for justice.
The destruction of religious and political statues is linked to the destruction of Arby’s restaurants and Starbucks windows. This is not ironic. It’s not merely a matter of eradicating racism and corporations, as though that’s even really possible (though, of course, we must continually fight against sin in all its forms, including racism both personal and systemic), it’s about attacking all that smacks of the state, of Western history, of “the system,” of what has been handed down, of what is bourgeois, of what could be deemed vestiges of imperialism, and especially of what is Christian. The violent actions on our streets today are at a minimum cathartic for some, but many have hope for real change. The roots go back to before the French Revolution, but the modern version, I would argue, though linked directly with the radical 1960’s, find its origins in the internet fueled radicalism of the Battle for Seattle and soon thereafter the Occupy Movement. This is when this new Marxian consciousness we are witnessing began to foment and spread. It’s an old ideology playing out in a new technocratic era, and it’s been staring us in the face for a while now.
Marxian socialism is not dead, rather it is a religion being born again in the hearts of a new generation of believers.
Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics). 1st ed., Penguin Classics, 2002.
Guérin, Daniel. Anarchism. Translated by Mary Klopper, New York, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1970.
I find this discussion posted below wonderful. Neither Jordan Peterson or Slavoj Žižek are Christians, but they are both influenced deeply by classically Christian concepts. In this discussion , which was billed as a debate but turns out much better, begins with each speaking formally for 30 minutes, then each getting 10 minutes to respond to the other’s intro speeches, then it goes into a back and forth series of questions and responses. Both of these men have lively minds and that kind of humility that undergirds the search for truth. In effect what we have here is a modern version of a Platonic dialogue.
I have been somewhat of a fan of Žižek for years and more recently of Peterson — not an unqualified fan of course. In the end, at least in terms of this “debate,” they constitute, or at least lean towards, a kind of Christian balance but, I believe, without the full realization they are doing so. Peterson lays out his path, a kind of stoicism as it were, of pursuing the good life, and Žižek responds with a deep pessimism. My immediate thought was of St. Paul writing to the Romans about how he does the things he ought not to do and does not do what he ought, thus finding within himself the principle of sin acting against him. We might agree with Peterson’s path but find ourselves repeatedly incapable of staying on that path. In this sense the biggest lacuna in this particular discussion, and I believe in both men’s general work about the human condition, is a complete understanding of sin and its effects, though they both seem to have a better understanding than most. Nonetheless, this dialogue between these two original (especially Žižek) and deeply cogent (especially Peterson) thinkers is an incredible opportunity to have one’s mind creatively engaged.
At the 2020 Grammy Awards the progressive rock band Tool won the award for Best Metal Performance with their song 7EMPEST from their album Fear Inoculum. When two of the band’s members came to the stage to accept the award, the first to speak was the tall, blond drummer Danny Carey.
Although I did not see their acceptance moment when it happened, I read that Carey had said a short tribute to the recently deceased drummer, Neil Peart of the mega prog band Rush. Peart was one of the greatest rock drummers in history, a true phenomenon in the music world, and one of my favorite musicians. I first heard Peart play in the early 1980’s when I bought the album “Exit… Stage Left” and and nearly wore the grooves flat joyfully playing it ad nauseum.
Hearing of Carey’s mention of Peart, I checked out Tool, and especially their latest album. I had heard of them years ago, but never really listened to their music, so much of what I write here will already be well known to some of you. I discovered they are very, very good (they did just win a Grammy, and have won others), and I liked the first several tracks a lot. In particular I focused on Carey’s drumming, and he is amazing; a true master of his craft. Part way into the album I decided to learn more about Tool and about Carey.
What I discovered disturbed me.
Danny Carey is a gifted, world class musician. From his Grammys acceptance speech he also seems like a great guy, a loving husband and father, and I would assume he is a kind and gentle man. I have nothing against him and, in fact, wish him all the best. Of course, as a Catholic, I also wish him the grace and mercy of God, things we are all in desperate need of.
But here’s my concern: Carey is into the occult, and it appears he does not merely dabble, but takes it quite seriously — is a practitioner of some expertise. In fact, his father was a master Freemason. Since Carey was a child he has been deeply fascinated with the occult. His drumming is an extension, in a way, of his occult practices; even a way to channel demons. Read his bio below to learn some of the salient details of his occult studies and their role in his music.
Danny grew up in Paola, KS. Relatively normal, an element of mystery was added to Danny’s childhood when one day he spied his father with a large sword conducting a Masonic ritual. Danny would later notice himself performing similar movements when he began playing drums at the age of thirteen. As Danny progressed through high school and then college at the University of Missouri in Kansas City he began supplementing his studies in percussion with speculation into the principles of geometry, science, and metaphysics. A commitment to life as an artist brought Danny to LA where he was able to perform as a studio drummer with projects like Carole King and play around town with Pygmy Love Circus. He would later find an outlet for addressing a fuller scope of his potentials in Tool and another project operating under the title of Zaum. Despite not becoming a Mason or aligning himself with any other school of religion, Danny has maintained his heritages interest in occult studies. Endeavors into this realm have manifested periodically, such as the time he achieved insight into a hidden aspect of the unicursal hexagram utilizing an astral journey initiated through meditation and DMT. Danny then set up his drums into proportions utilizing the circle and square of the New Jerusalem and uttered a short prayer relating to the principles of the ace of swords from the book of Thoth. He then performed a ritual utilizing his new found knowledge of the unicursal hexagram to generate a pattern of movement in space relating to Fuller’s vector equilibrium model. The resulting rhythm and gateway summoned a daemon he has contained within “the Lodge” that has been delivering short parables similar to passages within the Book of Lies. Danny recommends as a device of protection and containment a thorough study and utilization of the underlying geometry of the Temple of Solomon for anyone purchasing their next record.
[Note: This is from 2011 from the band’s website. I could not find or access a more current bio. However, this recent article seems to validate the older bio.]
When I read Carey’s bio I immediately stopped listening to Tool’s album, quickly pulling the earplugs out of my ears. I suddenly felt the need to distance myself from the music and the band. I was mad that I liked the music, knowing that it has certain qualities I find attractive. I had to turn away. But I also couldn’t stop wondering about Carey, who seems like a really nice guy who’s into really dark things. And I realize that I may be the last person to know about Tool and its fascination with the occult.
People are into all kinds of things that are dangerous, foolish, and sinful. This has always been typical of us humans, but I think having and interest into dark things, specifically the occult, is growing by leaps and bounds today. I know that the world is crazy and has little interest in Christ the King. Certainly, many people don’t believe Christ has already conquered the devil. And I know perhaps sometimes we just might have to roll our eyes or shrug our shoulders at some of the things we see. We can’t get worked up over every evil in the world. None of us have that kind of stamina or bandwidth. But the Devil is real. Demons are real. And this is not a little thing.
Specifically, I was struck by two things in the bio above. First, the way he sets up his drums and has played them summoned a demon that is somehow currently active in his playing. Carey say it’s “contained,” but I doubt it. We don’t contain or control demons. Rather, they fool us, and play us, and use us, and eventually abuse us. Second, he recommends that anyone buying their album should have a “device of protection.” This is truly frightening. I doubt Carey consciously intends any harm (I could be wrong), but I believe he is not only playing with fire, rather he has become, and has unleashed, an actual threat to the well-being of potentially thousands or even millions of listeners. His Faustian bargain has won him a Grammy, but the Devil plays for keeps. The Devil wants more than a Grammy. I fear that listening to their album could bring (channel?) demons into one’s own life. In fact, I’m sure of it — and I’m a feet on the ground, level-headed guy.
Demons are real. Demons are truly evil and powerful. Demons ought not to be played with.
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I’ve been curious about women wearing veils at Mass. My family is relatively new to the Catholic Church. Very few women at the Mass (Novus Ordo) we attend wear veils. It’s natural to not want to stand out. Veiling is an entirely foreign concept for us, coming as we are from Protestant-land. But I have to admit, perhaps it’s even a bit strange, that women who wear veils at Mass or in the adoration chapel, somehow appear to me as more beautiful in the moment than those who don’t veil. I wonder why? I find it both odd and compelling.
I want to know more about veiling. My sense is that it’s actually a profound theological fact built into the very fabric of creation, of human nature and natural law, and of the reality of the Church. I believe it may be a natural language giving to us by God, teaching us and forming us. Perhaps when women wear veils before the Real Presence they are more fully complete in some mysterious way. If this is true, then parishes where veiling is largely absent and not promoted are at the very least failing to allow themselves to be taught and formed by this truth given to us by our Creator. At worse, we may actually be sinning by giving in to modernist and false ideas of women, men, the Church, and of Christ Himself. I wonder if the Church should place a higher priority on the practice. I’m leaning to a strong yes.
Why do priest never preach on veiling? Why do they never seek to teach their parishioners on what veiling means, why anyone would or should consider it? I’ve never once heard a homily about it one way or the other. Are they ignorant about veiling? Frightening to speak up? Are they against veiling? Perhaps they believe they are merely being obedient. But I can’t really blame them for not touching the subject if they feel they don’t have to. So, why don’t bishops touch the subject. I don’t know.
I find it interesting that the official Church declaration, Inter Insigniores (1976), states:
But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.
And yet in the passage it references, 1 Cor 11:2-16, it is clear that St. Paul’s reasoning is not from culture but from the very design of creation and natural law. Although he uses the words of handing on traditions, he also argues: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” And again: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” And again: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” And again: “That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.” In each case he argues from non-cultural positions, but rather teaches from the structure of creation, of the very origins of man and woman, and of the angels. I think St. Paul would disagree with Inter Insigniores. What do we do with this? Were the writers of Inter Insigniores “infected” with modernism? Were they worried of the biblical language in light of the rise of feminism? The use of the word “imposed” is interesting. In any case, I can’t say. I’m ignorant on this.
Therefore I’m trying to learn. Below are a couple of videos that I find interesting. The first is more theological, and it starts by looking at veiling broadly (why during passiontide do we veil crucifixes and statues? why ever veil anything?), then it looks at women wearing (or not) veils at Mass. I have watched this video several times now. The second video is more about personal testimonies from those who have chosen to veil.
If you so choose, I would love to know your thoughts on veiling. Feel free to add your comments.
Christ is King. He is the King. There is no other.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’ (Isaiah 45:23)
[F]or it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Christ is king in both Heaven and on the earth. For some time I have been mulling over this remarkable fact. Remarkable because it seems glaringly true that the king of the world today is not Jesus, but Satan. Remarkable because so many Christians today seem wary of claiming Christ as their king. Rather they seek some kind of détente, some kind of peace with the world made of compromises that seem to hide Christ, to downplay or even deny His kingship. This seems to be the way of Pope Francis, who appears to love syncretism and dislikes evangelism.
But I have a growing tension within me. I find more and more that I don’t want to serve two masters. I don’t want to fall into the same old arguments. Instead I want to claim Christ as my king, bow to Him, and give my life to Him as never before. And I want the Church, Christ’s body on earth, His ruling authority over all the world, to stand up and claim its rightful place. This will require martyrdom will it not? Alas, so many of us, so many of the Church’s leaders, are “men without chests.” Perhaps I have been as well.
I do not have an answer, but I am seeking to understand. I do not know what it will look like, or what I will be called to do. At this point I know I am called to serve and support my family. I need to provide for them, so I do not seek to put all that in jeopardy.
The following are five talks given by a traditional Catholic priest. He offers a traditionalist’s critique of the world today, and provides examples of saints and martyrs who have given their lives for their king. I am not yet knowledgeable enough nor mature enough to know if this priest is 100% on target, and as with many videos I present these contain some cultural and social critiques that I’m still sorting through, but I find generally what he says about Christ’s kingship speaks to my heart and mind. I post these here as part of my process to understand and reflect on this important subject, and to better understand what a traditional Catholic perspective might be.
Not all of us can regularly go to Mass in a cathedral of great beauty. Most Catholics have available to them rather humdrum works of architecture for their local parish. But it’s still possible to find beautiful small churches where careful attention to detail and the meaning of form went into their design. And yet, that still relatively rare.
The following video is an excellent look at one of the crown jewels of Catholic cathedrals, Chartres Cathedral in France. This comes from the “Smarthistory. art, history, conversation” YouTube channel. As you watch it, consider how much thought went into this building, and then consider the church where you regularly go to Mass. My point here is not to highlight the great beauty of Chartres compared to the humble local parish, but how carefully the design and the details were thought through and realized in Chartres. Can we achieve such excellence again? And can we achieve something of this in our local parishes? I believe we can and should.
Of course, very few parishes have the resources to build large and lavish churches, but often a church that achieves the right virtue of proper “churchness” is not a matter of resources, or size, or expensive materials, as it is of basic understanding and will. What I mean is that having the right understanding of what a church is and ought to be, and applying one’s minds carefully to its design, even a small church in a small parish can be a work of architecture worthy of worshiping Christ and elevating the faithful to Heaven.
I am surprised at how apparently ignorant so many Catholics are, including many in the hierarchy, about basic church architecture–or seem to be so. Churches are where we celebrate Mass. This is no small matter. Although, perhaps most Catholics are not as ignorance and not caring about such things, believing they are unimportant. However, the church building itself, though not absolutely necessary for celebrating Mass is, nonetheless, the normative place of worship. In it we meet the Real Presence of our Lord and savior, the King of Kings. If we take worship seriously then we should take church design seriously, including for the humble local parish Church. Catholics used to. But we haven’t for some time now. We must again.
I have frequently posted on this and related topics, for example here.
I also love how the speakers in the above video, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, don’t shy away from orthodox Catholic dogma. This is not a video where the information presented has a condescending tone toward faith and believers. I have no idea if they are Catholics or not, but they just say things as though they are relating how Catholics ought to think of these things. I think this is the best way to present something like Chartres Cathedral. The viewer can make up their own mind, but at least one should know what the builders of Chartres believed and what led to make the kinds of decisions they did.
I have also been reading an excellent book, Visions of Mary : art, devotion, and beauty at Chartres Cathedral by Rev. Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion. She is a scholar, photographer, and Episcopalian priest who has come to love Chartres and Catholic history. (I pray she takes the leap and become Catholic–perhaps not easy for a woman who is an Episcopalian priest. She would have to give up some things precious to her.) This book takes a look at aspects that speak directly to the Holy Mother, her role in the life of the Church, and how Catholics (especially in times past) think of Mary. It does so by focusing and meditating on specific details of the cathedral. This book makes me want to go to Chartres and spend some significant time with the Cathedral, taking pictures and making sketches and just attending to it.
As I see it, architects should look at Chartres, and similarly excellent Catholic churches, as inspiration to how they should think about church design in general, and then apply that understanding to every Catholic church building, even the most humble and simple of churches. I also believe the faithful should know these things too, being encouraged in the faith, but also demanding churches actually be Catholic in their designs.
Of course, church design tends to flow from intended use, thus a church designed to serve the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass will necessarily look different than one designed to serve the needs of a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why, when the Novus Ordo was promulgated, so many older churches had their altar rails removed, altars brought closer to the nave, and other changes because the Novus Ordo felt wrong in a traditional space. And this is also why the Novus Ordo still feels out of place in a traditional church even after those kinds of changes have been made, because arches, stained glass, cruciform floor plans, and other harder-to-change elements don’t fit the New Mass. The contemporary modernist church needs a more Protestant style, entertainment hall. Thus, it’s more than merely the architecture that often needs to change.
Postmodernism has been a common term for at least three decades. Because of that fact the term modernism may seem to refer to a thing of the past. Modernism has also been used to describe certain concrete developments in the history of art, architecture, literature, and other areas of human creativity. Thus we can speak of modernism in architecture with specific start and end dates, preceded by pre-modern architecture and followed by postmodern architecture. But in the area of ideas it is different, especially in relation to theology and Church history.
Modernism began before the industrial revolution, really earlier with the Protestant Reformers and the embracing of nominalism, and it continues today. In fact, it is so pervasive that one can fairly say modernism is the defacto set of beliefs held by most people, including most Christians. Sadly, I am a modernist in many ways, not because I want to be so, but because it is the ocean in which I swim and its tenets and presuppositions have become second nature to me. In fact, I don’t really see them, and when they are made evident to me I am often surprised. Thus, I have been digging into modernism with the purpose of eradicating it from my life and faith.
I also believe it can be argued that, for the most part, when we look at the Church today what we see is largely a modernist institution rather than a truly Catholic one. Whether that argument can be adequately countered I do not know, but I do think Catholics are very often unaware of modernism and its effects, and thus, because of modernism’s allure and its malleable nature, we are inclined to accept its ideas into their understanding of the faith. In short, modernism appeals to the natural “bent” of human nature, and is thus appealing to all of us if we are not on our guard.
Below are some excellent lectures and discussions on the topic of modernism. Each covers much of the same territory and terms, but each is also different and together they help form a complete picture. For those who love the Traditional Latin Mass, the first video is especially excellent.
Although understanding modernism, including where it came from, what it is, and how it has affected the Church, is an important task, Catholics are then faced with the question of what to do now? How does one combat the leaven of modernism within the Church?
Question: If modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, was significantly at play during Vatican II, and if it clearly influenced the formation of the Novus Ordo Mass, and if the so-called spirit of Vatican II is better called the spirit of modernism dressed in Catholic garb, and if the papacy of Pope Francis seems to be a thoroughly modernist papacy, then what are orthodox Catholics to do?
Is this a good church? Does it properly serve the purpose of a church? Many would say no. In fact this church is frequently presented by traditionalists as a prime example of terrible church design. Why?
Michael Rose had some thoughts on this topic. The basics are presented here. In short, the idea is that there is no journey towards God, from the profane to the sacred, in a round church design. It is, rather, made for a celebration of community and not the Eucharist. Though perhaps providing excellent acoustics for singing prayers, it is arguably not designed for proper worship in terms of offering sacrifice by a priest to God on behalf of the Church. Of course, in our Novus Ordo world which is focused more on the “people of God” in communion with each other more so than on the Bride of Christ worshiping God, many would argue with this argument. A round church, one supposes, serves better the idea that the faithful are gathered around a table for a meal.
Also, the church was completed in 1962, before the council had done anything, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated. These architectural ideas had been around for some time before the council.
Perhaps what I found most telling in the video linked above is the moment when Fr. Timothy says, “neither the architect nor we knew what we were doing.” I find this particularly emblematic of that era. It was a time when so many felt the strong need to throw off the past and create the future, but then discovered they didn’t know what to do. It made me think of this famous passage from G. K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
There’s nothing wrong with asking if the way we have always built churches is the best. There is nothing wrong with exploring other possibilities. But, at the end of the day, we always discover our experimentations come from someplace, and the more we are unclear in our own minds the more likely other forces, spiritual or otherwise, will rule the day, and us. My take, and this applies to the “spirit” of the council and all that means, is that a great deal was done, including a great deal of destruction and deformation, because people had grown tired of the old ways and of old things. And I believe they grew tired because they ceased to truly know what they meant and what they were for.
Nonetheless, I pose the question: Is this a good Catholic church? Is it a proper design for what a Catholic church is meant to be?
Below is a time capsule Mass celebration in the church made for television:
I may be somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand I am an advocate of Traditional Catholicism, including Traditional Catholic architecture designed to serve Traditional Catholic worship. (If you search through this blog you will know this.) On the other hand I love much of modern architecture. I love many buildings that many others do not like. I grew up in a modernist house, I studied modern art and architecture in college, and I have been a fan of early twentieth century and mid-century modern art and design. With this in mind, I found this lecture about one of the more famous (infamous?) modernist churches to be quite fascinating, not only for its informative content, but also because the lecturer gives a highly (almost ecstatically) positive perspective on exactly the kind of church design many would deride without hesitation.
This lecture below is by monk, educator, and artist David Paul Lange, OSB. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, this is an excellent overview of modernist principles in architecture, especially at the mid-twentieth century point, and why it made sense to people at that time to build a church according to those principles. It is also an excellent “unpacking” of the design, and the ideas behind the design, of a particular church, the Saint John’s Abbey Church:
I find Brother David Paul Lange’s speaking style to be a bit too breathless for my tastes, but he is a great evangelist for the modernist perspective in architecture, and for this church. But I have some questions:
Is his understanding correct about both modernist architecture and his interpretation of this church? I think absolutely.
Is this church a good representation of modernist architecture? Yes.
Is this church worthy of praise? As an example of modernist thinking, yes. As an example of excellent construction, yes. As a place for worship, you tell me, but I think no, at least not within a proper understanding of ideal Catholic worship.
Therefore, does this church represent a different ideal of worship than traditional Catholic worship, I think so. But you tell me.
Notice a few things:
He speaks of praying more than worshiping. This makes sense given this church is for a monastic community which is focused a great deal on prayer, but it is also significant. The focus is more about the nature and needs of praying than offering a sacrifice to God. Praying in a church is a good and normal thing. However, prayer is a part of worship, but not the only part. Many spaces can be prayerful. Only specific kinds of spaces serve the needs of worship.
He speaks a lot of his own feelings. In a sense this entire talk is an explanation of his personal experiences of this church, and his feelings during and about those experiences. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point, but as a Catholic would it not be better to also foreground the Body of Christ as a corporate entity a bit more? In that sense he would then speak more of the nature of man in general and his relationship with God. And then tie it back to this church and how it functions.
This is more about a “modernist space” than a church (hence the title of the lecture), even though it is a church where the Eucharist is celebrated. He points out the way the outside comes into the church interior, reminding those inside of the connection with nature, what time of day it is, what weather is outside, etc. In this sense I gather the space functions a bit like stepping into a forest and praying. I like this in a sense, but when I think of celebrating Mass I wonder about the idea of Heaven on earth and the traditional way churches close off the outside world and creating a space that is more heavenly than earthly.
He speaks of the honest use of materials, and how older churches seem dishonest somehow, using paint to create false impressions and faux marble, etc. This is a particularly important part of the lecture. I too love the modernist focus on materials. I also don’t believe such focus is necessarily bad for church design, but a church interior should be (traditionally speaking) a kind of three-dimensional icon of Heaven. Rough, earthy materials that evoke nature have their place, but they should serve a heavenly image, no? Here’s something I might explore in another post, but consider this: Is not a statue of St. Michael (for example) fake because it is not actually St. Michael? Same for the Holy Mother, etc? Would not any church that aspires to create a sense of the heavenly liturgy within its walls be a dishonest use of materials? Maybe. But perhaps that’s a “dishonest” use of the word dishonest.
The bell tower, he argues, with its horizontal lines, points to (or mirrors) the horizontal earth rather than to God. He claims it reminds him that God is everywhere and in all things, and perhaps that’s a good reminder, but this is a curious claim and raises the question, in my mind at least, what is the purpose of a church? To call us to the earth or to call us to Heaven? Do we not minister to each other (horizontally) because we have first sought out and worshiped God–a vertical action? If we do not begin with the vertical does not our horizontal orientation eventually become skewed?
He also mentions that the population of monks used to be 350, but now are only 150. They don’t need such a big church anymore. Only by way of correlation, but still interesting (and troubling): They commit themselves to modernist ideas, they build a modernist church to symbolically represent that modernist spirit, and not long after they lose 60% of their members. Apparently modernism doesn’t need monks. Perhaps modernism doesn’t really need man either.
At the end of the lecture, just before questions, he jokingly apologizes for going a bit long and keeping the Downton Abbey fans from their show — a show whose popularity arose from a longing for an earlier time, represented, in part, not by modernist architecture, but very traditional architecture, and clothing, and customs, etc. Will future generations swoon over the modernist mid-twentieth century in the same way? Perhaps Mad Men did some of that, but that is an awfully dark show.
The first question at the end, by another monk (I believe), is exactly my question, and worth the time for watching this lecture. I have never been in this church, so I have no way of saying what my thoughts would be, but I also wonder if such a place is naturally conducive to prayer, or liturgy at all for that matter. And I truly get the experience from having studied art and swooning over art that others think is stupid or meaningless. And I also find the questioner’s reference to the new cathedral in Los Angeles being obvious a place of prayer puzzling, since it also has been roundly derided for its modernist and non-Catholic design. The answer to his question included: “Do people get modernism? I think the answer is no, by and large,” and “Until I explain this…” In other words, modernist art and architecture requires explanation in order to appreciate it. This is one of the attractions and weaknesses of modern art. I have experienced exactly that feeling of “getting it” after studying it. And yet, I think this may be why modernist architecture is not a good choice for Catholic churches. He also says we are not actually living in a “modernist” society. In terms of art and architecture this may be true specifically in light of design principles–modernism, from an art historical perspective occured at a time in history which is now past. However, the spirit of modernism as a philosophical and theological undergirding of society and the Church is still very pervasive. How modernism in ideas and modernism in design interrelate is a fascinating topic too big for this post.
In the end I find the Abbey Church a beautiful and amazing space. However, I do believe it is probably best suited as a performance space than as a church. I would not advocate a church being built along these lines. Rather, I think we should be informed more by the needs of the Traditional Latin Mass with its focus on God rather than man, uniformity with the Church through history, and creative use of new and old materials that look to the past for inspiration and the future for permanence and authentic timelessness — which can only be done by beginning with a true understand of both God and man.
Finally, I wonder if much of the problems with using modernist design principles and materials for Catholic churches could be solved if the liturgy was the Traditional Latin Mass. In other words, imagine if Vatican II never happened, and the Novus Ordo Mass never promulgated, could churches have been designed in somewhat contemporary and modernist fashion and still fulfill the needs of the TLM? Can architects build “honest” churches and still be Catholic? I think so. But also keep in mind that the St. John’s Abbey church construction began on May 19, 1958, and lasted until August 24, 1961 — well before the council even began, and long before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.
If you want to know a bit more about the architect Marcel Breuer:
If you want to know a bit more about the building of the church:
I have often heard the defence of the Novus Ordo Mass in terms of it’s being valid. As though all that needs to be settled is whether a Mass is valid and then all is good. Validity is truly important. Flee from invalid Masses. I believe the new Mass is valid. The Church says it is and I am bound to accept it, and I do. I have concerns related to its validity, which I wrote about here. But I doubt anyone should take my concerns all that seriously. However, this lecture below by David Rodríguez gets closer to the heart of the matter of what, I suppose, I was really trying to say. For the real issue of the new Mass is not a question of validity, rather it is about the efficacy of grace.
[I have previously posted another amazing lecture by David Rodríguez, this time about the Mass and its relationship to the message of Fatima, here.]
Always, but perhaps more so now, we should be choosing those things which draw us closer to God, and which bring about the grace of God most fully into our lives. We must drive away sin, and root out evil, and cast off the world, and with passion and tenacity turn to Christ, bow before Him, and worship God with utmost reverence. If we fail to see the spiritual battle that surrounds us then we may find ourselves outside the refuge God has provided. And the winds blow strong across that wasteland. David Rodríguez argues that the refuge God has provided us is the Traditional Latin Mass. This does not mean the Novus Ordo cannot be celebrated with reverence, or that God’s grace cannot work through it (which it often does in individuals’ lives), but if one can have more or less grace available, why choose the lesser? Listen to this lecture and decide for yourself.
The Israelites became nervous. Moses had been too long on the mountain. The people lost patience. They worried. They felt God was distant. They turned to Aaron and he made an idol and presented it to the people. They worshiped the Lord via this idol.
Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:5a-6)
Aaron, because of his role and authority as priest declared this false worship as valid and licit. He made the idol, he declared the day a feast day, he gave the people what they wanted and, one has to assume, the kind of worship they were familiar with in Egypt. But God was not pleased. Through Moses God brought judgement upon the Israelites. God was even ready to utterly destroy them with fire. Remember God is willing to do this.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10)
Keep in mind the people were worshiping God (“Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord”), not some other god, at least in their own minds. What they did was invent a religious expression of their own making, including a false depiction of God. They did not wait for God to reveal both Himself and the proper form of worship. They did not trust that God would provide the worship He demanded. They were in the wilderness. This event has haunted the Jews ever since, always in their past as a kind of specter reminding them of God’s will and the importance of true worship to their Creator.
At some point in the relatively recent past the people of the Church (laity, clergy, and religious — but mostly the episcopate and theologians) began to turn away from “the way” God had given them, perhaps feeling that He was distant, feeling the old way wouldn’t work in the new age. Perhaps they grew impatient. Certainly they were in the wilderness of the modern age. Evidence shows their faith had become, like with nearly all Christians, increasingly feelings-based (the modernist turn) and they wanted a new Pentecost — something that would speak to them in their own language. It could be argued they felt could no longer trust in the old Pentecost, and that the Church needed a new and different Pentecost for the new and different man of the modern age. So the Church took things into their own hands. A Pope called a council and the people of God fashioned a new way to worship.
I have heard it described that this Pope hoped to create a new Pentecost, which sounds to me like a kind of “conjuring” of the Holy Spirit (some might even dare to say this is probably not so far from something like witchcraft, right?) Is that too strong a way to describe it? Perhaps, nonetheless no one can control the Holy Spirit. And man does not change. But I want to be cautious here. It’s easy to get emotional and carried away with interpretations and judgements about the Second Vatican Council, or “spirit of Vatican II,” or the new Mass. It’s easy to fall into conspiracy theories and the like.
“Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.” (St. Pope John XXIII, 1962 prayer in preparation to opening the Second Vatican Council.)
So, what we got instead of a new Pentecost was the new Mass, and the so-called Spirit of Vatican II, and destroyed and whitewashed churches, and staggering losses of Catholics, including clergy and religious, fleeing from the Church. We also got liturgical abuses upon liturgical abuses. Innovations upon innovations. Confusion upon confusion, and terrible music. We did not get a new Pentecost. We got the opposite. We got a false Pentecost of a different spirit. Could this be the spirit of Vatican II? In their authority the episcopate declared the new Mass valid and licit. That was their right. It is our obligation to accept that (up to a point). And they will stand before God and answer for their decisions, right or wrong. That is the burden of headship. A burden perhaps some no longer believe exists.
Does this not seem a fair understanding of the past seventy-five years? Have we not corrupted ourselves as the Israelites did at the foot of the mountain? Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. I recognize these words are very strong. Who am I anyway to judge those who came before me, whom the Church raised up to positions of authority? My desire is not to actually challenge anyone, but to ask questions in light of profound troubles that have plagued the modern Church.
Here is a question: At Vatican II, and especially with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, did the Church turn aside quickly (it all happened so utterly fast) from the way which God commanded them (the Traditions handed down to them, given to them, received by them), and did they make for themselves something new, akin to a golden calf? Do they not again and again claim that the Novus Ordo is both valid and licit? But why do they need to continue repeating that? Does the Church sense something is not quite right about the whole affair? Could it be that, while the episcopate can declare it so, they cannot, in fact, make it so? I’m no expert in this, so I can’t say, but I do wonder. Regardless, have they not put the Church in a terrible, terrible bind?
I once wrote: “It has become increasingly clear to me that most of the changes and innovations of the Novus Ordo era were promulgated not by men who loved the Church and thought they knew a better way, but men who hated the Church and sought to destroy it.” And for that I was publically called a blasphemer for speculating on the motivations of those men. Am I? I don’t think so, but someone does.
Questions upon questions. I am not a sedevacantist. I will still regularly attend a Novus Ordo Mass and go to the TLM when I can. I accept the Novus Ordo as valid and licit because if it’s not, then condemnation will fall on other’s heads and not mine. My desire is to be true to the Church, an obedient son, to honor what God is providing for me. But I also work towards changing it for the better from the inside through prayer. I pray every day for a renewed sense of holiness in the Church, and a return to right worship, and a proper anthropology. I pray every day for the Pope. And I have hope change is coming for the better.
I believe the Church is, in a sense, haunted by the Golden Calf. It is haunted by the fear that the Church took a wrong turn 50 years ago regarding its worship. If lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is true, then we can work backwards and say the life of the Church today is the result of the beliefs it holds, and those beliefs it received from the way it worships and prays. Look at where we are and then trace it back to the roots. If you don’t like what you see today, then trace it back.
God was merciful to the Israelites. He did not destroy them, but disciplined them severely such that they would turn back towards Him, and they did, and then they didn’t. We know that God disciplines those whom He loves. He had to discipline the Israelites many times, and similarly He has disciplined the Church at various times. I know He has disciplined me.
So, are we a stiff-necked people? Is God disciplining us? Will some be consumed by fire from Heaven? Yes, for sure, and we were clearly warned by our Lady at Fatima, and all the related appearances and messages given to the Church. We have most certainly been a stiff necked people. And God has looked upon our iniquity.
Now is the time to destroy the Golden Calf, to remove all false worship and wickedness. Now is the time for a contrite heart, for penance, and for right worship. This means we must, as a Church, identify the wrong worship in our midst. We must call out the Golden Calf for what it is and destroy it or it will destroy us. Go back to the root and pull it out. Root it out from our hearts and from our parishes and from the Church. Are we a people willing to do that?
I recently posted some videos on the topic of sedevacantism. Please know I am not a sedevacantist. Still, I do find this somewhat of an interesting topic, and for some it’s particularly timely because of a plethora of criticism of Pope Francis and the current state of the Church. I imagine the sedevacantists are having a field day with all of the scandals, and perhaps getting more inquiries than normal.
John Salza is an author who has taken on the sedevacantists. Here is a two-part interview he gave to Brother André Marie on that topic, which I think is pretty good.
Again, I know very little of sedevacantism, and I’m no canon lawyer, so a lot of this is over my head. My take is to generally dismiss the sedevacantists as crackpots, but I can’t entirely deny some of their concerns, and I assume many of them have some integrity. But I just can’t accept their position. Salza and Siscoe, co-authors of the book True or False Pope? Refuting Sedevacantism and Other Modern Errors, have been challenged by a number of sedevacantists. I have not really examined those challenges, but you can find them online. However, me sense is that those challenges are likely rather thin or outright silly.
The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre never gave into sedevacantism speaks volumes regarding the sedevacantists’ claims. Even when Lefebvre stood in strongest opposition to Rome, he always believed the Pope sat on his chair.
I continue to find examples of how one might connect the message of Our Lady of Fatima to our current day. Here is Fr. Michael Rodríguez, a very traditionalist priest, providing his understanding on this topic. As I have said before, I am in no position to truly judge what he says as being true or false.
But I must be honest and say that I believe what Fr. Rodríguez says makes a great deal of sense to me.
Also, I’ve said this before, but I find it somewhat funny and predictable that the more ardent and conservative (or some might say bordering on “conspiracy theory” vibe) the message the more the aesthetics look forced and unintentionally humorous. Do we really need the smoke/clouds blowing behind him? Still, after a while one just forgets all that and tunes in to what he says. Who am I to judge anyway?
Here is a great lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I suppose a brief (and poor) summary might be: While the core essence of the Mass is Christ offering Himself on our behalf to the Father, all the other elements of the Mass are also important because it is through the “accidents” of the Mass that we have access to the “substance” of the Mass. This is true not only for the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation, but everything else, the smells and bells, kneeling and genuflecting, chant and prayers, etc.
His lecture is perhaps a bit technical, but still easy to follow, and worth the listen. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I myself have been interested in this topic, especially the physicality of worship, for some time. Three years ago, after I had begun to make a more concerted effort to pray in the morning, I wrote on the physicality of faith. And more than four years ago I wrote a piece on reducing faith and worship down to some absolute minimum, which I called an inhuman experiment.
Seems to me that one can swing a sock filled with manure in a crowd of Catholic traditionalists and eventually hit at least a couple of sedevacantists.
I am not a sedevacantist, and I don’t believe I will become one — I pray I don’t. I lean towards the traditionalist camp, but even then I’m not fully a traditionalist. However, I am curious about the sedevacantist position. I hear this term frequently, especially since I’ve become curious about the traditionalist position. What is sedevacantism and why would someone go there? And what are the arguments for and against the position?
Below are some interesting videos on that topic. By no way do they represent an exhaustive take on the subject. I present them here merely as a way to broach the subject. I lean strongly to the side that says the pope is the pope, good or bad, and our duty is to show appropriate obedience, even if is a struggle. But I find each of the arguments have at least some merit, more or less, for various reasons. (I must say this topic is a complete rabbit hole of endless videos, websites, and conspiracy theory arguments.)
I agree with the video above, in that we should learn more about what sedevacantism means.
Below is a curious artifact. This is a “film” in the pro-sedevacantist camp. If what it presents are actual facts, then what it presents is truly troubling. On the other hand, it feels like a bunch of speculations and dubious claims strung together as facts by some conspiracy theory nutters. And it’s “style” is exactly what one would expect from a group of crackpots living on the fringe any social group. As an artifact it is interesting just for that. BUT… I think it is still worth considering for several reasons: 1) If it is true, then we should know these facts, 2) If not entirely true, it still represents what a number of Catholics (who are trying to be faithful, but may be apostate or nearly so) believe, and it is good to know what these folks believe, and 3) If it is patently false, then at least we can know what crazy ideas not to believe.
Still, I am a bit troubled by this video:
Perhaps someday more facts will come out and we will have a clearer picture of what happened in those conclaves. Honestly, the deeply troubling actions on the part of cardinals and bishops regarding the sexual abuse scandals on many levels that we are daily discovering makes believing in the evil shenanigans of yesteryear more plausible in my mind. It’s become less and less far-fetched to believe in the work of the devil in the Church throughout much of the 20th century.
God come to our assistance.
The perennial Catholic Answers team on more that one occasion has taken on the questions of sedevacantism. Here are a couple of responses from their shows:
I like Catholic Answers. I am not convinced by their answers here. I don’t think they are entirely on the wrong track, but I believe there are decent rebuttals to their answers. I don’t see the “gates of Hell” argument making a lot of sense here. And I don’t see the sedevacantists saying the gates of Hell have prevailed. We’ve had troubles in the past, we will in the future. I think the stories of Job and of the Babylonian captivity can both be seen as images of suffering individual Christians as well as the Church as a whole can and will experience. In both cases it would appear that God had deserted his people. None of this says that the gates of Hell will prevail. God did not abandon His people. Also, every time a pope dies the chair is empty. Sometimes the chair has been empty for years. So I think the Church can suffer through without a pope for a time.
But is it now? I doubt it. Could I and Catholic Answers be wrong? Yes.
The following video is perhaps the best answer I’ve heard from a sedevacantist on the “proper” stance that a sedevacantist should take. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a proper stance, but if there is I think this might be it:
Finally, I think this homily below perhaps says it best. Sedevacantism can be very alluring. It is a temptation to anyone who is very bothered by the fallout since Vatican II. It is a temptation to anyone who struggles with our current Holy Father. It is a temptation while in the midst of the systematic promotion and support for sexual perversion and predation on the part of priests, bishops, and cardinals. How could a good God allow all this to happen? Well… God has always allowed a great deal of evil to trouble His people at one time or another. But God is good. His will be done. Let us not fall into pride.
Still, I am curious about the whole Cardinal Siri story.
John Vennari was the editor of Catholic Family News from 1994 until his death by cancer in 2017. Here is one of his last lectures before he died. According to his obituary, “John Vennari’s single mission was to teach people how to recognize and resist the pernicious errors of Modernism, especially since Vatican II.”
I found in this lecture a great overview of the history from a Catholic traditionalist perspective of how we got to where we are today, and providing key insights as to how we should understand Pope Francis’ papacy past, present, and future. I’m am very curious about the traditionalist perspective. I don’t really know where I stand on all of it, but it is fascinating. As you will see, Vennari was no fan of Pope Francis. However, this really isn’t about the current Holy Father, rather it’s a much bigger story, in which Pope Francis plays one part of many. You may agree or disagree, but I hope you are encouraged by considering the complex and rich way the history of ideas has played out, for better or for worse, and how your prayers can become that much more focused.
The video is presented by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that has a complicated relationship with Rome, and with which I am not associated. Increasingly I find myself having strong traditionalist sympathies, but I don’t (yet) consider myself a full-blown traditionalist, and I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. But I do pray every day they may become fully reconciled with the Church. Until then I keep them at a distance. Nonetheless, I appreciate this lecture and others they have made available.
In 2002 a story that broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Most of the victims were boys and young men. Since that time many, many more stories have surfaced. The Church has paid out millions upon millions of parishioners’ dollars to victims. Church attendance numbers continue their precipitous decline. Bishops do very little, and frequently appear tone-deaf. The laity continues to cry out for more to be done, for actual repentance, for actual consequences, for any kind of actual acknowledgement of guilt and visibly genuine contrition on the part of the hierarchy.
Years of stories, years of tone-deafness, years of little action. Years of wondering: “What is the Pope going to do? How serious does he really take this? When is he going to say something?” And really everyone is getting Catholic sex abuse fatigue.
We also now know that in early June at the Honduran bishops’ conference, a letter, written by 48 (out of 180) brave seminarians, was circulated accusing widespread sexual abuse. After the letter was read aloud at the assembly, Cardinal Maradiaga immediately started attacking the letter’s authors. So far nothing of substance has been done.
What does Pope Francis think about all this? One way he is actively signaling his thoughts to the world Church is through his Twitter accounts. Nearly every day he tweets to the world. I assume these tweets represent his deepest concerns, his most important encouragements, and succinct insights of wisdom from Christ’s own Vicar on earth to the faithful and the world. Why else would a Pope tweet?
So I thought I’d take a look.
Here is a little over a month’s worth of recent tweets from Pope Francis, with a couple of newsworthy events thrown in for context:
June 18: “Let us try to express the joy of God’s Kingdom in every way possible!”
June 19: “Choosing to follow Christ helps build a more just, more friendly, more humane society, that is closer to the heart of God.”
June 20: It was announced that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick was removed from public ministry by The Holy See after “credible and substantiated” evidence was discovered that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old altar boy when he was priest in New York. Then almost daily more information spills forth out about how widespread the abuse was with many young men and seminary students, and how it was an “open secret” among many in the Church hierarchy. This information had likely been internally known for some time by the Holy See, as was the scheduled date of the news release.
And then on the same day…
June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” #WithRefugees @M_RSection
June 20: “Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony.”
Interesting tweet considering the day.
June 21: “Praying together, walking together, working together: this is the way that leads to Christian unity.” #WCC70
June 22: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”
June 23: “Let us ask our Lord to help us understand that love is service, love means taking care of others.”
June 24: “Like St John the Baptist, Christians have to humble themselves so that the Lord can grow in their hearts.”
June 25: “Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sadness, emptiness, isolation. It is the source of a joy that no one can ever take away.”
June 26: “Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture.”
June 27: “We are called to assist the elderly, the sick and the unborn: life must always be protected and loved, from conception to its natural conclusion.”
June 28: “Let us pray for the new Cardinals: may they assist me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the good of all God’s people.”
June 29: “Every kind of material or spiritual poverty, every form of discrimination against our brothers and sisters, comes from turning our backs on God and His love.”
June 30: “When we are firmly united to the God who loves and sustains us, we are able to withstand all life’s difficulties and challenges.”
July 1: “I ask all of you to join me in prayer as I travel to Bari on Saturday on a pilgrimage to pray for peace in the long-suffering Middle East.”
July 3: “We receive God’s graces to share them with others.”
July 5: “Do we know how to silence our hearts and listen to the voice of God?”
July 6: “The suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, is an urgent reminder that we Christians must be more united.”
Note: the Cardinal McCarrick story has become daily news, with article after article being published, more evidence being revealed, more stories of abuse and coverup, and social media being lit up by the Catholic faithful asking for the Church hierarchy to respond in a meaningful way.
July 7: “The God of all consolation, who heals the broken hearts and takes care of the wounds, hear our prayer: Let there be peace in the Middle East!”
July 7: “May all humanity hear the cry of the children of the Middle East. Drying their tears the world will get back it’s dignity.”
July 8: “Every occasion is a good one to spread Christ’s message!”
July 10: “You too are like the Good Samaritan when you recognize the face of Christ in those near you.”
July 11: “Europe rediscovers hope when the human person is at the heart of its institutions. St Benedict, pray for us!”
July 15: “Try reading the Gospel for at least five minutes every day. You will see how it changes your life.”
July 16: “May the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany you on your daily journey towards the Mountain of God.”
July 18: “Jesus invites us to build the civilization of love together in the situations we are called to live every day.”
July 20: Vatican press office issues a press release that pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Pineda Fasquelle, a Honduran auxiliary bishop serving a top advisor to Pope Francis, without giving a reason. The reason, as later revealed, is specifically the sexual abuse of a seminarian, but also apparently McCarrick-like systematic abuse and coverup of many victims. Another “open secret” of sexual abuse and abuse of power by someone close to Pope Francis.
Nothing for two days, then…
July 22: “God wants us to call Him Father, with the trust of children who abandon themselves in the arms of the One who gave them life.”
July 24: “Prayer is never in vain: it always brings forth something new that, sooner or later, bears fruit.”
July 26: “Grandparents are a treasure in the family. Please, take care of your grandparents: love them and let them talk to your children!”
We’ll stop there.
I do not mean to be critical of the Pope. Who am I anyway? But I am curious what to think. I have not made up my mind, but here are two concerns:
Although the Pope has many things on his plate and on his mind, it seems rather stunning to me that in light of these rather staggering announcements the Pope has nothing to say about the matter on one his most active communication channels (he has 17.7 million followers on this English language Twitter account alone). I realize he may not want to address the specific stories directly on Twitter, but he has missed more than one opportunity to make serious and meaningful statements on sex abuse, on justice, on reform, on repentance and forgiveness, and more. I feel it would have been better if he had just shut down this account and said nothing. Basically he has said nothing while maintaining his stream of verbosity. This feels offensive to me. But I don’t know if I should be offended. What am I missing?
I’m a bit surprised at the vacuity of many of these tweets. Are they untrue? I don’t think so. They seem theologically sound, if theological is even a word worth applying to them. But are they deep, deeper than a fortune cookie fortune? Not often. Do they represent well the powerful and rich traditions of Catholic thought? Not at all. Do they tend, at times, towards the saccharine and sentimental. Unfortunately, yes. Do they come across as basic, rather simplistic sayings that anyone (Catholic or non-Catholic) could quickly come up with? Yes. In that sense do they seem to be talking down to us, assuming we are simple minded people? That’s how I feel. Is that what the world needs? Maybe. And maybe that’s one more reason I’m not the Pope, or the person running his Twitter account for him.
Here’s what I think is probably going on: The Pope doesn’t really use Twitter at all. He has a team of people who manage his social media. They come up with things to tweet and he approves them. He doesn’t take it that seriously because he doesn’t live in the world of social media and therefore doesn’t really know its power and importance. Therefore he somewhat blindly trusts his social media team (they are the experts, right?) to handle that for him. And social media teams tend to be cautious (which is good) and work from a planned timeline. So, in a sense, while “Rome burns” they are just doing their jobs by following their timeline, not really concerning themselves with current events, certainly not diving into hot topics without clear direction from their superiors, and the Pope just nods his head that the tweets say something he believes and don’t say something he doesn’t like. IF this all adds up to a failing, then it may be more a failing of the Pope’s administration and not the vicar himself.
Still, they are officially the Pope’s tweets. He is putting his name on them.
Basically I’m just curious. I will leave it at that.