April 2011

Spiritual Property Rights

The section of your New Oxford Note “The Extraordinary Ordinariate” (Jan.-Feb.) concerning property rights in the case of Anglicans converting to Catholicism reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend many years ago.

I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I told my Protestant friend about how, during the Reformation, those who turned from Catholicism to Anglicanism or Lutheranism took church property with them. I also mentioned how the aristocracy in Europe sometimes reclaimed the land their forefathers had given to the Church many decades earlier. My friend responded that he thought the latter instance was O.K. He said, “If the descendants were no longer Catholic, it seems reasonable that they should reclaim their forefathers’ land from the Church.”

I said no more at the time. However, a couple weeks later, I said to the same friend, “I have been thinking about the Baptist church I attended as a youth. My parents and grandparents were longtime members of that congregation and I know they contributed a great deal of money to the church over the years. Since I am no longer a Baptist, do you think I could go back and reclaim that money?”

My friend was incredulous. “That’s ridiculous!” he said. “How could you even think of such a thing?” I responded, “Yes, it is ridiculous, but I will tell you how I thought of it. When I told you about how the non-Catholic aristocracy reclaimed land their ancestors had given to the Catholic Church years prior, you thought that was all right. Why wouldn’t it be all right for me to reclaim money my forefathers gave to the Baptist church?” Of course, I was being facetious, but my friend was too flabbergasted to reply.

But really, if those who turned from Catholicism to Anglicanism took church property with them, why shouldn’t those who return to Catholicism bring church property back with them?

Margaret Finley
Long Beach, California

A Sensible Compromise

If Ken Skuba’s polished and well-written article “Whither Goeth the Reform of the Reform?” (Sept.) was meant to stimulate discussion, it certainly succeeded, judging by the numerous letters in the November and January-February issues.

Although I was initially resentful of the anvil-like introduction of the Vatican II changes, over the years I have come to prefer many of the features of the Novus Ordo Mass. I find that the use of the vernacular makes the meaning of the Mass plain and much easier to understand; likewise, with the priest facing the people, the solemn rites of the Mass become clearly observable. I completely agree that the Mass must be said reverently and that any type of showboating amounts to “arrogant and prideful behavior” and is downright sinful.

For a time in the late 1960s, as an introduction to the changes, the Mass was said in the vernacular except for the canon. If this sensible compromise (which retained Latin in the central and most ancient element of the Mass) had been continued, much of the current controversy could have been avoided.

M.J. Stoffel
Seguin, Texas

Death By Neglect

Regarding the discussion of the language of the liturgy (letters, Jan.-Feb., Nov.), the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Sacrosanctum Concilium, states, “Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way” (no. 4).

Among the various rites of the Catholic Church, the group of Latin rites includes the Ambrosian, the Carthusian, the Braga, and some others — and of course the Roman rite, in which we now have two forms of the Mass: the “ordinary” (Novus Ordo) and the “extraordinary” (Tridentine). Perhaps the most distinctive feature of each rite is its language. For the Roman rite, whether it be the Novus Ordo or the Tridentine, the proper language is Latin. But we now have two generations of Roman Catholics who have never experienced a non-vernacular liturgical celebration of their rite, and many of them do not realize that the proper language of the Novus Ordo is Latin. They think that the term “Latin liturgy” pertains only to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

Most of them, not excluding the clergy, think that the two forms presently in existence are the Latin and the vernacular — a distinction that is completely off the mark. Moreover, the vast majority of Catholics, at least those in the English-speaking world, consider the vernacular liturgy, the English Mass, to be far superior and preferable to any Mass celebrated in Latin. The argument always boils down to one issue: the liturgy celebrated in English is the key to “understanding” the Mass; ergo, it is preferable to stick with the vernacular. If we don’t use the vernacular, in the opinion of many Catholics, we will have committed ourselves to an incomprehensible, distant liturgy.

One can pick up discussions and articles that state the same, one way or another, all over the Internet, and many commentators will go as far as to offer some jab such as “no one speaks Latin any more” or something to that effect. The idea that deserting Latin, that giving up on the study of the Church’s language and fostering ignorance of it, might be a negative premise never occurs to most of them.

The pontiffs have repeatedly warned against the danger of neglecting Latin, especially among the clergy. John XXIII stated that students of Latin learn not only to speak but to think (Veterum Sapientia). Pius XII stated that members of the clergy who are ignorant of Latin suffer from a lamentable mental squalor (Magis Quam). The present Code of Canon Law mandates that priests should know Latin very well (can. 249). But all of this starts to get more and more complicated as one delves into the underlying rationale in favor of celebrating the Roman liturgy in Latin. One has to jump through many hoops, so to speak, and face much resistance to arrive at some reasonable arguments.

Recently, I wrote an article for Latinitas, the quarterly magazine published at the Vatican entirely in Latin. It was refreshing to argue in favor of Latin in Latin. All of the clutter normally associated with this issue when approached in English disappeared from the start. If we could only convince Catholics to make the leap of faith and realize that there is indeed something to be gained from our commitment to the language of our rite.

Andrew Meszaros
Miami, Florida

Authentic Dialogue Is Impossible

Randall B. Smith, in his article “Call the Police, It’s an Academic Lecture!” (Jan.-Feb.) about the discord between faithful Catholics and homosexual activists, asks: “Is authentic dialogue possible?” Dialogue between good and evil, or between truth and falsehood, is neither possible nor desirable. We have God’s divine word for it that sodomy is evil. Trying to dialogue about it is on par with dialogue about the truth of the Immaculate Conception or the Real Presence.

Evil people tend to be violent people, but dialogue with even the most civil proponent of evil can lead to only one of three ends: (1) the corruption of the good; (2) a disingenuous claim to respect the other’s opinion while trying to talk him into submission; or (3) agreement to adjourn for drinks, dinner, and a night of seeing the host city. The third end is only for people with big expense accounts and strong livers. The first is unacceptable and, one hopes, unlikely. The second is the most likely, but there is really no point in making believe that both sides are listening to each other and considering each other’s opinions.

Could the proponent of evil be turned toward the good? Not at all likely! Evil is far more visceral than rational. People do evil because it makes them feel good and fulfills deep emotional needs — not because it wins them the senior class prize in logic. Too many people do not think with their brains but with their hearts, their stomachs, or with organs closer to the ground.

The idea that Catholic institutions of higher learning should foster dialogue between good and evil, or between truth and falsity, is a manifestation of political correctness fostered by the twin errors of modernism and Marxism.

The healthy Catholic mind knows that truth and falsehood are, like oil and water, incapable of forming a permanent mixture. But the Marxist mind views the combination of thesis and antithesis as the synthesis of new truth — permanent until a new antithesis comes along. The modernist mind, in similar fashion, envisions the “religious sentiments” of each acting person meeting to form a consensus that will be the group’s “dogma” until new sentiments emerge or new acting persons enter the conversation.

There can be legitimate dialogue about affairs of opinion. But there cannot and should not be dialogue on matters of good and evil, or truth and falsehood. Jesus Christ is the Truth, the Son of the Father “in whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.”

The Rev. Fr. Charles T. Brusca
Boca Raton, Florida


It’s hard to believe that a man is being entirely honest with himself when he writes a letter to the editor to claim that he doesn’t believe in dialogue. People who really don’t believe in dialogue can do nothing but remain silent.

On the issue of dialogue with the Church’s intellectual opponents, let me say this. In his historically momentous “Regensburg address” in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of a “genuine dialogue of cultures and religions,” which he described as being “urgently needed today.” The dialogue of which he spoke on that occasion was Christianity’s dialogue with modernity and with modern Islam. In that dialogue, said the Pope, “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” Why?

“God,” he said, quoting the Byz­antine emperor Manuel II Paleolo­gus, “is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably (syn logo) is contrary to God’s nature…. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

Regarding this passage from Manuel II, Pope Benedict made the following important comment: “I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: In the beginning was the logos. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts syn logo, with logos. Logos means both reason and word — a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”

The Pope continued: “Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: ‘It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being — but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss.’ The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time…. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason,” said the Pope, “that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.”

This is another way of saying that there is simply nothing in the teachings of the Catholic Church that would suggest that we ought to refuse to enter into reasoned debate with those who disagree with us. Indeed, quite the opposite. We have the model not only of Pope Benedict himself, but also of St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Common Doctor of the Church,” who did not scruple at discoursing with — and often learning from — Muslim and Jewish scholars with whom he disagreed.

If Fr. Brusca wants a religion that will not deign to enter into reasoned dialogue with its opponents, perhaps he would find contemporary radical Islam more to his liking. From what I can tell, radical Muslims appear to have an attitude toward reasoned dialogue with their opponents similar to his. Neither his view nor theirs, however, has much in common with the traditional view of the Catholic Church, which has the courage to promote a reasoned discourse (a dia-logos) with her opponents, precisely because of her faith in the power of the Truth, in the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in the unlimited blessings that flow forth endlessly (and sometimes to the most unexpected interlocutors) from the Logos-made-flesh.

Eric Jackson
Coon Rapids, Minnesota

Notre Dame: An Insider's Perspective

Over the past couple years there has been an increasing number of letters to the editor critical of the University of Notre Dame. Many people have deep feelings about the university because of what it represents for American Catholicism. Some have been disappointed by various decisions the university has made. But as someone who has had the privilege to send both of his daughters to Notre Dame and to teach there, I want to reassure everyone that we are still very much a Catholic university. Catholicism suffuses every aspect of the campus, from the Basilica to the Grotto, and within the chapels of every dorm. Eighty percent of our students are Catholic, as is half of our faculty. Notre Dame is still a place where “the Church does her thinking.”

For the doubters, I have a modest suggestion. Rather than judge Notre Dame from afar, pay a visit to the university and see for yourself whether we are still Catholic. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

From our Lady’s university,

A. James McAdams
Nanovic Institute, University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana

Credit Where It's Due

In reference to the “Anty-Christ” entry in the News You May Have Missed (Jan.-Feb.), it would have been appropriate for you to give credit to William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights for asking the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to reconsider federal funding of the Smith­sonian due to the attack on Christianity in the video depicting ants swarming over a crucifix. Your version seems to imply that this event happened more or less on its own. Yet the removal of the vile video in question was due to yeoman efforts on the part of Mr. Donohue, who was also left alone to handle the vicious attacks made against him and the Catholic League by the usual cast of anti-Catholic suspects. Fortunately, Don­o­­hue is an adept and effective counter-puncher. More information can be found in the January-February issue of The Catalyst, the newsletter of the Catholic League.

Ricardo L. Parks
Las Vegas, Nevada

Imagine That

Any discussion of what John Lennon believed regarding religion (“Words of Wisdom from the Walrus,” New Oxford Note, Jan.-Feb.) is incomplete without consideration of his song “Imagine.” Most people believe this song to be Lennon’s definitive statement of what he believed. Among the things he asked us to imagine were “no heaven” and “no religion, too.”

Does that not unambiguously show that Lennon was anti-religion? How else can it be interpreted? Has anyone ever contended that “Imagine” was a parody?

Albert Alioto
San Francisco, California


Based on a reading of John Lennon’s public statements, and presuming his honesty when he made them, it cannot be said that he was anti-religion. In fact, he adamantly denied the charge in a 1980 interview: “People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or anti-religion. I’m not. I’m a most religious fellow. I was brought up a Christian and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables.”

That’s not to say he was a confessing Christian. He could be better described as a dabbler in religions, a syncretist really. In a 1965 interview Len­non said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Moham­med and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” Syncretism, the attempt to blend opposing doctrines, is a dilution, not a repudiation, of religion.

The reason we didn’t delve into the lyrics of “Imagine” in “Words of Wisdom from the Walrus” is because, frankly, the song has been over-analyzed. Nevertheless, how is one to interpret its evidently anti-religious lyrics? As mentioned in that New Oxford Note, Lennon wasn’t big on clarity. He once offered this interpretation of the song in question: “If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion — not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing — then it can be true.”

According to its composer, then, the song isn’t the “anti-religion” manifesto many claim it to be. Rather, what Lennon, ever the anti-establishmentarian, was trying to express was antipathy toward “organized” religion. But, alas, like most of his “insights” into religion and faith, it came out all garbled.

More Fun With Evolutionary Science

I write in reply to David Rost’s questions (letter, Jan.-Feb.) asked in response to John Martin’s outstanding article “The Impossible Wonderland” (Nov.). Martin is right about the improbably fortunate position of our planet with respect to its distance from the sun. Rost mentions seasonal variation in the earth-sun distance, but what really matters is the average distance to the sun. As physicist Gerald Schroeder points out in his book Genesis and the Big Bang, our average distance to the sun at 150 million kilometers varies about three percent annually. Schroeder also estimates that, were the average distance only about seven percent less, water would not condense on the earth’s surface and therefore there would be no rain and no oceans. Martin was quite right to cite this as evidence supporting the concept that blind chance cannot be responsible for the make-up of our universe. This, along with the fine tuning of the universal constants (fine structure parameters), indicates that we do indeed inhabit a finely tuned universe. The tuning of the earth-sun distance may be a particularly delicate one, for geologists have shown that, due to some slight imbalance in the dynamic, the ocean surfaces nearly froze 700 million years ago in a global glaciation that has been called Snowball Earth.

Paul Poskozim (letter, Jan.-Feb.) criticizes Martin for “disguising his scientific ignorance with clever prose.” This is an unfair criticism. Martin articulates important things about evolution that are lost on most scientists. Martin’s reply that “theistic evolution is simply creation under another name” is quite correct. C.S. Lewis emphasizes the same point in his book Mere Christianity.

Although I went on to become a geologist who studies evolution and the fossil record, I have always cherished the things that I learned by virtue of being the son of actors. The main thing I learned, first in an intuitive way but more explicitly over time, is that our human consciousness can never be understood from the perspective of Baconian lumen siccum. As Martin so rightly emphasizes, lumen humidum is the truer light that allows us to “see life in all its music and poetry.”

Martin does grapple a bit with the immensity of geologic time, what we geologists call deep time, although he wisely admits a possible distinction between “creation adagio” and “creation presto.” The Bible never actually specifies the age of the earth, and, after creating time, it might seem rather ungenerous if God had allowed only ten thousand or so years of it to elapse. I think that we can admit both creation by divine fiat and creation by change through time, the latter taking place in the fullness of geologic time.

Saying this concedes nothing to evolutionists, who in the wake of punc­tu­ated equilibrium theory are in intellectual disarray anyway and don’t fully understand the origin of species, let alone the origin of phyla. This is nowhere more glaring than with regard to the Cambrian Explosion (543 million years ago), when most animal phyla appear fully formed with scant evidence of a long, drawn-out Precambrian evolutionary past and step­wise progression of intermediate forms as predicted by the conventional Darwinian theory of evolution by means of gradual natural selection. Darwin was right to be worried about this hiatus in his data set, and his fears have been dramatically confirmed by more recent work in paleontology.

There is much more to be learned in the effort to explain this mysterious pattern of saltational evolution. Rost is right in asking why there is no “continuum of species between ape and human.” It already appears as if the answers might very well be in striking accord with the traditional teachings of our Catholic faith.

Mark McMenamin
South Hadley, Massachusetts

More Fun With Evolutionary Science

My suggestion to David Rost (letter, Jan.-Feb.), who asked for comments to his questions, is to read a current textbook on evolution by an active biologist or paleontologist. One such book is Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R. Prothero (Columbia University Press, 2007). Dr. Prothero is a paleontologist by profession and writes as a scientist, not as a veteran professional writer, and thus the reader is more likely to get the scientific facts straight.

In this book Rost can read about specific examples of evolution currently happening. He will also learn that no modern paleontologist thinks that man or any of the great apes are on the same branch of the evolutionary bush or that evolution is a linear process (i.e., the evidence shows humans did not descend from monkeys or apes). Thus, the notion of a continuum of species between ape and human is a misunderstanding that is common even among educated people. What the evidence for evolution does show is that mankind and the other great apes have a common ancestor, and humans and the great apes are closely related biologically. Pro­­thero documents the hominid fossil record, which shows dozens of human species and genera, all of them now extinct, except for Homo sapiens.

With respect to Paul Poskozim (letter, Jan.-Feb.), who identifies him­self as a practicing theistic evolutionist and sometime scientist, I was surprised by his statement that God “probably stepped in to push the correctly evolved bioorganic molecules into place.” Why is it necessary to start thinking that way? Methodologically, isn’t it correct to accept that a natural process is at work and to allow the natural process to follow its course? As a Roman Catholic who accepts evolution, I learned that “Divine Providence is the plan by which God orders all things to their true end and…not even chance occurrences fall outside the scope of the universal cause” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ed., Our Sunday Visitor, 1991). Thus, God’s plan can work through chance; contingency is part of the design and the two are not opposed to each other, contrary to the belief of many.

Here, then, for consideration, is an outline of how faith and evolution are not incompatible, assuming we do not read the opening chapters of Genesis literally:

(1) The philosophical assumption is that the underlying structure of the universe is mathematical, and mathematics implies intelligence.

(2) Natural processes exist and are discovered and documented only because the underlying structures to make them work are in place and conducive to human understanding.

(3) Contingencies are part of the underlying structure of reality.

(4) Evolution is a contingent natural process and thus falls under divine providence.

Philip Lehpamer
Brooklyn, New York

Back to April 2011 Issue