Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January-February 2014

January-February 2014

The Hermeneutic of Deletion

I read “Two Perspectives on the Third Missal” (Nov.) with great interest. As a retired Latin teacher, I have a somewhat different viewpoint than both Bill Kassel (“Liturgical Triumphalism”) and Rosemary Lunardini (“Deeper in History, Deeper in Prayer”) about the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal currently in use and its immediate predecessor.

The first time I noticed something strange about our late, unlamented Second Typical Edition came after a comparison of the Latin and English text. In the Opening Prayer for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the English version was noticeably shorter than the Latin. That almost never happens, for more reasons than the mere absence of definite articles in Latin. The English equivalent is always longer. I soon realized the reason for that oddity.

The start of that prayer in the Third Missal now reads, “O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray, so that they may return to the right path…” (italics added). This evidently posed a problem for the translators of the Second Missal. The implication that there are people out there in other faith communities — or who are unchurched entirely — who need our prayers for conversion and salvation was indelicate at best and anti-ecumenical at worst.

What to do? As it stood, that text was very difficult to spin successfully. The solution was easy: The translators simply threw out all 12 offensive Latin words (21 in English). It’s not that they were translated inaccurately — they weren’t translated at all!

Could this be judgmental on my part about the translators’ motives? Possibly. But when you have a major committee working on a magnum opus, it is rather difficult to see this as a sophomoric faux pas. Perhaps they saw this as the hermeneutic of deletion. I saw it as a dishonest and petty way of translating, with an ideological bias thrown in. Pope Francis recently went on record disparaging any ministry marinated with ideology.

Admittedly, that may have been an isolated example. A far more frequent idiosyncrasy rampant throughout the Second Missal combined inaccuracy with ambiguity. A good example, among countless others, was in the Opening Prayer for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. We now recite that prayer, “…among the uncertainties of this world [mundanas varietates], may our hearts be fixed on that place [ibi] where true gladness is found.” In the bygone Missal we recited this strange wording for that same prayer: “…help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world.” As if inaccuracy weren’t enough, this version obscured the stark contrast between this world and eternity. It sounded almost like a contradiction of Jesus’ own words about the world’s treasures being inherently susceptible to rust, moths, and thieves (cf. Mt. 6:19).

The same thing happened on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. As we now read a prayer from that day, “O God…grant that…we may use the good things that pass [bonis transeuntibus] in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure [mansuris].” But in the old Missal that prayer was “…help us to use wisely the good things you have given to this world.” Once again, the distinction between now and eternity, with an emphasis on the latter, was lost.

The translators of our present Missal did yeomen’s work rescuing our liturgy from equivocal translations that were justified under the rubric of “dynamic equivalence.” This device tried to add some measure of elegance to a hopeless product, very much like using a beautiful frame for an ugly painting.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to our relatively new Missal. Strenuous pushing against one extreme (freelance paraphrasing) can easily, and in this case did, result in another extreme (slavish adherence to Latin syntax). The cumbersome result is disquieting to some.

One extreme is as bad as another — or so they say. That isn’t always true, and it isn’t true in this case. I would take our present Missal, warts and all, over that earlier monstrosity foisted on us and endured by all of us for so long.

Rev. John A. Finn, O.S.F.S.

De Sales House

Wilmington, Delaware

Perhaps Bill Kassel would be interested to know what Catholic historian Eamon Duffy has to say about the phrase “Lord I am not worthy to receive you,” the loss of which Kassel so laments in his article “Liturgical Triumphalism” (Nov.). This phrase, Prof. Duffy wrote in the British journal Priests & People (Apr. 1996), “is not a translation, but a failure to translate, the Latin ‘Domine, non sum dingus ut intres sub tectum meum.’ In chapter 8 of Matthew’s Gospel, a Centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but, when the Lord offers to come home with him, declares, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.’ The Church puts the Centurion’s words into our mouths at this moment, to emphasise the immense love and mercy of Christ in coming to us in the sacrament ‘under our roof,’ as friend and guest. ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive you,’ however, switches attention away from Christ to us — not his coming, but our receiving. It jettisons any link with the Gospel story, and so turns a resonant prayer into flat sentiment.”

Mrs. M. Miller

Leeds, West Yorkshire

United Kingdom

The revised, centuries-old text taken from the words of the Centurion in the Gospel, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” illustrates the fact that the Sacrifice of the Mass has a secondary aspect of transmitting the teaching of Christ in matters of faith. We are reminded that we have a “soul,” an immortal soul that enlivens our mortal body, one that is different from other creatures around us here on earth and will be reunited with our body at our resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ. We can be grateful that Church authority deemed it fitting to restore the more literal translation of the Latin text — for more than one reason!

Pamela Haines

Martin Correctional Institution

St. Petersburg, Florida

I have a major problem with Bill Kassel’s article. His comments show a complete lack of understanding of the changes recently made in the language of the Mass. To start, he omitted the most essential change: Reverting back to “I believe” from “We believe” in the Nicene Creed. Each person reciting the Creed now joins with all the other parishioners in attendance in acknowledging a belief in what our Lord taught. It is not a community statement but individual statements made in unison. The other changes reinforce this idea as the Mass unfolds.

Following Vatican II, community became a descriptive word of the Mass. We entered the church through the “gathering room.” It was O.K. to continue to talk to your neighbor in the pew until Mass began. What was lost in this process was the awareness that the people had entered the house of God, a place of contemplation and preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Richard Irwin

Pastor Emeritus, Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church

Wolcott, Connecticut

Maybe Bill Kassel attends a church where Catholics actually beat their breasts to what he calls “the three-fold confession of fault for our grievous sins,” but in my experience it’s a rare priest who opts for the new penitential act, and that’s unfortunate.

The revised act is designed to instill a deeper sense of sin in the members of the congregation, hence the confession, “I have greatly sinned.” That and the “grievous” part keep us from thinking that our sins are no big deal. The new form also adds a welcome element of congregational participation in the beating of the breast (see the tax collector in Lk. 18:13 on how that’s done).

When the penitential act was revised, Rome probably had in mind the need to do something to help rescue the sacrament of penance and reconciliation from disappearing altogether in practice. Catholics need to be reminded that they are sinners, and that confession is the remedy. What Rome probably didn’t expect was that the new and improved act would be so widely ignored. The vast majority of priests prefer to use the shorter penitential option (“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”), which has always struck me as the easy way out.

We clearly don’t have a shortage of sin in the Church today, just a reluctance to face up to it. Making the new penitential act mandatory at least once a month would be a big help for all of us sinners.

F. Douglas Kneibert

Department of Philosophy, Veritas Center for Ethics & Public Life, Franciscan University

Sedalia, Missouri

The Mystery of God's "Blood Lust"

I very much appreciated Frederick W. Marks’s article “The Case for a Consistently Pro-Life God” (Nov.), which deals with the apparent change in the “personality” of God between the Old and the New Testament. This is a great mystery, and while Dr. Marks makes a number of good apologetic points, problems remain. For instance, while it is true that, as he writes, “the alleged blood lust of Jewish commanders…is more imaginary than real since…the marching orders…came from God,” the difficulty still remains that God apparently commanded the extermination of every man, woman, child, and beast among an enemy tribe. In fact, this is a greater problem than the blood lust of Jewish commanders would be.

Similarly, while it is true that God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, rather than reprimanding him for his willingness to perform the sacrifice, God rewards Abraham with the promise to send the Messiah through his seed.

And to say, as Dr. Marks does, that capital offenses were prevalent in the Mosaic law because “the ancients had little choice in the matter” since, for example, “maximum security prisons were unknown,” sidesteps the issue. The alternative to capital punishment in those times was not incarceration but corporal punishment, such as flogging (in Judaism) or amputation of limbs (in Islam). Distasteful, to be sure, but a real and effective alternative nonetheless.

I do not know of a full resolution to the difficulties of the severity of God and His punishments in the Old Testament. Part of it resides in the fact that God meets people (in this case, the ancient Hebrews; in our day, us sinners) where they are and moves them forward step by step, rather than all at once. But the fact that a full resolution of the mystery escapes us should be respected.

Roy Schoeman

Naples, Florida

Frederick W. Marks did much of my homework for me, and I owe him thanks. He brought up many scriptural references that I would not have thought of when trying to deal with unbelievers who try to contrast the “God of the Old Testament” with the “God of the New Testament.”

But his article left me wondering: Will today’s unbelievers — by which I mean not just rigorous atheists but the intellectually lazy — find such careful exegesis convincing? Will it do little more than temper their shrillness while leaving them thinking the case for God remains weak because the case for the “God of the Old Testament” remains weak?

Marks mentions Richard Dawkins, one of the “new atheists.” These men (and they all seem to be men) for the most part lack the generosity of mind displayed by many of their predecessors. They need to be answered in ways that accommodate that unfortunate fact.

I am reminded that at the end of his life Msgr. Ronald Knox was working on a “new apologetic.” He had concluded that the kind of apologetics that had been used throughout his lifetime, and that he himself had used, was no longer speaking to the modern mind in a convincing enough way. He didn’t get far with his proposed book, the fragments of which were published posthumously as a booklet called Proving God.

Knox died in 1957, when proponents of atheism were chiefly of the old school, men who might have welcomed Marks’s illuminating exposition and might even have learned from it. I have trouble imagining that the “new atheists” would know what to do with the information.

Karl Keating

San Diego, California


My thanks to Mr. Schoeman for raising some interesting questions. I will take them in the order they are presented.

(1) How does one explain how God, who is all good and all merciful, can order the extermination of every man, woman, child, and beast among an enemy tribe? To Schoeman, this remains a “mystery” that neither I nor anyone else can explain. He has a point. We are up against the problem of suffering. For many, this is the principal obstacle standing in the way of belief, and it is one that I address at length in my recently published book, The Gift of Pain. God’s ways are not man’s ways, and surely there is much that we cannot know this side of Heaven. On the other hand, to fall back on a plea of “mystery” seems to me to be yielding more ground than is necessary. As Christians, we believe that one of the reasons God became man was to communicate with us in a special way. And one can go further. The entire Bible is proof positive that God does not wish to appear inscrutable, which is another way of saying that I believe the explanation I give in my article for God’s orders to Joshua and Saul can stand as it is.

I do not detect any “personality” change in God between the Old and the New Testament, nor can I imagine any. God, the author of both testaments, is God. Jesus threatened His fellow Jews with condign punishment in this world, as well as the next, for mere refusal to convert (Lk. 19:41-44; 21:20-22; and Jn. 8:24, as clarified by 1 Cor. 15:16-20), and what He promised, He delivered. Roman armies put hundreds of thousands of Jews to the sword and destroyed their Temple. The worst fate ever suffered by the Israelites at the hands of an angry “God of Abraham” was the Babylonian Captivity, and this was mild in comparison with what happened in A.D. 70. Living in the 21st century, what do we see? After four thousand years of salvation history, God continues to put His people through the paces. Dreaded diseases lead to painful death, and natural disasters in the form of tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes call people home on God’s timetable. Where is the “personality” change? Since the time of Adam and Eve, we have been born with a death sentence hanging over our heads!

(2) Should God have rebuked Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac? The short answer is no. Abraham may have asked for a reprieve and, when denied, prayed, “Father, not my will but thine be done.” We do not know. Abraham may also have been taught in the land of Ur to regard child sacrifice as acceptable. Again, we do not know. If child sacrifice met the demands of his conscience, it was instruction, rather than chastening, that he needed. And how can we be sure, on the basis of what is known, that he did not receive such instruction? There may have been further conversation between the Lord and Abraham, conversation Moses did not report. Whatever the case, there are times when readers of the Book must put on their thinking caps to fill in missing parts of the story. A tougher question would be why God made such a request in the first place. The answer most often given is that He was testing Abraham’s obedience — much the way that He tested Job’s patience. All one can say for certain is that if there was such a test, the father of the Jewish people passed it with flying colors.

(3) According to Schoeman, my explanation for the use of capital punishment in the Old Testament — i.e., that it was the only practical way to deal with serious offenses — sidesteps the issue because God could just as easily have required corporal punishment. The only problem with this is that corporal punishment was reserved for offenses that were less reprehensible. God could have ordained flogging for every offense, but this would not have removed dangerous offenders from the company of society. That modern man looks more indulgently than the ancients did on certain offenses may reflect a loss of moral sensitivity. Ours is not an age noted for its faith. No one today would mistake men walking the earth for gods, as did the people of Lystra at the time of Paul (Acts 14:11). Trial by ordeal, common during the Middle Ages, presupposed divine intervention, in particular the working of miracles on behalf of the innocent, and such a trial is no more. Who is to say that today’s more lenient and supposedly “enlightened” notion of what constitutes a heinous offense comes any closer to God’s view than that of our spiritual forebears?

I have yet to read anything by Karl Keating that did not give me pleasure. His response to my article on the Old Testament is no exception. But in addition to thanks, I venture to say that we are not likely to convince many “new atheists” of anything worthwhile. Our goal, as I see it, must be to assure the faithful that they stand on solid intellectual ground.

The latest atheist bestsellers have one thing in common: Their first order of business is the trashing of Scripture. And why not? If they can discredit God’s Word, the rest is easy.

As a street evangelist, I know that I am dead in the water unless I can prove, to my own satisfaction as well as to that of passersby who come to me with an open mind, that Sacred Writ is reliable — all of it — specifically that there are no errors except those resulting from the sloppiness of a copyist or translator, and these are easily identified and corrected.

Our friends need to know that Divine Revelation makes sense from a purely human standpoint once one allows for the fact that God’s ways are not always man’s ways. And this, in a nutshell, is my case.

Charles G.V. Coutinho

New York, New York

The Pilgrim Church & Pluralism

Heather M. Erb’s article “The Pilgrim Church & Ummat al-Islam” (Nov.) was full of useful and needed information about the differences in both the origins and historical evolution of the concepts of peace and community in Catholicism and Islam. That said, I wish to query, from an historical perspective, some of her points.

Her statement that, “as a result of the sixteenth-century warfare that followed the Protestant Reformation, the relationship of Church and state was radically altered from the days of Constantine” seems to imply the following series of errata: (1) Constantine the Great made Christianity the “state religion” of the Roman Empire, which is very much not the case. This only occurred fifty years after Constantine’s death in A.D. 337, in the reign of Theodosius the Great. (2) Post facto to the religious wars of the 16th century (and, albeit left unsaid by Prof. Erb, of the 17th century), church-state relations in the West consisted of “a pluralistic society in which many creeds and worldviews co-existed.” Now, obviously, if one is speaking of almost any Catholic country prior to the French Revolution, it is self-evidently the case that none — I repeat, none of them — endorsed, much less encouraged, much less could be said to be a “pluralistic society” where “many worldviews co-existed.” Even in the aftermath of 1789 it was very much not the case that the Church endorsed the liberal idea of religious freedom. See, for example, Bl. Pope Pius IX’s various statements in his Syllabus of Errors (1864). This stance continued until as late as the 1950s when John Courtney Murray, S.J., was silenced for writing a series of articles that overtly endorsed freedom of religion. This is not to gainsay the fact that, since the days of St. Augustine, the Church has recognized a strict differential between civil society and the ecclesiastical realm.

Finally, Dr. Erb’s statement that “by the sixteenth century the normative concept of war in the West excluded war for the sake of religion” ignores, among other things, the Vatican’s organizing the Holy League in 1570 to stop the Turkish/Muslim advance in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the explicit endorsement of the Catholic side in the French religious wars of the 1570s and 1580s, including, of course, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

These strictly historical errata, however, do nothing to lessen the verity of Prof. Erb’s conclusion that there lies a great divide between Islam’s concept of a peaceful community and that of Catholicism.

Thomas Storck

Westerville, Ohio

Heather M. Erb is surely right to point out the difference between Catholic and Islamic thought concerning the relations between the community of believers and the political community. In Islam, as I understand it, ideally there is no distinction between the two, and religious leaders have often held political power. Obviously, this has been a rare exception in Christendom. Nonetheless, I fear that Prof. Erb has misrepresented the historical thrust of Catholic thinking in this area. Until recently, there was no question that the Church considered the best situation to be one in which she enjoyed “the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority,” as Pope Leo XIII put it in his encyclical letter to the American bishops, Longinqua (1895). Of course, it is usually assumed that the Vatican II decree Dignitatis Humanae simply did away with centuries of what seemed to be settled doctrine. But it is possible to approach that document with what we might call a hermeneutic of continuity, and see it as an otherwise uncritical embrace of political pluralism. In fact, the Catechism (cf. nos. 1738, 2105, 2109) seems to interpret Dignitatis Humanae rather differently from the way it is usually understood, and Catholics may rightly consider the Catechism as possessing a greater degree of doctrinal authority than speeches, addresses, and other less formal utterances of prelates, no matter how highly placed.

It was even more surprising to read Prof. Erb’s statement that “Augustine’s famous theory of the two cities…promotes a pluralistic society in which many creeds and worldviews co-exist.” Even if one rejects the understanding of Dignitatis Humanae I suggest above, I do not see how a Catholic can regard pluralism, as such, as a good. Surely we want all men to be Catholics, and then, perforce, we would have a Catholic society, regardless of whether its constitutional and legal documents formally acknowledged that or not. Perhaps what Prof. Erb meant was that Augustine’s theory allowed for a pluralistic society; if so, I would not disagree with her. But unless we abandon or ignore our Lord’s command to preach the Gospel to every creature, I think that we must continue to pray and hope for a society that is entirely Catholic, and even one in which the Church will come to enjoy “the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.”

Charles E. Steer

Clearwater, Florida


Throughout history, various conditions and interpretations of the Church’s rights, authority, jurisdiction, and influence on civil society have existed. Surely the Church today welcomes the protection of civil law and promotion by public authority as part of an ideal situation in which she would help guide the formation of a just social order by way of grace and the proper use of rationality, insofar as laws and public mores impact on the welfare and salvation of souls (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 76). Taking a cue from St. Augustine and St. Thomas, we know that an ordered earthly realm depends on a transcendent understanding of human nature directed to the highest things.

Mr. Storck cites Leo XIII’s encyclical Longinqua (1895), which promotes the Church’s guiding role in society. Concerned with the alienation of the Holy See from secular governments, and with the swallowing of Christian patrimony by secularization (and the “new regalism”), Leo stressed the unified source of the natural and eternal laws, and the fact that these laws intersect in issues that concern the welfare of men’s souls.

Pius XI, in his encyclical Quas Primas (1925), presents Christ’s Kingship in the hearts, wills, and minds of men as the key condition of a flourishing and peaceful social order. While the rights of the Church and true morality must be given pride of place in the governance of a state, Christ’s Kingship is an eschatological reality that validates Christian hope, stirs Christian fortitude, and draws societies toward peace through charity. Whereas states should be ordered by the natural law accessible to reason, Christ is the ultimate guardian of moral and spiritual truth. Further, the exercise of papal indirect power (potestas indirecta) over temporal affairs (defended by Vitoria, Bellarmine, and Suarez) is based on the subordination of temporal life to eternal life, and extended to pagan states’ governance of Christian subjects. Gaudium et Spes recognizes the role of reason in building just social orders and regimes based on the natural law, and the role of the Church as “sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person” (no. 76; cf. Catechism, no. 2246).

As the conclusion of my article indicates, I do not advocate pluralism, any more than a privatization of the spiritual, which stunts the full personal nature of civic life. I do not imply that St. Augustine’s theory of the two cities is a promotion of pluralism, as Messrs. Storck and Coutinho seem to suggest. Rather, the Western distinction between secular and sacred, which the theory helped to form, does permit pluralism as a byproduct of reason and culture. Through the destructive influences of Protestantism and Enlightenment rationalism, today’s pluralistic ideal of “diversity” culminates in an ironic celebration of the exclusively mundane/ordinary, and of the goods that instrumental reason and science can procure for the unfettered autonomous self.

While recognizing pluralism as an historical fact, the Church has not promoted it as an ideal but has rooted the notion of freedom in the dignity of the human person, as bounded by the demands of the common good and our supernatural destiny (Catechism, nos. 1738 and 2109). It can be argued that, not anchored to transcendence, pluralist societies promote neither human flourishing nor meaningful systems of rights and benefits, and are invaded by ennui and the violent, poisonous fruits of egoistic, elitist humanisms (cf. the “cankered and bitter fruit” of “false liberty,” Libertas, no. 32; cf. Veritatis Splendor, no. 32).

Today, the agonistic struggle between the transhumanist dream of Nietzschean self-creative autonomy and a view of human flourishing tied to Christian transcendence careens at full throttle, accelerating the marginalization of Catholics. In a world where most Christians labor invisibly under secular overlords and secularized careerists in their professional and ecclesial milieus, the hope for a legislative promotion of a Catholic worldview, however heartening, is now less a realistic vision than a triumphalist fantasy. Moreover, the embrace of secularist, modernist trends within the Church consigns those faithful to tradition back to the catacombs, far from the false idols of tolerance and respectability that have long cast a spell on traditional Catholics’ “mainstreamed” Catholic counterparts. For many, Christian fortitude (a form of fighting courageously under the banner of Christ the King) increasingly takes the form of endurance in being led to the slaughter, as much as a resolve to attack and defend where necessary.

Until more Church leaders exchange the safety of worldly careerism for openness to that mystic virtue directed toward eternal realities and heavenly security, they remain impure mirrors, not bright illuminators, of pagan darkness. Sometimes fearing that the Church’s ultra-terrestrial ends are mistaken for out-of-touch elitism, infantile piety or anti-humanist denials of human flourishing, many of her representatives cower in a complacency that belies the spouse of blood and suffering, hiding her truths from the glare of public scrutiny. Divorced from the passive purification of the spiritual life, natural political fortitude (in its drive for justice) is not directed to beatitude. As Francis and Benedict XVI’s encyclical Lumen Fidei (2013) states, faith is necessary for the welfare of society — but it must be transmitted with clarity and boldness first among believers, through whose prophetic witness the paradoxes and logic of Christian life attract and compel in a way that vapid secularism cannot.

Mr. Coutinho cites several moments in early modern times in which the Church advocated violent intervention. Here, it is worth noting the Church’s stance on just war. The 16th-century Dominican Francisco de Vitoria promoted the notion that a just war can never be based on religious differences (among other wrong motives), as he discounted Spain’s reasons for warring against natives of the New World (De iure belli). In theory, intervention is justified to curb human rights violations (such as cannibalism). Gaudium et Spes also grounds just-war criteria in reason, citing the “permanent binding force of universal natural law” as their source (no. 79; cf. Catechism, no. 2309).

James J. Clauss

Dunmore, Pennsylvania

Understanding Francis

It seems to me that Pope Francis is less of a dilemma than is suggested by the New Oxford Note “The Poor Misunderstood Pope?” (Nov.). Francis’s words remind me of the liberal leanings of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, whose plea for understanding and compassion thinly veiled a Procrustean attempt to bring the Church in line with secular values by dialoguing about magisterial truths. I do not challenge the intent, conscious or unconscious, of the Pope’s remarks. I simply see no reason to debate their ambiguity when there is a more important issue at hand.

In his America interview, Pope Francis stated that priests are “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” but that “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraception methods.” The observation by Pope Francis is false. It does not even qualify as a verisimilitude. Who are those preaching sin in the present-day Catholic Church? I have not heard them. Did not sin go out of fashion after Vatican II, when God’s justice was put in mothballs as an eccentricity of a raging Old Testament Yahweh? Freudian psychology was invited in to fill the vacuum. It committed God to “anger management” and introduced a more compassionate and plastic doctrine and deity, one more suited to a pleasure-driven culture.

The expulsion of justice from the post-Vatican II Church and the obsession with God’s mercy unbalanced the divine plan of creation and led to disorder and chaos. I am old enough to have witnessed the tragic results of the attempt to rectify the over-emphasis that the pre-Vatican II Church placed on God’s justice. The remedy should have been media res; instead it was ad extremum. The result has been moral anomie. Absolute truths were torn asunder, and subjectivity was enthroned.

Today, the topics of homosexuality, abortion, and contraception are rarely mentioned from the pulpit. Only a minority of fervent Catholics, loyal to the Magisterium, warn the faithful of these moral dangers. Their fidelity to the Church, their love of God and neighbor, is unquestionable. They certainly do not deserve the disparaging remarks made by Pope Francis.

The numerous Catholics who have abandoned the Petrine Church or have adopted a cafeteria approach to her teaching and, above all and most importantly, have rejected Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist jeopardize their souls. If they justify an immoral lifestyle by maintaining that “the faithful considered as a whole are infallible in matters of belief,” as Pope Francis puts it, they are euthanizing their consciences. I suspect that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah perished under that same illusion.

Mary Wlazlo

Casper, Wyoming

Many conservative Catholics were scandalized and many liberal Catholics were exhilarated by the Pope’s September interview published in America magazine, wherein he seems to downplay the importance of sexual morality. In my opinion, neither reaction was warranted.

Pope Francis, who is a humble man and an exemplary Catholic, was merely teaching what Jesus taught when asked by a Pharisee, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:36-39).

Pope Francis was alluding to the second commandment, teaching us that if we truly love our neighbor, the truth and the beauty of all the other commandments will fall into place. To proclaim that love is the greatest virtue does not demean the beauty of the other virtues, nor does it negate the seriousness of the vices.

Earl J. Hinson

Indiantown, Florida

The New Oxford Note “The Poor Misunderstood Pope?” lays out a long series of questions regarding the ambiguity of Pope Francis’s words in his September interview published in America magazine. The NOR editors state at so many junctures that we don’t know, or can’t know, what the Pope means by his words. But this comes off as disingenuous since the editors present many a frothy guess at what the Holy Father might mean — most of them insinuating that we just might have on our hands a very liberal-minded Pope.

The Note makes no attempt to render guesses at what the Pope might have meant (in all his ambiguity) from an orthodox reading of his interview. The editors even suggest that the Holy Father was trying to reach non-Catholics. Are we to presume then that the editors’ interpretations of the Pope’s words were based on what they thought non-Catholics would draw from them?

The editors should try rewriting this Note, with the assumption that the Holy Father was speaking to well-informed Catholics — those he depends on to help him restore the Church, and the world to the Church — and, furthermore, that he was not speaking to the unchurched (though he may well have guessed, not being an unintelligent man, what the fallout might be, given the nature of today’s media and universal access). Now, if he was talking directly to his faithful Catholic children, he might have safely presumed that we did not need to be reassured like dim-witted, timid children that the Church teaches that abortion, homosexuality, etc. are wrong. No, he assumes that we know, in fullness, the grave immorality and damage of these issues, that we have some trust in him as shepherd of the faithful, and therefore that he does not need to restate the obvious.

“All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief” is the Holy Father’s reply when asked what it means to “think with the Church.” It shouldn’t be too hard to guess what the Pope means, considering that he quotes the Catechism nearly verbatim: “The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief” (no. 92). We can grant that to one who is not Catholic, or who is Catholic but uncatechized, his words might not be recognizable, and his source not easily discerned. But let us continue to presume that he is speaking to the catechized — and, one might add, the catechized of less suspicious and stubbornly obtuse minds.

Our editors puzzle over what the Pope could possibly mean by referring to the Church as a “field hospital after battle.” They generously accede that the Pope just might mean what would be the most consonant with the age-honored teaching of Christ as the Divine Physician, and His Church as His “field hospital.” And if indeed Francis does mean this, what is he trying to tell us about how to approach those who have had abortions, who are practicing homosexuality, etc.? He is certainly not saying, “Leave them out in the battlefield to die of their wounds.” And it is equally certain that he is not saying that their wounds are not, after all, serious.

As one more example of the editors’ seemingly intentional misconceptions, they complain about the Pope’s criticisms of the approach of pastoral leaders — namely, bishops and priests — to preaching about the moral topics of the day. If one reads what the Pope says with humility, it can be clearly seen that he does not criticize pastors for preaching about these issues; rather, he is saying that the preaching is wholly inadequate because it is done almost completely in the defensive, such that the Church comes off as one who is backed into the corner and can only repeat ad nauseam that “this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.” Pope Francis says that these issues must be talked about in context and cannot be transmitted as “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” Far from a failure of our Holy Father to address the moral crisis in our culture, his words, when read by a mature Catholic individual with some practical ability to “fill in the blank,” are incredibly profound: His criticism is that chastity, the beauty of marriage, procreation, vocation, the human person, openness to God’s will, and the acceptance of suffering are not being preached. To tell people what is wrong without showing them what is true, good, and beautiful, is like spanking a child for an action when he has never been taught to do otherwise. To take these issues out of context, then, is to talk only about how abortion is bad but not to teach about the beauty of marriage and children, or to condemn homosexuality but not to address chastity. These doctrines about abortion, contraception, and homosexuality come out as disjointed when they are preached or defended because, as the NOR editors well know, what has long been lacking in Catholic catechesis from the pulpit and elsewhere is the fullness of the Church’s teaching on the moral issues of the day. How effective is it to be only on the defensive and only to condemn, when what the clergy have on their hands is a pagan society and seriously uncatechized flocks?

Pope Francis’s words deserve, in justice, to be examined again by the NOR — for what he is saying about our method of catechesis and evangelization is crucial. There are many, the NOR included, who have been courageous and outspoken, but our Holy Father’s gentle criticisms can be humbly applied without the infantile reaction of believing that he is reprimanding our good efforts. He is, after all, reputed to be a humble man, and we may learn from him, for pride is a most prevalent fault among the more conservative and outspoken American Catholic population.

Robert Polito

Woodhaven, New York


Mary Wlazlo quotes the Catechism (no. 92) in much the same way Pope Francis does, except for the fact that, unlike the Pope, Wlazlo gives the citation. Taken out of context, the quotation, “The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief,” is ambiguous and misleading. It’s ambiguous because it is not a quotation meant to stand on its own. Consider the rest of the paragraph: “This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” This is actually a direct quote of St. Augustine, and it is doubtful that even Wlazlo’s idealized “catechized Catholics” are necessarily going to conjure up the context of the Pope’s comments.

Interpreted on its own, what the Pope said in the interview, “All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibilitas in credendo,” suggests something very different, especially considering that Francis goes out of his way to let readers know in the same interview that “thinking with the Church” (as St. Augustine explains) doesn’t mean “only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.” As stated in our New Oxford Note, since the concept of infallibility in the Catholic context nearly always refers to the papacy, is it any surprise that many readers would interpret this to mean that the whims of the majority of Catholics in the pews in “matters of belief” enjoy a certain level of infallibility? This interpretation is given credence by Pope Francis’s follow-up interview with atheist publisher Eugenio Scalfari. In contrast to the understanding of conscience as iterated in the Catechism (nos. 1776-1802), Francis promotes a subjective definition of conscience in which the individual is the sole arbiter of what is good and evil: “Each one of us has his own vision of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and to fight the evil as he understands them.”

Now, some might want to respond by saying that the Vatican eventually took this interview off its official website, where it was posted with pride of place alongside other official papal writings, due to alleged errors in Scalfari’s transcription of the interview. However, it was not removed until it became obvious that much of what Francis reportedly said during the interview was recognized as egregiously flawed from the point of view of basic eighth-grade-level theology. Before the interview was scrubbed from the Vatican website, it was published in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, defended by Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, S.J., and quoted in mass media outlets the world over. This debacle exemplifies the problem with Pope Francis’s ambiguity, his extemporaneous approach, and his reliance on the media to get his word out: This modus operandi causes confusion, misunderstanding, and division. Is it a coincidence that The New Yorker published an adulatory article lauding the Pope’s laissez-faire approach to conscience (“Who Am I to Judge?” Dec. 23) by ex-priest James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews — A History, an appalling diatribe that condemns the Catholic Church as a hate organization? Is it a coincidence that Pope Francis was named “Person of the Year” by the flagship gay-lesbian magazine The Advocate (Dec. 16) due to his ambiguous comments about homosexuality and the Church’s alleged “obsession” with the issue of same-sex marriage? It is instructive to note that The Advocate in the same issue named Timothy Cardinal Dolan as one the Top 13 “homophobes of the year” because he “maintains that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t revised anything about its opposition to homosexuality.” Clearly, the magazine’s editors believe that Francis’s “big heart” approach translates into condoning homosexual activity and perhaps even same-sex marriage. In fact, The Advocate advised Dolan that he needs to “listen more to the Pope.”

So, has Francis been interpreted properly by the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered community? Has the Pope been interpreted properly by The New Yorker and James Carroll, one of the most outspoken critics of John Paul II and Pius XII?

James Como

New York, New York

Why I Weep

I always enjoy reading the NOR, and I pray with an earnest love for all of the donors who make my scholarship subscription possible. Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of St. Peter Damian’s Book of Gomorrah (Nov.) was a balm to my spirit. Due to my incarceration, I may never have the opportunity to read Book of Gomorrah, yet without this review I would have never known it existed or learned anything about it. Here in prison, the sin of sodomy is a casually accepted practice of our subculture. The scathing vitriol that follows when I speak out against this vice is nothing compared to the apparent indifference of others.

What really reached me was the evident love St. Peter Damian had for the sinner. Dr. Gardiner’s thorough review comforts me in knowing that as I weep for these sinners I join with St. Peter Damian: “I weep for you with so many lamentations because I do not see you weeping.” The rest of the quotes she included I find wonderfully inspirational.

I extend my gratitude to Dr. Gardiner, and I pray for the continuation of the great work you all do for the Kingdom of Heaven through the NOR. This publication is a breath of fresh air in my temporal Purgatory.

St. Peter Damian, pray for us!

Carolyn Price

Bloomville, Ohio

Astounding Faith in Times of Intense Suffering

I enjoyed Clara Sarrocco’s article “Invading Russia with Christ’s Love” (Nov.) on Fr. Walter Ciszek. Although I had read his books With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me, I learned a lot from the article. The most salient point was the astounding faith of Fr. Ciszek, even in times of intense suffering. The fact that he could derive hope from watching a mother bird feeding her offspring testifies to the depth of his relationship with God. Which of us should not emulate Fr. Ciszek’s life-affirming faith and perseverance in our daily lives?

Maria Jakubowska

Costa Mesa, California

Clara Sarrocco’s remarkable article on Fr. Walter Ciszek is more than eye-opening. It is that — how have we not known till now? — but it is heart-opening as well. My own part-Slavic blood ran faster and warmer as I read. Moreover, from the author’s personal touch to her concise treatment of much Soviet history regarding the treatment of Catholics, I was both taught and touched — and in an article hardly longer than the typical op-ed piece. In short, I know now that, yes, I too will pray for the cause of Fr. Ciszek.

The Very Rev. Daniel Ressetar

Denton, Texas

Clara Sarrocco’s article moved me to tears. A seminarian once advised me to read Fr. Ciszek’s first book, With God in Russia, and I loved it. I was moved by the severe and continuous suffering he faced and conquered. I hope to be alive to see the day he is canonized. He has strengthened my faith immensely.

Gretchen Yanz

Faribault, Minnesota

Ed. Note: In our October issue we invited readers to submit lists of the top ten books they would recommend to young readers. Several lists were printed in our December issue; the following are a couple more late submissions.

Michael Healy

Steubenville, Ohio

More Top Tens

I strongly recommend Seven Storey Mountain, especially to those who, like its author, Thomas Merton, are in search of faith and peace. I began my spiritual journey with this book and afterward was only interested in reading Catholic publications.

Here are the remaining books that have increased my faith:

2. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
3. Confessions by St. Augustine
4. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
5. Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila
6. Divine Mercy in My Soul by St. Faustina Kowalska
7. Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
8. Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
9. Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola
10. Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Bl. John Paul II

1. The Return to Religion by Henry C. Link
2. Love or Perish by Smiley Blanton, M.D.
3. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
4. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers by Will Durant
5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
6. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
7. Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Advisor by Vera Bouteneff
8. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D.
9. Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
10. The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World

The Revival of Religion & Manners

Christopher Beiting’s review of Mitchell Kalpakgian’s Manners in Modern Life: The Poetry of Conduct, the Virtue of Civility (Nov.) reflected my own experiences. For 17 years I’ve invited friends to my Victorian Christmas Teas. Invitations offer options for visits over a three-day weekend, between 1 and 5 PM.

It was a Friday when two moms and their homeschooled children arrived. The three girls were beautifully dressed. They in turn enjoyed my Victorian clothes. Their brother, also neatly dressed, left shortly to guide his buddy over to my place. The living room filled as other gracious guests arrived. (A Tennessee lady, having long enjoyed tea parties, was pleased to be invited.) The gentlemanly demeanor of the two teenage boys impressed me. After I poured the tea, the girls enjoyed offering milk, and honey or sugar: “Two cubes or one?”

As the guests were leaving, I suggested that they select a gift or a book available for the taking. The ladies selected a Victorian doll for the boy’s mother who was presently at home.

Sunday, late afternoon, as guests were leaving, two of Friday’s girls returned with a musically talented girl and her mother. The three homeschoolers sang beautifully!

The following weekend expressive thank-you notes arrived from the homeschooling mothers who attended, as well as from the one who received the doll. I’m not oblivious to the fact that writing thank-you notes is a dying practice. I often reflect on what has happened to our society and our culture. My mother was born in 1890; my father in 1895. Religion was key back then, but so was decorum. Could it be that they enhance each other? As I reflect on the Latin Mass of my youth, I truly believe that there is a connection, found in genuine reverence. Perhaps these homeschooled youths will spearhead the revival of religion and manners in our society. Let us pray!

How Do I Love Thee?

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s article “Unity & Procreation” (Sept.) offers many wise and wonderful insights about love, yet it leaves me with a final question. As to the wonderful insights, “let me count the ways!”

First, she starts out with an affirmation of the validity of “love at first sight,” even if, as Aristotle affirms, further confirmation, knowledge, and validation is often necessary or at least wise. Von Hildebrand writes, “Rare as it might be, there is such a thing [as having] a ‘Thabor vision’ of another person, a clear perception of the beauty that God invested in that particular person at the very moment of his or her creation.” Aristotle says that this is not yet full love or friendship but just the invitation thereunto, needing time for testing and confirmed trust. Excellent advice, but still perhaps not doing justice to this initial glorious vision of the other. L.M. Montgomery, in her wonderful Anne of Green Gables series, highlights the immediate attraction of “kindred spirits” and the sudden awareness of a potential loving unity with another. Some testing over time is perhaps appropriate, but this experience is more than just an invitation. As Dr. von Hilde­brand says, the vision of love is a glimpse of God’s vision of the other, of the reason for the creation of the beloved, and of the final end of the beloved in all his or her beauty. As Josef Pieper says in About Love, “Human love, therefore, is by its nature and must inevitably be always an imitation of and a kind of repetition of this perfected and, in the exact sense, creative love of God. And perhaps the lover is not unaware of this, before reflecting at all. How otherwise, for example, can we understand what is perhaps too rarely considered: that even the first stirrings of love contain an element of gratitude?”

Similarly, as to the glory of the beloved, C.S. Lewis has famously written that “there are no ordinary people” and that “you’ve never met a mere mortal.” It is love that sees this. It is the “Thabor vision” of the other.

Second, von Hildebrand shows how Jacob’s patient and long-suffering quest to attain loving union with Rachel reveals that the lover joyfully accepts great trials — even if they turn out to be mundane, daily trials. As Kierkegaard says in Either/Or, conjugal love “is ready in union with God to fight for itself, to acquire itself in patience.” And St. Thomas Aquinas in Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (III Sent., Dist. 27, q.1, a.1) says, “Whatever the lover does or suffers for the beloved is wholly delightful to the lover…. Just as fire cannot be restrained from movement, except through violence, so neither can the lover be restrained from acting according to love. And because of this Gregory says, ‘Love cannot be idle, rather it does great things if it is present.'”

Third, von Hildebrand brings out the great theme of “holy madness” in love, as unfolded by Plato in the Phaedrus. Besides prophecy, poesy (artistic inspiration), and catharsis (coming to terms with evil and suffering on a level beyond the purely rationab| Plato lists eros as a type of divine madness — love as an “ecstatic” state, being beside oneself, outside of one’s normal rational state, yet lifting one upward toward the transcendent and divine. St. Thomas affirms this as well. In reply to the fourth objection in the reference above, and despite the fact that he is more associated with interpreting love as an act of the will, St. Thomas declares love to be sharp, burning, penetrating, wounding, transfixing, ecstatic, on fire, boiling up, breathing out, transcending limitations, melting, and dissolving. “The contrary disposition,” he says, “is called ‘hardness of heart.'”

Fourth, and as the main point of her article, von Hildebrand develops the understanding that a deep, loving, personal desire for union — of soul and body — is the prior context for procreation as a superabundant end. Marriage and the marital act can never be reduced to the mere utilitarian means for having children, as with Henry VIII and his attitude toward his wives. Karol Wojtyla in Love and Responsibility condemns this attitude of mere use of one another (or the idea that God merely uses the couple instrumentally) for propagation of the race. Rather, he affirms the intentio unionis flowing from the love between the persons as morally good, and he condemns as rigorist and Manichean the view that sex is only good as an instrumental means to progeny: “A man and a woman, uniting in sexual intercourse, do so as free and rational persons, and their union has a moral value, if it is justified by true love between persons. If then it is said that the Creator ‘makes use of’ the sexual union of persons to realize the order of existence which he intends for the species Homo, we can still certainly not maintain that the Creator uses persons solely as a means to an end determined by himself.”

Yet, the marital act is also joyfully and essentially ordained toward procreation. Thus, von Hildebrand brings out in the tale of Jacob and Rachel the tragedy and the cross of a childless marriage. Such fruitless marriages are not the ideal (compared to modern “progressive” thought) and constitute the death knell of a society.

Fifth, von Hildebrand highlights the horror of the attitude that would regard children in marriage either as a mere duty or, on the other hand, as a mere accident or “unhappy result” of conjugal relations. Here we might expand things a bit and also point out that a son or daughter also should not be regarded as a mere offshoot of uncontrollable erotic passion.

Sixth, in the tale of Rachel, Leah, and the mandrakes, in which Rachel trades the “brief satisfaction of her palate” for something much deeper and more significant — i.e., “the joys of the marital embrace” — von Hildebrand brings out how easy it is to slip into a superficial routine, a taking-for-granted of the greatest gifts in our lives. This is the challenge of faithfulness, continuity, remaining awake to the joys with which we have been graced. As Kier­kegaard says, “It surely requires discretion, wisdom, and patience to overcome the lassitude which often is wont to follow on a wish fulfilled.” Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand in The Art of Living say that “[the faithful] man lives from the depth and masters every moment from the depth.” This is the challenge of love in the face of day-to-day routine and the danger of “falling asleep” and taking the other for granted.

In the end, Alice von Hildebrand shows that in the story of Jacob and Rachel we see an example of the true love between man and woman in all its glory, including the fact that “the intentio unionis has ontological, logical, and affective priority over fruitfulness. The latter essentially presupposes the former, and is based on it. But the two are so closely linked that to willingly sever their bond inevitably introduces a seed of dissension in the love of the spouses.”

I have, however, one small quibble. She maintains that this beautiful biblical story “unveils for us the nature of true love” and that it even “elevate[s] marriage to a height that brought it back to its original beauty before Adam and Eve sinned….” Here I have to disagree, in light of the polygamous nature of the situation. Now, I don’t mean naïvely to judge the past by later Christian understandings — i.e., Christ restoring the Father’s original intention of one man, one woman for life. Christ Himself says that some accommodation was made in the days of Moses due to the hardness of the Israelites’ hearts. In the story of Jacob, in light of the Old Testament status quo, I can understand how Jacob, having been tricked into marrying Leah, would still want to marry his true love — though this is hardly the full re-establishment of marriage before sin. But more difficult to assimilate — even when Rachel wishes to “become a mother ‘by proxy,'” as von Hildebrand writes — is Jacob being happy to sleep first with Rachel’s maid, Bilhah (which might be understandable as an indirect panacea to his beloved Rachebpand then, even further from any ideal of faithful love, to sleep also with Leah’s maid, Zilpah. Despite the prerogatives of Old Testament patriarchs, these actions violate the natural tendency toward exclusiveness, which genuine romantic love (betrothed love, spousal love) entails. Christ affirms this as part of the natural law, and human beings even in their fallen state can have some intimation of it, even if it is very difficult to live up to without the supernatural graces Christ gives in the sacraments.

Sorry to say, in sleeping not only with Leah by mistake, and with Bilhah by proxy, but even with Zilpah, Jacob hardly lives up to the ideal of even popular romantic love, much less “elevat[ing] marriage to a height that brought it back to its original beauty before Adam and Eve sinned….” The true sentiment of genuine romantic love involves exclusivity.

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Letter to the Editor: February 2007

Eschatalogical Nonsense... Our Churches Would Be Full... Jesus Christ Will Reign... Intimacy & Immanence... In Persona Christi... Fr. Groeschel... The Color of Mourning... Despical Details... George Kendall, Take Two...