Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: May 2020

Letters to the Editor: May 2020

America: An Apostate Nation?

I found Jason M. Morgan’s point of view intriguing — if not ultimately bold and provocative — namely, that while the death penalty “remains as valid as ever,” the state that executes human beings as punishment for their heinous crimes is not (“Unmasking the Executioner,” Cultural Counterpoint, March). Morgan’s thesis is that the government has lost its moral authority to impose such punishment on anyone because it is “corrupted by institutionalized murder” as it sanctions and protects a pro-death culture.

I oppose capital punishment, though I do not believe that it is intrinsically immoral. But it is not my opposition to capital punishment that causes me to be more than open to Morgan’s argument. I mean, he does have a point. St. Paul teaches that the ruler “carries the sword…he is God’s servant — to afflict his avenging wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). But we have a government that “carries the sword” not to protect life but to protect the slaughter of millions of innocent human beings — a government that sanctions murder by law, enlists its police force to protect sanctioned murder, and arrests its citizens who seek to stop the carnage.

Today, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and many businesses have been forced to shut down. Yet, in many states, abortion clinics are free to operate while pro-lifers trying to stop the killing have been threatened with arrest and a few have actually been arrested! On what moral authority can the state outlaw murder and then execute those who commit murder when it says murder may be committed in certain cases? And consider that some women actually believe they are committing murder when they abort their children, but the law gives them the “liberty” to do it — and no one pays any legal penalty for it.

Morgan defends emperors and governments of the ancient world such as Nero and the Roman Empire — hardly a bastion of moral virtue. He argues that as bad as these regimes were, ours is worse. And ours is worse, for another reason. At the time of Christ, the Roman Empire had not yet been Christianized; it was a pagan world living according to pagan ideals. But for us to kill the innocent and treat human beings like trash means that our country and so many other countries that have been evangelized, whose cultures were once rooted in Christian respect for the human person, are now apostate nations. If our country has any moral authority left, it is a figment, a shadow, a parody of legitimate authority. Yet we are forced to cling to it lest we descend into complete social chaos.

Monica Migliorino Miller

South Lyon, Michigan

Jason M. Morgan’s column carries implications well beyond the question of the death penalty. Dr. Morgan’s thesis is that “the state has changed drastically since St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and the saintly popes of the 19th and 20th centuries,” and, therefore, it no longer has the moral right to execute people. But if the contemporary state has lost its moral legitimacy in this area, it’s hard to understand why it has sufficient moral legitimacy to confine people in prison for 10 or 20 years or, for that matter, to say that the speed limit on a highway is 65 miles per hour instead of 35 or 85, or to make pronouncements on any matter at all.

As Morgan admits, states have committed atrocities for a long, long time. It’s hard to see why the atrocities of the present should somehow destroy the state’s moral authority if those of the past did not. These atrocities may differ in degree, but do they differ in kind?

The modern popes have always treated the states contemporary with them as legitimately charged with upholding the common good. Indeed, they have sought to call them back to their duties, both to God and man, while at the same time affirming their high calling. As Pope Leo XIII wrote, “As regards political power, the Church rightly teaches that it comes from God” (Diuturnum, no. 8). Similar utterances can be found in many of his other encyclicals. Leo wrote this in the face of the hostility of the Kingdom of Italy, which had just deprived the popes of their legitimate political power, and of the anti-Catholic laws of Bismarck’s newly founded German Empire, which imprisoned bishops and priests and drove religious into exile.

If Morgan’s logic means that the state has no moral authority of any kind, how does this essentially libertarian doctrine cohere with Aristotle’s and St. Thomas’s teaching that man’s natural home is the polis? To live without any legitimate political power would seem such an exceedingly unnatural state for mankind that I doubt it could exist for any stretch of time. I am quite willing to admit that the modern state is a very poor example of a polis, but a polis it is, and it’s the best we have at this time.

While admitting the legitimacy of the death penalty in theory, I too am troubled by its application in the modern United States, particularly by the widespread existence of prosecutorial misconduct. But the remedy for this is the remedy the popes have always employed: to remind governments and their officials of their duties and responsibilities, and of the judgment that awaits them if they willfully fail in those duties. The solution is not to jettison a fundamental part of Christian social philosophy, essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Thomas Storck

Westerville, Ohio

Jason M. Morgan’s disgust with the American polity and the abortion industry, entities intertwined like mating serpents, is understandable. His opposition to the death penalty because our government engages in unfathomable wickedness may be laudable, but it is not orthodox. The Romans used mechanical and herbal abortifacients to end new life. Humans of that era also practiced infanticide, and we are well aware of the other debaucheries they practiced. The Christian Middle Ages had its share of horrendous crimes against humanity. There was the Catholic slaughter of the German Jews during the bloodthirsty hysteria of the People’s Crusade; although the Church condemned the slaughter, the violence had to be brutally extinguished by the Hungarians, recent converts from paganism. The Catholic King Edward I expelled the English Jews in 1290, and in the same century, Catholics began the extermination of the French Albigensians. A list of the unholy deeds of Christian rulers and subjects could fill a cloud-data storage center.

If evil governments remained in accord with God’s directives on capital punishment in the days before Jesus’ Resurrection and throughout Christendom’s supposed reign in Europe, then how is Morgan’s argument consistent with God’s obtrusive directive to make the extreme evildoer pay the ultimate price for his sins?

“As Christianity gradually left us alone with our freedom,” Morgan writes, “the American state gave its imprimatur to outrages against human dignity: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)….” When did Christianity ever capture mankind outside the warming of each individual’s heart? And is human dignity orthodox, or does the concept stray from the core principle of human sanctity? Could this dignity be an unwholesome offshoot that flirts with the deadly sin of pride, and could it be the root of many of today’s moral problems?

It’s treacherous to judge the past by today’s liberalized standards. Will orthodox vegans one day say of omnivore Christians that they were an outrage to the dignity of God’s creation? The jurists of the 1800s could point to the Bible or the Magisterium for guidance in Morgan’s examples of now-flawed court decisions. Moderns would have a hard time saying in good faith to the Catholic Marylander (Maryland, a Catholic slave state): “Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, when you ruled that slaves who traveled to free states were still the property of others, you repudiated your Christianity.” The Bride of Christ had been tolerant of slavery since before the first recorded words of St. Paul. Would orthodoxy support wayward America’s return to the once-Christian-sanctioned, not-so-peculiar institution?

The thread of offensive societal restructurings that runs through Morgan’s Supreme Court examples breaks forcefully from traditional Christianity in his listing of Buck v. Bell, in which the Church sided strongly against the emerging eugenics movement within Western thought and jurisprudence. The Church’s stance was allowed to be voiced by our Constitution’s right to freedom of speech, a right not always cherished by those who see the United States, including its founding, as the problem in the world.

Craig McEwan

Portal, Arizona

Jason M. Morgan’s column is like a shotgun blast scattering various musings about the lack of “legitimacy” of the modern state, the death penalty, abortion, and war — as if they were all the same, one seamless garment.

But the Church’s traditional teachings about abortion, just war, and the death penalty make logical and necessary distinctions. Both the death penalty and just-war doctrine acknowledge society’s right to self-defense against an unjust aggressor. This is entirely different from an intrinsically evil act like abortion, which is the intentional killing of a completely innocent human being solely at the command of the mother.

As for Morgan’s preference for the civilizing effect of the Church on the state in the Middle Ages: with respect to the death penalty, this is ludicrous. The death penalty was imposed with the Church’s approval for offenses that today are misdemeanors or totally non-criminal, like heresy, and no one worried about “humane methods.” The medieval state burned heretics like St. Joan of Arc, but the Church supplied the matches.

The death penalty in the U.S. is reserved for the worst of the worst. In my 30 years of prosecuting murders, I had only one case in which to seek and obtain the death penalty. Pope St. John Paul II stated that modern prisons made the death penalty virtually unnecessary. I can only conclude that his knowledge of modern penology and serial killers was defective. We cannot constitutionally lock a prisoner in a cell and keep him there. He must be let out for showers, exercise, medical treatment, court, private attorney meetings, etc. In our own jurisdiction, a defense attorney aided her client to escape a maximum-security prison, during which her client assaulted three guards and a psychologist in a neighboring town. The record shows that guards, medical personnel, and other prisoners are assaulted and killed by “the worst of the worst” in our prisons.

When I tried my one death-penalty case, the Church told me I was “free in conscience” to do so. “Turn the other cheek” means turning your own cheek, not the cheeks of others you must protect. Morgan wants “to stop the state from killing anyone, period.” God bless the pacifists, who are few, and let us pray for the brave law-enforcement and military personnel who protect us from the determined killers in the world.

Jan Hicks

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Almost anyone who attentively reads Jason M. Morgan’s well-structured and elegantly expressed column is likely to be moved to a more serious consideration of the legitimacy of the contemporary state and the relations of Christians thereto.

And yet.

And yet, one hears echoes of St. Thomas More’s argument with his son-in-law, William Roper, about giving the Devil his due at law, lest, when all the laws are felled, the Devil should turn on us and we be without legal shelter. And when More’s time comes, he will die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.

One hears Thrasymachus bellowing at Socrates, telling him apropos his disquisition on justice that he, Socrates, is in effect a brass-bound idiot, for he knows what justice is in the world: The strong do what they can, and the weak bear what they must. Which Socrates knows, of course. He will submit himself to the unjust but powerful order of his polis that he must die, though he also knows that he could flee and accept offers of residence elsewhere. But Athens has been his mother, and he has been shaped by her laws and customs.

Morgan hears these same echoes, no doubt, and others like them. Perhaps he assumes that we are where More and Socrates ultimately were and should act likewise. And perhaps we are and should.

And yet.

And yet, the ground base of Morgan’s argument is that the modern state is synonymous with the culture of death and has thereby lost all moral authority in imposing the death penalty in civil society. He argues that “there is a qualitative difference between the depraved rulers of the past and the bureaucratized culture of death that we call ‘the state’ today.” We must distance ourselves from its evil through a process of H.L. Mencken’s katharsis. We must unmask the executioner.

And yet.

And yet, in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, when the executioner unmasks himself, he is not some cold, distant, heartless, bureaucratic “professional,” but Matthew, once More’s servant. That is, he is Everyman, and if we meet him on the street, we should tip our hat to him. How are we to distance ourselves from Everyman? Who are “we” apart from Everyman?

Whoever we are, we are the citizens of a state that is the off­spring of several revolutions: the American, of course, but also the industrial, the capitalist, the “democratic,” and the French. These revolutions have left us in several fields of force that surely help make it seem that there is a qualitative difference between the structure of any state existing prior to 1700 — or 1776 or 1789 — and those with which we are familiar. On our side of the Atlantic, we are likely to be the least conscious of the effects of the French Revolution. And in that cataclysmic series of events, perhaps the most overlooked, and at the same time possibly the most significant, change of ordination is enshrined in the document titled the Levée en masse (Aug. 23, 1793). This monument to modernity begins: “1. From this moment until that in which the enemy shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the service of the armies.” Young men shall go to battle, old men shall forge arms and provide transport, women shall make tents and clothing and serve in hospitals, etc.

The price of “democracy” seems to be that all are responsible for all, and for all necessary functions. This appears to be what Égalité entails. No discrimination! We are, for example, all “in permanent requisition for the service of the armies” whenever circumstances demand it. Genuine democracy seems to require that all are “combatants”; totalitarian democracy certainly requires that. There are no “civilians,” no “non-combatants.” And “we” make war on the most various things: poverty, diseases, global warming, terrorism, drugs, etc.

The concept of innocence, “causing no evil,” is slain — not by some abstract civil and social structure, some abstraction called the state. We have met the murderer, and he is us. We have met the executioner on the street and tipped our hat.

John Lyon

Ferryville, Wisconsin

JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:

I could not possibly say better what Monica Migliorino Miller has so beautifully said in her letter. I will just add that it was my own experience praying outside an abortion mill that led me to begin questioning the authority of the government to kill. Brave pro-lifers, such as Will Goodman (with whom I had the honor of praying on a few occasions), Mary Wagner, and Dr. Miller herself, have been harassed endlessly by the state for their peaceful, loving, life-saving work. Why arrest the people praying for violence to stop and yet provide billions in tax dollars to the people slaughtering the innocent? I began to realize that such an arrangement was not merely wrong but satanic, and that I wanted no part of whatever “justice” such a state claimed to be dispensing. Death penalty? It happens thousands of times a day. Most of the victims have no name. Their crime was being invisible to the law.

Thomas Storck brings up a very good point about difference in degree and kind. My argument hinges on this difference. I am not sure, but St. Thomas might possibly side with Mr. Storck in 2020. I think, though, that it is correct to say that the state today is fundamentally different from the state even 200 years ago. The progressivist, eugenicist state is little more than a husbanding operation for human beings. The strong are selected for survival; the weak are culled. Planned Parenthood does the dirty work for the godless government in Washington, but this dirty work is necessary to the state. So is, to return to another point Storck raises, the incarceration of millions of people. The United States is a eugenicist wonderland — no mercy, no redemption. If you are discovered poor and vulnerable in utero, you are killed. If you are discovered poor and vulnerable later, you are imprisoned. That is the state. Even speeding tickets, I would argue, are a revenue source and imprisonment excuse more than a legitimate exercise of police power. Consider the irony of a state trooper racing to catch someone going over the speed limit and then dragging Will Goodman away from a Planned Parenthood clinic. All in a day’s work for the state.

I think Craig McEwan says it all, although perhaps unintentionally, when he says that “the Church’s stance [against eugenics and so forth] was allowed to be voiced by our Constitution’s right to freedom of speech.” Planned Parenthood is apparently also constitutional. So was carpet-bombing Laos. I think we ought to ask ourselves where the Constitution gets off allowing the Church to do anything, and whether that arrangement is acceptable to Catholics.

As for the other outrages from the Middle Ages, I recommend a very good book by Andrew Jones, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX. The question is not about what happened at a given time, but what the state essentially was. The Albigensians and the unborn child are not the same. Instead of judging the past by our liberal standards, let’s judge the present by our forebears’ Christian ones.

Jan Hicks might have misunderstood my argument. I am not a pacifist and I support the death penalty. There are, without any doubt, horrendous people in the world who commit heinous and unspeakable crimes. A firing squad for the child rapist, a noose and a tree for the cold-blooded killer. And let us have a strong militia to protect our homeland. I will be the first to shoot an invader, and I think my conscience when doing so would be clear. But what, in God’s name, are we doing in Yemen? Why are we in Chad? Can we not come home from Cuba and stop shooting people in Mesopotamia? These are not just wars. They are just, wars. And they profit the same people who have decided that unborn children are as much a hindrance to profit as Yemeni peasants.

John Lyon’s point about democracy is perfectly put. Yes, that is what the state is. It deforms the human person, makes us all guilty for the state’s sins — indeed, it tells us that the state’s sins are our glory and birthright. It is all a lie. Hell is also a democracy. St. Thomas More’s executioner was doing the bidding of an evil king and his spineless ministers, but in the United States we are all complicit, materially, in the state’s daily crimes. There is no escape from just one part of liberalism. Either we reject all of it and become Christians again or we continue to debate whether a completely illegitimate state may or may not commit mass murder.

Two Commandments, Two Errors

With deep respect for Walter Cardinal Kasper and the commission he has from Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church, the statements Fr. Christopher Roberts attributes to him are directly contrary to the explicit teaching of Jesus (“Love of God & Love of Neighbor: One Commandment or Two?” Jan.-Feb.).

Per Fr. Roberts, Cardinal Kasper defends or promotes the following views in support of the conclusion that love of God and love of neighbor are one commandment:

  • “Despite being two different commandments superficially, love of God and love of neighbor ‘form a completely indissoluble unity’ in Christ’s teaching, Kasper says.”
  • “Kasper does not just say that the two are inseparable; he argues that our Lord ‘named love of God and love of neighbor as one commandment.’”
  • “Kasper [claims] that the two commandments are indeed one single commandment, wherein both love of God and love of neighbor are of equal value. They are not just inseparable; they are, in Kasper’s own words, ‘the quintessence, summary, and epitome of Christian existence.’”

Cardinal Kasper’s first error is in rejecting exactly what Jesus says in order to teach a contradictory doctrine. His second error is his failure to recognize that the word love has two vastly different and unequal meanings in Jesus’ statement, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:37-40).

The name of the totality of love Jesus affirms in the “great and first commandment” is adoration. Anyone who cannot understand the difference between the vastly greater and unlimited adoration we owe to God our Creator and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves has not understood the first lesson of God’s revelation to mankind. Such a person has bought the key detail of the serpent’s false claim that “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5) by loving yourself on the same level as you love God. That is, loving yourself and your neighbor as equally as you love God!

Incidentally, there is another excellent passage from Scripture that affirms the inseparability between love of God and love of neighbor while correctly describing the connection and the distinction between these two loves: “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 Jn. 4:19-21).

In response to a second error attributed to Cardinal Kasper in this article, I affirm that love, not mercy, is the essence of God’s perfection. Mercy is only one essential fruit of love. Pope Francis has called on all the faithful to recognize and respond to the vital importance of mercy.

James J. Harris

San Diego, California

You can’t love God without loving your neighbor. But you can love your neighbor without loving God. This alone tells me that loving God is first and foremost. Loving one’s neighbor is begotten, so to speak, from loving God. It’s not the other way around. Loving God is not begotten from loving one’s neighbor.

Darren Szwajkowski

Lebanon, Ohio

FR. CHRISTOPHER ROBERTS REPLIES:

I thank Messrs. Harris and Szwajkowski for their comments.

I would quibble, however, with Mr. Harris’s attempt to bolster my argument by asserting that we owe adoration to God alone. There is no doubt that we do owe a certain kind of adoration to God and God only. But this fact is not coextensive with positively excluding adoration of the angels and saints and even living superiors.

Jesus Himself teaches, “Adore [Greek: proskuneseis] the Lord, Him only thou shalt serve [Greek: latreuseis]” (Lk. 4:8). Yet Holy Scripture also endorses offering adoration/worship (Greek: proskuneseis; Latin: adoratio) to a created being, the angel of the Church of Philadelphia (cf. Rev. 3:9). St. Augustine, in Book X of City of God, recognized the linguistic difficulty of these distinctions in the Latin language. My experience is that both those who speak Spanish and English have a similar struggle today.

The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea anathematized the iconoclasts who rejected the cult of adoration to the angels and saints. St. John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine provides a good catena that gives a wider patristic context for the teaching of Second Nicaea. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his treatise on justice in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologiae, speaks of two types of adoration: adoratio duliae due to creatures and adoratio latriae due to God alone. Interestingly, Thomas did not limit adoratio duliae to the saints — he even extended it to living superiors!

I quibble with Mr. Harris because it is important that in criticizing a theologian of Cardinal Kasper’s caliber, we do so with arguments that are as precise as possible.

What We Are Willing to Risk

To all the American clergy who have suspended public Masses in response to the coronavirus: As a member of the laity, I am deeply disappointed by this course of action. I am not insensible to the danger to myself, my family, or others. I am a parent torn between my responsibilities to provide for my family and to protect them from the possibility of infection. Along with most working-class Americans, I must continue to go to work. This is my vocation, and I embrace it.

While I am forced to compromise between security and safety, those whose fatherhood is of a spiritual order, whose duty is the nurturing of our spiritual rather than bodily welfare, suspend their ministry at the first suggestion of our government. I find it jarring that while we laymen risk exposure to this sickness to maintain our families in material comfort, our spiritual fathers are not willing to risk anything, least of all, it seems, the displeasure of government bureaucrats, to bring us spiritual comfort.

In my diocese, not only are public Masses forbidden, other sacraments are greatly curtailed, religious orders are effectively quarantined, and contact between the religious and the laity is clearly designed to be ended. In a time when courage, not caution, seems to be lacking in the hierarchy, the decision to shut down so quickly and completely the public ministry of our Church leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

My heart goes out to our parish priests, caught between obedience to their bishops and their desire to bring our Lord to us. I can only think how I would feel, isolated from my children in a time like this.

Luke Dougherty

Carrollton, Ohio

THE EDITOR COMMENTS:

Speaking of the displeasure of government bureaucrats, the governor of Virginia announced in late March that it would be a crime in his state during the coronavirus pandemic for citizens to gather in groups of ten or more, the penalty being a fine of $2,500 and/or up to 12 months in prison. This would, of course, effectively make public Masses illegal events.

Our constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of association are being sacrificed for our health — something our Constitution does not guarantee.

One wonders how Gov. Ralph Northam intends to enforce this order. Will he call in the National Guard to set up checkpoints at parks and other public recreation areas and at houses of worship and other privately owned gathering spaces? Or will he set up an online portal through which citizens can rat out their neighbors anonymously, like something out of an Orwellian nightmare? One side effect of the pandemic is the consolidation of governmental power over the populace in the name of security.

This emphasis on security has left Catholics out in the cold. James G. Hanink, writing at The Narthex, the NOR blog (March 30), was dismayed to discover that his parish church was closed due to the outbreak. “We knew there would be no public celebration of the liturgy,” Hanink writes of his and his wife’s attempt to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. But “the church was locked tight” that day, though “a sign on the rectory door encouraged our donations.”

Yet, to Hanink’s surprise, his local bank branch was still open: “Bank personnel, using strips of blue tape, had carefully marked service aisles to maintain full-fledged social distance. Business finds a way!”

Hanink suggests an alternative: “Why not identify at least one parish church in each deanery that will remain open for prayer? It would be a simple enough matter to limit entry to the church to, say, half a dozen people at a time. It would be simple enough, as well, to make sure that they stay several feet apart. And why not identify at least one parish church in each deanery, one with serviceable cry rooms, that will use its cry rooms to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis? Again, it would be simple enough to do so in a way that maintains social distancing.

“Scripture tells us that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). And so I find myself thinking of what my local bank branch seems to be managing well enough, in the name of the economy, and what my local parish, at the behest of our archbishop, seems to be managing far less ably than it might.”

You can read Hanink’s full blog post by going to www.newoxfordreview.org/church-state-and-the-virus. Once there, you can browse the many blog posts by Hanink and others on this and many other topics of interest.

Death & the Hope of Resurrection

According to Richard Mayer and Dan Marengo (“Death in Crisis,” letters, March), death is a two-sided coin. It marks both our exit from the natural world into which we were born and our entrance into the supernatural world. Therefore, it is the transition point where the two realities of our lives meet — or collide, for some.

Dr. Mayer is of the opinion that the “celebration of life” of the deceased is “modernist” bunk. He goes further, saying that funerals “no longer look ahead to what is to come” — i.e., the reality of the supernatural world. Both assertions are incorrect.

At death, we come before the judgment seat of Jesus, our Just Judge. Only two options of the final Last Things remain: Heaven or Hell. Our judgment is immediate; it is based on what we did in our lives, both good and bad. For those condemned to Hell, none of the Rites of Christian Burial are of any avail. For those rewarded with Heaven, the inescapable reality of Purgatory awaits the vast majority, as nothing impure can enter the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Rev. 21:27). This reality is the reason for, and the focus of, the prayers that make up the Christian wake, the funeral Mass, and the Rite of Committal. Their celebration is public acknowledgment that we know the soul of the deceased does not pass directly to Heaven; mourners who bring spiritual bouquets and Mass cards to the funeral parlor make a public acknowledgment of the reality of Purgatory; mourners who join in the funeral Mass and offer it for the deceased make a public acknowledgment of the reality of Purgatory (cf. 2 Macc. 12:43-46).

None of us knows the condition of a person’s soul upon death; it is a judgment reserved only for Jesus. The only realistic option for us is hope for the deceased, with all that that implies. Hope is not a guarantee.

Celebrating the life of the deceased is not modernist bunk. As human beings, we all naturally live in the present moment. With the death of a loved one, that opportunity vanishes; thereafter, the deceased will only be part of our memories. Eulogies and photo collages speak to this reality, to this transition. It is part of the first steps we take to cope with the grief of loss.

Why would Dr. Mayer want to exclude such a basic human quality from such a poignant moment in the life of others? Is it because the funeral rite is not pre-Vatican II? Read chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. Jesus knew what the death of Lazarus was going to be about; He was going to raise him from the dead. Yet Jesus Himself wept upon seeing Mary weeping over the death of her brother. Why would Jesus weep if He knew what the outcome would be? Because there is a human element involved in death — a human element apart from the spiritual reality that we, as Christians, simply cannot and should not ignore.

Yes, there are two sides of the death coin, a human element and a spiritual element. Both are necessary to bring about the healing of the mind of the mourner and the soul of the deceased; neither side should be neglected or favored over the other, as both serve a legitimate purpose.

Mr. Marengo, meanwhile, vilifies the Novus Ordo funeral rite and the Novus Ordo Mass as “cheap sentimentality.”

In both the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine forms of the Mass, Jesus Christ becomes present body, blood, soul, and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine, in which His body and blood are offered up to His Father for the faithful departed who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified, so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1371). The eucharistic sacrifice is the source and summit of God’s mercy that will be extended to the deceased. To imply anything else would be heretical.

Neither the interior or exterior disposition of the celebrant, his level of belief or disbelief, nor the state of his soul distracts or takes away from his power to make Christ present under both species on the altar and accomplish what the Catechism speaks about. Neither does any degree of solemnity or the use of Latin make it more so.

The prayers of the Novus Ordo funeral rite are based on the Christian hope of eternal life and final resurrection, with hope being defined as the confident desire of obtaining a future good that is difficult to obtain. The prayers of the Novus Ordo funeral rite implore God’s mercy on the soul of the deceased; they do not say or imply in any way that the deceased is already in Heaven. The white vestments do not underscore that the deceased is in Heaven looking down on us. The color white is to remind us of our baptism, when we who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death, so that we too might walk in newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:3-4). The color white shows the paschal character of Christian death, its association with Easter, which is the Christian hope of eternal life and the final resurrection of the dead.

Alphonse C. Bankard III

Baltimore, Maryland

Keep Their Hands off the Levers

Terry Scambray’s review of The Guarded Gate by Daniel Okrent (March) reminds us once again that the basis of eugenics is Darwinism, that its earliest advocates were intellectuals, and that policy made by intellectuals often leads to error. Modern Darwinists, of course, reject eugenics, but the rejection is due to horror at the uses to which it was put, not because it is illogical. If human animals are the product of many generations of random change and constant variation, then there must be varieties that are unfit or less fit for certain environments, such as the modern Western world. Eugenics was subsequently appropriated by pseudo-intellectuals like Hitler, who gave it a bad name, but it is entirely consistent with its origin in Darwin.

Eugenics is the product of intellectuals who operate under the premise that humanity is perfectible and that they know — or can discover — how to do it. Simple people of faith know that we are all unique but fallen products of a loving Creator and that our perfection awaits an event and a time that will be chosen by Him and not designed by our intellectual betters. The noted Catholic historian Paul Johnson, in his insightful book Intellectuals, warned us not to let the intellectuals anywhere near the levers of power. Any analysis of the eugenics movement is a reminder of how right Johnson was.

Preston R. Simpson, M.D.

Beaumont, Texas

TERRY SCAMBRAY REPLIES:

Preston Simpson puts the issue with admirable compression: If a government policy rests on a false assumption, then, despite its internal consistency, its logic, the policy will produce bad results.

All of which is to say that logic is an instrument, a means of getting us somewhere, though when we get there, we may be disappointed, if not horrified, depending on what our starting point was. In the meantime, our reliance on logic may have made us feel self-assured.

Indeed, Lucifer, the original “Bright,” seduced Eve with the same appeal: If you are allowed to eat from all the trees in the Garden, you should able to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s only logical, after all.

Of course, it was “a tree too far,” just as it remains modernity’s category error. To wit: We produce abundant food and we invented antibiotics; we engineered intercontinental airplanes and missiles; therefore, we can vanquish all inequities and live peacefully in a borderless world.

But just as a child will never know enough to understand the danger of fire, adults will never know enough to make a heaven on earth. Everyday people seem to understand that, perhaps because many of them work with their hands and on problems that resist their attempts to easily reshape them. Dante says as much when, like Dr. Simpson, he attributes this category error to the Fall and mankind’s consequent loss of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude — a loss which, in Dante’s words, has “deprived [all men] forever of the vision of their light.”

The Soft Edges of Nuanced Theo-Speak

Jason M. Morgan’s review of John O’Malley’s Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church (Jan.-Feb.) slides into that over-intellectualized and irenicist temptation that has so riddled the Church in the past half-century. Bl. Pope Pius IX properly recognized his role as a protective Father, not a disengaged professor leading a graduate seminar. The Syllabus of Errors (as well as Dei Filius and Pastor Aeternus, alongside, several decades later, Pius X’s Lamentabili) was an unambiguous volley against the toxic errors not only bedeviling Holy Church but threatening Western civilization as well. Such moments call for a John Philip Sousa response, not “On the Good Ship Lollipop.”

Dr. Morgan betrays his misunderstanding of a bishop’s role with sentences such as this: “The Syllabus of Errors…[is] a product of liberalism’s totalizing episteme washing out nuance among competing views.” Goodness! This kind of theo-speak is the breeding ground for the very “liberalism” that suffocates the Church. Pius IX, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII were truly pastoral popes, preferring the explicit and unmistakable to the “nuanced” and non-directive. After all, souls are at stake, not points at an Oxford Union debate. Would Dr. Morgan have objected to the razor-sharp sentences of Pius XI’s Non Abbiamo Bisogno or Mit Brennender Sorge against the totalitarian regimes devouring Europe? Too “totalizing”? Too lacking in “nuance”? Not dialogical enough? Failing in appreciation of “difference” or the “other”?

Such epicene strategies have brought us to our present straitened circumstance. Note, almost every Catholic college and university over the past 50 years has eviscerated the faith of its graduates. Most colleges’ leaders have refused the submission called for in Ex Corde Ecclesia. Too “totalizing,” I suppose. Or take our carefully massaged official Catholic statements of the past few decades. Certainly not “totalizing.” They are, in fact, so “nuanced” as to be practically invisible, leaving us to wonder about their impact when recent studies show that the views of the Catholic population do not differ from the general population on moral matters such as abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and extramarital relations.

More common sense seems to reign outside the internecine theological battles of the Church. Witness Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Red Wheel, in which he remarks that evil must be resisted by force, and pacifism is grave and terrible for the Christian and the citizen alike.

The pre-1958 popes seemed to be closer to the plight of humanity and their own humanity than the self-satisfied theological class governing the Church today. Pius IX preferred a muscular defense of Christ’s “little ones,” rather than a shameful trahison des clercs.

No, Dr. Morgan, perhaps more Syllabi of Errors and Lamentabiles would better serve the Church today. Leave the Catholic bien pensant to discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin — or its modern equivalent.

Fr. John A. Perricone

Iona College

New Rochelle, New York

JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:

Just when I thought I needed to do some more penance — boom! — Fr. Perricone’s bracing letter comes over the transom. It is a great letter, filled with good counsel. I agree with almost all of it, except the part where I am lumped in with the liberals. My point in the offending sentence — and, I believe, the point of Fr. O’Malley’s excellent book — is that the Church in the 19th century found herself reacting to changes all around her and had lost the initiative, politically, theologically, and philosophically. Bl. Pope Pius IX was a great pope and a great man, but he was hemmed in on every quarter, and he ended up fighting the liberals on their terms, instead of on the Church’s, mirroring their totalizing tendencies, which take an infinitely deeper view of the human person than any liberal could dream.

Pastor Aeternus, the Syllabus of Errors, Mit Brennender Sorge — I join Fr. Perricone in his zeal for these documents. My lament — and, I suspect, Fr. Perricone’s — is that the Church was reduced to a respondent to the liberals and other devils, having lost Christendom to Garibaldi and his ilk. Shouting over the din of the godless masses is not the ideal position for the Bride of Christ. It is this that saddens me, and not the fact that, thank God, popes and other bishops have done as best they could, in a badly straitened circumstance, to talk sense to a world gone mad.

 

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