Letters to the Editor: September 2023
Prosperity & the Process of Secularization
Pieter Vree identifies an important correlation between material prosperity and a tendency to walk away from organized religion (“A Terrible Forgetting,” New Oxford Notebook, June). It is not a cause-effect dynamic per se, and it does not have to be. Yet, improving their economic status may engender in some people a sense of self-sufficiency that leads to decentralizing religion and, ultimately, God in their lives. We could also add access to higher levels of education into this mix. It is a phenomenon that commentators have observed in Latin America, North America, and other parts of the world.
Material prosperity and access to higher forms of education often expose people to ideas that are not friendly toward religion, thus exacerbating processes of secularization and religious indifference. This, of course, is not an argument to limit access to economic prosperity or higher levels of education. It is an invitation to the Church to accompany more closely and more intentionally Catholics whose lives are being influenced by dynamics that come with the experience of being more educated and better positioned economically.
Associate Professor of Theology & Education, School of Theology & Ministry, Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
From my perspective as a sociologist, it seems to me that in discussing the role of wealth in declining Mass attendance, Pieter Vree is using a linear model: more wealth, less faith. However, the writer of Proverbs 30:9 seems to have used a nonlinear model in which the middle class has the most faith while the very poor break laws (“steal”) in order to survive and the very rich (with “full” bellies) forget God.
The survival rates on the Titanic follow this pattern. The rule of the hour was women and children on the lifeboats while men go down with the ship. The middle-class ticketholders generally followed this rule: 90 percent of the women and children survived while only eight percent of the men survived. However, for the poor and the rich, a higher percentage of men survived while a lower percentage of women and children survived. This may mean that for the most moral of societies, it will help to have a middle class that has enough food and clothing earned by their own hands but that isn’t so wealthy that they think they have no need of God.
Walter R. Schumm
Emeritus Professor of Applied Family Science, Kansas State University
Pieter Vree’s column is timely for me, since I have been thinking about this issue. Let me suggest another possible cause: the commitment to capitalism, which has become the religion of modernity (see Eugene McCarraher’s The Enchantments of Mammon, 2019). It is not money that takes people away from the Church but classical liberalism, which commodifies everything. Poland is interesting in this regard, as just over half of the Catholic population still attends Mass, and there is a strong rural and traditional element there. It would be interesting to see where Hungary lands in this ranking.
Rich countries can be quite religious; capitalist countries rarely are. The two are simply not compatible, and the more a society is committed to one, the less it can be committed to the other. Of course, individuals will vary, but societies follow the prevailing course. At least that is my working theory.
While reading Pieter Vree’s column, a passage from Warren Carroll’s A History of Christendom, Vol. 3: The Glory of Christendom came to mind:
One of the greatest paradoxes of the spiritual condition of humanity — and an essential element in the mystery of the Cross — is that prosperity of any kind tends to draw men away from God. The poor keep the Faith when the rich apostatize. The dark ages are ages of faith, while progress brings doubt and even scorn toward the truth which is God’s and the God Who is Truth. Martyrdom builds the Faith, oppression strengthens it, while to be ‘at ease in Zion’ opens the gates to every kind of temptation. The graces of the Redemption which came from crucifixion flowed at their fullest during the persecutions of Diocletian, when the barbarians sacked Rome, when the Vikings scourged the coasts, when the Moors hammered Pelayo and his tiny band back to their last mountain from which they still proclaimed the salvation of Spain would come. Never in modern history did men so love the Mass as in Ireland during the eighteenth century when it was a capital offense to say it. These times, these persecutions produced saints innumerable. But it may well be that the greatest saints of all are those sent in times of progress and prosperity, to recall men from sloth and greed and moral corruption, and call them back to their duty as children of God. For in those ages it is easiest for a man to lose his soul, and hardest of all to be a saint.
My thanks to Mr. Vree for his excellent column.
South Saint Paul, Minnesota
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
To satisfy John Médaille’s curiosity: Hungary comes in at 24 percent Mass attendance (less than half of Poland’s 52 percent), 21st out of the 36 countries ranked (compared to sixth place for Poland).
Médaille might be onto something with his suggestion that capitalism is inimical to religion. But we must note that wealth’s interference in religious observance predates the advent of capitalist economies. As Walter R. Schumm notes, it was a problem even in Old Testament times, when Agur, son of Jakeh of Massa (whose words are recorded in Proverbs 30-31), said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches…lest I be full, and deny thee, and say ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I steal, and profane the name of my God.” The rich have been denying God since well before Adam Smith penned The Wealth of Nations.
I’m not sure what the Titanic has to do with any of this, other than serving as a trope to defend a “middle class,” which is a common feature of capitalist economies, and middle-class morality, which, according to what Schumm calls my “linear model,” is neither here (poor but faithful) nor there (rich but fallen away). Yet the Church doesn’t profess a preferential option for the middle class — those who are “at ease in Zion” — but for the poor. Indeed, Christ told us that it is the morality of the poor that we are to emulate when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Hosffman Ospino makes an interesting point about education’s ill effect on religion. Historically speaking, however, this has not been a problem. It seems that there is something inherent in modern education, which encourages skepticism and often openly vilifies religion, that is turning people from the practice of the faith. But higher education hasn’t always been secularization’s bedfellow. Consider the “dark ages” of which Eric Jackson writes: In those times, higher education was primarily the preserve of the wealthy elite. For those in the lower classes, one of the few ways to access education was by embarking on a career in the Church, which was largely predicated on mastering the theological sciences. Climbing the ecclesial ranks was a ticket out of poverty and ignorance.
There is no reason why education in and of itself should inhibit the worship of God. Indeed, a classical education ought to instill in students greater respect for God and greater reverence for His creation. Today, tragically, wealth and higher education — and comfort, as I argued in my column — compose a cocktail that’s lethal to the life of the spirit.
Not the Only Port in the Storm
I appreciated Casey Chalk’s column “Perspicuity: Protestantism’s Achilles’ Heel” (Revert’s Rostrum, June). As always, he writes thoughtfully and well.
Chalk states that the Protestant belief in the simple clarity of biblical teachings (the doctrine of perspicuity) is mistaken, and this flaw is “a recipe for disaster and division.” He contrasts this with the “external proofs” of the Catholic Church’s divine origin, which the Catechism gives as “the Church’s growth in holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability” (no. 156). These “motives of credibility,” Chalk says, allow the Church to make “a credible, extra-biblical claim to be an institution with divine approbation.”
Chalk is correct that the doctrine of perspicuity is wrong and the Catholic Church can claim divine blessing. He overstates, however, the harm to Protestantism and the support to Catholicism produced by recognizing these two truths.
Yes, the obvious experiential failure of the doctrine of perspicuity has prevented Protestants from developing a completely coherent system of theology and ethics and has led to their splitting into numerous denominations. But this lack of full theological clarity does not invalidate all Protestant theology. Even less does it preclude individual Protestants from developing rich, grace-filled lives of faith and love. Division is not necessarily disaster — the Mystical Body of Christ remains one.
God certainly has blessed the Catholic Church as demonstrated by those “motives of credibility,” the outward expression of God’s grace seen in sanctified lives and in an institution that proclaims the Gospel and loves its neighbors through acts of charity.
Protestants, however, can claim similar motives of credibility; the Catholic Church does not seem to be the only institution with divine approbation. Just as individual Protestants can live lives as holy as any Catholic saint, so Protestant organizations can effectively carry out the work of God, growing in holiness and fruitfulness. In the task of producing sanctified souls, God does not seem to prefer one group — or one set of theological beliefs — over another.
Chalk writes that “an act of faith is required to believe that the Church is identifiable with Christ.” Agreed. And it is completely reasonable to take that step of faith into Catholicism. It is just as reasonable, however, not to take it, or to take a step in an entirely different direction.
When St. John Henry Newman took his step into the Catholic Church, he said the experience was “like coming into port after a stormy sea.” That port, and Newman’s feelings of safety and comfort, were gifts from God. But that in itself does not prove that Newman had entered into the only port offering such security, let alone the one port that God prefers all travelers to reach.
As an Evangelical Protestant, I was challenged by Casey Chalk’s column on perspicuity. But I’d point out that the Church to which Chalk belongs also has an Achilles’ heel: Catholic means “universal,” but the Roman Catholic Church is not universal. At most, a Protestant might grant that it is the Church in the Western hemisphere, which, of course, leaves out the churches in the Eastern hemisphere.
Regarding Casey Chalk’s column on the Protestant notion that Scripture is sufficiently clear that even the most untutored may find their own way to salvation: Bible-reading Christians should know that the Scriptures themselves do not support this doctrine. As St. Peter says, “Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Chalk rightly points out that the proliferation of Protestant sects since the time of Luther is itself a refutation not only of perspicuity but also, and more importantly, of Christ’s exhortation “that they may all be one” (Jn. 17:21).
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
Many thanks to Messrs. Schier, Harutunian, and Sundell for their thoughtful letters.
Robert Schier states that Protestantism’s “lack of full theological clarity does not invalidate all Protestant theology,” nor does it “preclude individual Protestants from developing rich, grace-filled lives of faith and love.” I never said it didn’t. As a former Protestant myself, I can attest to the fact that much of Protestant theology is accurate, and that many Protestants are quite holy. Indeed, some I count as friends are probably holier than I!
Yes, Schier is correct that some Protestants do argue for motives of credibility similar to those offered by the Catholic Church. But those motives are incomplete, if not often erroneous. (See, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith’s problematic claim in Chapter 1, paragraph 5, that Scripture’s “majesty of style,” among other attributes, is a motive of credibility for its being the Word of God.)
I would dispute Schier’s claim that “individual Protestants can live lives as holy as any Catholic saint” for two reasons. First, their lack of access to all the sacraments (in particular, Reconciliation and the Eucharist) deprives them of the same degree of sanctifying grace available to Catholics. Second, the sanctity of many Catholic saints — for example, Thomas Aquinas, Martin de Porres, and Thérèse of Lisieux — is simply unparalleled.
Schier’s claim that “it is just as reasonable” not to accept the Church for who she claims to be is not tenable. That is because to reject the Church’s claims about herself requires accepting some other philosophical, metaphysical, and moral system. And every other such philosophy, metaphysics, and morality, no matter how much they approximate Catholicism, must necessarily be imperfect, if not wrong. Even Aristotelianism, from which Catholicism draws many truths, is, on its own, insufficient, as it lacks the perfecting clarity of the Catholic intellectual and moral tradition (Aristotle’s flawed anthropology is but one example).
Schier’s claim that God might “prefer” some people not to become Catholic, I would think, borders on the heretical. The Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on Ecumenism,” Unitatis Redintegratio, succinctly addresses this:
It is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.
Would we be free then to say that God “prefers” that people not unite themselves to the institution that possesses the “fullness of the means of salvation”? And what of the universal call to holiness (cf. Lumen Gentium) or the Church’s exhortation to evangelize (cf. Evangelii Gaudium)? Certainly, God in His omnipotence allows people to remain outside His Church, but that is not the same thing.
If John Harutunian of Massachusetts is willing to grant that the Catholic Church is the Church of the Western hemisphere, then he should, according to his own geographic criteria, join it. More fundamentally, the Catholic Church is universal: She can be found all over the world, in all four hemispheres. Indeed, I wrote a book, The Persecuted, about my experiences living and working in several Asian countries, where I witnessed a vibrant Catholic Church populated by just about every Asian ethnicity and language one might name.
That some Christians, such as Eastern Orthodox and Protestants, do not recognize the universal authority of the Catholic Church does not necessarily undermine that authority. Such non-Catholic Christians would need to prove that Catholic Church’s authority is not legitimate. And if they cannot do so, they would, by default, be either schismatics or heretics.
I welcome Carl Sundell’s exegesis of St. Peter, though, to be fair to Protestants, I think they would respond to him by noting that St. Peter doesn’t say that all of St. Paul’s writings are “hard to understand,” but only “some things.” To Sundell’s point, we don’t know what, exactly, St. Peter had in mind — he may very well have been referring to those verses so often cited by Protestants as “clearly” teaching some Protestant doctrine such as sola fide! So I’d think 2 Peter 3:15-16 might be best described as a draw in the endless “Bible wars” of interpretation, which, as I argue in The Obscurity of Scripture, is the reason we must step outside such intractable interpretative disputes and consider Protestantism and its errant doctrine of perspicuity from a logical, historical, and sociological perspective.
A Cloud of Ambiguity
As a widower, I want to thank Randall B. Smith for his articulate and well-researched article “Will There Be Sex in Heaven?” (June), which affirms my burning hope for a bodily reunion with the woman who was my wife for 58 years. I suspect that his message is a similar consolation to many others who are the surviving spouse of a happy marriage. My wife and I often spoke of our hope — our desire, really — to spend eternity praising God together, where, as Dr. Smith puts it, “There will be greater intimacy than you can even imagine.” Such is my dream, and my hope.
Dr. Smith makes that point clearly and beautifully. Why, then, did he have to “cob it up” by taking on the loaded question about the seven husbands, a question he acknowledges to be in bad faith, one Jesus Himself avoided answering directly? Loaded questions invariably are based on questionable premises. Many contain a false premise. By attempting to respond to this one as though it were a sincere inquiry, Smith ends his otherwise excellent article in a cloud of ambiguity and doubt, which obscures and even contradicts his primary point.
Smith’s analysis is based entirely on his own unsupported premise that each of the woman’s marriages was a love match, “like seven beautiful paintings given as gifts from God.” Not true. Each of the woman’s successive husbands married her out of a religious and familial duty. Mark’s Gospel records the Sadducees’ question: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother” (12:18). This significant detail, which Smith has overlooked, contradicts his perspective.
But the real harm is that this takes the reader well off the point. Although Smith initially affirms that sacramental marriage is “a foretaste of that more perfect union we will experience with God in Heaven,” he then urges the reader to imagine the unimaginable: that in Heaven we will be able to have a “sacramental union of spouses,” a union that is by definition uniquely personal, but we will also be “united fully with others,” that is, with more than one person! Even a multitude of persons. So, when the reader has finished the article, he is not rejoicing that his hope for a uniquely personal reunion with his deceased spouse has been affirmed. Instead, he is left to worry that it will not be so at all, that perhaps his spouse will be just one in a crowd of many, that his reunion with his wife will be less a union of “one flesh” and more like the way a drop of water is absorbed in a river.
That thought saddens me. I would rather continue to think that my wife and I will approach the Throne of God, hand in hand, as a couple; that we will be united with our family and the “great cloud of witnesses,” hand in hand, as a couple. Therefore, my suggestion is that the reader focus on the first part of Dr. Smith’s article and simply forget about the seven brothers.
Michael V. McIntire
Cave Springs, Arkansas
Randall B. Smith takes on the miry proposition of sex in Heaven frankly, and I think most of us would be satisfied with: “Your body in Heaven will be a glorified body that doesn’t operate the way your earthly body does.”
Beyond suggesting, as Smith does, that the physical aspects of marriage become obsolete because of the lack of risk of death, we ought to consider that any other aspects of marriage (like the “intimacy” Smith discusses) become obsolete as well.
Also — and Smith alludes to this in saying that earthly marriage is but a “foretaste of that more perfect union we will experience with God in Heaven” — I have always thought (I suppose from being taught) that should we make it into the direct loving presence of God in Heaven, we will need for, and want for, nothing else, including a spouse. To which of the seven brothers will the wife belong? All of them, none of them — what’s the difference at that point? They won’t need or want her, nor she them, since they will all have God.
Will there be indoor plumbing in Heaven? I’ve told my wife that if there is no indoor plumbing in Heaven, then I am not going. Is my question, however, a deep theological inquiry that requires an answer fully supported with scriptural references? Or does it require a query in return: “Is indoor plumbing a condition you require of Heaven?”
Though my question is frivolous, it is no different in nature than to ask whether there will be marriage or sex in Heaven. Randall B. Smith has pointed out that whatever is good in marriage and sex will be in Heaven. But I would contend (and I am sure many of the faithful will agree) that there is clearly good in indoor plumbing. Yet, as with indoor plumbing, the person concerned about marriage and sex could also be asked, “Are marriage and sex conditions you require for happiness in Heaven?” Can Heaven be Heaven if we find ourselves missing the things we hoped would be there? Can the things we think must be in Heaven be the very things that prevent our entrance?
I believe the correct answer to the question “Will there be X in Heaven?” must be “Only Heaven knows.” In other words, we don’t know, and we cannot know, until we are there. “We cannot imagine heaven,” Joseph Ratzinger says in God and the World. “And still less can we imagine some kind of body being located there.” The Catechism tells us that how we rise from the dead “exceeds our imagination and understanding” (no. 1000). In crossing from our time and space into Heaven, we cross an unimaginable line into eternity.
Because we live in time, we incline toward an understanding of eternity as endless time. But to live in time endlessly must lead to the hopelessness that Shakespeare’s Macbeth saw in its succession of empty tomorrows. To live endlessly is not to live eternally but exhaustively.
Endless time seems desirable in neither the East nor the West. In Eastern religions, the desire for Nirvana appears to be a quest to escape the relentless cycle of time. Peace is found not in time but outside of time. Unlike the Eastern religions, however, Christianity is not about escaping time but transcending time. It is not about release but fulfillment. It is not about losing one’s individuality but integrating one’s unique eternal self into a heavenly community of other eternal selves.
As we can’t imagine eternity, we can’t really imagine an eternal body. The encounters with Jesus resurrected certainly give us a glimpse. But if Scripture tells us anything, it tells us that God always meets us where we are. The Apostles were in time, and that is where Jesus met them. We do know that Jesus resurrected was uniquely Jesus, the Jesus whom the Apostles knew as God Incarnate. In eternity, we also will be recognizable. We are promised an eternal version of ourselves, a self we will know as the person we became in time. In this world, we do not know ourselves as spirits but as sensual bodies. Our fantasies of spiritual life frequently picture vaporous spiritual bodies that minimally think, talk, see, and listen. But all those abilities are functions of our bodies. We would be totally lost as bodiless spirits. We would not know ourselves. God’s promise is that we will know ourselves as the Apostles knew the resurrected Jesus.
The fact that we cannot really imagine either Heaven or our eternal bodies is not a deprivation but an asset. Our journey to Heaven is about letting go. We must leave this earth with neither requirements for our happiness nor any hope smaller than the hope that we will meet God in the most intimate way, a way we cannot begin to imagine. In believing the serpent’s promise that “you will be like God,” Adam and Eve accepted the lie that they were not made in God’s image, that God was holding out on them. In other words, they no longer trusted God. Our return to Eden must mirror the Fall. Where Adam and Eve fell from God’s hands, we must regain the trust to fall into His hands. To return to Eden is to trust that God did indeed make us in His image. We must trust that He will restore us to that image.
God gives us time to know Him. In knowing Him, we will trust Him. When we ponder Heaven, we must ask ourselves whether we seek to know Him or are simply making plans we cannot take with us, plans that may hold us back from the very thing we think we desire. Ultimately, we must let go of everything. He will take care of the rest.
Murphy, North Carolina
I enjoyed Randall B. Smith’s article, but I was struck by the error in terminology when he states that Jesus was a human person, that He became “incarnate as an actual human person with an actual human body.” This is a heretical statement that was corrected by the Council of Ephesus in 431, which asserted definitively that “Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own” (emphasis added). The Second Council of Constantinople clarified further, teaching that there is only one Person in Christ, and that “everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to his divine person as its proper subject.”
Acts are performed by persons. If Jesus had been merely a human person like the rest of us, and not a human being united to a divine Person, then none of His redeeming acts would have been adequate to save us, to render justice to an infinite and perfect God. Jesus’ human deeds must be divine deeds, the personal acts of God Himself, to possess of their very nature a divine power to gain and grant our salvation.
RANDALL B. SMITH REPLIES:
“As a widower,” Michael V. McIntire wants to thank me for my article. As a writer, I want to thank Mr. McIntire for taking the time to read my article and for the kind comments he makes about it. I am happy that he found things in it that were a consolation to him. I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing my own wife, so he has my prayers. But I think he and I would agree that the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection offers him the best consolation available in this life.
I am sorry that McIntire did not enjoy the second half of my article. Perhaps as a man who has had only one wife, the issue is not a pressing one for him. It is, however, pressing for others, some of whom have had two or more wives, all of whom they loved dearly, and thus it is a challenge that I think must be faced.
So, too, I must reply to Paul Tormey that, in my experience and from the reports of many others, and from my reading of the Church’s intellectual tradition, it is simply not the case that most people are “satisfied” with the statement, “Your body in Heaven will be a glorified body that doesn’t operate the way your earthly body does.”
If Mr. Tormey were to take a moment to read Mr. McIntire’s letter, he would see the answer that a loving husband would give to his question, “What’s the difference at that point?” He would also find what a devoted husband would say in response to his comment, “They won’t need or want her.” We cannot have a notion of the afterlife that makes our best actions and efforts in this life meaningless. There are no authentic “goods” in this life that could be missing from God.
As I argue in my book From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body, the proper Christian view of the afterlife does not make this life meaningless; it makes the goods of this life eternal. Hence, my objection to the claim that human intimacy becomes “obsolete” in Heaven. Our redemption is not a negation of the created order; it is a restoration of its fullest potential.
I am not certain that Peter Jermann and I disagree about anything, or anything of real importance. He is right to ask whether certain earthly things are keeping us from Heaven. The same holds for this life. If someone were dedicated to plumbing in such a way that it kept him from loving his wife and children, then he should give up plumbing. This wouldn’t make plumbing bad; it would simply mean that this person didn’t have his priorities straight.
Plumbing is a service; it serves an end. Good plumbing helps people live more sanitary and pleasant lives. If you devote yourself to plumbing and forget the people you are called upon to serve, then you have mistaken a means for an end. But whatever good there is in this or any other service will exist in Heaven because Heaven is unity with God, and whatever good there is in this life has its ultimate source in God. There can be nothing good in this world that could possibly be absent in God, who is its Source.
To the question, “Can we really imagine Heaven or our eternal bodies?” the answer is clearly no. But that doesn’t mean Christ hasn’t given us a glimpse of something important in His post-resurrection appearances. What He reveals to us is that, in Heaven, we share in the life and joy of the Triune God. But unlike the views held by some Eastern religions, we will not lose our personal identity. We are not like the drop of water returning to the ocean. There is still a Mother Teresa, a St. Francis, and your grandmother in union with the Triune God. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t pray to them or for them. Knowing these things can be comforting to people facing death, either their own or that of a loved one.
As for Catherine Lawson’s concerns about how to address Christ, this has always been and always will be a complicated issue due to the dual nature of Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. According to the classic patristic view of what is known as the communicatio idiomatum (“the communication of properties” or the “interchangeability of idioms”), because of the unity of Christ’s person (He is two natures in one person), we can predicate His human attributes and experiences to His divine nature, and vice versa. Thus, we can speak of “the suffering of God,” even though it is His human nature that is subject to suffering. (So, too, for this reason, as the Council of Ephesus made clear, we can call Mary “the Mother of God.”)
In this light, let’s consider my statement that the Son of God became “incarnate as an actual human person with an actual human body.” How would we rewrite that sentence? We could say that “the Son of God became man with an actual human body” or “the Son of God became a man with an actual human body.” Both would work, but both would suffer the same potential misunderstanding. Christ did not become a man and stop being God.
So, too, the Scriptures say, “Jesus wept” and “Jesus slept” and “Jesus died on the cross.” If we interpreted the statement that “everything in Christ’s human nature is to be attributed to His divine person as its proper subject” as saying that “Jesus’ human deeds must be divine deeds,” then we might be mistaken for saying that Jesus, in His divine nature, wept, slept, and died. This is obviously absurd, and I am not accusing Ms. Lawson of making this mistake. I assume that was not her meaning.
So, to be clear, Ms. Lawson is correct to warn that Jesus, though fully human, is also fully divine. We don’t say that Jesus is a human person and a divine Person because He is one person. He is a divine Person — the Son of God — but He is also incarnate.
If I look at my friend John, I can say, “There goes a human person.” Had I been able to look at Jesus, I could have said, in the same sense, “There goes a human person.” If someone objected and said, “No, He is not a human person; He is a divine Person!” then the person objecting would be guilty of error. Jesus is as much and as fully a human person as is my friend John. To deny this would be to deny Jesus’ human nature.
I get it: the terminology is tricky. I did not wish to communicate the notion that Jesus was only human, not divine, or that He was not two natures, fully God and fully man, in one person. I wonder whether other readers of my article imagined that this was my meaning. Other than Ms. Lawson, I’ve not found anyone who did. But I suppose it’s worth mentioning just in case someone might have interpreted the words human person in that mistaken way. What can I say? Please don’t.
Many thanks to all who read my article and took it seriously enough to think about it and even write about it. My wife always says that a complaint indicates commitment. I hope all my readers will at least get the sense that we are both committed to the faith of the Church and the authentic Catholic tradition as well as the love of God and neighbor.
Beautiful, Sublime & Transcendent
I was in college when the Novus Ordo (NO) Mass began, and it is the liturgy I prefer. But in “Does Good Liturgy Beget Moral Virtue?” (June), Kenneth Colston makes an excellent point that the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) is not only beautiful but transcendent (he uses the word “sublime”). He offers an important insight, that the transcendent is often hidden, and it evokes awe, holy fear, in the worshiper — as it should. By contrast, the NO seeks to welcome, comfort, and include, while the TLM challenges worshipers and calls them to repentance.
I thank Colston for giving me a new and deeper appreciation for the Mass I grew up with and served at as a boy.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Reading Kenneth Colston is delightful labor. His erudition can be overwhelming at times, but the reader comes away more erudite himself, provided a dictionary is close at hand. I learned, for example, to distinguish sublime from beautiful. Though I had not heretofore confused them, I had also not understood the necessity for distinction.
Kenneth Colston’s marvelous exploration of the TLM could be aptly summarized by the ancient formula he states midway through: lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi (“As we pray, so we believe, so we live”). Though this catchy Latin phrase is easy to overlook on account of its familiarity, the reams dedicated to its exposition will never be wasted. That is because the liturgy is an infinite font of meditation, springing from the very Godhead Himself.
Colston does well to encourage us to the active study of liturgical disciplines, whether musical, artistic, or linguistic. These forms of participation in their proper ministerial, hierarchical ordering, according to our rank in the Church, fulfill more nobly our duty to glorify almighty God (pietas), as well as increase sanctifying grace within us.
Colston’s asking “Did the liturgy inspire these?” about the arts and crafts springing up in his TLM community is a brilliant rhetorical device. The answer is undoubtedly yes, easily acknowledged by many. But he formulates the query in such a way as to make the skeptic come to the same conclusion. It reminds me of a Twitter page called “Culture Critic,” in which the author posted a picture of a beautiful library from Europe and asked, “What inspired man to build something like this?” The answer can only stem from the right worship of God — good liturgy — which flows into every aspect of a healthy society.
Though lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi might represent the succinct form of Colston’s article, no amount of words is superfluous in support of good liturgy. For above all, this discourse glorifies God, and if it converts just one soul to a greater commitment to the liturgical life (and consequently a more civilized Catholic culture), then it can be counted a great success.
St. Louis, Missouri
Kenneth Colston’s article is excellent. He describes the atmosphere of the TLM well enough that someone accustomed to the NO would have a good sense of what to expect should he attend a TLM. And, while extolling the beauty and virtues of the TLM, he refrains from being strident about it, and he avoids casting its opponents as evil.
However, Colston’s statement that the NO and the TLM “were slowly trending together” is a broad claim, and nothing in the rest of his article either justifies this claim or, more importantly, discusses the possible significance or consequences.
St. Louis, Missouri
While I agree with much of what Kenneth Colston writes, I regret having to note a number of inaccuracies in his article.
1. Colston refers to “auricular-only confession lines.” All confessions are auricular, that is, spoken into the ear (auris, in Latin) of the priest. I suspect he means the absence of a face-to-face option.
2. Colston recounts a conversation with a priest following a TLM who asserted that if Colston didn’t understand much, it made no difference because “I wasn’t talking to you.” If the priest did indeed say that, then the priest didn’t know what he was saying, either, because at times too numerous to mention, the priest does indeed address the congregation (e.g., Dominus vobiscum; Sursum corda; Orate, fratres).
3. Colston remarks several times about the supposedly exemplary behavior of children at extraordinary-form Masses. I must demur. My experience is the opposite, namely, that many such children behave poorly, and worse, their parents do little to nothing to deal with the problem. In fact, people who complain about the misbehavior are charged with being “anti-life” and “anti-family.”
4. Colston refers to a “clanking thurifer.” A thurifer is the server who handles the thurible. Undoubtedly, Colston means thurible. Thankfully, I have never encountered a “clanking thurifer.”
5. Colston declares that the NO can never be “sublime.” This assertion flies in the face of the experience of tens of thousands of Catholics who, on a regular basis, do find it “sublime.” Colston is certainly entitled to say that he does not find it sublime; however, he cannot make an apodictic statement in regard to others.
6. Colston maintains that there are many interesting spin-offs from the usus antiquior, as in “old-form parish activities” such as ballroom dancing, sacred-art studios, medieval craft guilds, and chant classes. In my boyhood, I attended two “old-form parishes” and never saw even one of those activities in those parishes. If such activities are emerging, that is a good thing, but we shouldn’t suggest that they are “revivals” of earlier practices because they aren’t.
7. Colston refers to the season of “Septuaginta.” The season is called Septuagesima. Septuaginta is the Greek text of the Old Testament. He also says that that season is “unique to the TLM.” In point of fact, it is not. The Eastern Churches have its equivalent, and the Anglican Use liturgy has the exact same season, with the same name.
8. Colston asserts that “TLM families have their stuff together.” If he heard some of their confessions, he might modify that declaration. To be sure, some TLM families do have their stuff together, but so do some NO families.
9. Colston tells us that one TLM parish was “clocking a thousand confessions a month.” Given that NO Masses average about 200 people on a Sunday, that would require each parishioner to avail himself of the Sacrament of Penance five times a month!
I have gone to the trouble of delineating these missteps because when we write we must be careful that what we say is accurate, and because the exaggerations contained in Colston’s article became the very stuff fueling the Bergoglio-Roche animosity toward the Old Mass and its devotees.
I celebrate the TLM when asked, and I think the Bergoglian assault on the usus antiquior was unjust and unwise. I further believe that the TLM has never been better celebrated than at present. Why? Because the priests offering it do so freely and with deliberateness — and the people attending are there because they want to be. In my estimation, the worst thing that could happen to the Old Mass would be for it to become normative again, for we would revert to the messy situation of the “good old days.”
Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
Editor, The Catholic Response
Pine Beach, New Jersey
First, I want to thank the Divine Providence that led to my receiving, reading, and subscribing to such a wonderful publication. My spiritual journey over the past seven-plus decades has led to my encounter with a wide variety of Christian thinkers, and being given the May 2021 issue of the NOR “out of the blue” has been a most gratifying gift from God. I subscribed after reading that issue, and I have continued anxiously to await the arrival of each issue since then. I read it cover to cover and have enjoyed each and every article, though my Swedish Baptist roots leave me swimming in some deep water regarding Catholic controversies, especially the liturgy.
Despite my background, I cannot help but respond to Kenneth Colston’s article on the TLM. I was drawn to his descriptions of the discord between Catholics who favor the NO and those who desire the TLM because my non-denominational church suffers from similar problems. The traditional forms of worship have been swept away, and our worship leaders now demand that the sanctuary lights be focused on them and that the background music be rhythmic and loud. There seems to be no desire to bring harmony to the music or build relationships with parishioners, who are either overwhelmed by the volume (especially if they wear hearing-assist devices) or get caught up in dancing or gyrating in the aisles. Most distressing is that the nature of our worship of God, the Source of All Light, is carried out in a spirit of disharmony and mimics the trends of the world.
Maybe I am just too old. But God speaks to me through the NOR and through the written words of believers throughout our history. I trust Him to secure the Roman Catholic Church, just as He will secure the Church of all believers, as we continue to seek His face in all our worship experiences. I pray that your work continues to shed light on the resurrected Christ, whom we all seek to worship, and that through the Holy Spirit, in the manner in which He works through your publication, all believers will come to focus on the Living Son of God, and hearts will turn to Christ.
David C. Anderson, M.D., F.A.C.S. (ret.)
KENNETH COLSTON REPLIES:
Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas’s keen copy-editor’s eye indeed caught an inaccuracy (objection 1) and a lapsus mentis (7) in my panegyric. I accurately used “clanking” as an active voice (not passive) participial adjective, however, to describe the action done (not received) by the thurifer on the thurible (4), and the ironic conversation (2), good behavior (3, 8), and big numbers (9) I reported in my article are no exaggerations.
To add a materialistic recent footnote, the number of families in our TLM parish (without air-conditioning) has jumped from 453 to 495 just this scorching July, in a depopulating, scary city, and the 2022-2023 offering basket bagged $286,000 dollars more than the yearly budget of $535,000. Talk about loaves, fishes, and mustard seeds!
The concomitant “old forms” (6), some of which go back decades and even centuries (e.g., ballroom dancing, Ancien Régime manners, craft guilds), are indeed capturing the imagination of young and old alienated by a Catholic liturgical style (not intrinsic to the NO, I carefully maintain) that is often silly, middlebrow, and garishly out of step with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which also seems to bother David C. Anderson in his Protestant experience.
John Petrocelli gets my central point that the two Roman usus have two different aesthetic emphases, both valid, inspiring different responses that can be more appropriate in different times. If I had had the space, and the Holy Father had not stopped the fusion of the two usus in the middle of my writing, I could have elaborated on it better for John Fogarty, even if the subject is as inexhaustible as Nicholas Kalinowski and I think it is.
Dena Hunt finds my description of the TLM via Edmund Burke as challenging as I find the TLM. That tens of thousands of NO parishioners also find it sublime (5) refutes not a whit my application of Burke’s aesthetics, nor does it surprise me. Millions marvel at Disneyland who have never seen Neuschwanstein.
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