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Et Veritas Liberaverit Vos

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

That the world changed drastically in the 20th century is something commonly agreed upon in the 21st.  Where the progressives of Western civilization would see the changes—various and at times contrary though they are—as representative of some fundamental alteration and improvement in man, an evolution of his nature, any realist would have to disagree vehmently.  While great scientific advancements have been made over the past hundred years, fallacious ideologies have undermined truth, liberty, and even society itself, so thoroughly contorting and realigning the moral tendons of Western culture that its technological and medical muscles are choking out man’s innately teleological intellect.  A man can now carry a thousand books in his pocket; but what wisdom is to be garnered from Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer?  A business man can find directions to his next presentation by speaking to his car; but what purpose is there to such a meeting if all he has to sell is bread and circus?  An exchange student in France can call home to Burbank with almost no delay while simultaneous writing an email to Japan; but what betterment of society is given by instantaneous worldwide communication if no one has anything truly worthwhile to say?  A non-denominational pluralistic religious service can have its message of peace, love, and hope broadcast globally; but what is merited through an act that merely signifies interior benevolence and fails to incite divine beneficence?  An insular materialistic perspective sees these capabilities as enhancing modern man’s freedom and as liberating society from the mores of antiquity because it fails to understand both the nature of freedom and of society.

True freedom, today so commonly misapprehended as license—the removal of social, moral, and technological limitations on self-directing activity—consists of man being given the opportunity by his society to pursue with as little interference as possible the fulfillment of his nature in the engagement with truth.  The conditions and results of this engagement are progressively cyclical; man’s potential for encountering truth is attained most fully in the rightly-ordered society; man is most fully engaged with society when he is most freely a part of it; and man is most free when he is imbued with the truth.  It is thus the responsibility of those who have attained freedom through the truth to not sit back and allow society to deviate from its truest purpose, but to lead others out from the obfuscation of the real by the inundation with the spectacular—the means by which the intellectual powers of the West are being atrophied—that presently suffocates the life and soul of Western society.

Part I: Society

What do men mean when they say “society”?  Though the word is used diurnally by millions of people, it is nonetheless used with great ambiguity and vagueness.  The average individual will speak directly about society, quite often in the West about how much it is repressive to his “life-style,” but ask him what it is and he will almost inevitably give a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer, lifting his hands and indicating everything about him, because he does not know where to begin or what to include in its definition.  Enumeration of all the objects and actions which could be said to compose society would take time beyond reckoning.  The word has such a broad denotation, in fact, because it deals not with particular individuals or particular individual acts, but with the whole framework of man’s activity with other men.  “Society” applies to polite conversation and formal discourse; to haggling over milk at the local market and a multi-billion dollar corporate merger; it applies to the systematic and calculated violence of the Nazi Holocaust and to the compassionate hand of Mother Teresa.  Yet while such examples can demonstrate a plethora of truths of society, none provide an essential definition of society itself.  Certainly it is through such instances that man knows society, but their diversity and breadth of possible configurations shows that, they are merely instantiations of the societal essence, and not the essence itself.

What is society simpliciter?  How is it to be defined?  Is it a concept that exists merely by some form of regionalized commonality, an abstract framework existing outside of individuals and into which man instills concrete conventional, guiding patterns of interaction, that is, in laws, buildings, currencies, entertainments—the tangible results of the associations of individuals for the production and attainment of some good?  Or is it something more fundamental, essential, human, real?  If society is merely the former, then the only ways to alter it is through altering the conventional patterns: radical restructuring of legal systems and the entire physical composition of a given locale, in its architecture as well as its means of interaction, such as its literature, currency, and systems of signification, like traffic signs.  Such a notion is clearly absurd; for it is obvious that society itself does not exist on paper and in contracts, regardless of how much one may respect what those papers and contracts signify, nor is it to be found in the architectural or economic paradigms of a particular region.  Every concrete physical instance, or abstract communal convention, of what is commonly considered a social element is dispensable without destruction of society itself; none are essential.  Neither is their totality, for nothing comes from nothing, and at some point in human history there was no systematized society: no currency, no buildings, no laws, no entertainment, no organized religion.  One aspect of society which, however, is essential and which has always been, a self-evident aspect, is the active plurality of participants; a society cannot exist without willful participation by more than one individual.  All of the aspects commonly, and rightly considered to be a part of society—mercantile exchange, legal systems, political structures, urban development, artistic cultivation, academic institutions, religious institutions, even language itself—are dependent upon a usually considerable measure of personal interaction.

Thus, in any human society, there are always two essential elements: persons and personal interactions.  But what sort of actions are unique to persons as interactive?  What actions of human persons form a human society?  Animals do not have trade, laws, politics, buildings, art, education, or religion; but some evolutionists and psychologists would reduce these traits in man to elaborated means of extending his physical, emotional needs, and the argument boils down to an insoluble quibble, so long as the principles are fundamentally divided.  What makes these aspects of human society distinct from the baser animal needs, however, is their essentially linguistic mode of existence; for although many animals have something like language, it is merely the signification of something external, an instance of stimulus and response.  Man’s language, contrariwise, points to something not merely outward, to external objects, but also inwardly, to thoughts that encompass the phantasmal imagery of the particular instance of physical existence within a broader dimension.  The institutions of society are built through this the immediate ability of articulated words to signify the internal word, the “knowledge come to life in the mind,” and to lead someone else, another mind, to that same knowledge.  This ability to present and demonstrate to others his internal self, his intellectual self, and to receive others’ internal, intellectual selves—to act intersubjectively—is the essence of the human society.  Every aforementioned tangible aspect of human society, as well as its intangibles, its morality and faith, are possible only through the intersubjective exchange of individuals.

Knowing a technical definition of society, however, is not really knowing what society is; for everything is ultimately determined in its essence by its end, and judged in its quality by how fully it participates in its essence, by whether or not it attains its end.  Society is not merely a tool for the individual, but an essential part of his being.  Only through man’s actualization of his inherent intersubjectivity is he fully a man, for in such consists his rational development and improvement.  Thus, as society exists amongst individuals, as part of them, its end is in their end—namely, their full development in this life, through both liberty and education, for the sake of the next.  In looking at today’s society, however, what one sees is not a society which is conducive to the development of the individual, but one which, through its gross perversion of educational structures and norms, closely resembles Plato’s cave.

Part II: Ducere ex Captio

In his seminal though easily misunderstood work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger writes that man has “the character of directionality.”  Man’s intellect, like his physical senses, is always directed at something particular.  He is always looking at, hearing, smelling, and touching things as wholes; he is always thinking of wholes, even when he is thinking of them as parts of some other whole; his focus is always upon the one.  But his focus is not static, for it is directed towards things in order to know those things themselves.  This directionality, the innate and inextricable orientation of the self for-the-sake-of knowing something, which will be revisited later on, reveals an essential characteristic of man; he, like the rest of the universe, is intended for activity.  This raises a question: if man is always active, then insofar as he is man in this world, he is within the sort activity natural to man; though as a creature, he is subject to conditions of possibility and actuality, and therefore has various degrees to which he participates in this essential activity.  What is the activity in which man begins his life, into which he is naturally born?  All of his faculties are, in fact, engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, the only end that is sought for its own sake.  Thus, the innate directionality of man, that towards which his whole being ought to be oriented, is the truth.  Plato, however, through his allegory of the cave, states that man is born into societal slavery, in which his directionality is forcefully pointed towards vague shadows, deceptive representations of the real; in a way, this is true, particularly in the contemporary age wherein few men of the West are not born into a world that immediately inundates them with sensory spectacle—the shadows upon the wall of the cave are plain to see in the lit screens of televisions and computer monitors.  Yet while such enslavement is inarguably involuntary, and many men go their whole lives so habituated to it that they never escape, freedom is—through a fundamentally societal medium, education, the proper function of society—offered to most.

Sadly, amidst the overwhelming possibilities of modern, corrupt society, freedom is seldom accepted; for in addition to overcoming the thought-condemning tide of modernity, man must also overcome his own weakness of will.  Attaining freedom is not merely a matter of recognizing the falsity of the shadows on the wall, but also the willing to accept a proposed directionality towards the truth of the things themselves.  Paradoxically, it is only through exposure to the truth that man may turn himself towards it—there must be some violence to man’s fallen nature to instigate its rectification.  Thus, man’s directionality is not simply an errant condition whereby he is pushed by himself and others to various ends, but a means in need of guidance to a particular, specific end: the truth.

But how is this directionality guided?  How is the person freed from the increasingly Huxleian enslavement of modern society?  The man as an individual cannot free himself; such is not the nature of man.  Rather, it is done through a fundamentally intersubjective act.  In Plato’s allegory of the cave, it is the noble man, who, having escaped the illusions and discovered the truth, returns and does all he can to liberate his fellows by developing their intellects, by turning their minds’ eyes away from the distractions of a superficial society to the truths of things themselves.  In all societies, this man is the teacher or educator.  What does it mean to be an educator?  What is education?  Etymologically, the word derives from two Latin roots: ex, “from,” and ducere, “to lead.”  To be an educator, then, is to be a leader, not necessarily to some definite end, but certainly away from something.  If the good at which man is innately aimed is knowledge of the truth, the things themselves, then the good educator is the man who leads others away from the opposite of true knowledge: deception.  Such education is done by exposing to others the essences of things, through the proper use of language (a mere deluge of factual information about things is comparable to programming a computer: capable, powerful, but without a properly functional self-directionality), for what the teacher knows is the essence of a thing’s reality, and this, the internal word, the knowledge come to life in his mind, is signified by the external word.  Of course this process is slow and painful, for the inexperienced mind, knowledgeable only of the superficialities with which it has been inundated, must overcome the certitude of its own insular knowledge and perceive the greater truths which are demonstrated to it, often beginning with aspects of the limited world seen but never fully recognized, never formulated into the internal word vivified through conversation with another.  Yet the expansion of real knowledge in the mind of the individual has something of a snowball effect; the more truth accretes in the mind, the more quickly and the more it is capable of taking in.

It is thus, through exposure to the reality of things, that man is given freedom.  It is strange that in a modern society so thoroughly enthralled with professional and collegiate sports, where rules ensure that individuals are not interfered with in the utilization of their talents, that true human freedom is not understood to consist of the very same paradigm.  Pure possibility, a lack of guides and restrictions, induces nothing but paralysis.  A man cannot play a sport without knowing the rules that guide his ability to play it; and a man cannot live a free life without knowing those things that enable him to fulfill his nature.  Knowledge, true knowledge, always produces restriction against self-detriment.  The man who knows that a certain mushroom is poisonous is restricted from blamelessly eating it; a man who knows that adultery is immoral, and particularly he who knows why, is, with few exceptions of barely mitigated culpability, entirely restricted from blamelessly indulging in acts of lust.  Yet being inhibited from eating the mushroom saves the man’s life; being inhibited from adultery saves his soul; seen positively, both, as do all restrictions of known truth, enable him to the fulfillment of his nature: the attainment of and repose within truth.  One thinks of the 8th chapter of the Gospel according to John, not merely for its best-known line, “And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free” (8:32), but for the whole discussion of truth, the word, and freedom (8:31-47).  It is through the intersubjective beneficence of Christ, His teaching, that the Apostles came to know the truth, and through knowing the truth that they were made free, and through being freed that they were able to follow Christ, the Logos, the Truth.  Thus, it is through knowledge of the truth that man comes to be free and it is through freedom that man comes to further knowledge of truth: a man can be lead to the Pierian Spring, but only he can choose to drink of it.

If a man drinks deeply of the Spring, as Alexander Pope admonished, he is more fit to be a teacher of others; his capacity for intersubjective exchange, the yet-unvocalized articulation of the internal word, the vivacity of his intellect, is greater.  It is not thus difficult to see how education, which leads to freedom, leads to a better society, one permeated with truth and thus freer, and thus more inclined to truth, each expanding the possession and possibility of possession of the other ad infinitum.  Consequently, the proper enacting of the innate intersubjectivity of the educated individual, the fulfillment of the end of society, the teaching of others, is an essential act of every man so fortunate as to have been himself the recipient of truth from another; apathy in the face of pervasive deception is perhaps the greatest vice when facing the monstrosity of the contemporary spectacle-based society.



Hermeneutics and Continuity

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

If anyone spends long enough around the Catholic Church, he is bound to hear something concerning Vatican II and the changes that have stemmed from the decisions made at the council.  Some people are happy for these changes, some are still—forty-four years later—quite angry, and many, if not most, are almost entirely ignorant of what occurred at the council and how it has impacted the Church.  Regardless of where one stands, the divergence of opinions clearly demonstrates that there is a lack of consistent interpretation of Vatican II.  Though not something new to the Church, this contrariety of opinions is a very significant situation from which has come, and from which continues to come, much chaos and much damage in the form of liturgical and theological disunity.  How does such inconsistent and subsequently faulty interpretation occur?  Firstly, it comes from the frailty of the human authors of the documents.  As men, the theologians and clergy involved in the documents’ crafting were and are fallible and subject to error; more diabolically, and as a topic far beyond the scope of this essay, they are also subject to sinful behavior, including deliberate subversion of Church teaching and tradition.  Either sort of aberration from the requisite clarity of the exercise of the teaching authority entrusted to the Church’s bishops and pontiff results in harm—and such happened in the Second Vatican Council..  Due to this lack of clarity, not only is unintentional misinterpretation of the council’s teaching nigh unavoidable—the modern age having given the common man access to everything, all the time—but even more lamentably the door is opened wide for deliberate misinterpretation and consequent misapplication.  Thus, left in a state of confusion, it is to be asked: how may the Church and Her members reclaim clarity, unity, and all that has been woefully cast aside amidst the incoherence of radically divergent interpretations of the Second Vatican Council?  This question, which has been of growing importance as liturgical, theological, and catechetical abuse has continued to hold the reigns in far too many a diocese, has found an answer, in what His Holiness Benedict XVI termed “the hermeneutic of continuity.”

Before diving into the difficulties inevitable in the unpacking of this phrase, it should be prefaced by saying that Vatican II, though poorly worded, illumined much which had become obfuscated throughout time by a routine acceptance, rather than a willing embrace, of Catholic tradition.  As such, though many mistakenly or willfully took the documents of Vatican II as an impetus to rupture with the Church’s tradition, the council’s promulgations have given the members of the Church an opportunity to re-evaluate their understanding of the tradition to which they adhere and within which they are inexorably bound, as part of the Mystical Body of Christ.  In performing this re-evaluation, the concept of hermeneutics, particularly the hermeneutic of continuity, is invaluably helpful; not only so that Catholics, deprived of the traditions that misinterpretation of Vatican II stripped away, may reclaim their liturgical and theological heritage, but so that with such understanding they may better comprehend their present situation and advance further in the lifelong endeavor that is the pursuit of salvation.


So what is the hermeneutic of continuity?  First, what is a hermeneutic?  Simply put, it is a method of interpretation; consequently, hermeneutics is the study of the methods and means of interpretation.  This study is consequently applicable to all spheres and pursuits of human activity; traditionally it began with Sacred Scripture, but has expanded in time to literature, law, history, and gradually the entire human experience.  To present the history of the development of hermeneutics, as a study of the processes of interpretation, understanding, and application, would be a lengthy digression.  Summarily, the goal of the hermeneutical development has always been to provide a means by which someone may clearly understand what is being presented, what they are perceiving—in this way, it has always been, with varying degrees of accuracy, oriented by what could be considered the phenomenological perspective.

Unfortunately, however, many of those who study hermeneutics, in attempting to find a means to validly access, interpret, and understand the pastness of things—be they cultures, people, ideas, texts, or events—stray into advocating errors of two primary divergences: one, in attempting to displace the self, into the historical environment or spirit of that attempting to be understood; or two, in attempting to comprehend the events solely by how they relate to the individual, the subjective consciousness of the self.  For a clear example, consider an unspecified literary work of the Victorian era.  In either sort of error, each having many variations, there is a calcification of the object of understanding; the former being an attempt at rigid but inevitably impossible reconstruction—the self whom one attempts to displace into another’s experience being inexorable from its own sphere of experience—and the latter being a consistently fluctuating but invariably dominant projection of the self, by which the object of understanding is conformed to the truth given by the self.  The former error, in attempted interpretation of the Victorian literary piece, would consist in the interpreter trying to mentally reconstruct the historical situation in which the author wrote or in trying to reconstruct the psychological state of the author at the time of writing.  The latter error would be reading everything within the literary work only as it applies to the self and as the self can re-apply it: for instance, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, to the person who feels excluded because she is female, the treatment of Laura and Lizzie by the in which men exclude women.

Though one is far more likely to derive something useful from the historical displacement, and though one could see a valid application of the text’s meaning to a contemporary situation,  in neither method is there a full understanding of the text.  Furthermore, and what is part of the fundamental error that has skewed the hermeneutical process throughout the centuries, is that the application of that which is understood has been divorced, separated from the acts of understanding and interpretation; yet the end, the application of that which is derived, is always that which directs the interpretation and thus determines the understanding.  In other words, those who attempt to understanding anything must do so by studying the parts in terms of the whole and the whole by means of the parts for some end, with some goal that inevitably influences, guides, and determines the shape of one’s interpretation and understanding.

The effects of this divorce are quite obvious in many of the branches of literary interpretation and criticism popular in the 20th and 21st centuries: reader-response theory, deconstructionism, the new historical school, and feminist and gender studies are all exemplars of the sort of eisegetical imposition that can be made upon a text when the application of its meaning is unnaturally separated from the discovery of that meaning.  If the end in one’s interpretative process is simply to interpret, then what will direct one’s interpretation of it?  It can only be one’s personal interests, goals, and ambitions; thus, the result is what the present Holy Father also aptly termed a dictatorship of relativism, for the goal of interpretation, left subject to the whims of the individual agenda, is not the acquisition of truth, but a sophistry, the making of something lesser appear greater.  Without the goal of deriving the truth as something absolute and unchanging from a text, or an event, be it past or present, a critic may take a single part to determine the meaning of the whole of something; he may use his own situation, feelings, or experience to re-present the work of some author long dead in an entirely different light—as gender theorists love to do.  This sort of interpretation, this radically individualistic hermeneutic of rupture, is focused not on the thing itself, but on the individual’s own agenda or the external circumstances surrounding the thing.

In contrast to these peripheral methods is that which is truly phenomenological, that which observes the thing itself.  To return to the example of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, what is the thing, the text?  On the surface, it is the words; but all words are signs; and signs are those things that point to something else.  To what do the signs of a literary work point?  That question can only be answered by analyzing and examining an individual work, for each is unique, and some point to nothing beyond their literal and obvious meanings.  In the case of Rossetti’s magnum opus, the signs point to a Christological story in which poorly-considered curiosity and the promise of pleasure brings a fall from grace that is redeemed by genuine love and an uncompromising willingness for self-sacrifice.  Arriving at this understanding, however, requires an interpretation by means of what is called the hermeneutical circle, with which one examines the parts of a text in reference to the whole, and examines the whole in reference to the parts.  By repeatedly working out this dual-referentiality, the understanding continually advances forwards; and when the interpreter goes out of the sphere of the text itself and into the tradition behind the text, as well as his own experience, so long as he is conscious of the significance of each and so long as he continually validates their application by reference to the text, he may further his understanding in an entirely more profound way.  Indeed, such an interpretation and understanding of Goblin Market could not be made otherwise, for it is only by an internal, personal recognition of the objective goodness of self-sacrifice and by knowledge of the tradition of Christological allusion in poetry that the inference can be made; but once made, it helps, as part of the multi-layered mutually referential hermeneutic, to make clearer the meaning of the text itself.

The Second Vatican Council

Of the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council—four constitutions, three declarations, and nine decrees—none is without some ambiguity; most are riddled with it.  Such a lack of clarity has made it easy for those who would deliberately seek a break with the Church’s consistent teaching, particularly regarding such issues as contraception, homosexuality, abortion, the ordination of women, and the clear distinction between the clergy and the laity.  However, despite the lack of clarity in the documents themselves, it is blatantly clear that the method of interpretation employed by these individuals is radically flawed, falling principally into the aforementioned relativistic error.  Just as gender-studies critics would read Goblin Market as a tale of liberation from masculine oppression, so too do radical feminists, amongst others, interpret the documents of Vatican II.  Refutation of these interpretations is not the goal of this essay; indeed, such a refutation would be futile, for the error is not merely in the faulty interpretation itself, but in the very method of interpretation they use, in the willful discontinuity which they perceive and upon which they insist.  Just as someone can refuse to see the Christological allegory in Rossetti’s work and thereby deny the poem’s greater significance, so too can one refuse to see the documents of Vatican II as dependent upon and within the fold of antecedent Church teaching, thereby denying their genuine significance.

This is why the concept behind Pope Benedict’s phrase, the hermeneutic of continuity, is so important.  It reminds the alacritous but perhaps undereducated laity that, unlike some self-contained didactic document (the existence of which is highly dubious, any document necessarily being produced within some particular context), any promulgation of the Holy See is merely a part within a much greater whole.  For someone to read and interpret Unitatis Redintegratio, the Vatican II decree on ecumenism, for instance, as a stand-alone document, and as solely indicative of the Church’s teaching on non-Catholic Christian churches would be tantamount to reading one act of a single Shakespearean play and from thence explicating all of dramatic convention.  Tragedy cannot be fully explained by the third act of Othello and ecumenism cannot be understood through either Unitatis Redintegratio nor Mortalium Animos, nor any single Church document.  The relationship between the Church and Her dissidents, between orthodox theology and heretical theology, does not fall into a categorical system whereby absolute damnation or salvation are determined; the law is not the sole determinant of justification, for the “law is always imperfect, not because it is imperfect in itself, but because, in comparison with the ordered world of law, human reality is necessarily imperfect and hence does not allow of any simple application of the former.” Indeed, if one is to consider justice—the giving of what is due to whom it is due—then judgment must always consider the particular imperfection of he who is being judged.  Such is the case with the Church’s relationship to the heretical Protestant denominations; at a time of genuine education, near the error, and with obstinacy in the face of the Truth, they are fully, mortally culpable for their heretical behavior.  Contrariwise, in a time, such as now, when the majority of Protestants are enormously ignorant of Catholic teaching, as well as having been brought up within the folds of heresy, they are not very culpable for their faults—indeed, the Catholic is more at fault for Protestantism today than the average Protestant, for being negligent in his evangelical duty.

In a way, this might seem discontinuous; it may seem as a promotion, or at least an acceptance, of the eternal law in which the Church participates being consistently ruptured by vagarious and erring human behavior.  Were the function, the end for which the Church exists, merely to enforce the eternal and divine law upon the world, then indeed, such evident difference in Church teaching would constitute discontinuity; but that is not the end for which the Church exists.  Rather, She exists to provide to souls the means to salvation; She illumines and aids man in his formation to fully conform to that law.  As such, Her teaching is continuous: what was said fourteen-hundred years ago was said for people fourteen-hundred years ago, and so may seem unusual to people today; but stripped of its accidents of composition, its temporally relevant metaphors, and everything which makes it comprehensible and beneficial to its intended particular audience, the essence is the same as that which She says today: the essence is always that which enables man’s salvation.  That does not mean that liturgical dance is in itself good; that does not mean that confession is optional; that does not mean that reception of the Holy Eucharist in one’s hand is appropriate; that does not mean that rock instruments are fitting to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; but it does mean that these things are tolerable in cultures which have not had time to ingest the higher and better things, the things that are most fitting.  Likewise, it does not mean that abortion or contraception or active homosexuality or women’s ordination is acceptable, under any circumstances: for while the Church serves as a means to reconcile man’s imperfections with the eternal law, there are some crimes which are inexcusable, some imperfections which are more like cancers than cuts.

For this reason, one must never rush to make a judgment or a pronouncement concerning Church teaching.  Every single part, every single detail of the Church’s promulgated guidance is related and dependent upon the whole, which is dependent upon its end; each part must be read and interpreted in reference to the whole, and the whole can only be understood through its parts, and both can only be understood in relation to the function they serve: the salvation of man.  The Second Vatican Council and its apparent discontinuity cannot truly be understood without long, slow, patient learning, not only of the documents themselves but of the Church’s teaching from antiquity.  Furthermore, the Council should not, under any circumstances, be seen as a rupture, but instead an opportunity for regeneration, as an instigation which leads man into that learning.  Indeed, unprecedented opportunity for a truly educated laity has been given to the Church: the accessibility of Church teaching, of educational means, and the reduction of time spent in labor make it feasible for almost every Catholic to not only know his Church’s teachings, but the reasoning behind them.  Every apparent defeat of tradition, of the good, every step backwards from the truth is an opportunity to make that step again, and better.

Reason is a principle that operates in all men, whether or not they are conscious of it, and every man wants to be reasonable, regardless of how unreasonably he may act.  Against the tyranny of modernity, the dictatorship of relativism—the results of contemporary man’s irrational methods of interpretation—there must certainly be trust in faith, in the efficacious grace of God, but there must also be trust in the universality of reason.  Hermeneutics of rupture, of individuality, cannot simply be left alone, lest their irrational procedure become contumaciously ingrained into the moral and intellectual fiber of society.  In the words of Pope St. Pius X, from his encyclical Acerbo Nimis, “if faith languishes in our days, if among large numbers it has almost vanished, the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected.”


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The Reception of Communion

April 21, 2010 1 comment

The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is among the greatest teachings of the Magisterium and is fundamental to all Catholic beliefs.  The Eucharist is a practice and belief that Catholics have maintained as truth through the Tradition handed down by the Apostles, through Scriptural references, and through the authoritative Magisterium.  It has been held since the time of the Apostles that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ made present through the consecrated hands of the priest who is acting in persona Christi.  The Person of Christ is made present to the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as instructed by Christ Himself.  This profound reality prompts those in attendance at the Sacrifice of the Mass to act in a manner becoming of those in the presence of the Lord; which is nothing short of fervent reverence.  Indeed, even those who are not in attendance but aware of the Presence nearby should observe silence out of respect, just as Catholics cross themselves as they pass a church in which they know the Blessed Sacrament resides.  It is for this reason that Catholics bless themselves with holy water upon entering a Catholic Church and it is why they genuflect before the tabernacle.  In keeping with this profound sense of reverence towards the Eucharist, Catholics should receive the sacred species on the tongue rather than continue the practice of receiving communion in the hand.

Reception of communion in the hand is a misnomer, since the reception of the sacrament actually consists of consuming the sacred species.  Thus, when the Eucharist is distributed via the hands of the communicant he is actually becoming his own extraordinary minister.  Which by its very name—extraordinary–implies that it is not something to be done under normal circumstances; and yet that is exactly what has happened.  While extraordinary ministers are permitted by the Church, they are to be used with discretion and not before they have received suitable training, in order that the proper reverence toward the sacrament is observed.  However, in most situations, the extraordinary minister is extraneous and the distribution of the host should be reserved to those whose office it is to represent Christ.  Thus, Pope John Paul II stated, “How eloquent therefore, even if not of ancient custom, is the rite of the anointing of the hands in our Latin ordination, as though precisely for these hands a special grace and power of the Holy Spirit is necessary!  To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist.”  In addition, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “…out of reverence towards this sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this sacrament.”

Unsurprisingly, the practice of receiving communion in the hand is actually nonexistent in the majority of the Catholic world and is mainly confined to the United States and other Western countries.  Originally, the practice was strictly forbidden until the Archbishop of Belgium introduced it in his diocese, in response to which Pope Paul VI released Memoriale Domini.  In his encyclical, Paul VI reinforces the traditional method for receiving communion while expressing grave concerns about introducing a new method.  The late Pontiff states, “A change in a matter of such moment, based on a most ancient and venerable tradition, does not merely affect discipline.  It carries certain dangers with it which may arise from the new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.”  Although in this same document the Pope allows for the distribution of communion in the hand he severely restricts its practice and authorizes it only under certain terms and conditions.  First, if a bishop wishes to introduce the new procedure he must first obtain permission from the Holy See backed by a sufficient reason.  Also, “the new method of administering communion should not be imposed in such a way that would exclude the traditional usage.”  Furthermore, the Pope asseverates that the new method should be introduced with perspicacity as to safeguard the reverence towards Christ and to prevent any misunderstanding.

The extensive practice of receiving communion on the hand demonstrates an ignorance of the Churches traditions and the law as promulgated by Paul VI.  The new method was never meant to become so widespread but rather was only supposed to be used under special circumstances for fear that a lack of respect and reverence would be introduced into the Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is for this reason that Fr. John Hardon wrote, “Behind Communion in the hand-I wish to repeat and make as plain as I can-is a weakening, a conscious, a deliberate weakening of faith in the Real Presence.”

The reception of communion on the tongue helps advocate the minister’s attentiveness to ensure that no fragment of the Eucharist is dropped or profaned; something against which many of the Church Fathers have warned, as St. Cyril says, be careful “…not to lose any part of it; for if you do lose it, it is as if it were part of your own body that is being lost.”  This is also why, since its earliest days, the Catholic Church has used patens while administering communion.  A strict adherence to the traditional method of receiving communion would also aid in the prevention of stealing the Eucharist for some sacrilegious purpose.

Thus, the traditional practice of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue should be reinstituted in those parts of the world where the new method has been disproportionately introduced and inappropriately used.  For, as Paul VI states, the traditional method “…ensures more effectively, that holy communion is distributed with the proper respect, decorum and dignity.  It removes the danger of profanation of the sacred species…,” and “…ensures that diligent carefulness about the fragments of consecrated bread which the Church has always recommended.”  The Eucharist, as the foundation of the Catholic faith and as the Body of Christ, should always be given the proper respect and reverence which, while receiving communion worthily, is best exercised by administering the sacred species on the tongue.


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April, Letter from the Editors

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Kevin Sinnott
August 14th, 1987—September 21st, 2009
Requiescat in Pace

Dear Reader,

As every student ought to learn in his introductory literature class, a tragedy is defined, more or less, as “a story of human actions producing exceptional calamity and resulting in the death of an extraordinary man.”  A tragic story evokes, if it is well written, the dual reactions of fear and pity from its audience: fear in that they recognize the same could happen to them, pity in the fall of the extraordinary, exemplary man.  For the Greeks, who invented the genre, the protagonist of a tragedy is always a ruler, a great warrior, a noble figure; but even he is subject to the whims of fate, and his splendor is cut down, his glory tainted.

Indeed, if there is one thing certain in the life of every person—even, and in a sense especially, the best of men—it is death.  That does not mean, unfortunately, that everyone is ready for it, in terms of both anticipation and spiritual standing.  Thus, when someone beloved passes away suddenly, unexpected, with no time for preparation, it is shocking, painful, frightening; it is a direct encounter with the certain but undeniable mortality of every person.  Were it not for the Catholic Faith, it would be an apocalypse of unbearable vital futility, a bleak and pervasive tragedy which unfolds not merely upon the stage of a theater or the pages of fiction, but diurnally on the stage of the earth and in the catalogue of facts.  Truly having that Faith, however, it is a revelation of an entirely different sort: what is the tragedy of death in the eyes of the world is, seen through the perfective lenses of Catholicism, the divine comedy of salvation.

What is seen in death by the world, the limited and ultimately futile world of the noble temporally-minded Greeks of antiquity and the contemporary paralogistic atheists, is an inevitable frustration of the inherent and inexorable desire for immortality.  To the Christian, the true Christian, death is a door into a real and possible glorified immortality.  To the non-believer, this life is illumined only by the light that man can bring to it, which is countermanded not only by the shadows he simultaneously casts, but by the looming finality against which he struggles in vain.  To the faithful, the light found in this life is a dim reflection of the brilliance that slips through the cracks around that sempiternal doorway, immutable by the failings and inadequacies of human action.  Every man is thus faced with a choice: to live his life as if he alone were the source of its illumination, as though all lights must eventually go out; or to live as though he may be not merely a mirror of the heavenly light, but allow himself to become a veritable diamond radiating God’s illuminative grace.

Of course, becoming that diamond is not easy, for to do so means discarding one’s selfishness, the insularity of vanity and egocentrism: indeed, a diamond is formed only through intense and most frequently prolonged  pressure and heat, an external process producing an internal change.  How does this apply to the life of the Catholic college student?  In principle, it applies the same as it would to everyone else; but not everyone else has such great opportunity.  This is particularly true of those students who attend small Catholic liberal arts schools, in which there is a genuine communal setting, a genuine accessibility to the sacraments and to professors who are not shy about imbuing their intellectual dissemination with theological orthodoxy.

This is what made Southern Catholic College a truly special place: truly Catholic professors, daily sacraments, and a setting beautifully conducive to community.  The potential of this school was unparalleled; and yet it was also constantly threatened, less by poor finances than by morally deficient individuals charged with protecting its good.  Professors may only instruct; education is internal.  Sacraments are inefficacious if not received faithfully, persistently, with love.  And community cannot erect itself, but comes about only through communion, spiritual as well as intellectual; an abdication of focus purely on the self by taking another’s good as one’s own; community comes only through friendship, the total act of care towards another.  Such a community requires a healthy body as well as a healthy head.  In the school’s first four years, unfortunately, the head of the school was ill with the sickness of pseudo-Catholicism, the sort seen so prevalently at Notre Dame; when genuine Catholicity was finally instated in the school’s fifth year, the body was too badly weakened, too thoroughly malnourished, that the head could do nothing for it.  The school, the college that held so much promise, died an institutional death of unmistakable tragedy.

Every man should keep death before his eyes every single day, for there is no telling when it may come.  That does not mean one should live ensconced in a morbid panic, avoiding death at all costs; instead, one ought to be thinking of the good death, which is achieved by right living, the sort of living which one may, with persistence, find in a place such as Southern Catholic, wherein suffering for the greater good is easily learned.  In Leo Tolstoy’s masterful novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the story’s protagonist endures great suffering, physically, spiritually, and morally, for many weeks while on the verge of death.  Wracked with doubt, confusion, and dismay, he considers his life of great worldly success, and comes ultimately to the conclusion that, whatever his life was in the eyes of the world, it was not lived rightly, for it was lived without faith, it was not “the real thing.”  Coming to terms with that gives him solace.  Once he accepts this, his suffering does not disappear, but it does transform; it is no longer meaningless.  “He searched for his accustomed fear of death and could not find it.  Where was death?  What death?  There was no fear because there was no death.  Instead of death there was light.”

Indeed, death is not to be feared if one lives rightly, for the righteous man encounters not the darkness of mortality, but the light of salvation; which does not come of itself, but only through the willing acceptance of pain, of the suffocating suffering that, whatever one’s situation in life, is shouldering not only his Cross, but aiding the carrying of those borne by his friends.  Kevin Sinnott will be missed.  Southern Catholic College will be missed.  But those who truly knew them both know that, while from the ephemeral perspective of man they are defeated and gone, vanquished by the passage of time and matter, their lives, their efforts, and their fruits have not and will not be wasted; the only vanity of their seemingly tragic ends is that which fallaciously believes that God allows for such calamity without simultaneously allowing for greater good.

Pax Domini
Veritatis Praeco
April, Anno Domini 2010

Gloria a Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in sæcula sæculorum.

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The Scoop (April, 2009)

For the Catholic student, choosing the proper university has become a great peril for the soul. The University is intended to be the great agent that lifts the soul out of Plato’s deep, dark cave. For Cardinal Newman, “Education implies an action upon man’s moral nature, and the formation of character; it is something individual and permanent. It is connected with Religion and virtue.” Most Catholic universities today do not uphold to the true meaning of education, but barter it for complacency. On March 29th of the present year of our Lord, Notre Dame University, run by the Order of the Holy Cross, announced President Barack Hussein Obama had accepted its invitation to be the commencement speaker and to receive an honorary law degree. A man who seems most opposed to any objective moral nature concerning man’s wretched genocide of millions via abortion is not invited for dialogue concerning these issues, but laurelled for his legislative atrocities. On a separate occasion, President Obama spoke at the Jesuit run Georgetown University. During the ceremony, the symbols “IHS” within the auditorium were concealed. For “proper diplomatic” reasons, Georgetown cowered in a time when courage was most needed. America’s most prestigious Catholic universities are falling into the pits of recreancy.

For these reasons, the student is indeed at high risk, and is caused to have concerns for electing a university. These concerns range from orthodoxy on campus to the way a school is run internally. One concern worth deciphering is what kind of organization should run a University. Whether a lay institute or one run by an order, the operation of a Catholic University is most vital to the proper fruition of a Catholic education.

One of the most vital qualities of a university is the spiritual and intellectual community. The Pontiff John Paul II stated that “Catholic Universities are called to explore courageously the riches of Revelation and of nature so that the united endeavor of intelligence and faith will enable people to come to the full measure of their humanity” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae 5). This exploration through faith and reason calls for a certain kind of nurturing within the community. There is a necessary recognition for the common good. This is because “in keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person.”  This most vital quality of the common good  is based on “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach fulfillment more fully and easily” (CCC# 1905-06). This fulfillment is of the highest nature since it targets man’s highest faculties. It moves one to intellectual enlightenment by critical examination; it leads a student to fulfillment of vocation.

The student should question whether a lay university or a university run by an order can offer this kind of community. In terms of an order, it is possible for an order to bring hindrance to fulfillment. Orders follow a rule of life and bring a charism; a mold within the order. This charism brings a set spirituality. Yet, the university must be open minded to the

different spiritualities, temperaments, charisms, and ideas that should be fostered within an intellectual community. Can the spiritual life of the order provide nourishment to the groups and individuals of the university?

On the other hand, a lay institute is more free. There is not a set spirituality. The mission of the university will be established, but the openness of  spirituality is more susceptible towards the nourishment of the spiritual needs of the student. Spiritual retreats can be run by different orders. Different speakers are allowed more freely on the campus. Contemplative ideas of the most fitting spirituality for each individual seems to be fostered in this kind of community.

An order will also have different view on admission criteria. A student with a willingness and enthusiasm to join the order might be chosen over the student searching for intellectual and spiritual cultivation. An emphasis might be placed on third-order members. This different standard could create a single mindedness to charisms in community, thus neglecting any kind of nurture for different students with different spiritualities. Primacy by the order’s spirituality is inevitable. A strict order is usually an orthodox order. An order that abides by the principles of the order will produce more numbers. These principles abide by a rule which is rooted in the Gospel. Therefore, it would be detrimental to the common good of the order to placate the needs of a diverse, liberal community like that of the university rather than the needs of the order.

The secular institute would have a wider range in the admission criteria. Applicants who are well prepared and well rounded students would be the basis for acceptance. It would serve as a better refection of the Church writ large. A community with different ideas would be able to cultivate the student’s idea of the social nature of man. It would also bring a certain respect for the human person due to the different attitudes of the diverse Catholic student body. Diversity, though, does not mean accepting any spiritual attitude for the sake of it being desired, but only those that are indeed fruitful in the individual’s pursuit of the truth.

In this light, it seems that a laity run school is more fitting for an intellectual community within the university. Yet, it must be noted that the ideal of a Catholic university is not dependent on the administrative components, but the intellectual and spiritual. These pillars of the human being are the only combatants for the decay of the mind and soul. Whether the university is run by an orthodox order or the laity it must be in principle with the “formation of character.”  In today’s society, there is a refusal to see the deterioration. For the world, “It is time that this symptom of decadence were known for what it is,” says Allen Tate, “and not as enlightenment, ‘science,’ liberalism, and democracy” (Allen Tate Understanding Modern Poetry). There is a need for Catholic universities to purge themselves from the contagion of the world. A university should be purged of complacent college presidents willing to barter the ideal for expediency.

By Thomas Stearns

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