Wednesday, February 17, 2021

What does Rome have to do???

 The late Fr. Thomas Hopko once read a paper he presented at a symposium called by Rome to learn what other churches would need to see in order to accept the papacy. You can find this in his Speaking Truth in Love podcast. 

At certain point in podcast he drills into the divine energies as one of the prerequisites. This goes all the way back to the controversies surrounding the reaction to Palamas in the West, a topic far too complex to elicit much desire on my end to recount it here.

Rather, I would prefer to focus on what the impressions of this very particular requirement from the perspective of a Catholic turned Orthodox. In short: Really? Really? Of all the items out there genuinely blocking reunion, the energies are it?

One of the problems faced by ecclesiastics and theologians (even the good ones) is the tendency to loose sight of the practical, pragmatic, obvious, and just plainly real, getting lost in minutiae of theological distinctions...in this case between two churches that hold an outrageous amount as common confession of faith.

Without intellectual acrobatics, find me the divine energies in the earliest, pre-schism creeds and canons? This isn't to say I don't believe Palamas. It is to ask, however: really, and I mean really, how much of a tangible difference can you identify between communicants of the Orthodox Church vs those of the Catholic Church due to the issue of the divine energies?

Go on. Do it. Find me the example of the average Orthodox in canonically good standing who would even know what the divine energies are, let alone how their life is any different from observant and orthodox Catholics. When you do, I'll be all ears.

The reality is that the reunion between Rome and the Orthodox Patriarchates hinges upon much more blunt and obvious issues than the divine energies and who governs Vatican City, and other such seemingly esoteric points.

Practically speaking, in the real world, in the life of faithful Orthodox and faithful Catholic these are the 2 issues that Rome would need to "come home on" from and Orthodox perspective:

1) Papal Infallibility - numero uno, easy number one, and the ultimate cause of the following 3 issues. The Orthodox maintain that there is no evidence to support universal jurisdiction and authority over other Patriarchs. It is an issue that would undoubtedly have serious ramifications for the Roman Church, as the Pope has a central place in its ecclesiastical life.

2) The Immaculate Conception - Another "dogma of the faith" that the Orthodox Church contends needs to go. It is nearly impossible to demonstrate from either Scripture or the earliest tradition and is ultimately grounded on a bad translation of Romans (Vulgate). At best, it is superfluous. At worst, it propagates a questionable reading of the fall via Augustine's concept of original sin. Given the devotional life built up around the Immaculate Conception and its now central place in the Marian cultus, this would again result in massive ramifications for the Roman Church.

3) The old Fessiwig...I mean Filioque. I don't mean to be so nonchalant about it, but it is what it is. The old stand by issue. In virtue of its antiquity, this is one that just won't be let go....although, if reports from Calabria are to be believed, the disagreement over the Filioque, generating as it did centuries after the addition, failed to prove the source of any tangible friction between Latin and Greek churches in Southern Italy. Truth be told, the evidence seems to indicate they both carried on like the schism didn't exist. In virtue of the antiquity of this disagreement, you've got to include it....but one does seriously have ask if it produces any tangible distinction between Catholic and Orthodox. 

Outside of these three issues (maybe 2 if I'm honest with myself), the points of separation are largely obscure, esoteric, and leave little practical impact on the majority of the faithful. Now, I could be wrong here - there could indeed but other very practical items I'm missing, but this really seems to be it.

Reunion remains a long way off. It was once common to accept the idea that aggressive secularization and Islamic growth are pressures shared by all Christian churches, and these two pressures would ultimately force unification in order to have a credible and impactful response...in reality, there is nothing to suggest that the pressures from even these dominant trends are pressuring either church to take a more practical approach to reunion. In point of fact, it seems that a hardening of boundary lines appears to be underway in some quarters.

To reveal my hand here, I am largely familiar with this among Roman Catholic circles. The aggressive secularization and the orientation of the current papacy to it has resulted in Traditionalist groups getting more hardline in their approach to the Orthodox Church. It seems the Orthodox Church is increasingly seen as a threat, in so far as occasionally people leave Rome for one of the Orthodox Patriarchates. Largely, I think this is psychological on the part of the people writing about it. Frankly, not many Catholics are leaving to become Orthodox. As such, I tend to think their missives and warnings about not jumping to the Orthodox Church reflect their own internal desire and struggle with the thought - the practical activity just doesn't give any credence to this being a phenomenon in any appreciable sense. The Orthodox Church is also seen as a threat when it comes to discussions of priestly celibacy - it is feared, justly or not, that the fact of non-mandatory celibacy in the Orthodox Church is going to be used a trojan horse to not only institute optional celibacy, but also a host of other surprises lurking around the corners in the dark alleys of the Traddie internet. I'll let you decide if that is a reasonable fear or not... 

In any case, it is reasonable to ask "what does Rome have to do?" Rome has asked that same question for a while (although, I fear Rome will cease asking the question if the next Pope is a reaction to Pope Francis). In my estimation, the substantial points of confluence and agreement far out number and out weigh the points of disagreement. The Orthodox Church can't have its cake and eat it too on this one - nor should we want to! If Rome were to dropkick the whole idea of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction, then it would make sense just to roll with it, frankly. Most of the other distinctions that have been a source of sore exchange existed well before the schism in one way or another and were never thought of as impinging upon the unity of faith.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Is the Pope Catholic? Who cares!?

 Fr. Anthony Chadwick recently responded to De Mattei's missive on Post-Institutional Catholicism.

Mattei writes: "Now Trump is out of the picture and Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², who gave voice to American Anti-Bergolianism,  is weaker, while Pope Francis’s position has been reinforced and the new President, Biden, no longer has an enemy but an ally. Therefore Francis’s recent declarations are not surprising and though they might herald new condemnations for his internal opponents, they also raise many questions."

Gonna be as forthright at I can, there are things I've missed about the Roman Church since entering the Orthodox Church....the borderline obsessive compulsive fixation on the Pope is not one of them. I read that paragraph, and, not to offend, was glad to be gone. 

He goes on: "By these affirmations we have the impression that according to Pope Francis, those who criticize the Second Vatican Council put themselves outside the Church. However, today the criticisms about the Second Vatican Council do not come from an obstinate minority of traditionalists, but from a growing sphere of Catholics, who have recognized the catastrophic consequences of Vatican II." 

If one is honest, the jury is still out on the importance of Vatican II, long term, to the Roman Church's survival. Whether or not that means there is something intrinsically defective about that council is still undetermined. Three dominant narratives have framed Vatican II : forced continuity (Conservatives); formally authorized secularization to religious institutions and theological propositions (Liberals); and demonstrable discontinuity, with a helping of latent apocalypticism (Traditionalists). There is an emerging movement. The Traditionalist narrative has a certain amount of momentum - there are, as De Mattei notes, more voices questioning the events of the 50s through the end result of the 70s. As with many Traditionalist initiatives, there are questions of how well the historical evidence and grasped and the consequences thereof. Specifically, is there an adequate understanding that a) Vatican II was the product of Pre-Vatican II Catholicism, a Catholicism that was, in many respects, going from strength to strength, and b) no one foresaw the societal developments that would explode with the late 60s and early 70s as a generational rejection of Western society in the 1950s. Until these two points are given sufficient weight, it would seem any discussion of the merits or failures of Vatican II is relatively immature.

He goes on: “Post-institutionalism”, however, is a dead end not only for the progressives, but also for the conservatives and traditionalists. As long as the critics of the Second Vatican Council respect, in form and substance, the Church’s hierarchy, their condemnation cannot go beyond a mediatic chiding.  For a canonical censure the logical prerequisites are missing, even before those of a juridical nature. It would be a different case with those wanting to assume an extra-institutional position, by inciting open revolt against the ecclesiastic hierarchy. In this case, it would not be difficult to find the pretexts for a condemnation, which, despite being limited canonically to the act of disobedience, on the mediatic level, it would be falsely extended to all the opponents of the Second Vatican Council.

The reason we must respect the institutional dimension of the Church is not political, but supernatural. It is legitimate, on certain occasions, to correct filially the men of the Church, including the Pope, but in the Mystical Body of Christ, the soul cannot be separated from the body; the spiritual element cannot be separated from the juridical aspect, the invisible from the visible. This is the profound but life-giving mystery of the Catholic Church."

And there it is...nail on the head. If you want to maintain Roman ecclesiology as it has developed since Vatican I, you run into an ecclesiological dead end. Doubtless De Mattei would disagree with me, but I think he illustrates the point nicely. 

Far more interesting was Fr. Chadwick's own response: "In his criticism of post-institutionalism (if anyone would use such a label to identify themselves), Mattei makes a distinction between those who are keeping their heads below the parapet and those in “open revolt”. So post-institutionalism is a dead end… Fine by me, since I am neither pre, post or institutionalist. My own world is so far away from that polarised world in America that is now influencing the media and popular culture over here in Europe.

I belong to an institutional church as a priest, but one that is anchored in Anglicanism. Most of us ordinary folk are far from the authoritarian culture of Rome since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the days of the three popes strutting around Europe like some caricature from Palmar de Troya! It is legitimate to aspire to a different form of Catholicism, something like the vision of Western Orthodoxy, a more spiritual than political Old Catholicism and Anglican Catholicism. We can unite body and soul without getting into the kind of cognitive dissonance associated with the modern Papacy, the Vatican Bank, paedophile clergy, big money and favours gained from American presidents."

Any rational reader not bound by the emotional and psychological demands of maintaining Roman ecclesiology would likely come to a similar conclusion. The absurdity of the whole situation is getting old. But like most institutions, the Roman Church won't drop kick the modern papacy until it has exhausted every other option - to the detriment of its body of faithful. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ravi Zacharias, Habitual Sin, and the Absence of Virtue

 The late Ravi Zacharias has been disgraced due to substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct, including rape, that were ongoing during the course of his long and successful ministry. The evidence now being well circulated among media outlets and there is no point in recounting them here. 

The particulars might be different, but the story is thematically the same as has been documented in Roman Catholic circles for the past two decades. Men in positions of spiritual and implied psychological authority manipulating the vulnerabilities of their targets and the tenets of their shared religion (typically in areas of obedience and forgiveness) and undertaking gross violations of persons and infractions against morality. All the while, these same men demonstrate a public persona and exercise a public ministry (to one degree or another) at great disparity with the clear malevolence of their secret transgressions. In the case of Zacharias, it was a very public, very famous, and by all accounts very impactful apologetics ministry that gave many believers (largely evangelical) a sense of steady ground at a time of visible transition in Western culture to more radical secularism than had been present in previous decades. 

My own personal encounters with Ravi Zacharias’ work is limited to a YouTube clip I watched perhaps four years ago. If memory serves, he was addressing the objections posed by an atheist in some other forum to a large audience. He sounded eloquent enough, though I can’t say his response was particularly memorable - I can’t recall it now for the life of me. Otherwise, my awareness of him was largely on the basis of his very active and effective marketing machine. Only the most doggedly sectarian Orthodox or Catholic could claim no knowledge of who the man was and his presence in contemporary Christianity.

Beneath Zacharias’ ministry was, by all accounts, a deep seeded and habitual sin. Sexual sins are the most visceral. As Thomas Hopko once noted in his 55 Maxims, don’t argue with lust, flee it - lust will win the argument every time. Without trying to open any window of sympathy of Zacharias or any other sexual predator, for he deserves none, we must soberly note (without sympathy) that sexual sins, if they become habitual, exert a nearly absolute domination on the one who commits them. Invariably, the sin must be satisfied. For someone who is assaulted for the sake of this satisfaction, the horror eclipses our capacity to truly understand the nature of the violation. Sexual sins are often the most destructive to the person upon whom the action was done. There is a degree of psychological damage that crimes such as rape can inflict upon a victim of such magnitude that most of us can scarcely comprehend how intimate of an assault has taken place. We should only need to stop and recognize that post traumatic stress disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder are all recorded psychological outcomes of sexual assault and they should provide us with a window into the severity of the trauma. 

It is not uncommon to find charismatic religious personalities living with a dark secret, committed to sins against another that strikes one as the bi-polar opposite of their convictions of faith. This phenomenon is not new - Paul alludes to it in I Corthinians - nor is it limited to Christianity or organized religion. Perennialist (or quasi new age depending upon one’s take) guru Frithjof Schuon was accused in the 1990s of conducting a “ritual practice” that required him to engage in disgusting contact with young girls. The charges, to the best of my knowledge, where never substantiated or prosecuted by his death in 1998, however, there was apparently a full court press by Schuon's representatives to bury the story. 

There are differences between Schuon and Zacharias. As stated above, the veracity of the allegations against Schuon has been left unproven. However, I would argue the most clearly defined difference between the two is the reception and reaction to the allegations. Though no one who reads the allegations regarding Schuon disputes the disturbing nature of them, there is almost a sense of expectation in so far as there is a common cultural supposition that it is only a matter of time before a rogue spiritual guru participates in some grave moral transgression. Whereas someone like Zacharias, or the numerous cases in the Roman Church, elicits two markedly different reactions.

No doubt there are many who receive the story of Zacharias’ hidden life with a self assured sense of knowing. This audience suspects and expects hidden moral hypocrisy among religious figures. As such, Zacharias’ secret sins confirm what they already knew and justifies much of their antipathy. Indeed, any Christianity worth the name necessarily upholds a morality that runs contrary to the contemporary permissiveness and norms of the West. However, this morality strikes many as a strident judgment against people, instead of an affirmation of a greater and perhaps more challenging obtainable good. 

There is, however, another audience that receives these same allegations and rather than have them confirm suspicions, these same allegations shatter (either briefly or perpetually) an innate sense that religious or spiritual leaders cannot possibly ascend, in either renown or authority, unless they are living the most virtuous of lives, lives which readily and unambiguously reflect the greater principles which they espouse. The recognition that this is not the case elicits shock and disorientation, where it hasn’t already been replaced by lowered expectations or jadedness. This dereliction of duty is something cannot and simply should not be, but it is. Baring a sober realignment of expectations, the results are either denial or dejection leading to disillusion. 

At root, there is the glaring contradiction between his ministry and the habitual sin in his private life. An argument is often made that this is, if we’re honest, the case with all of us. Religious or not, we all demonstrate a very public persona that does not immediately disclose our misdeeds, prejudices and struggles. For the Christian, we may overtly proclaim our faith, we may in fact public ally live that faith, but this does not translate into our sins being made public. Even at the confession during liturgy, it is stil only the priest who knows the struggles one encounters in pursuit of theosis. How many of us would like our sins, whether past or present, transparent for all to see? I suspect none. This is the problem with contemporary social media shaming - it exposes without taking into account the growth of the individual an the prospects for repentance and forgiveness. 

This said, forgiveness and repentance require a change of life. No, none of us want all of our transgressions aired for the world to see. But there is a prerequisite that one is actively seeking to change one’s life. The evidence so far available indicates this was not the intention of Zacharias. 

The question over the character of those in authority has been a long dispute in Christianity. In the end, the path forward was to settle upon the notion that the character of the person in authority does not impinge upon the legitimacy of their office. This said, historically, it can influence disciplinary decisions surrounding their suitability to continue to hold office. As such, on these grounds alone, if there were was wide knowledge of Zacharias’ habitual sin, there should have been a movement to remove him from his position. 

More to the core of the problem, it is that there was no method for establishing or reestablishing the practice of virtue to address the habitual sin. One can only speculate when Zacharias began this behavior. But in the midst of its development, the practice of virtue to counter vice, not to mention psychotherapy, is as yet unaccounted for. Whether or not Ravi Zacharias’ own psychological makeup would have allowed for such correction is, of course, debatable; Ted McCarrick, for instance, still doesn’t think he did anything wrong, pointing to the pathological disassociation of their psyches from their actions. 

The victims will be monetarily compensated - the spiritual and psychological damage will hopefully be addressed in a manner far superior to that which the Catholic Church has addressed its victims. The memory of the man and his ministry will be consigned to oblivion. The people that were influenced by him will need to reconcile the disparity and determine their path forward. And they will largely be left alone to do so save for the awareness of potential pastors that cross their path and don’t shy away from ministering to men and women grappling with the depraved moral failing of a man professing to minister Christ. 

And at some point, on the other side of the Eschaton, Zacharias, like all of us, will have to give an account of everything he did and failed to do, everything he knew and failed to learn, before the Just Judge that will judge us all. This, however, will be a challenging comfort to his victims and his collateral damage. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Oratio ad Sanctissima Dei Genetrix

 O Most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel,

Fruitful vine, splendor of heaven,

Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin,

Assist me in this, my necessity, O' Star of the Sea,

Help me and show me herein you are my Mother.

O' Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth,

I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succour me in this necessity,

There are none that can withstand your power.

O, show me herein you are my mother, 

O' Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

O' Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

O' Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.


Holy Mary, I place this cause in your hands.

Holy Mary, I place this cause in your hands.

Holy Mary, I place this cause in your hands.


Sweet Mother, I pray for this cause in your hands.

Sweet Mother, I pray for this cause in your hands.

Sweet Mother, I pray for this cause in your hands.


Holy Spirit, resolve all problems, light all roads so that I can attain my goal.

You gave me the divine gift to forgive and forget all evil against me

In that in all instances of my life, you are with me.

I want this short prayer to thank you for all things

As you confirm once again that I never want to be separated from you

Even in spite of material things, I with to be with you in eternal glory.

Thank you for your mercy towards me and mine.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Odoriferum lilium



It is said Bernard of Clairvaux wanted men who chanted to sound like, well, men. Would this were the standard among Traditionalists liturgies instead of the swooning baroque falsettos! 

What does Rome have to do???

 The late Fr. Thomas Hopko once read a paper he presented at a symposium called by Rome to learn what other churches would need to see in or...