Monday, December 23, 2013

4 ways pre-marital sex is harmful

The Marriage Feast at Cana by Juan de Flandes, 1500 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

There are many resources demonstrating the various harms that pre-marital sexual activity often induces. This post is intended to collect a few. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

All other harms of extra-marital sex should be supplementary to the moral harm done. The moral detriment to the individual can never be altered by any future technology or medicine. To recognize the moral quality of the sexual act, one not even need to be overtly religious, although, certainly Jesus Christ spoke to the proper order of marriage between the "male and female" and as it was "in the beginning" (i.e. Adam and Eve). (Matt. 19:4,8)1

But as was discussed in a prior post, What did the Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, the very nature of the human body supports the idea that one man and woman belong together in the sexual order. One example is that a female egg naturally closes itself to receiving sperm from more than one father.

This is further fortified when we recognize the body's release of certain chemicals, which will be further addressed below, that tend toward attachment or even "addiction" to the recipient of a person's sexual attention. In other words, the body itself wants to move toward monogamous permanence when engaged in sexual activity.

These kinds of things are what belong to the natural law. For example, if someone came up to you and punched you for no reason, you would would rightly cry foul, that it was a violation of some kind to be struck unjustly. If you were at a restaurant and laid your wallet on the table for a moment and someone snatched it, you would rightly cry foul, as they took something that belonged to you. These examples speak to the sensibilities we have that human beings possess certain dignity and that it is morally wrong to violate that dignity.

In the same way, the various signposts of sexual activity toward committed, one-man, one-woman relationships communicate proper use of our human gifts, including our sexual faculties. Outside that committed relationship, persons engaged in sexual activity violate their own humanity and that of anyone else involved in the activity, whether or not they "feel" violated at that moment.

As I said, one needn't even be "religious" to draw such conclusions. But, certainly, if Jesus Christ is truly God, rose from the dead as witnesses attest, and taught his disciples about eternity for those living in accord with his teaching and damnation for those opposed, then the issue of proper sexuality is paramount.

As stated above and in a prior post, during sexual activity, various chemicals are released by the body, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins, which cause attachment to the recipient of sexual attention.

A clear example of this, even in secular studies, is seen when examining pornographic addictions. When someone is looking at pornography, the chemical releases present tend toward attaching that person to physical imagery. This is one of the great harms of porn addiction, that it compromises a person's ability to see the beauty in a real person beyond the surface.

In a similar way, when these chemicals are released in the body outside of a committed relationship, the involved persons will tend toward that other person due to the physical bond they have exchanged. However, when those individuals move toward a decision for or against marriage with their partner, they may well make a decision induced more by chemicals rather than an objective analysis of their compatibility. This is not to say no couple that engaged in pre-marital sex could have a lasting, monogamous, or happy marriage. The point is rather to say how that potential is compromised by pre-marital sex.

The data supporting this is plenty. For example:
Dissolution rates are substantially higher among those who initiate sexual activity before marriage...and who cohabitated before marriage.2 
[M]arriages formed after cohabitation are rated as less stable and result in more divorces than marriages not preceded by living together. Cohabitation thus "does not seem to serve very well the function of a trial marriage... (Popenoe, 1993)."3
After marriage it was about 3.3 times more likely that a woman who had cohabited would have a secondary sex partner. ... If a woman has a previous history of multiple sex partners, the likelihood of her having a secondary sex partner during her current relationship greatly increases. This is particularly true for married women.4
Study results also indicate that out of divorced women, 81.8% had engaged in pre-marital sex as opposed to 17.8% who remained abstinent and did not cohabitate.5 Studies also indicate that once the number of sexual partners a person has exceeds one, so does the risk for marital failure.6 Divorces can be a detriment not only to the couple, but to any children who may suffer the consequences of the dissolution.

You can see the pattern here that the virgin bride and groom have the statistically and significantly superior advantage for a successful marriage. Reason alone communicates that this is so because the virgin bride and groom have not developed those physical attachments to another person that could otherwise cloud their appraisal of a lasting mate. To boot, there are numerous testimonials and studies indicating that sexual activity is more fulfilling when exercised in marriage alone.

It does not take a great intellectual leap to realize that sexually transmitted diseases (or infections; i.e. STIs) are significantly reduced in persons who are abstinent. They are likewise reduced in a permanently monogamous relationship, i.e. marriage. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, "The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your overall exposure risks."

Secular culture responds to this with the promotion of various contraceptives. However, this "solution" does not only not always solve the STI problem, but can perpetuate and even foster the other chemical and moral problems described. Contraceptives also instill a mentality toward the sexual partner that tend to objectify that person. A man who is closed to conception with a woman and contracepts with her will view her differently than if he had to consider her as a mother and a partner with whom to raise a child. One tends toward objectification, the other considers her more completely. (For resources on contraceptive information and on child regulation in accord with Catholic teaching, see some of the resources below.)

In reviewing all of the above detriments of pre-marital sexual activity, we can see how this would harm society at large. Working our way back up the list, if extra-marital sexual activity contributes to the spread of STIs, persons facilitating or engaging in that behavior are contributing to that spread. And a variety of STIs are currently on the rise despite all the medical remedies and solutions which foster promiscuity.

As well, if greater pre-marital sexual activity clouds one's judgment toward identifying a marriage partner, then those persons have in some way contributed to the normalization of that behavior, and hence, the resulting marriage failures and STIs.

And finally, the moral decay resulting in the spread of pre-marital sexual behavior, supported by the emotional and physical data, literally de-humanizes us. That is one reason why proponents of abstinence before marriage invite everyone to embrace the beauty of reserving the sexual faculties for the marriage bed. The more individuals who embrace sexuality exclusive to marriage grows the pool of available mates with that disposition, and in turn, will result in more solid marriages. Such a movement could also help current practitioners of abstinence, who have the call and self-giving disposition to serve a spouse, in finding a suitable mate they may otherwise have difficulty finding.

Those who may not have practiced abstinence outside of marriage should not be discouraged by the data. It's never too late to practice a moral virtue. Such persons could be considered particular kinds of heroes of society, along side those who already practice abstinence, by embracing a virtue against what the pressures of a sexually addicted society might impose. See also the previous post, On Reconciliation: Can virginity be restored?

Even if such a person has already married, it is never to late to encourage others to practice proper use of the sexual faculties, teaching their children or others. Plus, simply learning about humanity can help married couples "see" each other for the unique beauty instilled in each other, and the unique value and societal pillar extant in the stable foundation of a family.

Effects of Cohabitation Research Summary
Premarital sex and greater risk of divorce
What does the Church teach about Birth Control?
The Harms of Contraception
What a Woman Should Know about Contraceptives

1Some writers and commentators like to talk about a confusing message in the Bible, going so far as to say the Bible endorses polygamy or divorce. Yet there is are no such passages making such moral definitions. Typically, those who claim the Bible supports polygamy will point to examples of characters in Scripture practicing it and interpret that as a moral endorsement, which does not automatically follow. This is especially so when one realizes that the events and figures of the Old Testament are often an inferior form to that which is to come in the New Testament. This is basic Christian typology. Something in the OT reflecting the natural law, like thou shall not kill, remains in the moral order. The behavior of any individual may or may not be proper.
2(Heaton, Tim B., Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States, Brigham Young University, 2002) 
3 (Smith, Tom W. American Sexual Behavior: Trends, Socio-Demographic Differences, and Risk Behavior. National Opinion Research Center University of Chicago. March 2006)
4(Forste, Renata and Tanfer, Koray. Sexual Exclusivity Among Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Women. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1. (Feb. 1996) p. 43, 46)
5Teachman, Jay. Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, And the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women. Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (May 2003): 444–455
6The National Survey of Family Growth. 1995. Cited at The Wintery Knight.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Comparing papal quotes on economics

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Rembrandt, 1637 (Acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, Pope Francis again acquired media attention with his statements in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? ... Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. (#53)

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. (#56)
Some commentators equated his comments with Marxism, interpreting him as one handing complete control of the markets to a government entity. Pope Francis, when later asked in an interview with La Stampa what he thought of being called a Marxist and about an economy that kills replied:
The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended. ... The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.
Focusing on these quotes, you have two principles flowing from Francis: 1) That something is wrong with the world's current economic systems because the gap between the wealthy and poor continues to expand (Recent studies have asserted that the income gap is at its worst in 100 years); 2) a Marxist approach is not the answer.

I'd like to look at several other papal quotes expressing similar sentiments. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of popes or even of quotes from each pope included, but at least a decent sample.

We begin with quotes echoing concern about the wealth-gap phenomenon.
In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class... The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself. (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Norum, 1891, #3)
To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice. (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, #58)
Pius XI was not unaware of the fact that in the forty years that had supervened since the publication of the Leonine encyclical the historical scene had altered considerably. It was clear, for example, that unregulated competition had succumbed to its own inherent tendencies to the point of practically destroying itself. It had given rise to a great accumulation of wealth, and, in the process, concentrated a despotic economic power in the hands of a few "who for the most part are not the owners, but only the trustees and directors of invested funds, which they administer at their own good pleasure." (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 1961, #35)
One must avoid the risk of increasing still more the wealth of the rich and the dominion of the strong, whilst leaving the poor in their misery and adding to the servitude of the oppressed. (Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressivo, 1967, #33) 
In this world crisis, more than two-thirds of the population are suffering from hunger, and the contrast in the standard of living between the rich and the economically poor countries is becoming greater. (Pope Pius XII, Guiding Principles of the Lay Apostolate, 1957, #14)
Our world also shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community. (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Day of Peace, 2009, #1)
Notice how un-novel is Pope Francis' concern about the disparity of wealth among persons. Notice also how human dignity is emphasized, especially if you click the links for each quote and read additional context.

As noted in the opening quotes by Pope Francis, although markets have often resulted in lop-sided distribution of wealth, the Church's idea of seeking a just wage for all is not some type of governmental usurpation of the market. Pope Francis denied the Marxist ideology. And every other Pope quoted above likewise shied away from a strictly government-controlled or socialistic market.
To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community. (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891, #4)
Because of the fact that goods are produced more efficiently by a suitable division of labor than by the scattered efforts of individuals, socialists infer that economic activity, only the material ends of which enter into their thinking, ought of necessity to be carried on socially. ...[T]he higher goods of man, liberty not excepted, must take a secondary place and even be sacrificed to the demands of the most efficient production of goods. This damage to human dignity, undergone in the "socialized" process of production, will be easily offset, they say, by the abundance of socially produced goods which will pour out in profusion to individuals to be used freely at their pleasure for comforts and cultural development. Society, therefore, as Socialism conceives it, can on the one hand neither exist nor be thought of without an obviously excessive use of force; on the other hand, it fosters a liberty no less false, since there is no place in it for true social authority, which rests not on temporal and material advantages but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things. If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, #119-120)
Whilst the propaganda of communism, today so widespread, is readily deceiving the minds of the simple and untutored … [ B]y subjecting everything to state ownership and control, they reduce the dignity of the human person almost to zero. ... The Church has condemned the various forms of Marxist Socialism; and she condemns them again today, because it is her permanent right and duty to safeguard men from fallacious arguments and subversive influence that jeopardize their eternal salvation. … The dignity of the human person then, speaking generally, requires as a natural foundation of life the right to the use of the goods of the earth. To this right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant private ownership of property, if possible, to all. Positive legislation, regulating private ownership may change and more or less restrict its use. But if legislation is to play its part in the pacification of the community, it must see to it that the worker, who is or will be the father of a family, is not condemned to an economic dependence and servitude which is irreconcilable with his rights as a person. (52) (Pope Pius XII, Evangelii Praecones, 1951, #49, 52)
While, through the concrete existing form of Marxism, one can distinguish these various aspects and the questions they pose for the reflection and activity of Christians, it would be illusory and dangerous to reach a point of forgetting the intimate link which radically binds them together, to accept the elements of Marxist analysis without recognizing their relationships with ideology, and to enter into the practice of class struggle and its Marxist interpretations, while failing to note the kind of totalitarian and violent society to which this process leads. (Pope Paul VI, Octagesima Adveniens, 1971, #34) 
Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. ... Thus Pius XI's teaching in this encyclical can be summed up under two heads. First he taught what the supreme criterion in economic matters ought not to be. It must not be the special interests of individuals or groups, nor unregulated competition, economic despotism, national prestige or imperialism, nor any other aim of this sort. On the contrary, all forms of economic enterprise must be governed by the principles of social justice and charity. (Pope John XIII, Mater et Magistra, 1961, #34, 38-39)
[W]e have to add that the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. ... A person who is deprived of something he can call "his own", and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and on those who control it. This makes it much more difficult for him to recognize his dignity as a person, and hinders progress towards the building up of an authentic human community. ... The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. ... Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business. (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #13, 35)
While it has been rightly emphasized that increasing per capita income cannot be the ultimate goal of political and economic activity, it is still an important means of attaining the objective of the fight against hunger and absolute poverty. Hence, the illusion that a policy of mere redistribution of existing wealth can definitively resolve the problem must be set aside. In a modern economy, the value of assets is utterly dependent on the capacity to generate revenue in the present and the future. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term. (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Day of Peace, 2009, #11) 
You can see the pattern among these citations recognize both the folly of socialist or communist ideologies which strip human beings of their proper dignity in favor of a collective State. You also see the recognition of legitimate commerce and wealth creation have a place in a just economic system. Each of these Popes have an emphasis in their writings on the dignity of a human person. It is this which rises above all other considerations, be they profits or prudent state regulations. The human person must be seen as the most valuable asset in the equation ahead of the rest.

In the La Stampa interview, Pope Francis said of his exhortation, "There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church." Just as he referred listeners to the Catechism when speaking on marriage, he is referring listeners to the Church's precedent on social doctrine. He thus should be read in concert with the heritage of his predecessors. This can help one see why being critical of a de-humanizing attribute of capitalism, such as commoditizing employees, is not automatically tantamount to proposing some communist, socialist, or Marxist solution. Rather, the human being must be held paramount when considering whatever economic system or adjustments may come.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Parallels in the economics of Andrew Carnegie and Pope Francis

Andrew Carnegie 

Andrew Carnegie was a 19th century Scottish immigrant and steel industry tycoon. Considering the wealthiest Americans in history, Forbes ranks Carnegie #5, having had wealth valued at 0.60% of the entire U.S. economy. After selling his company to U.S. Steel in 1901 at the age of 65, he focused on a life of philanthropy. In addition to multiple donations, perhaps his most well-known enterprise at that stage entailed donations of about $60 million to fund over 1,000 libraries in the United States. (See bio)

This behavior reflected a personal belief of his regarding the responsibility of those with great wealth to enrich the lives of others in a lasting way. In June of 1889, he published the article Wealth in the North American Review. The article begins:
The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship. The conditions of human life have not only been changed, but revolutionized, within the past few hundred years. In former days there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and environment of the chief and those of his retainers. (p. 653)
Carnegie goes on to describe how the relatively wealthy in the past still lived in modest accommodations relative to the poor. But the industrial age revolutionized the disparity in wealth. He thus believed in a certain obligation of the rich for the poor "so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor."

On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis I released the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, also known as The Joy of the Gospel. Although an apostolic exhortation bears less authority than, say, a papal encyclical, and although this exhortation does not define faith or morals, it still calls for the reverential consideration proper to the papal office.

Pope Francis, like Carnegie, speaks of the phenomenon of a disparity in wealth between the wealthiest and the poorest:
While the earnings of a minority [i.e. the wealthy] are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. (#54)
Both men indicate this income gap is remedied when the wealthy grant certain ethical considerations proper to Christian philosophy. Says Carnegie:
The highest life is probably to be reached...while animated by Christ's spirit, by recognizing the changed conditions of this age, and adopting modes of expressing this spirit suitable to the changed conditions under which we live; still laboring for the good of our fellows, which was the essence of his life and teaching, but laboring in a different manner. This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community... (661-662)
You see Carnegie here promoting the Christian virtue of modesty as well as the idea of the wealthy's call to utilize "surplus revenues" for the betterment of society. This sentiment finds itself presented anew in Pope Francis' exhortation:
In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. ... Ethics––a non-ideological ethics––would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”. ... Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings. (#56-58)
Carnegie also considers the difference between donation in the form of welfare to individuals and what I would describe as systemic donations that enable the many. In the below quote, he ponders the hypothetical donation of Mr. Tilden:
But let us assume that Mr. Tilden's millions finally become the means of giving to this city a noble public library, where the treasures of the world contained in books will be open to all forever, without money and without price. Considering the good of that part of the race which congregates in and around Manhattan Island, would its permanent benefit have been better promoted had these millions been allowed to circulate in small sums through the hands of the masses? Even the most strenuous advocate of Communism must entertain a doubt upon this subject. Most of those who think will probably entertain no doubt whatever.
This mentality does not seek to give where use of the contribution will quickly pass. It resembles the adage: "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." Pope Francis describes a similar temperament with regard to welfare and systemic giving:
Welfare projects...should be considered merely temporary responses. ... Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. (#202, 204)
Both Carnegie and Francis assert a certain weakness in making small donations which result in "temporary" and non-"permanent" benefits. In other words, they believe the systemic problem will persist under such giving. Regarding Carnegie's mention of Communism, in TCV's previous post, I also cited the Pope acknowledging the Church's opposition to Communism.

Implicit in Carnegie's discourse is the notion that human beings have in themselves a dignity worthy of the assistance of others. His call to the wealthy to make use of their surplus wealth for the betterment of society reveals this. Although this parallel is less explicit than the others, I want to examine Pope Francis' reflection on the human aspect:
The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption. (#55)
Keeping with the Pope for another moment, I think he carried this idea forward to a vital moral issue of our time––the matter of abortion. Later in the encyclical, while describing various groups in society sometimes viewed as instruments of profit to others, the Pope tied in the matter of the unborn:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. ... Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. ... Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
Pope Francis, at St. Peter's Square, Nov. 13, 2013

Strains of the same mentality which denies or forsakes human dignity can permeate both the most virulent profit-seeker, such as a human-trafficker, and the most sympathetic victim, a woman impregnated by rape whose choice for life communicates profound heroism. The Pope is exhorting souls to reject the idea that humans are commodities to be used or eliminated to solve a problem as if they were tools. I have seen online proponents of abortion defend it on the grounds that the child would cause financial hardship. In the examples in this paragraph, the human-trafficker certainly merits less sympathy than the young woman who reluctantly finds herself pregnant and seeks abortion, however, in both cases, the idea that human life is secondary to financial advantage exists in one form or other.

This article is not intended to claim that the totality of Carnegie's and Pope Francis' arguments are identical from top to bottom, nor is it intended to be viewed as an endorsement of every word in the respective documents. Rather, it is to focus on several characteristics in which Carnegie and Francis have overlap. I think part of the intrigue in this comparison is that one man is among the wealthiest in world history and the other is perhaps the most well-known contemporary religious leader in the world, known for carrying his own luggage and personally calling common citizens, including a rape victim. One could not automatically reject Pope Francis for being an economic outsider, ignorant about economics, at least not entirely ignorant, when several of his arguments reflect the sentiments of one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

Both men acknowledge an economic disparity among society. Neither speaks to eliminate the wealthy, but of the wealthy's call to assist others. Neither seeks to solve the disparity with mere welfare distribution. One could say these men are both opposed to free market "greed" while yet rejecting a Communist solution––which, as another Pope, Pius XII, described in Divini Redemptoris, culminates "in a humanity without God." Both men recognize due regard members of society are called to have for each other. And both include Christ in the remedy.

Carnegie photo at top is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A brief theology of gravity

I've been reading Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. In it is an interesting analogy of gravity, a scientific law speaking to theological realities. While analyzing the statement in the Our Father prayer "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," he writes:
...Jesus himself is "heaven" in the deepest and truest sense of the word––he in whom and through whom God's will is wholly done. Looking at him, we realize that left to ourselves we can never be completely just: The gravitational pull of our own will constantly draws us away from God's will and turns us into mere "earth." ... what we are ultimately praying for in this third petition of the Our Father is that we come closer and closer to him, so that God's will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called. (p. 150)
The idea of recognizing divine things within nature is called a theophany. In breaking down the etymology of theophany, we see theos "god"  and phainein "to show." Now, in certain Scriptural contexts, the term "the world" does not always refer to mountains and oceans and merely a created domain, but it can refer to the fallenness of creation, marred by the original sin (e.g. John 15:19; 17:14). Man lives in a damaged state and does not always love his neighbor as he ought. Lies, greed, lust, uncharity, and other sins abound, even sometimes from our own hearts.

Thus, the figure of a "gravitational pull" toward "mere 'earth'" is the Pope's way of analogizing the idea that we have a tendency to fall away from God. But the thing about gravity is that it is a conquerable force. Even a person can "jump" and defeat, so-to-speak, gravity for a moment. And with a powerful enough vessel, the gravitational force of the earth can be escaped. The Pope's analogy sees Christ as this vessel without which we are doomed to continue falling back into the murk of this world. He writes "left to ourselves we can never be completely just" but that Christ is the one "through whom God's will is wholly done." Attachment to Christ is the means to escape the gravitational pull toward a world grasping to draw us back to a life of uncharity, of "un-love."

Although the Pope does not delve into the following, I recalled another related analogy in a prior master's theology class. The moon is the figure of the Church.
CCC#748 The Church has no other light than Christ's; according to a favorite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun.
You see in the above Catechism sentence, the reason the moon is able to reflect light is because it first receives and redirects that light from the sun. The moon is not the source of light, but is that which receives it. In the same way, we, the Church, are not the source of divine light, but we receive it from Christ, who is in this analogy the sun.

Continuing with these theophanies and this thought experiment, consider what effect the earth and moon have on each other. The gravitational pull of the earth has paralyzed the moon, so to speak, such that its rotation has conformed to the earth's, and the same side of the moon always faces the earth. This is called tidal locking. However, even though the moon has the weaker gravitational force, it still has its effect on the earth, tugging at the oceans, causing the tides, which is called tidal bulging.

If we look at this phenomenon in light of the fallen world and Christ's Church, we can see sort of an inspirational figure. Even though the moon is subject to the earth (i.e. the Church faces forces from the "world"), the moon can change the very shape of the earth with its own power (i.e. the Church, when operating by its strength, transforms the "world").

We can contribute to this "gravitational" phenomenon in the spiritual sense when we contribute to the power of the Church by loving neighbor, defending the truth, giving due care to the needy, selflessly giving of oneself to one's spouse, and so forth. These are the things in accord with the will of God. These are the kinds of virtues Christ accomplished "wholly" as Pope Benedict writes. In doing this, we are accepting the hand of Christ, his empowering graces and the "sunlight" he sends, and we can escape the sinful gravitational tendencies of this world––tendencies we could not escape without Christ––and ascend to "lofty heights."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Could this lead to Orthodox-Catholic unity on the papacy and beyond?

Apostle Peter Preaching by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, I reviewed perspectives on the office of the papacy from both the Catholic Church and a current Orthodox view. I'll begin with the Orthodox view, as articulated by Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in early 2011 (all of his quotes herein come from between 28:00-47:00 of this recording). He believes the matter of the papacy to be the critical foundation toward unity on all divergent views of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches:
I truly believe that if we Orthodox and Catholics can make genuine progress on the way we understand primacy, then most of the other issues that arise between us could be solved.
Praying for the Church, it was Christ to the Father petitioning "that they may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:12) At the heart of all the councils and documents, which can sometimes give the appearance of imprudent bureaucracy, the goal here is one of love. This is the ultimate goal of every action of any Christian from the highest hierarchical level to the lowest lay level in every aspect of life. These two Churches have so much in common and recognize the validity of each others' priesthood and the sacrament of unity, the Eucharist. (cf. Joint International Commission, #13, 1993) Like Metropolitan Ware and all of the recent Popes, I have a certain optimism toward reconcilement of the two Churches. (See also comments on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I on Orthodox relations in prior post.)

Metropolitan Ware begins with a reference to The Ravenna Statement, a 2007 joint document between officials of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regarding the primacy of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome:
In the Ravenna Statement it is stated unambiguously, "The fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West." And that statement was endorsed by all the delegates, the Orthodox as well as the Catholics. …  Now, this statement stressing the existence of universal primacy is the first time, at any rate in recent history, that the Orthodox Church at a high official level, has affirmed in principle, the universal primacy of the Bishop of Rome. …  But the question then arises, what kind of universal primacy is meant? How is it to be interpreted?
We begin with this common point: the Bishop of Rome exercises a "universal primacy." Both the "East" (Orthodox) and "West" (Catholics) hold to this basic statement. The extent of what that means remains in negotiation. Metropolitan Ware nevertheless believes The Ravenna Statement is a crucial document in reconciling the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the papacy because it cites an ancient canon especially revered by the Orthodox:

[T]he statement of Ravenna offers us a precious guideline. It appeals to the 34th apostolic canon. Now, I don't think the apostolic canons, which are 4th century in date, are particularly well known in the western canonical tradition. But for the Christian East, the apostolic canons have always been held in very high regard, especially the 34th apostolic canon, which is seen as the touchstone for primacy. … Now, the canon says, "The bishops of each province must recognize the one who is first––" protos is the Greek word "––the one who is first among them, and consider him to be their head. And they must not do anything important without his consent. But the first, the protos, cannot do anything without the consent of all."
In other words, Metropolitan Ware believes reconcilement on the papacy can be achieved if this mutual dependence of sorts, as articulated in Apostolic Canon 34, be harmonious with any view of papal primacy. 

Consider a final, lengthier quote from the Metropolitan on what remains unresolved regarding this canon and Catholic teaching:
The 34th apostolic canon suggests a relation, a mutual relation, between the one who is first and the other bishops. The protos, the head, the first, is not to do anything without consulting the others. But the others are not to do anything without consulting him. So the pattern here is mutuality, reciprocal concord, co-responsibility, interdependence. So if we apply this to papal primacy, it means that the members of the episcopal college and equally the patriarchs of the East cannot act without their head, the Pope. But equally, the Pope cannot act without the members of the episcopal college and the Eastern patriarchs. Now, I wonder how far such an understanding of papal primacy can be reconciled with the decrees of the first Vatican council, or, for that matter, of its successor Vatican II. In the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the document of Vatican II, it is clearly said that the college of bishops cannot act without its head the Pope, whereas the Pope can very well act without the college, section 22. In the words of the nota explicativa praevia [an appendix to Lumen Gentium], section 4, "As supreme pastor of the Church, the sovereign pontiff can always exercise his authority as he chooses while the college of bishops acts only at intervals and only at the consent of its head." Now that doesn't seem to correspond to the kind of reciprocal relationship that the Ravenna statement envisages when it invokes apostolic canon 34. If it proves possible to reinterpret the authority of the Pope in the perspective of this canon, here is certainly an understanding of papal primacy that may well prove acceptable to the Orthodox Church. For this reason, I regard the Ravenna statement as a document full of hope. 

The bottom line from this Orthodox perspective is thus: The Orthodox can embrace a Catholic view of the papacy if it is in accord with apostolic canon 34. Yet Vatican I and Vatican II contain statements that seem unfaithful to canon 34. How can this be resolved?

At the first Vatican council was articulated the definition of papal infallibility. This dogma is at the heart of the Roman bishop making other dogmatic statements on faith or morals by virtue of his office. Elsewhere in Metropolitan Ware's talk, he expressed disapproving concern at the idea that of a member of the Church could be able to so act as an island. Mutuality was his repeated concern.

I think it is helpful if we rewind even before the final decrees of Vatican I, and examine what led up to the decree on papal infallibility. Recently I finished reading through The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser at Vatican Council I. This text is basically a behind-the-scenes look at Vatican I, as the bishops came to understand what was meant by the concept of infallibility as it related to the office of the papacy. Bishop Gasser oversaw a committee clarifying the defining paragraph on infallibility at Vatican I as well as reviewing suggestions submitted by other bishops. The value of this document is that it clarifies the intent of the final definition and perhaps dispels misinterpretations of the definition that were not intended by the bishops.

One thing I derived from reading this text is how papal infallibility is a gift of a singular office, yet intertwined in little-known ways with the Church itself and the Church's corporate infallibility.

Following are some observations of the text. References in parentheses are ebook locations.

Bishop Gasser described an interesting theological perspective on papal infallibility as put forth by Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, a sixteenth century theologian:
[T]o use the words of Cardinal Cajetan––from the fact that when the Pope makes a judicial and definitive decision determining that it must be held as such by the Church then it is clear that we are all bound to accept his decision and that whoever pertinaciously clings to the opposite view is considered a heretic. Therefore the whole Church is able to err, following the decision of a Pope, if the Pope in such a definition is able to err. Therefore it must be believed that the promise of Christ made to the Church, viz., "The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth" (Jn 16:13), is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude, thus preserving the divine order which governs the lower through the higher and the higher through the uppermost. (278-284) 
It is understood in the Catholic Church that the Church, due to the operation of the Holy Spirit, corporately has the gift of infallibility (i.e. to teach without error in defining for the whole Church matters of faith or morals, cf. Jn 16:13, et al). It is also understood in the Church to accept as infallible similar definitions of the Pope. Thus, in simple terms, the above paragraph means the following: If the Pope has the protection of infallibility, and the Church accepts his teaching, then the Church will remain infallible in doing so. However, if the Pope does not have the protection of infallibility, the Church could therefore accept an erroneous teaching of the Church, and thus the Church corporately would not have the gift of infallibility. This would violate the promise of the Spirit given to the Apostles. The Catholic Church is arranged such that the entire Church believes an infallible statement of the Pope, because it is ultimately an errorless statement of the Holy Spirit. And since the Orthodox have expressed certain agreement to papal primacy, this analogy by Cajetan may prove helpful since it ties the Pope to the other bishops.

Whether or not one accepts the Catholic concept of infallibility in the first place, I think there's an important point here not to be missed: The idea of papal infallibility rises or falls with the infallibility of the corporate Church.

In speaking to the bishops prior to the vote, Gasser describes this nuance:
[T]here belongs to the Roman Pontiff a separate infallibility. But in saying this we do not separate the Pontiff from his ordained union with the Church. For the Pope is only infallible when, exercising his function as teacher of all Christians and therefore representing the whole Church, he judges and defines what must be believed or rejected by all. He is no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support. (loc 492-496)
[W]e do not separate the Pope, defining, from the cooperation and consent of the Church, at least in the sense that we do not exclude this cooperation and this consent of the Church. ... Therefore the Pope, by reason of his office and the gravity of the matter, is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth. These means are councils, or the advice of the bishops, cardinals, theologians, et cetera. Indeed, the means are diverse according to the diversity of situations, and we should piously believe that, in the divine assistance promised to Peter and his successors by Christ, there is simultaneously contained a promise about the means which are necessary and suitable to make an infallible pontifical judgment. ... [W]e do not separate the Pope, even minimally, from the consent of the Church, as long as that consent is not laid down as a condition that is either antecedent or consequent. We are not able to separate the Pope from the consent of the Church because this consent is never able to be lacking to him. (loc 496-508)
In brief, what Gasser is saying here is that the Pope remains united to the Church and is "held to use" means necessary to formulate a definition (such as councils, bishop advice, etc.), but that this cannot be an absolutely mandatory aspect of the charism of papal infallibility. He subsequently explains why.

He says when we consider whether or not there necessarily must be formal consent of the Magisterium when making a definition, we reach the matter's "extreme point." By this, he means it is possible to discern the Church's teaching via existing sources of the faith, such as Scripture, antiquity, etc... In his own words, Gasser explains:
It is true that the Pope in his definitions ex cathedra has the same sources (fontes) that the Church has, viz., Scripture and tradition. It is true that the consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions. But from all that it can in no way be deduced that there is a strict and absolute necessity of seeking that consent from the rulers of the Churches or from the bishops. I say this because this consent is very frequently able to be deduced from the clear and manifest testimonies of Sacred Scripture, from the consent of antiquity, that is, of the holy Fathers, from the opinion of theologians and from other private means, all of which suffice for full information about the fact of the Church's consent. (loc 591-596)
In saying there is not a "strict and absolute necessity" of formal consent, Gasser's above caveat seems to be a stereotypical view of the papacy – that the Pope can and will operate in a rogue manner, as if alien to the Church, and could, in theory, violate a united voice from the Church. Yet what is the context of this statement? It is immediately preceded by the idea that  consent of other bishops is a "rule" for papal definitions. And we know from other statements in Gasser's presentation, that Magisterial consent is a rule because Magisterial consent is a means by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church. Recall how he quoted Cajetan saying "'The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth,' is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude..."

In my assessment of Gasser's argument, he does not wish to impose a formal consent from the Magisterium when the Pope is able to clearly deduce the will of the Church from pre-existing Church teaching. If the Pope ever exercised his office in this way, I would submit that consultation of Scripture and pre-existing Church teaching remains faithful to Metropolitan Ware's belief that the Pope must not make decisions by himself, in accord with Apostolic Canon 34. If a matter is "clear" in the teaching of "antiquity" or "Scripture," the Pope would remain faithful to his peers in consulting sources they also deem authoritative. And, in consulting Scripture and other Tradition, the Pope would indeed be consulting the word of God in writing and through the words of bishops preceding him. In neither case, be it acquiring formal consent or informal consent via antiquity, the Pope does not act alone.

Fr. James T. O'Connor, translator of the Relatio, summarizes this aspect of Gasser's presentation:
Although the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith, there is no juridical necessity for him to prepare the definition in any specific way, nor is his definition once proclaimed subject to review or approval by the other bishops or the faithful.
If there is to be reunion with the Orthodox Church on the matter of the Papacy, could this "moral" obligation of the Pope to consult the other bishops on a definition be a means? In other words, when the Church voted on papal infallibility in the context of Gasser's presentation, those at Vatican I passed on including a "formal" or "juridical" imposition on the Pope to consult other bishops while at the same time understanding him to have a moral obligation and service to that which the Spirit has revealed through the corporate Church. Could a non-juridical obligation of some sort be that which satisfies the requirements in Apostolic Canon 34 as described by Metropolitan Ware?

Since the Pope has a moral obligation to consult the Church, even though not a "mandatory" one, could the comparison be made to God not being required to come incarnate, mandatorily, but we can be assured that He will because it is most fitting? Can we be assured that the Holy Spirit would likewise teach through the Church and papal office by ensuring due diligence?

Let's take one more look at some of the statements above that at least lean toward Apostolic Canon 34:

  • The Pope is "no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support" when exercising his "function as teacher."
  • The Pope "is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth."
  • "[T]he consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions."
  • "[T]the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith."

Could this obligation to which the Pope is "held," this responsibility to consult the Church to which the Pope is "morally bound," be the key to reconcilement with the Orthodox Church? If not the solution, I would submit that these seeds underlying the definitions of Vatican I and of Apostolic Constitution 34 may be those that germinate into united maturity.

In closing, it might be worth noting that the Pope has explicitly exercised this obligation in writing. In 1995, Pope John Paul II made a definitive statement about the grave immorality of abortion. In his statement, which cites the authority of the office from whence he spoke, he specifically cites having consulting the voice of his peers:
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine–I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 62, 1995)
You see the Pope articulating that what he is asserting is something already unanimously voiced by the Magisterium. His statement, according to his own declaration, is not made in isolation from the bishops. It is a statement communicating what those bishops had previously and then articulated.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On Reconciliation: Can virginity be restored?

Sometime during listening to Catholic radio archives discussing families, college kids, and the issues of the day, I thought it worthwhile to take a theological look at the question: Can virginity be restored?

Here's the short answer: If given in marriage, no. If given outside of marriage, yes.

Now, an event in history cannot be changed. But in the context of this analysis, the physical actions are not the ultimate focus. In Catholic teaching, the sexual faculties and the giving of the self in that way to another is something which belongs within the institution of marriage. From the Catechism:
Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. (CCC#2360) The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude. (CCC#2362) [S]pouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. (CCC#2367)
The sacrament of marriage is seen as the image of Christ as bridegroom wedded to his only bride, the Church (Theology of the Body 91, et al).

In other words, the gifts of our gender and sexuality are properly exercised within marriage. In so doing, the spouses express gratitude to the Creator who gave the gifts. Thus, virginity given in marriage does not cause any spiritual damage to the involved spouses. Such giving of virginity cannot be "repaired" or "restored" because no damage occurred in its giving.

The loss of virginity outside of marriage is a different story. Because it involves the use of the sexual faculties in a way reserved for marriage, damage is caused to the soul. Sin takes place. It is in this sense that the virginity lost can be restored. And it is only this sense that is of ultimate consequence.

This involves the heart of the Gospel message:
The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God's mercy to sinners. The angel announced to Joseph: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (CCC#1846)
In his earthly ministry, Christ breathed on the Apostles and said, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23) Many Catholic apologetic articles can be found on this subject (e.g. here or here), but suffice it to say, this is an important passage in understanding that Christ installed the sacrament of reconciliation (aka penance, confession). Christ exercises his forgiveness through the priest.

So the crux of this essay is this: The giving of virginity in a sinful way causes damage that can be repaired by Jesus Christ who gave the Church the healing sacrament of reconciliation.

Think of what happens when someone incurs an injury, say a broken bone. Doctors can reset this bone such that it heals and restores the bone to its original status and strength. Sin likewise causes damage to the soul. It is Christ who repairs this damage.

Healing of the Paralytic, Codex Egberti

The figure of physical healing as the sign of spiritual healing is evident in Scripture. For example, in Mark 2, there is the story of the paralytic lowered through the ceiling. Jesus tells the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." The scribes there are disturbed and question who but God can forgive sins. Jesus then gives them the physical sign that he has the power to forgive sins which cannot be seen with the eyes. He says to the scribes, "But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and then he says to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." The paralytic rises and walks.

Jesus juxtaposes the physical healing with the forgiveness of sins. Christ removed the man's physical affliction so that the audience would believe he removed the man's spiritual affliction. This is why if one illicitly loses one's virginity, one should know that this can be restored by Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Here are a couple more Church references demonstrating this teaching:
The whole power of the sacrament of [reconciliation] consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship. (CCC#1468)

[W]ell may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is "to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb"—to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance. (Pope John XXIII, Paenitentiam Agere, 14)
And so, the Church, operating by the power of Christ, offers those authentically approaching the sacrament of reconciliation true healing of their sin, be it a loss of virginity outside of marriage or any sin. A soul can be restored to a newness, a "former splendor," as if the sin had never occurred. In the spiritual sense, which is the only one of eternal consequence, the soul having sinfully forfeited his or her virginity has recovered grace lost. The damage is repaired. As in the story of the paralytic, the affliction on the person is removed. Gone. The the true penitent receiving the sacrament is united to God destined to dine at the eternal banquet in heaven.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can you go to hell for the "flimsiest of reasons"?
A look at invincible ignorance and a forgotten value of conversion

On the August 27, 2013 Coast to Coast radio show George Noory interviewed Catholic historian
Charles Coulombe on a variety of topics during the last three hours of the show. Coulombe was consistently excellent, had his facts about Church teaching straight, expressed himself succinctly and charitably, and very well-represented the Church to members of an audience that might not otherwise ever hear an accurate portrayal of Church matters.

After listening to the entirety of the interview, I only wished he would have expounded more on one issue. The issue was raised by a caller, Ray in Niles, OH, who asked the following (emphasis mine):
When we say that people who are evil would deserve hell and those who lead virtuous lives deserve heaven, that makes rational sense. But the problem I've always had with the
Church and with Christianity in general is that you're condemned to hell for the flimsiest of reasons. For example, you're required to believe a matter of fact that Christ was divine and the Incarnation. Now let's suppose a person leads a virtuous life but doesn't happen to believe that. That doesn't make them evil. I mean, if I believe, for example, that the Eiffel Tower is in London, England and not Paris, I'm wrong. But I'm wrong about a matter of fact. I'm not evil in making that. Now the Church holds you responsible for knowing things that you can't possibly know. We hold people responsible when we're in a position to say to them, "You acted against your better judgment. You ought to have known better." But if one doesn't believe in the Incarnation, or the divinity of Christ, is one going against one's better judgment?And furthermore, what constitutes a judgment has to do with an accident of birth. People who are born into Roman Catholic families tend to be Roman Catholic. People who are born into Muslim families tend to be Muslim. People who are born in Jewish families tend to be Jewish. And so on. Are they expected to know that the other religion is true? And how can they know that? If you can't know what you're required to believe, then how can you be eternally damned for getting it wrong? That just doesn't make any rational sense.
Coulombe began by pointing out the tremendous number of fallen away Catholics as evidence that people don't necessarily stay where they are. True or not, the caller's ultimate claim was that it was possible, according to Church teaching, that a person unable to know what to believe would be condemned for not believing it. The gist of the caller's question is not uncommon. Coulombe made other fair points related to the fallen human nature of man, and Christ as the escape from a futile position. However––although it is easy for me to say not under the constraints of radio time as was Coulombe––I wished he would have expounded on the concept of "invincible ignorance."

To put it briefly, the caller was incorrect that the Church teaches that a person will be condemned to hell for not knowing something he "can't possibly know."

In Catholic theology, there exists a doctrine commonly called "invincible ignorance" or some similar paraphrase. The Catechism offers descriptions. Beginning in paragraph 846 is the following: "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." From there, we read the important subsequent paragraph (emphasis mine):
This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. (CCC#847)
That paragraph alone debunks the caller's claim that the Church teaches the condemnation of those who don't formally know Christ. A person who "through no fault of their own" would be considered "invincibly ignorant." In other words, they did not receive a legitimate opportunity to know and believe in the Christ, whom alone is the door to salvation.

Essentially, if a person was invincibly ignorant of the truth of Christ, and if they attained salvation, they would still be incorporated into "the Church which is his Body" (CCC#846), but in an informal sense. Not with their lips or through receipt of the sacraments would such a person express his faith in Christ. But by their "sincere heart" and by their move "to do his will as they know it" (CCC#847) is their expression made. And it should be noted that even this action is done by "grace," which is God's gift, God's initiative. It should also be noted that the Church does not teach such persons certainly "will" go to heaven, but "may" in some way known to God.

In other words, the Church does not teach that God plays little games of "gotcha" and sends someone to hell for a "flimsy" reason, such as a person never having had an opportunity to believe in the usual sense. What constitutes true "ignorance" may only be known to God and the soul in question. Perhaps it is possible even for someone who was preached the gospel explicitly to remain invincibly ignorant due to various emotional or mental impediments. On the other hand, a person who heard the gospel may falsely convince themselves that they did not receive enough evidence (or grace) and proudly claim that they were not adequately evangelized. We could speculate, but defining an ignorance that can vary from soul to soul is not the purpose of this post, if it were even possible.

The theology of salvation and an "informal" faith in Christ is not new. For instance, in the Old Testament, we are told Elijah, who lived long before the Incarnation of Christ, was taken to heaven (2 Kg 2:11). Paul eludes to the mercy shown to him because, as he says, he "acted ignorantly in my belief" when he persecuted Christians (1 Tim. 1:13)  The Early Church Fathers likewise made similar statements about ignorance or informal incorporation into the Church, which is Christ's body. St. Augustine stated, "in the ineffable prescience of God, many who appear to be outside are within," incorporated by "wish or desire," while "many who seem to be within are without." (St. Augustine, quoted in De Lubac, The Splendor of the Church, p. 212). The 2nd century Church Father, Justin Martyr, went so far as to say those who lived before Christ either embraced or persecuted Christ in a mystical way (emphasis mine):
We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 46) 
Father William Most compiled a number of similar citations in this article under the subhead "Broad texts of the fathers" as well as other citations from the Magisterium.

In Catholic theology and Biblical language, it is sometimes said a wicked soul will experience "death," not in the sense of temporal death, but the death of the soul, a "second death" (Rev. 2:11; Rev. 20:6-14), where the fires of hell are eternal.

Barring a special revelation, we cannot "observe" heaven or hell in the way we can the environment around us. Keep in mind the Coast to Coast caller's difficulty believing in the idea of hell because of, what was to him, the "flimsy" way one can get there. The caller, though his premise was erroneous, believed if one went to hell for a "flimsy" reason, it therefore didn't make "rational sense." He was not willing to believe such a doctrine based on the unequal proportion between a hypothetical error in ignorance that could result in a disproportionate fate. Keep that in mind in the following thought exercise.

Let's say a man comes home from a long day's work and decides to make himself a bowl of soup. He turns the knob on his gas stove. He had a stuffy nose that day, and didn't smell the gas leak that had accumulated throughout the day. Ignorant of the gas leak, he blows up. In keeping with the reasoning of the caller, should a person trying to cook soup deserve to die? Where is the rational sense in the consequence of death, when the subject was ignorant that death would result from his action? Where is the proportion? Would the caller deny that the man had blown up based on the flimsy reason why the man was killed?

The point of the thought exercise is to demonstrate the fallacy of the caller's conclusion in having a "problem" with the Church, even if his theological understanding of Church teaching had been correct. At best (or worst), he would have to admit that a "flimsy" reason for going to hell would simply parallel the empirical evidence we have of people dying a temporal death due to ignorance.

One may ask, then, if a person may be granted lenience for his ignorance of Christ, isn't it safer not to evangelize? I would answer no. Here's one reason why.

In a previous post, I reviewed Church theology on How the Eucharist benefits the world. In brief, those who receive the Eucharist are receiving something divine into themselves, something supernatural that transforms and effects grace on nature. The very celebration and receipt of the Eucharist draws souls throughout creation and brings grace into the souls receiving the sacrament. Thus, even if someone would be saved in an informal way, as a result of receiving mercy due to his "invincible ignorance," the very absence of that person's formal incorporation to the Church renders that person a non-participant in the sacramental delivery of grace.

An ancient Church prayer reads, "O sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us." (cf. CCC#1402). Through all the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist, is received grace to "enlighten and nourish Christian activity." (CCC#2031) Though the Spirit can deliver grace in any way, the Church teaches the power of grace through the sacraments.

The very foundational call of Christian activity is to love God and neighbor. Receipt of the sacraments fosters that love. Thus, in the Catholic theology which we believe based on the promises of Christ, there is a true value to the entire Church and to the entire world when one formally incorporates into the Church. There is a value that extends beyond the converting individual.

And as the Catechism concludes in the section on invincible ignorance and salvation only through the Church:
Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men. (CCC#848)