Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How does Pope Francis reconcile calling gay "marriage" as of the devil yet support civil unions?

Much ado is in the news again about Pope Francis and homosexuality. This time, the headlines from today read such as: Pope Francis calls for civil union law for same-sex couples, in shift from Vatican stance

THE BACKDROP
This story is at least 7 years old, however. It is apparently back in the news because a new documentary quotes him, apparently more recently, supporting civil unions. But, let's look at the backdrop. 

In March 2013, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was in the news because there was a push for gay "marriage" in Argentina. According to the New York Times, Bergoglio saw civil unions as some sort of concession to be supported to prevent the passage of a gay "marriage" bill:
Faced with the near certain passage of the gay marriage bill, Cardinal Bergoglio offered the civil union compromise as the “lesser of two evils,” said Sergio Rubin, his authorized biographer. “He wagered on a position of greater dialogue with society.” 
–Cardinal Bergoglio, quoted in New York Times, March 13, 2013.
If this actually was and is Pope Francis's opinion, he reportedly thinks civil unions are "evil," but not as bad as gay "marriage." It is difficult to ascertain his opinion, however, because quotes from him are sparse, he is not known to issue clarifications, and the media doesn't push for clarification anyway. The Catholic News Agency reported in 2013 that the Pope supporting civil unions was false. 


2019 detail of photo of Pope Francis. Photo by В. Николов. Acquired from Wikimedia Commons.


Writing in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio stated:
The Argentine people will face, in the coming weeks, a situation whose outcome may gravely injure the family. This refers to the project of the law regarding marriage of persons of the same sex. What is at stake here is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of so many children who will be discriminated against in advance, depriving them of the human maturation that God wanted to be given with a father and a mother. At stake is the outright rejection of the law of God, engraved also in our hearts. ... It is not a mere legislative project (this is only the instrument) but a ''movement'' of the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God. Jesus tells us that to defend ourselves against this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. (Letter (PDF) from Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. to the Carmelite Nuns
of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, June 22, 2010)
In the context of that same chapter in Argentina, we have Bergoglio saying the movement for gay "marriage" is from the devil himself. That being the case, it's hard to reconcile why he would believe conceding to "civil unions" would be a better alternative than standing firm in the truth. The recklessness of that opinion would explain why he was overrulled by his fellow bishops at the time—the only time he was overruled as head of the Argentinian Bishops Conference, according to the NYT article.

THE NEW DOCUMENTARY
All that being said, the quote from the documentary does not appear to offer any mention of civil unions as a necessary "evil." Pope Francis is quoted to now say:
Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,. ... What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered ... I stood up for that.
If the Pope currently believes confirming people in a sinful arrangement is a virtuous solution, then he is obviously mistaken. That's like conceding to give porn to an addict so he still feels "part of the family" and isn't "miserable." There is a perverted notion about placing "welcomingness" or "accompaniment" above truth among some clergy Church today. This brand of welcoming is like the spider saying "Come into my parlor!" to the fly.

If, when the Pope refers to when he "stood up for that" is in context of the Argentinian gay "marriage" movement of the early 10s, he either forgot that he said civil unions were a "necessary evil," or the "necessary evil" quote was misrepresented by his biographer Rubin. Otherwise, the Pope recently saying "I stood up for that" could be referring to the early 10s incident. It is unclear. There is also no mention I've seen in today's stories that the Pope reiterated that gay "marriage" was a lie of the devil.

MAGISTERIUM
Supporting civil unions puts Pope Francis in opposition to magisterial texts on the matter. For example, speaking doctrinally and formally on this matter, the Church has stated:
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection. ... [It is] necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions...
(Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2003)
The document includes a variety of reasons why homosexual unions are to be opposed, including the natural law on which all morals are founded, and arguments addressing rational thought, the biological order, social order, and legal order.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
Another matter comes from secularists as well as Pope Francis' more recent quote, such as "homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family...they're children of God..." etc. None of these assertions are disputed by supporters of marriage as between a man and woman. Supporters of true marriage actually agree with the notion that persons of homosexual disposition are children of God and belong in their families. But, to acknowledge that is a very different matter than whether same sex persons can "marry" or whether it's prudent to endorse some secular imitation of marriage in a "civil union." 

It's quite devious to imply that to love a person of homosexual disposition, one must confirm them in sin. But, to confirm someone in sin and lies is the exact opposite of love. Today's report on the Pope's words have resulted, again, in terrible scandal for the faithful. 

Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin summarized this sentiment today as well:
The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible. (Bishop Thomas Tobin, statement on Pope Francis's recent comment on civil unions, Oct. 21, 2020)
Finally, the matter of papal infallibility inevitably comes up in these contexts. Secularists and heterodox Catholics grow zealous at the thought that Catholic dogma on homosexuality has "changed" because of the Pope's comments when it has not. Confusion has resulted from a Pope Francis story again. I received email notice of a statement from the Diocese of Rockford today, reading in part: 
The comments being reported by Pope Francis have not changed the teaching of the church in regard to the Sacrament of Marriage or the complementarity of men and women.
This matter does not remotely come close to being a statement under the charism of infallibility native to Pope Francis's office. The criteria for infallibility to occur (Vatican I, 4.4.9) includes that it is a matter of faith and morals, is stated as from the function of the chair of Peter, is for all of the faithful to hold as dogmatically true, and is defined.

The latest Pope quote from the documentary meets zero of those qualifications. Pope Francis's thoughts on this matter are his personal opinion.

EDIT 10/22/2020 to add: Additional clarification and thoughts have been provided in detail on this issue by Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Obergefell and legacies of lies

One of the big lies issued by the 2015 Supreme Court recognition of same-sex "marriage" is the following statement from the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy:

The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. (Obergefell v. Hodges, IV)

Since the court's 5-4 ruling, we have seen multiple cases violating Justice Kennedy's "assurance." We have seen a county clerk imprisoned for refusing to issue gay "marriage" licenses despite conscious laws and the wide availability of licenses all over the state. A multitude of other cases include numerous lawsuits against bakers, photographers, caterers and more to compel them into labor for specific gay "marriage" ceremonies. Even a Catholic cemetery has faced legal issues for not submitting to the Obergefell plaintiffs' demands. 

Recently, another devious maneuver occurred during the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearings. 

Barrett's public history should be noted. Big media and leftist politicians have made much of Barrett's Catholicism—specifically, the Catholicism of one who is not known to trample Catholic teaching as many "Catholic" politicians or even clergy have. Thus, when convenient, the narrative attempts to convey that being truly Catholic somehow disqualifies one of judicial competence whereas someone irreligious is supposedly immune to biases. Now, I am not familiar enough with Barrett to know how much she adheres to Catholic teaching, but, for the purposes of this article, it is enough that her opponents perceive her as a traditional Catholic.

When Barrett was nominated to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, Senator Diane Feinstein famously opined:

"Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country."

This attitude is consistent in the trajectory of anti-Catholic and anti-traditional discrimination from before Obergefell to the current acceleration.

Yesterday, activists of gay "marriage" ideology took another dishonest step. During Barrett's confirmation hearing, she used the phrase "sexual preference" to refer to persons of homosexual attraction. Known for other anti-Catholic opinions, Senator Mazie Hirono scolded the nominee, claiming the term was "offensive and outdated"—an attitude, incidentally, true to the 21st century's toddler-esque immaturity and obsession with what is "offensive."

So, how "outdated" is the term "preference" when referring to homosexual attraction? When did the term fall out of form?

Yesterday.

That's right. One day ago. Observant Twitter users noticed that Webster's dictionary altered the definition of the word "preference" as "offensive" when Amy Coney Barrett used the term in the context of sexual attraction. The English language was retconned to accommodate a leftist accusation, to ex post facto paint Barrett as some sort of bigot.

Other Twitter users noted how homosexuality-focused publications such as The Advocate and Pink News used the phrase "sexual preference" in the same sense in their publications as recently as three weeks ago.

Webster's live manipulation of language is Orwellian, devious, and dishonest. And, so is the fake outrage of Senators such as Hirono who suddenly claim offense at this term once used by a Catholic primed to be in a position of judicial authority. The language manipulation is simply a lie. Such lies are the devil's offspring. And this has been the hallmark of Justice Kennedy's promise of "proper protection" to those who recognize male-female marriage. Even the Barrett "preference" incident came up in the context of a question about Obergefell. This all fit the same pattern: No one is to question homosexual activism's narrative.

And now, those who seek to persecute Catholics and traditionalists have announced that they are not beyond changing the definition of a word in the dictionary to persecute you. This is dystopian, something you would expect of a one-dimensional movie villain. This is a perverse version of the Emperor Has No Clothes and no one is supposed to notice the lie in front of them. 

The trajectory of villainy against Catholics and traditionalists will only get worst unless there is something to alter the current course.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

7 historic images with Catholic back stories IV

Following is the 4th installment of images with Catholic back stories. (See volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3.)

1. JOHNSTOWN FLOOD (1889) 

Sisters of Charity stereoscopic image in aftermath of Johnstown Flood.
Public domain image by George Barker.

 On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam failed in what resulted in the Johnstown Flood of 1889. The dam released 14.55 million cubic meters of water onto the town, resulting in over 2,200 deaths, and $17 million in damages (nearly half a billion modern dollars). Later that year, George Titus Ferris published The Complete History of the Johnstown and Conemaugh Valley Flood, in which he described various groups of people who responded to help with recovery. Among them, he cited the critical work of the nuns and priests: 
The Sisters of Mercy were also active in the good work in the ruined city, though the majority of the Catholic women and children had been removed to Pittsburgh, and were being cared for there. There were about thirty Catholic priests and nuns at work, the sisters devoting themselves to the care of the sick and injured in the hospitals, while the priests did anything and everything, and made themselves generally useful. Bishop Phelan, who reached Johnstown on Sunday evening after the flood, returned to Pittsburgh the next day. He organized the Catholic forces in that neighborhood, and all devoted themselves to hard work assiduously. What the hospitals would have done at first without the sisters is a difficult question. There were nine charity, seven Franciscan, and seven Benedictine sisters. Among the priests were: Rev. Fathers Guido, Goebel, Cosgrave, Gallagher, Trotwein, Rosensteet, Doren, Corcoran, Derlin, Boyle, Smith, O’Connell, and Lamb. 
Famous 19th century landscape photographer George Barker captured much of the Johnstown Flood. Among his techniques was the stereoscopic pair, a method of creating three-dimensional photographs by aligning two photos side by side, taken a few inches apart. When observed either cross-eyed, or looking “through” the pair, the image takes on three dimensions. Pictured above is Barker’s stereoscopic photo of the the Sisters of Charity house after the Johnstown Flood. 

2. POPE PIUS IX RAILROAD CARS (1859)

Altobelli & Molins (Italian, active until 1865), [Pope Pius IX's Private Train at Velletri], 1863, Albumen silver print, 26.4 × 35.2 cm (10 3/8 × 13 7/8 in.), 84.XP.373.2, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 

In 1859, Pope Pius IX was gifted three railroad cars for use in traveling to the papal states. The cars served different purposes that contained a chapel, meeting area, and even an open car from which the public could be addressed. The first trip was from Porta Maggiore to Albano, near Castel Gandolfo. The life of the papal railcars was short-lived, however, as Italy ended the authority of the papal states in 1870. The cars were not seen again until 1911 during a unification anniversary. 

Watch Rome Report’s 2-minute documentary on Pius IX’s train and see more images at Centrale Montemartini

3. MONKS, CAR, AND ST. BERNARD (1905)

Monks and workers pose with their first car and a St. Bernard at the Great St. Bernard Hospice in Switzerland. Photo by Dufour & Tissot S.A., Nyon.

To help weary travelers in the Swiss Alps, St. Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice and monastery in the late tenth century. St. Bernard is perhaps most well-known for the dogs that bear his namesake. For the monks availed the use of dogs in finding and helping weary travelers in the frigid Alps. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: 
Since the most ancient times there was a path across the Pennine Alps leading from the valley of Aosta to the Swiss canton of Valais, over what is now the pass of the Great St. Bernard. This pass is covered with perpetual snow from seven to eight feet deep, and drifts sometimes accumulate to the height of forty feet. Though the pass was extremely dangerous, especially in the springtime on account of avalanches, yet it was often used by French and German pilgrims on their way to Rome. For the convenience and protection of travelers St. Bernard founded a monastery and hospice at the highest point of the pass, 8,000 feet above sea-level, in the year 962. A few years later he established another hospice on the Little St. Bernard, a mountain of the Graian Alps, 7,076 feet above sea-level. Both were placed in charge of Augustinian monks after pontifical approval had been obtained by him during a visit to Rome. … At all seasons of the year, but especially during heavy snow-storms, the heroic monks accompanied by their well-trained dogs, go out in search of victims who may have succumbed to the severity of the weather. 
"The St. Bernards were never just a symbol," said Father Hilaire, a hospice monk, in 2006. "Before the 1900s, there were no skis, so the dogs made paths even if there were one or two meters of fresh snow. They helped us save lives." 

Pictured above is one of the dogs along with the monks and workers aboard the first motor vehicle owned by the hospice. The Wikimedia photo caption reads in part: 
This is the first motor vehicle owned by the Augustinian fathers of the Great St Bernard Hospice, Valais, Switzerland, identified as a 1904 Dufour...built in very limited numbers by Dufour &Tissot, engine makers, of Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland. This picture was taken 11 September, 1905 in Martigny, Valais, prior of what became the first climb of a motor vehicle to the summit of the Great St Bernard pass. The journey took about two hours. 
In today's rescue efforts, the monks also use helicopters.

4. FLYING AIRSHIP (1670) 

Francesco Lana de Terzi's design of a "flying ship" from 1670. Public domain image

In what could be called a forerunner of steampunk design is this sketch of a “flying ship” from 1670. Although this isn’t a “photograph” per se, the image is a famous one in aeronautics, which also happens to have a Catholic backstory. The sketch is by Italian Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi, who published the image in his book Prodromo

Lana speculated that such a design could create a lighter-than-air balloon, thus able to levitate a ship. His theory was inspired by the experiments of Otto von Guericke known as Magdeburg hemispheres—two hemispheres pressed together and evacuated of air. Although the materials he suggested would collapse under pressure, some speculate the vehicle could have worked with graphene or other materials

A model of Lana’s invention can be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Incidentally, in his same book, Prodromo, Lana also proposed the invention of a raised alphabet for blind readers that was a distant forerunner of Braille (who is also covered later in this article). 

Of note here is how frequently historic scientific advancements or theories involve a Catholic and often clergy. This is an unspoken reality among those who have accepted the false narrative that Church and science are at historic odds. 

5. FORTY MARTYRS OF BRAZIL (2000/1570)

Underwater memorial for the Forty Martyrs of Brazil near the island La Palma. Public domain image.

They are known as the Forty Martyrs of Brazil La Palma. Ignacio de Acevedo was rector of the Jesuit college of Lisbon and at Broja. St. Francis Borgia appointed him as a leader in missions to Brazil, where Ignacio worked for three years. Many years later, he asked to return to Brazil, but in July, 15-16, 1570, he, along with thirty-nine Portuguese and Castilian companions were martyred by Huguenot pirates near the island of Palma. The Huguenots were French Protestants following the tradition of John Calvin. 

The voyage led by Ignacio was reportedly the “largest number of Jesuits leaving Lisbon for overseas missions and the most numerous collective martyrdom in all of the Modern Period.” A great number of galleries of Jesuit martyrs consist in depicting these Forty Martyrs of Brazil. Ignacio is said to have had in his hands when martyred the image of the Madonna di San Luca. Pictured here are memorial crosses dedicated to those Forty Martyrs whose earthly lives ended at sea. Installed in 2000, the memorial is located about twenty meters deep by the island of La Palma. 

For a lengthy account of the 40 martyrs, see 2010 article in the publication Cultura.

6. FIRST BRAILLE TYPEWRITER (1892)

The Hall Braillewriter invented in 1892 utilized Catholic Louis Braille's alphabet for the blind. Source: History of Blindness in Iowa.

Pictured here is the first Braille typewriter, the Hall Braillewriter. The invention builds upon another invention by Louis Braille, a French Catholic. 

Blinded since age five, a twelve-year-old Braille attended a lecture by a military captain, Charles Barbier—who was himself once a classmate of Napoleon. Barbier had created multiple communication systems including a complex raised-letter system for reading in the dark. It was this latter invention that inspired the young Braille to develop his simpler reading system for the blind.

A priest, Father Jacques Palluy recognized great aptitude in the young blind boy and took to teaching the youth himself and entrusting his schooling to a new schoolmaster. So skilled was Braille despite his blindness, that he served as the organist at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and at the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Between the ages of 15 and 19, Braille had developed his system of writing for the blind. He published his Braille system in 1829. 

7. FIRST SELF-PORTRAIT (ca 1450)
Catholic artist Jean Fouquet's pioneering self-portrait miniature. Public domain image.

The Louvre
describes this enamel-painted copper medallion as "the first self-portrait by a painter which was not composed as part of a scene." Wikipedia calls the work "the earliest sole self-portrait surviving in Western art" (There is some debate whether an earlier work by Jan van Eyck is actually a self-portrait.) A separate Wikipedia article describes the medallion as "the oldest self-signed self-portrait."


In any case, it is a work of pioneership in the arenas of self-portraits and art miniatures. The artist, Jean Fouquet, was also a Catholic. The Catholic Encyclopedia calls the 6cm medallion Fouquet's "best portrait."

The technique of portrait miniatures arose in the 15th century from artists, such as Fouquet, whom were skilled in book illustrations and manuscript painting. He is said to be the first French artist to have traveled to Italy. During his time there, he also painted a famous portrait of Pope Eugene IV, which now survives only in reproductions.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The importance of epic church art & architecture

St. John Cantius, Chicago (photo by author)
Origins
The early ecumenical council at Nicea explicitly condemned those opposed to venerating sacred iconography:
All those childish baubles and bacchic rantings, the false writings composed against the venerable icons, should be given in at the episcopal building in Constantinople, so that they can be put away along with other heretical books.
Second Council of Nicea, Canon 9, 787 A.D.
And the council exhorted that holy images be exposed in the churches in keeping with tradition:
We defend, free from any innovations, all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us. One of these is the production of representational art; this is quite in harmony with the history of the spread of the gospel, as it provides confirmation that the becoming man of the Word of God was real and not just imaginary, and as it brings us a similar benefit. For, things that mutually illustrate one another undoubtedly possess one another’s message. Given this state of affairs and stepping out as though on the royal highway, following as we are: the God-spoken teaching of our holy fathers and the tradition of the catholic church — for we recognize that this tradition comes from the holy Spirit who dwells in her– we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men.
You see how the writings of those opposed to icons were filed under heresy. From the earliest centuries, "tradition" included visual depictions of the gospels and the saints as vital to the spread of the gospel and ecclesial sanctuaries. The art serves the faithful.

A beautiful environment for divine reality is prefigured in the Old Testament. When God instructed Moses to build the ark in Exodus 25, He mandated use of gold, precious gems, and statues of cherubim. The ark was the dwelling place of God. The beautiful imagery corresponded to the divine invisible reality. 

The importance of holy images in churches remains in order unto today:
[I]n sacred buildings images of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, in accordance with most ancient tradition of the Church, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #318)
Pope Benedict XVI explained the necessity of "beauty" in conjunction with the Eucharistic celebration:
Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty. Special respect and care must also be given to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels, so that by their harmonious and orderly arrangement they will foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of the faith and strengthen devotion.Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, #41, 2007
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) ca 1870s (public domain photo by Giacomo Brogi)
In the 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII explained how sacred images should tend "neither to extreme realism nor to excessive 'symbolism.'" It's easy to understand excessive symbolism, for an overly abstract or vague image detaches from sacred tradition and wouldn't contribute to catechesis if the viewer can't tell what it is. Extreme realism is, perhaps, trickier to understand why it should be avoided. However, consider a statue of St. Peter holding the keys and pontificating with his finger to the sky and a halo over his head. Would this depiction be "realistic" in that there could have existed a photograph of Peter in that exact pose holding a giant key? No, however, the key and halo and pose are representative symbols that reveal truths about the saint. If one considers a photograph and sacred art in this way, the art is the more "real" of the two. 

This brings us to a final consideration.


Old St. Mary's Church, Cincinnati (photo by author)
Christ Uses Visual to Depict Mystery
This notion of fostering awe for the mystery of God calls to mind a particular Scriptural passage combining the visibly glorious with an invisible mystery. The passage is the healing of the paralytic. The crowd doubted Christ's ability to forgive sins. Christ replied:
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — he said to the paralytic — "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mark 2:9-12)
Jesus used a visibly striking image to correspond to the unseen miracle of the forgiveness of sin. Christ used the visual medium to represent the unseen mystery. The healing of paralysis served as the icon of the forgiveness of the man's sin. St. John Paul II wrote to artists, "in a sense, the icon is a sacrament." The incarnate Christ is both God and man, the visible and invisible. Art that gives due regard to the incarnation principle stays true to tradition.


Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Naperville, IL (photo by author)
It's also important to recognize the manner of physical representation Christ chose to model a sacred reality. Did He perform some act of mundanity or plainness? No. The act was awe-striking. Nothing less would befit the unseen mystery. Mundane art and architecture is a contradiction against what transpires on the Eucharistic altar. 

This is why Church art, iconography and architecture must be epic, awe-inspiring, and befitting of divine mysteries. Even a small church can incorporate things like striking stained glass windows; an ornate crucifix, tabernacle, and altar; or small statues and icons to the extent possible. The goal "should be marked by beauty," as Pope Benedict said. Plain or abstract decor in a church fail to correspond to the Eucharistic mystery in the way Christ's healing of the paralytic delivered shouts of glory to God because it was so visually amazing. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Extraordinary ministers should not be ordinary

Recently, bishops showed a great zeal and meticulousness for regulations regarding the coronavirus. This ranged from closing down churches altogether to detailed protocols during the reopening phase. The goal is to benefit the physical health of the faithful. Likewise, such zeal to detail should be given to those norms that protect the spiritual lives of the faithful. After all, the spiritual life is the more valuable of the two. As scripture says, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

Woman Receiving the Eucharist by Félix-Joseph Barrias (ca 1840-65)

Meticulous attention is worth giving to spiritual norms. One such norm that is often not followed pertains to extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. It is not uncommon to see lay extraordinary ministers even in small congregations, or even when there is a priest and deacon present. This is contrary to the regulation.

Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) especially addresses proper use of extraordinary ministers. The document is subtitled On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.  Here are three key paragraphs (emphasis mine):
#151 Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy. Such recourse is not intended for the sake of a fuller participation of the laity but rather, by its very nature, is supplementary and provisional.
We see here that recourse to extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is not a "participation" mechanism for the laity. It is something to be availed only out of "true necessity." Many churches are not reflecting this.
#154 [B]y reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon, to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete.
Recourse to extraordinary ministers is a concession that does not communicate the completeness of the sign that accompanies distribution of the Sacred Body and Blood by a bishop, priest, or deacon.
#157 If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.
Many parishes by default avail extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist even for modest Sunday congregations or even for daily masses where there are a few dozen attendees, if that. Such unnecessary normalization of extraordinary ministers seems exactly the type of impropriety that Redemptionis Sacramentum warns against.
#158 Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.
Even a priest by himself can get through a several dozen communicants in just a few minutes, particularly if a communion rail is availed. But what is, say, an extra five to ten minutes when such time can also be used for post-Communion prayer.  If one were to argue that the Liturgy is unduly prolonged, the very last part of the Liturgy that should be accelerated is the Eucharist. Christ's Body and Blood are the very "source and summit" of the one, true faith (CCC#1324). It would be easy to compensate, if necessary, to abstain, for example, from multiple verses of song that prolong the mass. Forgoing song altogether in favor of a cantor's Latin chant during processions would likewise award additional time that could be granted to the Holy Eucharist. A concise homily can also help. So could reciting, instead of singing, the Gloria. There are many other ways, if truly necessary, than trying to speed up Holy Communion.

If modern polls are accurate, upwards of two-thirds of Catholics don't even believe in the Real Presence. This is a tragedy. There is little excuse to avoid solutions that would better communicate the reality of the Real Presence. As Redemptionis Sacramentum (154) stated, the true value of the Eucharist is signally announced when distributed by an ordained minister. Limiting distribution of the Eucharist to bishops, priests, and deacons as much as possible is one simple remedy already prescribed by the Church.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The flaw in simulation theory

Edit: June 6, 2020 see link to video version of The flaw in simulation theory here.

Simulation theory is the idea that what we believe to be the universe is actually a computer simulation and each of us are characters in this simulation resembling characters in a video game. A similar idea was the plot of the 1999 films The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor. In the films, the characters discover that what they believed was reality was really an illusion, a virtual reality computer simulation.

There are people today who take this idea seriously, including scientists or entrepreneurs. Before delving further, I'd like to begin with the unspoken flaw in this theory that is often absent from discussion on the topic.

THE FLAW
Simulation believers build their idea on advancements in computer technology. And, the current trajectory of increasing technology tends toward indistinguishability from reality.

One of the more famous simulation theorists is industrial engineer Elon Musk, who, in 2016, answered a question on the topic thusly:
It's a given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on any set-top box or or on a PC or whatever and there would probably be, you know, billions of such, you know, computers or set-top boxes. It would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what's wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?
The flaw is this: simulation theory is self-admittedly founded on the characteristics of a world that is considered an illusion. It is circular thinking.

FURTHER ANALYSIS
The only way for real technological advancements to have occurred is if we are living in a true base reality. In the first part of their deduction, simulation theorists treat technological advancements as if they were real phenomena in a base reality. But, in their conclusion, simulation theorists say the very technological advancements on which they formed their premise are an illusion.

Online entrepreneur Naval Ravikant was interviewed in 2018 by Scott Adams, who asked him to name illusions people experience. Ravikant said "the illusion of reality":
Well the thing is if you understand simulation theory it's statistically likely that not only is there one level above there's zillions of levels above you. So in The Matrix Neo doesn't actually get out. He just pops one level higher. And now he's even more deeply trapped because he's trapped in a ***** environment and he's convinced it's real, which is the ultimate trap. Now he's not even looking for the next level up. Even one level beyond that, it's worse than that, because it's statistically likely, if you're in a sim, you're not some real world character representing a sim, you're actually an NPC. There's millions more NPCs in Call of Duty than there are real players. So you're you're probably just a computer simulation
Here we see another appeal to video games. There are millions more NPCs (i.e. non-player characters) in the game Call of Duty than human gamers actually controlling a character. Notice, to form his theory, Ravikant appealed to a virtual game created in the very world he says is an "illusion." The pool of data from which Ravikant derives his claim that "it's statistically likely" that there are "zillions of levels" of simulations is based upon a game and a reality that he says do not exist. His conclusion is absurd. Again, the simulation-theorist falls into the illogic of a circular reasoning that destroys its own premise.

The simulation theorist attempts to use some form of the following syllogism:
  1. Simulation technology is getting harder to distinguish from reality.
  2. Since billions of such simulation could be created by such advanced technology, the odds that any given "reality" is the base one is highly improbable.
  3. Therefore, what we believe to be reality (INCLUDING THE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN STEP 1) is most likely an illusion. 
Now, the simulation theorist doesn't mention the part in caps in step 3, but it cannot be avoided. What the theory requires to be a real phenomenon in step 1 is reduced to an illusion in step 3. And, an illusion is not a reliable model for reality. (Incidentally, step 2 doesn't even logically flow from step 1 because there is no cause given for why the level of indistinguishability must have already been achieved in some other universe by some alien species.)

Again, simulation theorists are observing the development of computer and video game technology that is occurring within a realm they claim is not real. According to their theory, there isn't really development of computer technology occurring at all. The higher species who created "this" simulation programmed it so its characters can "do" the virtual illusion of "leveling up" their video game technology. But, if this is a simulation, those advancements have never actually occurred any more than there is a real Pac-Man who has colorful ghost enemies whom he sometimes eats.

Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson is also known to seriously entertain the idea that we live in a computer simulation. At the 2016 event 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Is the Universe a Simulation? Tyson closed in part by saying:
So, given our definitions, we’re the only intelligent species there ever was because we have poetry and philosophy and music and art. And then I thought to myself, well, if the chimpanzee has 98-whatever percent identical DNA to us—pick any animal. It doesn’t matter. Dogs, it doesn’t matter. Mammals have very close DNA to us. They cannot do trigonometry. Some people can’t do trigonometry. Certainly not these animals. So, if they cannot do trigonometry, and they have such close genetic identity to us, let’s take that same gap and put it beyond us and find some life form that is that much beyond us that we are beyond the dog or the chimp. What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence. ... Oh, you’re back from preschool? Oh, you’ve just composed a symphony. That’s so—let’s put it on the refrigerator door. We just derived all the principles of—oh, that’s cute.  And so that is not a stretch to think about. And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment
But, guess what. None of the things to which Tyson appeals as a trajectory of intellect are actually real if we are living in a simulation. He said it himself that "everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity." If this is a simulation, the idea that humans have poetry is an illusion, just like everything else in the simulation. The animals we think we see aren't real. There isn't actually DNA nor DNA similarities. Etc. All these things would just be part of the illusory world created by some theoretically advanced computer programming species.

Is our universe just a sophisticated computer simulation?
MORAL CONSIDERATIONS
In my recent book, Hollow Anchors of Morality, I discussed the nonsensical claim that morality can exist in a strictly material world devoid of free will. If someone were to claim morality exists in an artificial simulation just as it does in a base reality, the error would be similar.

Think back to the examples of video games to which simulation theorists appeal in their circular error. If one NPC "kills" another NPC in Call of Duty, did an "immoral" act occur in reality? If "Mario" throws the penguin off the cliff in Super Mario 64, did a real Mario commit a real act of cruelty? Of course not. No one was harmed in reality. But, if we were just characters in a similar kind of game, we wouldn't be any more real than the NPC.

Even if a simulation theorist wanted to argue that there are "real" persons operating the characters in the simulation through some futuristic virtual reality headgear, there still wouldn't be acts of morality committed by or against the pixels they are controlling. We see this directly when observing people playing, say, a battle game and "shooting" each others' characters in the game, but, of course, not in reality. If an act of unreal violence was committed against an unreal illusion of a person, what crime was done? Nothing actually happened other than pixels rearranging, no matter how sophisticated the graphics might be. The simulation theory essentially strips the universe of moral obligation.

Of course, an overly violent or sexually charged game, for example, could influence a real person playing it to commit a sin, but only because the person is outside the game and in reality. The pixel constructs in an illusory realm lack the necessary quality of being made in the image of God (a principle also discussed in Hollow Anchors) in order for morality to pertain to them in the first place. Thus, the idea of morality is absurd when confined to the activity of a computer chip.

From a related Catholic perspective, apologist Jimmy Akin discussed simulation theory on his blog and on Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World. He concluded it would not matter in the order of salvation. When addressing the consequences of living in a simulation, he said, "We still have the same three elements—God, the spiritual world, and the natural world—and all three interact."

CAN SUCH A SIMULATION EVEN BE CREATED?
One of the objections to simulation theory is that in order to create an "ancestor simulation" of an actual snapshot of the historic universe, it would require "a computer memory that requires more atoms than what’s available in the universe."

This objection is useful if limited to discussing the aforementioned simulation theorist's premise #1: Simulation technology is tending more toward indistinguishability from reality.

By limiting the thought exercise only to our advancements in computer technology, there may well be physical limits that would prevent a simulation detailed enough to be indistinguishable from a base reality. However, remember, the simulation theorist ultimately ends up claiming that this universe is an illusion, along with everything in it, including advancements in video game technology.

It is also worth mentioning, in the aforementioned 2016 debate on simulation theory, not one scientist on the panel said the odds were in favor of us being in a simulation. When asked what the odds were, they said: uknown, 17%, 1%, 0%, and 42%. Only Tyson, who was hosting, said the likelihood might be "very high."

Theoretically, if we did live in a simulation, it is useless to point to qualities inside the simulation to deduce we are in one. There's no reason to think the physics of any simulation must be a reflection of the physics of its world's creator any more than Pac-Man should assume there are entities in the real world like him, who move faster and faster the more they eat.

CONCLUSION
At the end of the day, simulation theory is wild speculation, not some deductive reasoning of intellect. Other science fiction theories, such as our memories swapped out periodically such that we never know it, seem to have just as much a logical basis as simulation theory. Such theories are not demonstrated by our experience, even if they are theoretical possibilities.

Finally, the irony of modern simulation theory, is that the very premise on which it is founded depends on this world being a real base reality, for their entire theory is built upon its contents.