Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts

Friday, July 23, 2021

The glory of Latin, in the Church's words

Following is a sample of texts in Church history pertaining to the Latin language, the nobility and encouragement of the language, as well as the glory of the Latin liturgy. Emphasis added.

If any one saith… that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only…let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session 22, Canon 9, 1563)

Council of Trent by Pasquale Cati 1588
Council of Trent by Pasquale Cati, 1588

Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us. This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world... (Pope Pius V, Quo Primum, 1570)

The previous text from Pope Pius V does later in the apostolic constitution allow for pre-existing liturgies in other forms. However, I have included it above because of the force by which the Latin liturgy is elevated.

The first thing concerns fostering with every care and promoting the study of the Latin language in the literary schools of clerics; and gaining a grasp of this language, by knowing and using it, is important not merely for humanity and literature but also for religion. For the Church, since it contains all nations in its embrace, since it is going to endure until the consummation of the ages, and since it utterly excludes the common people from its governance, requires by its own nature a universal language, unchangeable, not that of the common people. Since Latin is such a language, it was divinely foreseen that it should be something marvellously useful for the Church as teacher, and that it should also serve as a great bond of unity for Christ’s more learned faithful; that is to say, by giving them not only something with which, whether they are separated in different locations or gathered into one place, they might easily compare the respective thoughts and insights of their minds, but also – and this is even more important – something with which they might understand more profoundly the things of mother Church, and might be united more closely with the head of the Church. (Pope Pius XI: Apostolic Letter Officiorum Omnium, August 1, 1922)

The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 1947)

Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity” makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression. … Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,” and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful” of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite. … Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular. In addition, the Latin language “can be called truly catholic.” It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed “a treasure … of incomparable worth.” It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity. (Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962)

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Second Vatican Council, 36.1, 1963)

While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised ‘desacralization’ to the level of a program ... they put aside the sacred vestments; they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things ... That which previously was considered most holy — the form in which the liturgy was handed down — suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the Council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the Faith — for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. — nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Address to the Bishops of Chile, 1988)

I am of the opinion, to be sure, that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It’s impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, 1996)

For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so any of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World, 2000)

On the other hand, a variety of vocabulary in the original text should give rise, insofar as possible, to a corresponding variety in the translations. The translation may be weakened and made trite, for example, by the use of a single vernacular term for rendering differing Latin terms such as satiari, sumere, vegetari, and pasci, on the one hand, or the nouns caritas and dilectio on the other, or the words anima, animus, cor, mens, and spiritus, to give some examples. Similarly, a deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text. (Fifth instruction for the right implementation of the constitution on the sacred liturgy of the second vatican council, Liturgiam Authenticam, 51, 2001)

The previous text was one that ultimately discussed how to incorporate the vernacular mass, and in doing so, found itself admitting to the advantages of Latin.

The Popes and the Roman Church have found Latin very suitable for many reasons. It fits a Church which is universal, a Church in which all peoples, languages and cultures should feel at home and no one is regarded as a stranger.  Moreover, the Latin language has a certain stability which daily spoken languages, where words change often in shades of meaning, cannot have.  … Latin has the characteristic of words and expressions retaining their meaning generation after generation. This is an advantage when it comes to the articulation of our Catholic faith and the preparation of Papal and other Church Documents. … Blessed Pope John XXIII in his Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, issued on 22 February 1962, gives these two reasons and adds a third. The Latin language has a nobility and dignity which are not negligible (cf. Veterum Sapientia, nn. 5, 6, 7). We can add that Latin is concise, precise and poetically measured. (Cardinal Francis Arinze, “Language in Liturgy,” 2006)

The Latin language has always been held in very high esteem by the Catholic Church and by the Roman Pontiffs. They have assiduously encouraged the knowledge and dissemination of Latin, adopting it as the Church’s language, capable of passing on the Gospel message throughout the world. This is authoritatively stated by the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia of my Predecessor, Blessed John XXIII. (Pope Benedict XVI, Motu Proprio: Latina Lingua, 2012)

Furthermore, after the 1960s, some riches of the liturgy were abandoned, such as its hieratic invariance, but also its geographic and historical unity, which was assured by Latin as the language of the liturgy, by the rites that had been handed down, by the beauty of its art and of the solemnity that accompanied it. The disappearance of linguistic unity in the liturgy in favor of the vernacular languages is, to my mind, one possible factor of division. … The Second Vatican Council explicitly demands that the Latin language be preserved. Have we been faithful to it? The use of Latin in some parts of the Mass can help us to rediscover the profound essence of the liturgy. Being a fundamentally mystical and contemplative reality, the liturgy is beyond the reach of our human activity. Nevertheless, it presupposes on our part some openness to the mystery being celebrated. Thus the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy recommends a full understanding of the rites, and it prescribes “that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 54). (Cardinal Robert Sarah, The Day is Now Far Spent, p. 137-138, 2019)

It must be remembered that, from a theological point of view, every valid celebration of a sacrament, by the very fact that it is a sacrament, is also, beyond any ecclesiastical legislation, an act of worship and, therefore, also a profession of faith. In that sense, it is not possible to exclude the Roman Missal, according to the UA [Usus Antiquior, i.e. Usage of Antiquity], as a valid expression of the lex orandi and, therefore, of the lex credendi of the Church. It is a question of an objective reality of divine grace which cannot be changed by a mere act of the will of even the highest ecclesiastical authority. (Cardinal Raymond Burke, Statement on the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, July 22, 2021)

The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved. (Code of Canon Law, #928)

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 FĂ©lix-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.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Is Judas in hell?

In Dante's epic poem, Judas is depicted in the deepest pit of hell as the devil devours him. It brings to mind a common question: Is Judas in hell? Ultimately, we do not know for certain.

But, we can deduce under what conditions Judas may have escaped damnation. Let's examine the words of the popes, theologians, and Early Church Fathers on the matter.

WHAT ABOUT THE SCRIPTURE THAT SAYS JUDAS "REPENTED"?
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Although the text says Judas repented, he obviously followed that by hanging himself. Thus, either he repented only momentarily but fell back into despair, or his repentance was not of the complete sort to which the Christian is called.
  • St. John Chrysostom suggests the repentance might have borne fruit, if the devil had not quickly lured him back into despair: 
    • "[T]he devil led him out of his repentance too soon, so that he should reap no fruit from thence." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on Matthew, 2.6, ca. 389 A.D.)
  • And elsewhere: 
    • "For this reason also the wicked one dragged Judas out of this world lest he should make a fair beginning, and so return by means of repentance to the point from which he fell." (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
  • St. Leo suggests the same: 
    • "even [Judas] might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself." (Pope St. Leo, Sermon 62.4, ca. 450 A.D.) 
  • St. Augustine deduces that Judas's repentance was not the sort that asked for pardon and mercy, for it produced no hope: 
    • For after [Judas] betrayed Him, and repented of it, if he prayed through Christ, he would ask for pardon; if he asked for pardon, he would have hope; if he had hope, he would hope for mercy; if he hoped for mercy, he would not have hanged himself in despair.... (Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 109. 8)
  • Cornelius Lapide, the 16th-17th century exegete, describes the falsity of the repentance:
    • Repented himself. Not with true and genuine repentance, for this includes the hope of pardon, which Judas had not; but with a forced, torturing, and despairing repentance, the fruit of an evil and remorseful conscience, like the torments of the lost.
  • The Navarre Bible Commentary
    • "Judas' remorse does not lead him to repent his sins and be converted." (The Navarre Bible, St. Matthew, on v.27:3-5, p. 174, 2005)
  • Haydock's Commentary similarly suggests Judas originally repented, but the devil talked him out of it, leading him to "eternal destruction": 
    • To his first repentance succeeded fell despair, which the devil pursued to his eternal destruction. If the unhappy man had sought true repentance, and observed due moderation in it, (by avoiding both extremes, presumption and despair) he might have heard a forgiving Master speaking to him these consoling words: I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may be converted and still live. Origen. (Haydock Commentary, Matthew 27, 1859)

Le Portement de Croix by Jean Fouquet, ca 1452-1460 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

WHAT ABOUT WHEN CHRIST SAID "WOE TO THAT MAN BY WHOM THE SON OF MAN IS BETRAYED! IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR THAT MAN IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN."
  • On this verse, Lapide seems to suggest the words are more of a corrective warning: 
    • "For “far better is it not to exist at all, than to exist in evil. The punishment is foretold, that him whom shame had not conquered, the denunciation of punishment might correct,” says S. Jerome. He threatens him with the woe of damnation." (Lapide, Commentary on Matthew 26)
  • St. John Chrysostom likewise suggests the context is corrective: 
    • This He said to comfort His disciples, that they might not think that it was through weakness that He suffered; and at the same time for the correction of His betrayer. (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aura on Matthew 26:20-25)
  • Remigius, the sixth century monk, interprets the words as "emphasis": 
  • Origen extends the meaning to refer to anyone who betrays Christ or his disciples: 

DID JUDAS BELIEVE HE COULD REPENT IN THE AFTERLIFE?
Let's take a short segue to look at a strange thought regarding Judas and his hanging. There is an interesting sentiment that Judas may have believed he could repent in the afterlife.
  • Origen says:
    • Or, perhaps, he desired to die before his Master on His way to death, and to meet Him with a disembodied spirit, that by confession and deprecation he might obtain mercy; and did not see that it is not fitting that a servant of God should dismiss himself from life, but should wait God's sentence. (Origen, quoted in Catena Aura, on Matthew 27:1-5, d.253 A.D.)
  • And Blessed Theophylact: 
    • [H]e hanged himself thinking to precede Jesus into hades and there to plead for his own salvation. (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 27, ca 1100)
Of course, if Judas did hang himself with the intent to plead with Christ in the afterlife, he failed to understand the nature of temporal life as the time of repentance, as Origen suggests above.

WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR JUDAS IF HE DID NOT TRULY REPENT AND DESPAIRED BY HANGING?
First, let's examine two texts from recent Popes, confirming the uncertainty of Judas's fate:
Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation. (St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 186, 1994) 
What is more, it darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Mt 27: 3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God. (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Oct. 18, 2006)
Origen also suggests there was some inkling of hope in Judas's behavior:
[T]he instructions of Jesus had been able to produce some feeling of repentance in his mind, and were not altogether despised and loathed by this traitor. (Origen, Contra Celsium, 2.11)
St. John Chrysostom, although he believed the devil dragged Judas from life to prevent repentance, understood even Judas's sin was not beyond forgiveness:
For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin [of Judas] to be too great for the succour which is brought to us from repentance. (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
Some might argue Judas was entirely possessed by the devil, and thus excused, however, this is not the understanding of the Church, nor does it account for his acknowledgement of guilt. Some might also argue he had gone mad. St. John Chrysostom (Homily 81, On Matthew, 3.4) and St. Leo I (Sermon 62.4) reference "madness," however, both refer to it in the sense of a madness of sin.

If we take the comments of Popes, theologians, and the Early Church Fathers as a totality, it seems the following might be 5 reasonable conclusions:
  1. Judas fell into grave sin in betraying Christ and handing him over to be condemned.
  2. When Judas repented by trying to return the silver, his repentance was fleeting or inauthentic.
  3. Judas's act of hanging indicates he did not trust in God's mercy and remained in a state of grave sin.
  4. His only remaining opportunity for repentance was his final moment during the hanging.*
  5. Conclusion: If Judas authentically repented in his final moment, he could possibly have found salvation.
Certainly, if Judas indeed repented in his final moment, his path is not a safe one to follow. None of us know their hour, and it is foolish to plan for a deathbed confession. Judas's example amplifies our need to repent and seek refuge in the sacrament of confession regularly, and especially when we commit a grave sin.

*There is a thought that Judas did not die by hanging, rather that he plunged from a cliff (cf. Acts 1:18), or that he hung himself and the rope broke, thus spilling him on the rock. But, for the purposes of this thought exercise, whether Judas's final moments came at the rope or on the rocks, the point remains the same—his last chance for repentance was his final moment.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What is Sacred Tradition?

SCRIPTURE ON TRADITION
Scripture speaks both negatively and positively about the idea of "tradition." For example, negatively––
And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition (paradosis)! (Mark 7:9)

See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition (paradosis), according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)
––and positively:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions (paradosis) even as I have delivered them to you. (1 Cor. 11:2)

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (paradosis) which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thes. 2:15)
TRADITIONS OF FAITH VS. PRACTICE
In Catholic theology, there is a distinction between traditions on matters of faith and traditions on matters of practice or custom. If a tradition is considered a matter of faith or morals, handed down from the single "deposit of faith" left by Christ and the Apostles, it is considered a divinely revealed truth, and thus cannot be recognized as a non-truth at some later point. Other traditions do not fall under this umbrella of faith or morals. For example, it can be considered "tradition" that the priest wears certain colored vestments at certain times of the year. This is not a matter of faith that one must "believe," but it is a customary practice the Church exercises. The language of the mass is another example of a "tradition" that can be altered. Recently, the translation of the American vernacular mass changed to more closely reflect the ancient Latin wording. Catechism #1202 refers to the "diverse liturgical traditions" in the Church.

In this particular blog post, I will focus on Sacred Tradition, that is considered by the Church part of the word of God in divine revelation.

DESCRIPTIONS OF TRADITION
I think the following are useful descriptions of or uses of the term "tradition" in the sense of Sacred Tradition. My comments follow each entry.
[W]hen we refer [the Gnostics] to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. ... It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.2.2, 3.3.1, ca. 180 A.D.)
In the above work, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, defends the Church's capacity to maintain tradition versus the Gnostics who simply assert that they have special "wisdom" (3.2.1) from God. Rather, apostolic tradition is passed through those whom were appointed by the Apostles. Irenaeus later went on to identify lists of succession for the occupants of various bishops' offices.
Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origin of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles. (Tertullian, The Demurrer Against the Heretics, 32.1, ca. 200 A.D.)
Tertullian, a few years after Irenaeus combats the same problem, against heretics claiming to possess the truth, but who have no apostolic roots.
The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Origen, Commentaries on Romans 5:9, ca. 248 A.D.).
Origen's comment here is an example of what is probably the most commonly held notion of "Tradition," that which is orally transmitted. Some 150-160 years removed from the death of the last Apostle, he describes that infant baptism was something taught by the apostles.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. [St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 2.6, ca. 434 A.D.)
Note how St. Vincent describes the meaning of a "universal" belief. It does not necessarily mean a hard and fast 100% perfect unity on a doctrine. He speaks rather of a corporate voice of sorts, and that voice comes from among clergy and doctors of the Church. And if we go through time and see a teaching professed consistently, exceptions notwithstanding, then the Church can have confidence that the Spirit is guiding that voice. As we will see further down, it is ultimately the Spirit that reveals, which is what makes Sacred Tradition part of divine revelation rather than the "human" traditions that bear no such character. Notice also, that St. Vincent includes "interpretations" as part of Tradition. For example, it is quite universally held in the early Church that John 3:5, which references being "born of water and spirit" is a reference to baptism.
[The Synod recognizes the Gospel] as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament--seeing that one God is the author of both --as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (Council of Trent, Session IV, April 8, 1546)
Notice at Trent, the notion that the Spirit ("Holy Ghost") is guiding Tradition is also mentioned. And like Irenaeus or Tertullian's ancient comment's, Trent refers to the preservation of Tradition by way of "succession."
Some of them had been originally written; others came to us orally, from father to son; or in a practical way, as through the ceremonies of the Church for instance. For this reason, Traditions are either written, oral or practical. Some Traditions are called Written Traditions because the word Tradition may be taken in its widest signification, to include whatever has been delivered to us. In this sense, even the Scriptures may be called Traditions. (Msgr. George Agius, Tradition and the Church, p.3, 1928)
Msgr. Agius' comments here demonstrate that Tradition need not take only one form. Whether they be an oral transmission, a liturgical practice, or "whatever" has been delivered, such as the Church's passing on and discernment of the Scriptures, these are all traditions.
Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (Dei Verbum #7, 1965)
Dei Verbum, a document produced at Vatican II, echoes the diversity of methods of transmission. Sometimes on internet forums, inquisitors ask for a "list" of Sacred Tradition. This is, of course, near impossible to exhaust because the Church continues to mature in Her interpretations, understandings, and the voice of the Spirit continues to guide the Church toward "all truth" (John 16:13) revealed. Nevertheless, the Catholic lay person need not enter a state of agnosticism or confusion. The Church has produced a number of catechisms throughout the years to help the faithful. Pope John Paul II said of the current Catechism: "I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion." Though the Spirit may move the Church to update the Catechism through the years, the faithful can have confidence in assenting and learning the Church's doctrines from its pages.
And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. (CCC#81)

The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. (CCC#83)
The above two Catechism paragraphs fortify a couple thoughts. First, that Sacred Tradition can also be considered the "word" of God. It is divine revelation because it is the "Spirit" who reveals it. Second, the assembly and transmission of the New Testament represents Tradition as well.

SCRIPTURE AS TRADITION
There was not total agreement on what books were divinely inspired. For instance, Origen referred to "doubt" that Peter even wrote a second epistle:
And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, 'against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,' Matthew 16:18 has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful. (Origen, quoted by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.8)
Eusebius himself doubted the divinely inspired nature of even more books, and claimed some of his predecessors did too:
3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.

4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3-4)
So these are just a couple examples. Suffice it to say, any Christian who accepts the divinely inspired quality of James, Jude, 2nd Peter, Revelation, or any book of Scripture, rely on the Church's Sacred Tradition to have identified them. These examples also show how unanimity, as described above by St. Vincent, need not be total uniformity. We believe the Spirit will guide the Church to discern such things amidst disagreement, just as the Spirit did at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 (esp. v. 28).

DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE
I just want to finish up with a brief word on the concept of doctrinal development. A couple historical treatments of the idea come to mind. One is St. Vincent of Lerins' Commonitorium in the section: On Development of Christian Knowledge. The other is Bl. John Henry Newman's essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

As the Catechism noted, Tradition is "living." The single deposit of faith does not remain a static list of doctrinal data that cannot be more deeply understood over time. Rather, we can see the Church's deeper understanding of text within Scripture itself. For instance, in Genesis, the serpent is never identified as the devil. Yet by the time John wrote his Apocalypse, he explictly calls the ancient serpent the devil (cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:2). The episode of the flood is later understood by Peter as a prefigurement of baptism (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18-21). Paul recognizes the lives of the persons Hagar and Sarah in the Old Testament as figures of two covenants (cf. Gal. 4). Newman's essay has its own section of Scriptural examples as well. The ancient texts didn't acquire new words, but these NT authors saw them in a new light. Rather, their understanding of the ancient texts developed.

As I earlier referenced, Christ promised that the Spirit would lead the Church to "all truth" (John 16:13). One might ask, how can this be now that the last apostle has died, and all Scripture has been written. Even the Church says all doctrine is derived "from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed." (Dei Verbum, 10b; emphasis mine) One might think of the deposit organically. Although an acorn is once small, it becomes a great tree over time. Scripture tells us that the Apostles and prophets were a "foundation." (e.g. Eph. 2:20) The concept of a foundation is, of course, to be built upon. In the same way, a doctrine cannot be formulated unless it is built upon the single deposit. In other words, novel ideas that don't build upon the existing foundation cannot stand.

Consider also Christ's "body" as the figure of the Church. On more than one occasion, Paul called the Church Christ's "body." (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:24) Throughout Ephesians, Paul has this organic idea of "growth" and references to the body of Christ. Keep that concept in mind and consider another passage regarding the young Jesus.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
If the Church resembles the incarnate Christ, then the Church too will grow in wisdom as well as in size. The Church can be said to follow stages of life, having a youth, and maturing in wisdom over the years. I think a couple theologians support this interpretation of the Luke verse:
The word also increases in different degrees in those who receive it; and according to the measure of its increase a man appears either an infant, grown up, or a perfect man. (St. Gregory of Nyssa, comment on Luke 2:52, quoted in Catena Aura)

Tropologically, Damascene (De fide, 1 iii c. xxii.) says that Christ progresses in wisdom and grace, not in Himself, but in His members, that is, in Christians. (Cornelius Lapide, commentary on Luke 2:52)