The pastoral exception, the Magisterium of the moment, and the end of Catholic marriage

Recently, I mentioned fighting other Catholics over gay “marriage” and similar issues. What is especially maddening about them is their tendency to affirm the doctrinal question in a technically minimal way, but then to articulate a pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule. Yes, of course gay “marriage” is a grave moral evil and a mockery of divinely-ordained matrimony; but we mustn’t say so out loud! We might offend someone, and it’s hardly very Christian to do that, now is it? And meanwhile you shouldn’t order your life or act in any way as if you believe gay “marriage” is evil, because Christ calls us to love one another in a way higher than mere doctrinal correctness, and —

Well, you can see the problem. Are there any limits to the “pastoral exception”? None that are typically spoken of, certainly none that are evident to me. The result of this line of thinking is a world where gay “marriage” in the abstract is accepted to be a moral evil, even if no particular gay “marriage” can be said to be.

We are seeing this already in anticipation of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which certain elements in the Church (evidently with at least some sympathy on the part of the Holy Father) desire to make into an occasion to (very quietly) affirm the Church’s ancient teachings on the indissolubility of marriage while (very publicly and aggressively) relaxing the disciplines that support the lived reality of those teachings; in other words, to canonize the current arrangement of practical lawlessness in the administration of the Sacraments and to formalize the Church’s heretofore merely material complicity in adultery. It’s hard to say what direction the Synod will go in, of course, but the trend here is not encouraging. It is very possible that, by this time next year, the Church will have automated the American annulment factory and exported it to the entire world, and that divorce-for-any-reason-or-none-at-all will become, if not doctrinally acceptable, tolerated with a knowing wink and nudge.

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Hammer-and-nails Christians

Be ye followers of me, brethren, and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.

— Philippians 3:17-19

Surely you’ve heard the news of a few legislative attempts to prevent entrepreneurs from being legally harrased into material complicity with evil by servicing gay “weddings” — gay “weddings” which, mind you, are not even legally recognized in many of those states (yet).

That’s not especially alarming, or new, anyway; the free and equal new man cannot tolerate any restrictions on his liberty, even those imposed by the mere existence of the reactionary untermenschen who periodically crawl out of the sewer to contradict him. What alarms me is the extent to which Christians have thrown in with this particular anti-Crusade. In the last three days I have personally dealt with the libels of no less than three Christians, at least one of them an ostensibly “good” Catholic, daring to claim that a Christian baker refusing on principle to bake a cake for a gay “wedding” is morally deficient and contrary to Christian love; and my girlfriend (at least as fierce as me, but nowhere near as accustomed to leftist vitriol) has had to deal with several more, to her great distress. (Get it? You can’t “judge” — i.e., not be 100% on board with — sodomites for what they publicly and repeatedly say and do, but you can surely read and know the hearts of far-away small-business bakery owners on the basis of third-hand reports of their conversations.)

Let us be clear; if your position is that the “love” which we mean when we say “God is love” or “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son” obliges you to sell needles to heroin addicts or to let children eat sugary cereal for every meal, then you are setting yourself against the plain letter of Scripture, the unanimous witness of Christian history, and the dictates of basic human reason. If your position requires you to view faithful Christians as crucifying Pharisees and aggressive, unrepentant sodomites as the hapless sinners who dined with Christ, then you have got absolutely everything backwards. If your position is that the Constitutional-rendering-of-the-moment has higher Magisterial status than the unbroken opinion of all saintly Christians for all of time everywhere, then maybe you should replace that little metal cross hanging around your neck with a stylized hammer and nails.

Democracy, authority, and the moral order

Much of this post will be old news for reactionaries, but it bears occasional reiteration. The tl;dr is as follows: It is a matter of divine revelation, and therefore binding on Christians to believe, that the rule of law was ordained by God and thus that political authority derives from his institution of the state as the minister of divine justice. This doesn’t rule out, for instance, belief that democracy or anything else is the best (because most prudent) arrangement for the governance of society; but it certainly rules out the belief that democracy-or-anything-else is a moral imperative and that the legitimacy of the state is altogether dependent on one such choice to the exclusion of all others. Continue reading

The Puritan question

A guest post by commenter JMSmith:

In an interesting post, Foseti returns to the Puritan Question, and affirms that “one key tenet” of Neoreaction is that Progressivism is a “nontheistic Christian sect.”  No doubt there is much to be gained by understanding Progressivism as a messianic movement, and much to be regretted in the fact that Progressive chiliasts were so long cosseted in the cradle of Christian culture, but Progressivism is not a nontheistic Christian sect.  It is that old skin-changer Gnosticism, now divested of Christian symbols, acting under a new guise suited to the sensibilities of nontheistic men and women.

I suggest that the real Puritan Question is, what exactly is Puritanism?  To frame the question in Aristotelian terms, we should ask, which attributes are essential to Puritanism, and which are accidental?  And then, more specifically, we should ask, whether Christianity (however loosely defined) is one of these essential attributes, or whether it was only accidentally, contingently, and temporarily associated with this essentially alien spiritual tendency?

My answer is, obviously, that the association was accidental.

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Consider the options


Here’s the headline version of the relevant story: a Catholic high school hires a vice-principal who is (whether known or not to the school) a practicing homosexual. As part of the terms of his employment, he signs a contract obligating him to publicly abide by the teachings of the Church. At some point later on, he “marries” his boyfriend, a public repudiation of those teachings that earn him the termination of his employment — whereupon the Catholic students at the school rebel.

Suppose you were the pastor, or even the bishop. What would this tell you about the state of affairs in the local church, or in the Church in America more broadly, or the Church in general?

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Pope Francis and synodality

Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.

The dynamic of ignoring the practical realities to fixate on extraneous questions of doctrine has played out too with Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. While some folk are functionally apostasizing over a throwaway line about the Old Covenant, the poison was baked into the cake at section 32:

Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.

He wants, in other words, to uproot the subsidiary administrative model of at least two centuries with an Orthodox-style synodal model alien to our patrimony, devolving doctrinal and presumably liturgical authority to corrupt episcopal conferences invented five minutes ago. Can you imagine these clowns with yet more power? If Francis gets his way, the forces of schism will positively explode. Worse, synodality will make it nearly impossible to undo the damage foisted on the Church through the very same central administrative organs he now wants to dismantle. I am coming to think we will never live to see things righted.

The Church and the brokenhearted

I’m in the habit of tuning out homilies nowadays, especially at daily Mass, but a few weeks ago the homilist — a newly-minted permanent deacon — caught my attention in talking about joy. He said something to the effect that he wanted to punch people who approach the Eucharist with insufficient joyfulness, with too much solemnity and reverence.

Normally I’d tune that out, too, except that it was the third or fourth time I’d heard a homilist express a nearly-identical sentiment in the last two years. Such is the new pastorality: get with the program or eat linoleum.

It occurred to me then that the Church, in its modern zeal to be seen as joyful, has in practice left behind those who are mourning, brokenhearted, clinically depressed, or just plain dour, who have as much a right to be at Mass as anyone else. Looking around I noticed many of the people in attendance at that daily Mass were aging: nearly all of them had gray hair, many had walkers and canes, etc. It would not be unreasonable to think that many of them had reason for great personal sadness, with children outgrowing their need for their parents or falling away from the Christian faith completely, spouses and other family members dying, health failing, finances tightening, etc. I don’t generally pay attention to the communion lines but I wonder how many who were otherwise well-disposed to receive communion took the homilist’s chastising personally and elected to remain in the pews.

Life is filled with joys, and faith, hope, and charity offer many more; but it is filled, too, with sorrows, and those sorrows are not always of a purely natural character. Blessed are those who mourn, Christ tells us from the pages of Scripture. Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears, we cry out to the Blessed Virgin. With tears do I water my couch, bemoans the Psalmist. The Church forgets that to her own detriment, and at the risk of making her ‘joy’ look hollow and alien and inauthentic. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; is it much to ask that his shepherds be, as well?

An ancillary note: we often hear talk about ‘clericalism’ given our new Holy Father’s inclinations. What I described above is a kind of clericalism in that it involves clerics exhibiting an unseemly fixation on external appearances to the exclusion and neglect of more meaningful interior realities. There’s an older and more immediately recognizable word for that kind of clericalism, and it’s ‘Pharisaism.’

Open discussion: Teaching the faith

Evangelizing — making converts — is one thing; educating them is quite another. Catholic converts often have bad things to say about RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a lengthy period of instruction in the Catholic faith preceding full entry into the Church, the quality of which varies from parish to parish but which is often shot through with nonsense, sentimentality, and occasionally heresy. Having spent a few weeks now in the shoes of an instructor, I regret my own bitterness toward those who instructed me, who I now see are thrust into the impossible position of having to abstract roughly two thousand years’ worth of Christian insight into approximately three dozen 45-minute chunks and relaying them to people who are so often products of their time and culture — that is, aggressively ignorant and Philistine almost to the point of being ineducable. Worse still, so many are functionally illiterate that a return to the historically normative (and superior) model of catechism-based education would probably be counterproductive.

I’m sure Protestants and Orthodox have their own horror stories to share, but I’m more interested in the success stories. How, having won potential converts, do we proceed to educate them effectively, and turn them out into the world ready to live authentically Christian lives?

The surreal world

From The New York Post:

Colorado has launched a new ad campaign that attempts to entice young women to sign up for the new national health-care program with the promise of free contraceptives and carefree sex.

In one of the print ads, a flirty young woman holding a package of birth-control pills and leaning against a young man says: “OMG, he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control.”

She continues her steamy monologue: “My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

“I got insurance. Now you can too,” she says. “Thanks ObamaCare!”

The ad, which is dripping with lusty sexuality, dubs the young couple “Susie and Nate … Hot to Trot.”

To be on the safe side, there’s an added warning: “The pill doesn’t protect you from STDs; condoms and common sense do that.”

The ad is part of the “thanks obamacare!” campaign targeting young Coloradans — and underscores how the law’s backers will say just about anything to lure young people to sign up for the new mandatory health coverage, an outcome that is critical to ObamaCare working as planned.

The leftist often says that we who disapprove of contraception are free to choose not to avail ourselves of it. True enough; the problem is that we aren’t free to choose not to live in a society that’s been vulgarized by it.

Reactionary Entertainment: Warm Bodies

On a friend’s recommendation, I rented Warm Bodies this weekend, expecting nothing more than a little mindless entertainment to provide an occasional distraction from homework. What I got, instead, was a break from the usual genre exercise with a symbolic structure that’s almost too overtly Christian to be unintentional. (Spoilers below the break).

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