Fr. Barron endorses universalist hope

If you haven’t heard, here’s Father Barron endorsing Balthasarian universalism, and here’s Michael Voris criticizing him (h/t Mark Shea, who’s criticizing Voris criticizing Barron here, on the ground that Voris is a mean ol’ doodie-head).

Fr. Barron’s position isn’t overly convincing, amounting to essentially “God did this really great thing for us, so clearly he really really really wants us to be saved,” though I imagine his position could be fleshed out more convincingly in a book-length exposition. He also offers a pretty reductive view of the historical debate on it, overemphasizing both the importance and value of Origen’s contribution, denigrating the contribution of Augustine and Aquinas (they’re so very dark!), and ignoring the many Church fathers and prominent theologians in between who agreed with the latter position, including Sts. Theodore, Basil, Ephrem, John Chrysostom, Gregory, Anselm, and Jerome, to say nothing of the (yes, technically non-binding) many private revelations in the post-Apostolic age, including the children at Fatima, St. John Bosco, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mary Faustina Kowalska, et al. A plain reading of Scripture supports it — when asked by one man if few were saved, Christ answers in the affirmative, albeit in a way that suggests the speculation itself is unprofitable and should be avoided; and, of course, if Hell is empty, then Christ’s constant exhortations to avoid it seem profoundly useless. “But we don’t know if any particular person is in Hell!” cries the universalist sympathizer, his nose poking over the top of the latest Rahner anthology. Which might be a good argument if the anti-universalist position consisted of rattling off a laundry list of damned souls with theological certainty; but there’s a big gulf between lots of people are in Hell and I know exactly who is in Hell.

A second thought: in an earlier post, I had speculated about the Church’s tendency, especially in the postconciliar age, to fixate on the least pernicious and least pervasive evil and dedicate so much of its energy to rooting it out. So, for instance, Pope Francis tells us we must stop talking about sin and instead proclaim its treatment, mercy, even though virtually no one anywhere talks about sin anymore. Likewise, today, nearly no one believes in Hell and so few people (so often including this wretched sinner) take it seriously, yet we continue to hear baseless theological speculation about how “reasonable” it is that Hell might be empty, against the near-unanimous witness of Scripture and the saints. And this as we begin preparing for Advent, a penitential season where our minds turn once again to the contemplation of the Four Last Things! Add “timing” to the list of things the Church just can’t seem to get right.

Go check out the comments at Shea’s blog, by the way, for a good example of the kind of absurd linguistic waterboarding necessary to make the universalist position even minimally tenable. You’ll also see plenty examples of the new Pharisaism — i.e., accusing other people of old Pharisaism — endemic to those poor souls mired in the twin fever swamps of German existentialism and “pastoral” “psychology.”

A bleak view of the Church’s immediate future

…is offered by commenter “Deacon Augustine” over at Fr. Ray Blake’s blog, speculating on Pope Francis’ agenda:

“What is he going to deliver?”

Good question. Perhaps the answer can be found by looking at what he has already delivered in his previous Archdiocese of Buenos Aires?

By all accounts, its not a success story. The whole Latin American church seems to be reeling and failing under the assault of North American charismatic cults. As the episcopate in that part of the world has failed so miserably to rise to the challenge, I will never understand why the conclave believed it would be a good idea to elect one of their number to the papacy. An African or Asian Cardinal would have made more sense if we were to have a Pope who understood missionary expansion of the Church.

As for the hopes of reform, I suppose that comes down to what you look for in “reform”. He certainly never cleaned out the filth in the priesthood in his own archdiocese, so don’t expect anything like this from him as Pope – after all, who is he to judge? At best we are likely to get tinkering with structures which will see more powers vested in corrupt episcopal conferences. They in turn will feel more immune from the reach of Rome and the centrifugal forces of schism will grow.

In the same blog post, Fr. Blake notes that the Church is fracturing — the days of monolithic centrality are over and it is not clear what, if anything, is really holding it all together anymore. Certainly not doctrine, which no one really believes anymore, anyway, and the expression of which is constantly being fudged in the service of almost-psychotically-optimistic evangelical and ecumenical agendas; certainly not the liturgy, which varies radically not only between dioceses, not only between parishes, but even within parishes, where a trilingual youth Mass with guitars and trombones can be separated from a solemn High Mass in Latin by scarcely a few hours and where there is often a subtle and unspoken animus between the two groups of Mass-goers; certainly not an appreciation for the Church’s historicity, which nearly everyone (from laics in Bermuda shorts to bishops with weird little pectoral crosses) hates.

People forget how close the Church came to catastrophe when, after the long and catastrophic reign of Paul VI, many European bishops (especially in Germany) were seen as being on the verge of open schism; disaster was averted only by JPII’s efforts to make himself the visible icon of Catholic unity, becoming so beloved of the people as to make schism unthinkable. A good strategy for a young man (which he was) with a clear plan to lead the Church out of the mess (which he wasn’t). Maybe this is the key to understanding Pope Francis’ thus-far bizarre Pontificate: he is trying his best to do the impossible task of governing an ungovernable Church.

Even country music is falling apart

You can’t help but hear country music just about everywhere in Texas, so this article on its recent deterioration caught my attention. Evidently, it’s a genre in which the West’s slide into Gomorrah is being reenacted in microcosm, with a small core of traditionalists (typified by the likes of the Zac Brown Band, Kacey Musgraves, and older giants like Alan Jackson and Willy Nelson) who honor the names and customs of their elders fighting a losing battle against vulgar, impious, pornography-peddling sellouts mindlessly aping the degeneracy of the zeitgeist. This latter faction is as populous as it is protean, incorporating elements of rap, pop, and even techno that are totally alien to the genre; its unifying elements seem to be the demographic characteristics of its rulers (white frat-boy-look-alikes such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Blake Shelton, aided by youthful blondes like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Kimberly Perry) and their near-universal tendency to populate their music with overwrought references to dirt roads, pickup trucks, and endless video montages of nearly-nude women dancing in the same.

The key battles of modernity are being fought everywhere, and lost everywhere.

What Francis shows Catholics about Catholics

The orthodox Catholic position regarding the Holy Father is that his authority comes from Christ, and therefore is a fact we must live with whether he is a living saint, a silly old fool, or a degenerate scoundrel. No one knew this better than St. Francis of Assisi who dealt with some of the scummiest of the scummy Popes at one of the worst times in the history of the Church, yet who resolved nevertheless to obey them in all things but sin and to make a spirituality of that obedience in order to inspire and transfigure the faithful. This authentically Franciscan orthodoxy made clear the way forward for genuinely holiness-minded Catholics living through difficult times: we need not like the man who is Pope any more than we need like the man who is our father, we may even be inclined to complain to like-minded friends about this or that injurious decision of theirs, but both remain nevertheless our fathers with a legitimate claim to our piety and our prayers, which we sin by withholding.

The modern Western Catholic, who is basically just that and in that order (modern, Western, and only then Catholic), wants and desires to be pious toward the Holy Father but, lacking even a remotely effective formation in history or spirituality or anything else, cannot conceive of such piety and obedience being offered on anything other than (essentially modern) consensual terms. So he convinces himself that he does not love and obey the Pope because he is the vicar of Christ but because he is a good man who never ever says anything stupid, and if you disagree, go to Hell with the rest of the Pharisees.

What Pope Francis is showing Catholics about Catholics is that, what they lack in St. Francis’ holiness, they make up for by being remarkably competent suck-ups.

Humanitarian Humbug and Hostility

A guest post by commenter JMSmith:

When we say that Western Civilization is post-Christian, we do not mean that Christianity has become irrelevant.  It will not be irrelevant so long as we continue to be defined in a vital way by our answers to the decisive question that Jesus posed to his disciples: “whom say ye that I am?”  To this question three basic answers are possible.  There is the orthodox Christian answer that he is the Son of the triune God, there is the infidel answer that he was a silver-tongued grifter, and there is the humanitarian answer that he was an exemplary human being and harbinger of what all men will one day become.  We are post-Christian because the first answer is not so popular as it once was, but also because the question itself remains vital and decisive.

Today the humanitarian answer is the most respectable, and quite possibly the most popular.  It avoids the offensive nastiness of the infidel answer and the metaphysical mysteries of the orthodox answer, so it appeals to people who aspire to be nice and normal.   Moreover, it carries the flattering implication that these nice and normal people are also more than a little Christ-like.  The question is, are they Christian?

Continue reading

Losing our religion IV: Mercy without sin

Apropos my recent musing about the ultimate futility of trying to proclaim mercy for those who don’t believe in sin, here’s this intereting smidgeon from Rod Dreher on his refusal to reenter a Church hobbled by its obsession with the therapeutic (h/t Fr. Z.):

Just over two decades ago, when I began the process to enter the Roman Catholic Church as an adult convert, I chose to receive instruction at a university parish, figuring that the quality of teaching would be more rigorous. After three months of guided meditations and endless God is love lectures, I dropped out.

I agreed that God is love, but that didn’t tell me what He would expect of me if I became a Catholic. Besides, I had spent four years dancing around the possibility of returning to the Christianity of my youth. When I made my first steps back to churchgoing as an adult, I found plenty of good people who told me God is love, but who never challenged me to change my life.

What needed changing? Lots. My own brokenness was plain to me, and I was ready to turn from my destructive sins and become a new person. The one thing I didn’t want to do was surrender my sexual liberty, which was my birthright as a young American male. I knew, though, that without fully giving over my will to God, any conversion would be precarious. By then, I was all too wary of my evasions. To convert provisionally — that is, provided that the Church didn’t hassle me about my sex life — would really be about seeking the psychological comforts of religion without making sacrifices.

What I was told, in effect, in that university Catholic parish was that God loved me just as I was — true — but that I didn’t need to do anything else. It dawned on me one day that at the end of this process, all of us in the class would end up as Catholics, but have no idea what the Catholic Church taught. I bolted, and a year later, I was received into the Church in another parish.

If you only know about the Catholic Church from reading the papers, you are in for a shock once you come inside. The image of American Catholicism shown by the media is of a church preoccupied with sex and abortion. It’s not remotely true. I was a faithful mass-going Catholic for 13 years, attending a number of parishes in five cities in different parts of the country. I could count on one hand the number of homilies I heard that addressed abortion or sexuality in any way. Rather, the homilies were wholly therapeutic, almost always some saccharine variation of God is love.

All the disproportionate emphasis on God’s love and mercy might have been useful in the 14th century, when penitential movements traveled the country flogging their backs bloody and occasionally trying to “purify” the Church by butchering its shepherds, or in a hypothetical modern world where people are overly preoccupied with God’s justice, worshipping the Cross instead of the Christ nailed to it, or despairing of their salvation and turning from the Church in ruinous numbers to seek a spiritual palliative amidst the muck and mire of the world. Whatever kind of world we’ve got today, it’s clear that it ain’t that kinda world.

Losing our religion III: The Francis issue

I was alarmed when Cardinal Tauran, standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s, announced the name Georgium Marium … Bergoglio. I’d heard the name before somewhat in connection with liberals, specifically the detestable careerist Cardinal Sodano, who had supposedly advanced Bergoglio as the anti-Ratzingerian candidate in the 2005 conclave and who appeared on the balcony next to Francis with a smile that I thought bordered too much on triumphal smirking for my liking. My stomach sank. I worried and prayed for some time. Continue reading

Losing our religion II: A Mass to our liking

Some time ago, I complained about an especially bad experience with sacred music at Mass. It involved a tambourine with little LED lights that lit up when struck. I tried to be in good humor about it but, really, I was appalled; afterward I wanted to weep and do penance.

A few of the commenters at the time had remarked that I should seek out a traditional Latin Mass, which of course I already had — my diocese is still recovering from the disastrous 15-year-long reign of an extremely liberal bishop and it is frankly impressive that we have the three TLMs we currently do given that none of the celebrating priests had even the option of taking Latin as an elective during their seminary formation, but all three are 90 minutes or more away from me and gasoline doesn’t rain from the sky (Deo gratias) so it’s not a regular option. At a TLM, they said, I might be able to find music less objectionable, homilies more bearable, etc. A Mass more to my liking.

It’s good prudential advice as far as it goes but it makes clear what the major problem now is in the Church — that its whole theological and devotional and liturgical heritage, which found its most perfect expression in the Mass that was for so long the one visible mark of communion among millions of Catholics the world over and which was so intimately bound up with their daily life and their entire self-understanding — that the practical faith of our fathers as it emerged from the catacombs and was forged in the crucible of the intervening centuries — has now been reduced to a matter of liking, of mere taste. And in the minds of most, to prefer having your priest ascend to the altar amidst a haze of incense while the plaintive, longing notes of Sicut Cervus echo through the nave over Fr. Flake prancing about in rainbow vestments to the brutal and invasive blast of a 16-year-old mariachi “music minister”‘s sackbut is just an irrational and arbitrary value judgment with nothing more to recommend it than might recommend your equally-interesting preference for crunchy over smooth peanut butter. A far crueler blow to the memory of those generations martyred for that faith than was dealt them on the day of their martyrdom, to say that the Mass they loved and died for was merely a diverting novelty. At best, you might get a concession that the former type of Mass is ideal but we have to meet people where they are, have to be “pastoral,” have to be realistic, and the unspoken reality is that many pigs would rather eat slop.

Such is another hard fact of life in the postconciliar Church: not only would most historical Catholics (including a few thousand saints) not be at home in it but they would be told, with all the cruel “pastoralism” that coddles the unrepentant and berates the devoted, that the visible home they loved was never more than the epiphenomena of neurons firing pointlessly in the void. This is why there is no easy way back, not in our lifetimes, because the damage is done, the attitudes and the narratives that accompany them are formed, and even if tomorrow a hypothetical Pope Pius the Fifth the Second came along and suppressed all the flimflam with fire and sword, half of the Church would grouse that they liked things better before and many of them would (with their bishops) schism on the spot and souls would perish by the millions, dying alone and far from the Sacraments. There’s no getting the worms back into the can.

Throne and Altar is back

If you haven’t noticed already, our own Bonald is once again posting actively (though not, thankfully, exclusively) at Throne and Altar and has burst out of the gate with a series of characteristically excellent posts. See this one for his rationale about restoring the blog. Go check it out, and if you haven’t visited before, please do avail yourself of the really excellent essays he’s posted there.

Losing her religion

Mary DeTurris relates in a two-part post (here and here) her growing disillusionment with the Catholic Church’s liturgy and her increasingly inability to put up with its foibles. There’s a lot to sympathize with and a little to criticize in Ms. DeTurris’ posts. She is bored by bad homilies (a complaint shared by a few Orthosphere writers), for instance, but it’s not the average parish priest’s fault that the Pauline lectionary stinks and has the effect of reducing the proclamation of the Word from a theophanic encounter with the Word incarnate to a dry undergraduate exegesis lecture. (Compare crummy diocesan parish homilies to the truly exceptional ones given by Traditionalist priests, who are not tied to the mast of a purely and exclusively didactic lectionary).* And she is alienated by the near-absent community life of her parish, but evidently doesn’t feel the need to take any steps to ameliorate it, as if community life is something that can only be handed down ex cathedra by the hierarchy, as if the laity are not itself members of the body of Christ. (EDIT: And one absolutely must not take seriously her suggestion to withhold support from the Church, i.e., to neglect our duties in a grave matter).

Still, she’s on to something, especially when she writes: Continue reading