Monday, July 30, 2007

Woodward: Summorum Pontificum, Part 2

I had thought that Vehige might join in the second installment of this discussion, but (like Brer Fox) he is still “laying low” on the subject, so I will plug ahead on my own.

There has been plenty of discussion of the motu proprio and speculation as to its probable effect on the liturgical life of the Church. I don't have anything formally to add to that discussion. As I explained in my previous post on Summorum Pontificum, I have no “side” in this. Probably no one should. While I'm old enough to have had some experience with the Mass of St. Pius V, in fact I don't, because I did not come into the Church until I was an adult. I am accustomed to the Mass of Paul VI – the new Mass. I have seen it celebrated (most often) well, sometimes not so well, sometimes appallingly. I suspect that the same could be said of the old Mass -- through the whole 450 years of its history.

Herewith, then, some random observations from my neutral position. There will probably be something here to provoke and alienate almost everybody. (Vehige assures me that that's good for our page load numbers.)

1. Proponents of the old Mass (other than schismatics, who deny the validity of the Mass of Paul VI altogether) are now touting the benefits of liturgical diversity, of giving Catholics a choice, of letting variant liturgical forms enrich and complement one another. This seems to me to be in direct opposition to the intentions of the Council of Trent in calling for liturgical uniformity, and of the stated intentions of St. Pius V himself in promulgating his missal – the so-called Tridentine Mass. Has anyone commented on this passage from “Quo Primum,” the apostolic constitution in which St. Pius V presented the Tridentine Mass to the Church?

“Since it is most fitting that there be in the Church one manner of reciting the Psalms and one rite for the celebration of Mass.” Cum unum in Ecclesia Dei psallendi modum, unum Missae celebrandae ritum esse maxime deceat.

We can debate, I suppose, the status as “rites” of the numerous competing missals that were in use all over the western Church at the time of the Council of Trent and that were more or less abolished by St. Pius V. And I know that Pope Benedict has made clear that there remains a single “rite” in the western Church today, of which there are now to be an ordinary and an extraordinary expression. But the fact remains that the Council of Trent intended to impose uniformity on the celebration of the Mass, and the Mass that was promulgated explicitly for that purpose – the Tridentine Mass -- is now being used to institute a multiplicity of liturgical forms. Does this strike anyone as ironic?

2. Among all the liberal/modernist fulminations against what Pope Benedict has done in Summorum Pontificum, has anyone seen a single acknowledgment that the Tridentine Mass is growing in popularity among a younger generation of Catholics exactly because the new Mass has become the plaything of a cult of self-indulgent vulgarians whose taste and orthodoxy are about equally open to question? No? I didn't think so. If you can't say forcefully that the Church doesn't need this:

then it sounds pretty hollow when you argue that the Church doesn't need this:

4. There is a fringe of opinion expressing itself now – most recently in the pages of Commonweal – to the effect that the ultimate goal of Summorum Pontificum is the complete dismantling of the liturgical reforms that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Could anyone other than a liturgist worried about his job believe this? Rita Ferrone finds the Pope's claim that he has the good of the faithful in mind “hard to credit.” If you're comfortable thinking that the Pope is a liar, then by all means, jump on the bandwagon.

5. I love (perversely, I admit) referring to what most people call the Tridentine Mass as the Mass of Bl. John XXIII. We should probably remember that that's the only Mass Bl. John XXIII (who is unjustly associated with the “Spirit of Vatican II”) ever celebrated.

Bl. John XXIII, pray for us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Woodward: How Many Jesuses Do You See?

One of the things that make the question of the “historical Jesus” so fascinating (or so annoying, depending on your point of view) is that the “historical” part of the question depends on four – count 'em, four – histories instead of just one. There is no shortage of books – scholarly, semi-scholarly, lowbrow, barely literate – cataloguing the “inaccuracies,” “discrepancies,” and “contradictions” to be found in and among the four Gospels. These books are easy to find, for anyone who wants to peruse them. (A word of advice: Rather than subject yourself to the sloppy, fanciful work of a Lloyd Graham or even the superficially more respectable work of a John Shelby Spong or Richard McBrien, you'd probably be better off consulting the Fathers of the early Church, who were intimately familiar with every real and apparent inconsistency in the Gospel narratives and provide a pretty exhaustive catalogue of them. Tatian and Origen and Augustine were just as good at identifying problems in reconciling the Gospel narratives as Feuerbach or Strauss or Renan, and much better at making sense of them.)

The task of interpreting “the life of Jesus,” as Pope Benedict sets out to do in Jesus of Nazareth, means making sense of four separate accounts of that life. If one believes that the four Gospels are all we have to go on in making sense of who Jesus was (is), then the task will admittedly be hard. But you know what? Nobody believes that.


Atheists don't believe it because they regard the Gospels as either fairy tales or political propaganda. The Jesus Seminar and other radical partisans of the “historical Jesus” movement don't believe it, because they bring several ideological and philosophical a priori convictions (e.g., a rejection of supernaturalism) to the project.

Orthodox Christians (small “o”) don't believe it either. Evangelical Protestants don't believe it because, in addition to the Gospels (which they inaccurately term “sufficient” as a guide to the truths they espouse), they have their personal relationship with Jesus Christ to guide them. I'm not being snide here. They do have such a relationship. So do I.

As a Catholic, I have a personal relationship with Jesus in his Church. It is the Church that gives me Jesus, and it is the Church that gave me – and everyone else – the Gospels. My understanding of what the Gospels tell me about Jesus is amplified, enriched, corroborated by what his Church knows about him and teaches us about him. Anything the Gospels tell us must be consonant, in some way, with the Church's understanding of him. Some people, perhaps, would regard this as an intellectual problem. I don't.

Because the Gospels are four different accounts of the life, actions, and teachings of a single real person – and because they are absolutely reliable accounts of that life – we may be certain that they can be read as consistent, uncontradictory, mutually illuminating accounts. We could be similarly certain about multiple biographies of a modern historical figure – George Washington or Albert Einstein or Barry Bonds – if we could be equally certain of the reliability of those biographies.

All of this is to say that, for a Christian, the Jesus of Matthew's Gospel and the Jesus of John's Gospel (and the Jesus of Paul's epistles, for that matter) must be one and the same. If these Jesuses don't all look like the same person to us, then either (1) there is something wrong with the Scriptures, or (2) there is something wrong with our understanding of them. Any Christian faced with such a problem should assume number (2) rather than number (1).

Much is made of the spiritual, transcendant, deified Jesus of John's Gospel – the Eternal Word – in contrast to the more flesh-and-blood Jesuses of the synoptic Gospels. In Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope, quite properly, will have none of this. Let me quote my favorite passage of the book so far. It is a commentary on the second section of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew – the section referred to as the “Torah of the Messiah,” in which Jesus revisits several of the major precepts of the Mosaic law, standing them on their head (from one point of view), or giving them their fullest and most authoritative interpretation (from another point of view). In each instance, Jesus both lays bare the spiritual heart of the Law and pushes its implications to its radical but inevitable limits: It's not just wrong to kill; it's wrong to hate. It's not just wrong to sleep with a woman who is not your wife; it's wrong to enjoy purposely thinking about doing it. It's not just wrong to refuse help to the poor; it's wrong to give the poor help only so that people will think you charitable. Jesus frames each of these points by setting up an apparent tension between the old dispensation and the new: “You have heard it said...But I say to you.” For Benedict, this tension -- which is really no tension at all -- has profound Christological implications:

Jesus understands himself as the Torah – as the word of God in person. The tremendous prologue of John's Gospel -- “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) – says nothing different from what the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels says. The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel and the Jesus of the Synoptics is one and the same: the true “historical” Jesus.

For a Christian, who believes that the real Jesus can be encountered in Matthew, in Mark, in Luke, and in John, this may not seem controversial. But in fact it is controversial nowadays. It is a point on which even solid, “conservative” Scripture scholars can be counted on to part ways with the Pope, at least partially. For example, the current issue of First Things contains a review of Jesus of Nazareth written by Richard B. Hays, the renowned Scripture scholar and New Testament professor at Duke Divinity School. While acknowledging that Benedict's reading of the “Torah of the Messiah” passages from Matthew is to the Pope's credit, Prof. Hays still finds fault with His Holiness' understanding of Jesus on the grounds that that understanding is perhaps too strongly Johannine. “The other [i.e., Synoptic] New Testament texts,” says Prof. Hays, “are read selectively for corroborative testimony of this basically Johannine account.”

Note the underlying assumption of such a statement: There are New Testament texts “other” than those commented on in Jesus of Nazareth which, if the Pope had been honest enough to acknowledge them, would be seen as contradicting the “high-christological” portrait given us by John. The four Gospel representations of Jesus, in other words, can only be harmonized through trickery or misrepresentation. If this is what First Things is saying about the Pope's book, what must America be saying? (On second thought, don't answer that.)

Like any good Catholic, Pope Benedict believes that Jesus precedes the Gospels; they portray him, they didn't create him. He is more real than any account of him, just as any man is more real than his biography. In that sense, the complete “history” of the “historical Jesus” can only be the history of his Church. Vehige and I have remarked before on the Pope's delightful declaration early on in Jesus of Nazareth that he “trusts the Gospels.” It's becoming clear now what that means -- he trusts all the Gospels.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Woodward: Never Mind

Reading can really interfere with blogging. I was all set to take issue with Michael Gerson's thesis in a recent Washington Post essay, but then I read a post by Ramesh Ponnuru at “The Corner,” National Review's staff blog. Now I don't have anything to say, because Mr. Ponnuru has said it all, and said it much better than I would have. If you're interested in the relationship -- necessary or otherwise -- between religious faith and morality, read Gerson and then read Ponnuru.

Woodward: "Stupid!"

The notion that people disagree with us because they are just not as smart as we are is a convenient prejudice that most of us outgrow in adulthood, depending on how carefully and honestly we observe the kinds of people who disagree with us. I know a fair number of people with whom I disagree on various important subjects – politics, art, religion, the current quality of the heavyweight division in boxing. Almost all of these people are at least as smart as I am. Some of them, irritatingly enough, are quite a bit smarter. They are wrong, of course, but they are smarter than I am. I love to be around and argue with such people.

Every once in a while, though, you run across adults who never outgrew the adolescent conviction that people who disagree with them are simply stupid. I think John Kerry was such a person. And, lest I be accused of partisanship, let me add that I think most of the people who are telling President Bush what to do nowadays seem to be the same kind of person too.

James Carroll is another such person. Mr. Carroll is a former Catholic priest, a playwright, novelist, historian, commentator on religious issues, and columnist for the Boston Globe. His most recent column for that paper offers evidence of the self-important conviction to which I have just referred. According to the column, the basis of Pope Benedict's disagreement with Mr. Carroll (why do I think that that's exactly the way Mr. Carroll might refer to the disagreement?) is simply that the Pope is “naive,” that he is unacquainted with important elements of the history of the early Church, and that he is repeating the ignorant mistake that the Church made in the 16th century when it “rejected” Copernicus. In Pope Benedict's case, the mistake is twofold -- “restoring the atavistic Mass of the Council of Trent and resuscitating an outmoded Catholic exclusivism.”

It hardly makes any difference to my point here whether it's Pope Benedict or James Carroll who is right on these two issues, although if you think it likely that Mr. Carroll is right, you really should read his book Constantine's Sword and then some knowledgeable critiques of the book, such as this one or this one. My point is the way Mr. Carroll chooses to make his point -- the charge that Pope Benedict has made a “mistake” because His Holiness just doesn't know very much. It's an occasionally effective rhetorical device on the elementary-school playground, but hardly the kind of "position" one expects to find in a grown-up debate. Look at these remarkable assertions, lodged by Mr. Carroll against one of the foremost Catholic theologians of the 20th century:

1. Benedict has “inadvertently” revealed his conviction that “religion is a primitive impulse, unable to withstand the challenge of contemporary thought.”

2. Benedict is unaware that “none of the actual Apostles thought that they themselves were establishing a 'church' in our sense, independent of Judaism.”

3. Benedict fails to realize that apostolic authority is called into question “when one learns [as the Pope presumably has not] that [the New Testament's] 27 books were not 'canonized' until three centuries after Jesus.”

4. Benedict is attempting to restore “the first naivete of 'one true church,'” which, “in an age of global simply not tenable.”

5. Benedict has failed to “move on” from the Counter-Reformational thinking that “rejected Copernicus” -- “if [adds Mr. Carroll archly] you can call it thinking.”

How, one might ask after reading such a list of indictments, did a dunce like Joseph Ratzinger ever get elected Pope? And how convenient must it be to dismiss an eminent theologian – and a 2000-year ecclesial tradition – when they get in the way of your own private opinions about
what a Church and a Pope should be?

Oh, and by the way, Copernicus was wrong too. See what he had to say about the fixed stars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Woodward: The "Means of Salvation"

A bunch of news outlets – not just Fox News – went with this AP report on the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressing “Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” Plenty of Catholic bloggers have already pointed out the inaccuracies besetting the mainstream media's coverage of this Church statement. But widespread publication of the AP's bizarre interpretation makes it especially troubling.

The AP story tells us that the newest CDF statement reiterates and expands on the Congregation's earlier Dominus Iesus (true enough), which “riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the 'means of salvation'” (not true at all).

Put aside the ignorance betrayed in a phrase like “Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations.” Yes, there are Protestants who refuse the label "Protestant." (I have a Church of Christ friend who will explain why for hours.) But virtually all Lutherans happily accept the label. (In fact, they invented it.) Whatever distinction the Associated Press thinks it's making between Protestants and Lutherans will probably never be known outside the editorial offices of the Associated Press.

The real outrage here is the assertion that Dominus Iesus contains any mention of non-Catholic churches or ecclesial communities not having the “means of salvation.” Don't bother looking for such a claim in Dominus Iesus itself. It's not there. What is there are these two passages:

If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. [§22]

The spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them [i.e., non-Catholic churches and communities] as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. [§17]

It doesn't require a trained theologian – but it apparently does require more than an AP reporter – to figure out what these statements, taken together, mean. Only to the Catholic Church has the fullness of the means of salvation – the truth of the Gospel and the grace of the sacraments -- been perfectly entrusted. But that does not mean that other Christian groups cannot serve as means of salvation insofar as they provide an authentically Christian witness to the world. One might surmise from media analyses of the CDF document that the Catholic Church denies the possibility of salvation to anyone not formally in communion with it. Some non-Catholic groups do make such claims of exclusivity. Catholicism does not, and never has.

Woodward: Hollywood on the Nile

Vehige --

Glad you liked Land of the Pharaohs, but that picture of Joan Collins is not going to help our NC-17 rating any.

A nice shot of the Pyramids would have sufficed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Vehige: Land of the Pharaohs

Per Woodward's recommendation, last night my family sat down and watched Land of the Pharaohs. We're a home schooling family, and we've just started studying Ancient Egypt, and so this movie seemed like a great way to supplement the kids' studies.

It's a great movie, and after it was over everyone said the loved it. This morning, however, my oldest son announced that though he did like it, he thought it was too violent. (Woodward, you might want to pass this bit of information along . . .) Apparently, he didn't like the scene with the crocodiles and the scene with the cobra.

William Faulkner co-wrote the script, and I found it quite humorous -- true to Faulkner -- that the movie opened with a man remembering the past. Also, the story was so good that one wishes old Bill had spend more of his literary talents in Hollywood. If modern movies were half as good as this one, the world would be a much happier place.

(Don't you think it's sad to see a 33-year-old lamenting how things aren't as good as they used to be. I fear to ponder what I'll be like at 73.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Woodward: Trusting the Gospels

In my first post on Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, I quoted an attention-grabbing sentence in which His Holiness sums up his exegetical stance: “I trust the Gospels.”

Such a statement, of course, can mean different things to different people. Rudolf Bultmann would no doubt have said that he trusted the Gospels. Yet he believed that a significant number of Gospel passages purporting to narrate events that really happened actually narrate events that never really happened. Bultmann called the process by which this belief was applied to biblical texts demythologization. To demythologize the Gospels is to reinterpret texts that express the mystery of Christ's life and ministry from a first-century world view, imposing on those texts a revised interpretation that preserves the mystery but is true to our own contemporary world view. Since the contemporary world view dismisses supernaturalism as an explanation of material phenomena, the Gospels must therefore be read in a way that is consonant with a 21st-century, scientific understanding of the events reported. The Virgin Birth, water into wine, Lazarus raised from the dead, the Ascension into a cloud – none of these reported events (so the demythologizers say) need be taken as literal reportage but rather as supernaturalist myths intended to convey a theological truth.

Pope Benedict's trust in the Gospels is of a different sort. He shows the difference in a couple of passages from chapter 4 of Jesus of Nazareth, passages that are not exceptional in themselves unless they are read as a counterpoint to the liberal Scripture scholarship of the last hundred years.

The first passage comes in the context of Benedict's discussion of the Sermon on the Mount as a New Testament parallel to the giving of the Ten Commandments, and to Jesus' depiction as the new Moses, the lawgiver of the New Covenant. Immediately before Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins calling his twelve disciples, and the Pope comments on that oft-noted number twelve. In Benedict's words, it “is both a symbolic gesture and a totally concrete act by which Jesus announces and initiates the renewal of the twelve tribes, the new assembly of the people of Israel.”

The Pope is certainly not offering any new insight here. The symbolism of twelve disciples, to echo the twelve tribes of Israel, is a commonplace of biblical interpretation. But notice that His Holiness takes the opportunity to make an additional point – one that, perhaps, would not have to be made in any time but our own. The number of the disciples is not just symbolism but also a" totally concrete" act. It is not, in other words, a convenient detail manufactured and written back into the Gospel to create an Old Testament-New Testament link, but rather something that really happened. We need not believe either that Matthew was making things up after the fact to suit his theological purposes, or that Jesus himself was incapable of taking action that had both practical purpose and symbolic significance.

The second passage illustrating the Pope's trust of the Gospels involves the eighth beatitude -- “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). Of this verse, Benedict says:

Jesus' words concerning those persecuted for righteousness' sake had a prophetic significance for Matthew and his audience. For them this was the Lord foretelling the situation of the Church which they were living through.

Notice what the Pope does not say, and apparently does not believe – that the words of the beatitude had a “prophetic significance” for Matthew and his audience because they were written retrospectively to have such a significance. Instead, Benedict calls them straightforwardly “Jesus' words,” reported to the “Matthean community,” not concocted by it.

In other words, we can trust the Gospels.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Woodward: "Ginormous"

It's one of the words to be added to the upcoming edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and my seven-year-old twin sons should be very proud. In the last couple of years, they have contributed significantly to the word's currency in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, by using it on average 100 times a day. (It's amazing how many ginormous things you run into when you're seven.)

I hope, by the way, that my fellow admirers of Bernard Kilgore, legendary editor of the Wall Street Journal, will forgive my use of “upcoming” in the preceding paragraph. Mr. Kilgore hated the then-trendy word so much that he once sent out a memo: “If I see upcoming in the paper again, I shall be downcoming and someone will be outgoing.”

Vehige: I can explain . . .

. . . my absence. At least part of it. Last week, the week of July 4, we took a family vacation. I promised myself I wouldn't turn on the computer, and I didn't it. That explains why I didn't post last week.

But I've been back since last Friday, and I don't really have a reason for not posting anything since being back. I think I've hit one of these lulls where nothing seems interesting enough to write about.

Then again, maybe I just need to start writing. Joyce Carol Oates once said that when she often sits down to write her soul feels as thin as a playing card, but that the act of writing is enough cure her of that ailment.

Anyway, I'm going to let Woodward run a few legs of this race while I sit down and let the tank fill back up. (I don't know if that's a mixed metaphor or not, but hopefully you get my meaning.)

I will say that I've read a few books over the past two weeks, two of which I'd highly recommend. To you lovers of mystery/dark suspence, you're not going to find a much better read than Joe R. Landsdale's The Bottoms. And for you mystery/science fiction lovers, Jack McDevitt's Seeker is fascinating.

I'll also add that the Harry Potter films are the most fun I've had watching movies in a long, long time. I can't believe it's taken me however long since the first movie came out to watch them. Certainly looking forward to seeing Number 5, which comes out tomorrow.

Woodward should watch out . . . I might have a new movie-marathon for us once we finish Firefly/Serenity.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Woodward: Summorum Pontificum, Part 1

Part 1, because (a) this post will only contain some initial random reactions to the letter that accompanies the motu proprio; (b) I don’t have nearly as strong feelings one way or the other on this subject as many Catholics do and my opinions may change as I read other people’s commentary; and (c) Vehige and I have not really discussed this subject at all, so if it turns out that he and I disagree about it substantially, we may want to air those differences here.

I’ll start by identifying the predispositions I bring to any discussion of liturgy. I came into the Church in 1972, after the Mass of Paul VI (the “new” Mass) had already been implemented; it is the only Mass I associate with my life as a Catholic. Over the last 35 years, I have been mostly inspired, but occasionally appalled, by individual celebrations of the new Mass. I agree with certain criticisms of the Mass of Paul VI; in fact, I cannot really disagree with any of the quite serious criticisms lodged against it by Cardinal Ottaviani at the time of its implementation. And I have even more objections to the way in which it has been translated into English, although I hope for better things on that front soon. Nonetheless, I regard the Mass of Paul VI as the absolutely valid and “ordinary” (in a technical sense) eucharistic celebration of the Church. I am not, in other words, a Lefebvrist.

What’s more, my very limited exposure to the Tridentine liturgy (two low Masses, to be precise) left me a little disappointed. Even though my Latin is relatively good and I knew at every point what was going on, I still felt pretty distant from the proceedings at the altar. I’m sure that I would have had a different experience at a dialogue Mass or a high Mass, based on what I know about them and videos I have seen.

In short, I have no particular theological or aesthetic prejudices in either direction -- old or new Mass. So here are some observations, primarily on the explanatory letter that accompanies the motu proprio. I know I’ll get reactions from Vehige. I welcome any others as well.

(Words of the Pope in red.)

In the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break, which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them.

It’s good to see an explicit statement that the basis of the differences between the Church and the Lebvrists is not just the old versus the new Mass. The differences are -- as the Pope says -- “at a deeper level.” Anyone unsure about what’s going on at that “deeper level” should take at look at the website of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The Lefebvrists’ main complaint is not that the Church isn’t celebrating the Tridentine Mass any more; if that were the problem, Summorum Pontificum would be a giant step toward solving it. No, the Lefebvrists’ main complaint is that the Church is celebrating the new Mass, the Mass of Paul VI (the so-called “Novus Ordo” Mass). If you go to the SSPX website, don’t miss the “62 reasons why Catholics cannot in conscience attend" the new Mass. In fact, the website is informative on a whole host of issues; it will also explain to you how Lefebvrists know that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that the “Jewish race” is cursed because it is guilty of deicide. And these are the people we’re so eager to get back into the Church??

I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

Me too, Your Holiness.

The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.

Two of the main things wrong with western civilization.

New Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.

Gerald at Closed Cafeteria is undoubtedly correct that this proposal lays the foundation for actually revitalizing the Tridentine liturgy, not just maintaining it as a museum display. On the other hand, if I do end up attending any Tridentine Masses that may spring up in Dallas, it will probably be to celebrate some great saints’ feast days that got dropped in the post-Vatican II reforms. (I’m actually more attached to the old calendar than I am to the old Mass.)

The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives.

Absolutely. I’m just not sure why we need free-market competition between two different missals to bring this about, which is what the Pope seems to be implying here.

One last thing. Here’s my very favorite passage from Summorum Pontificum itself:

Having pondered all things, invoked the Holy Spirit and placed our confidence in the help of God, by this present Apostolic Letter we DECREE the following.

Regardless of where you stand on the old/new Mass question, don’t you love it when a Pope sounds like a Pope? I believe one of the problems in the Church today is that we don't have nearly enough decrees (especially in all capital letters).

Friday, July 6, 2007

Woodward: Two Can Play at This Game

As Vehige has noted, he and I often shop at the same large used book store here in Dallas, which means that we're often scouring the same sections for books on subjects in which we have a shared interest. No, I'm not about to steal a hard-to-find science fiction novel out from under him, any more than he is likely to make off with a history of nineteenth-century Italian opera I've always wanted, or a rare edition of Ovid. (Well, he might actually go for the Ovid, come to think of it.) But we do have a lot of overlapping interests, so it's with a combination of guilt and triumph that either he or I buys a book that we know the other would probably snap up if he had gotten there first.

Vehige was recently exulting in his purchase of Churchill's The Second World War at a ridiculously low price. I'm posting this simply to tell him that I forgive him, and to let him know that today I picked up Garrigou-Lagrange's The Three Ages of the Interior Life -- both volumes -- for $20.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Woodward: The Kingdom of God

Has any phrase in the history of Christianity generated more misunderstanding, stirred up more controversy, and provided a livelihood for more theologians than the phrase with which Jesus inaugurated his public ministry – his proclamation of “the kingdom of God”? (Okay -- “full, conscious and active participation” runs a close second. If the motu proprio comes out on schedule, maybe we'll have a chance to discuss that one next week.)

Because of its political ring, the “kingdom of God” has repeatedly been used by followers of Jesus – or those claiming to be his followers – as a basis for arguing that the precepts of Christianity necessarily demand a particular social, economic, or governmental order – the notion that the heavenly kingdom will be established on earth when Christian ethical principles are widely accepted and practiced.

I have always been suspicious of this view of the “kingdom of God,” so it came as a considerable relief to read in the third chapter of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth that His Holiness does not understand the phrase in a social, economic, or political sense at all. In fact, the “kingdom” of God refers – in the Pope's view – not to any form of temporal rule or geopolitical entity at all. Instead, the phrase means the kingship (lordship, sovereign authority) of God – the essential truth that God is supremely in charge of the universe he has created. The phrase also means, conversely, that we ourselves are not in charge. The idea of the kingdom of God, says Benedict, is simply Jesus' understanding and expression of the fact that God is ... God. Given who Jesus himself is, the phrase also conveys the staggering truth that God's sovereign power, in the person of his incarnate Son, has come directly and physically into the world in a way that is capable of shaping every individual human life to its divine purpose. Here is how Pope Benedict puts it:

When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting.

Benedict relates this theological understanding of the kingdom of God to the most central of all Jewish prayers, the Shema Israel -- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” [Deut 6:4,5] The recitation of this prayer is the Jewish ritual in which God's absolute authority over human affairs is acknowledged and celebrated. Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God is a comparable acknowledgment, with this added dimension – that the very person proclaiming the kingdom is at the same time making the kingdom present, visible, and active in the world. As His Holiness has already explained in a previous chapter of the book, the message of Jesus is Jesus himself.

Meditated on for a moment in this light, the “kingdom of God” begins to have all sorts of practical ramifications. Benedict himself provides the reader with a particularly powerful example of what difference a recognition of the kingdom of God can make in the life and behavior of someone who really accepts it, with a brief commentary on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee does not recognize the kingdom – the sovereign authority – of God over him. In the Pope's words:

The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself...He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous – what he does himself is enough.

The tax collector, on the other hand, lives in full recognition of the kingdom of God:

He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself. So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God's goodness.

This observation leads Benedict into an appraisal of the theme of righteousness and grace in the parable. The tax collector, conscious of his absolute dependence on God, actually draws from that dependence the capacity to live according to God's will. As the Pope expresses it:

He needs God, and because he recognizes that, he begins through God's goodness to become good himself.

That's the best one-sentence summary of Catholic moral theology I've ever read. In the next chapter of the book, Benedict promises to use it as the basis for his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.