DCMission Statement


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Problem of Reconciling Evil as Nothingness and Being in Hell:
An Anonymous Reader Responds (Quaerimus IV)

Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire, it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.

— An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.

An anonymous reader has responded to the section of my previous post dealing with the problem of reconciling St. Augustine's conception of evil as nothingness and Hell as a place in which beings are separated completely from God. He writes:



"After thinking about your question on evil, I think there may be a misunderstanding of God's essence/existence and the essence/existence of things that are not of God which may be applied to the question of evil.

God's existence is his essence. God is to be. We get this from Thomas' Summa Theologica Q. 3, Art. 4. This is because God's essence would either have to be from an outside source which we know is impossible due to the demonstration in the first three of the five ways or his essence would come from a principle of his essence. This is also impossible as we can see that a human does not come from a tooth.

Existence is to act as essence is to potentiality. From Q. 2, Art. 3 of the ST we see that act must come prior to potentiality. Thus, existence in all things, that are not of God must come prior to its essence.

Something which exists but did not cause its own existence must have a prior cause. There must always be a first in the line of movers, actuality must always come prior to potentiality, contingent beings must necessarily come from a necessary being.

God must then be pure act. Must be the first, the unmoved mover. His existence must be his essence. What must be remembered is that when speaking of God we always speak through analogy and that speaking in terms of essence and existence is the closest man can come to speak of God.

Now for everything else that is not God must be thought of in a matter of degrees of being. God is being, Angels are more perfect beings than humans for they are pure intellect without body. Humans are more perfect than animals because of intellect but less than angels because humans have bodies and so on.

What does this have to do with the problem of evil?

The problem of evil comes from the idea of an all perfect and all good God accepting evil into the world. Evil, as you know is not a thing. Evil in itself does not exist. Rather, evil is the decision of an existing being, one who must possess intellect, in order to not choose good. The idea of evil is a turning away from the Creator, when one chooses that which is not God they become less themselves and the larger the separation the less angelic or the less human they become. God sets angels and man into existence and holds them there because of his eternal love for them. Even if they commit evil and more and more atrocities are committed God will not take man out of existence because of his eternal love for God set man into existence out of his own free gift.

God created man and angel in order for man and angels to love him. In order for there to be love there must be a freedom of choice from his creatures and thus we are made with freewill.

In a perfect setting, The Garden of Eden, freewill is used to make a choice between one good and another using a degree of goodness. Once man became selfish and wished to be his own God, out of his own choice, man could no longer handle being in the perfect garden and thus was cast out. In this casting out all things were changed and privation entered the entire world. Evil then is a privation of a good. In the case of the squirrel outside of my window, it is an evil that this squirrel lacks a tail. The squirrel is deprived of its tail and thus there is an evil.

I think a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is. We do not know what Heaven or Hell is like. We do not know, nor can we speak, of God perfectly for we are imperfect beings. Man participates in being for man is not being in and of himself, whereas God is being itself. We must speak from analogy and from here is where we have trouble for we can never get an exacted notion. Who is to say that Aquinas or Augustine or the many other thinkers are correct in their ideas on the concept of evil? Whenever we say the word evil there is a connotation that evil exists and so we come to the crux of the matter.

I think from now on when I speak of evil I will define it as nothingness. Evil has no actuality and thus there is no potentiality. When creatures were created by God the act of going from being to being allowed for there to be an imperfection. This is because God, who is absolutely perfect, first cause, first unmoved mover, etc, cannot create Himself. God cannot create God for one would have to come prior and thus the made 'God' would be existing in potentiality. Once potentiality comes into the picture there allows a lack of perfection for only God can be truly perfect in every way." ~An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.



I responded with the following:

"Thank you for your thoughts. ... one point ... is curious to me: how can we speak about God through analogy if we do not know Him? We cannot know God in His fullness, so we must know Him partially. But what does it mean to know God partially?

I am still a bit confused about Hell. From what you've said, a being in Hell is held in existence by God, but by that being's will he is eternally separated from God. But because the being is held in existence by God, it seems that he still has some connection to God. So his will itself must be held in existence by God (because all things are held in existence by God), but I guess the will is permanently in some sort of disordered state. But it seems that there must be some definite line between the perfect order (God) and the disorder. But the disorder exists also to some extent in purgatory. It is hard to fathom that the disorder will exist for all eternity, even though God is not willing it. But, if by the "disorder," we are referring to evil, then perhaps the disorder itself doesn't exist. But it seems that we can say that there is something in Hell and that something exists, no? So what is it? And how is it separated from God?

Anyhow, I appreciate your comment that "...a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is." It is just a bit confounding to me that we have some notion of good and evil, but not a perfect notion of them. I guess an analogy could be that we sort of know a right triangle indirectly. We can draw something that resembles a right triangle, but we can't ever see it. Only by reason do we know about it. Even this seems inaccurate, though, because I think someone could make a case that we do know a right triangle in its fullness - even if we can't see it." ~My Response to the Anonymous Reader.



The reader answered with the following:

"If we take this thought beyond Natural Theology and into Theology, involving revelation, then we can say we know God for Christ came into this world for us to know God. If we are sticking with Natural Theology then the only way to understand God is through analogy. This is because there are no words that we have that can describe God. We can go by way of the via negativa and see that God is not finite and so must be infinite, finite things participate in time and so God must be outside of time, finite things move by way of locomotion and so God must be unmoved but how can these words actually speak of God in His fullest? So far we have only covered small aspects of God. How then can we speak of God in His full nature? Coming by way of Natural Theology we cannot express God’s fullest nature. Even entering Theology we cannot. Yes, God is Unity and within this Unity there are three Persons but does this even capture the fullness of God? No, it is possible to capture the fullness of God for if we could fully understand God it would not be the real God for we would be creating this God. God is so far beyond understanding that saying I fully understand God means I created this God in which I understand. The best analogy for God is mathematics. We can have a triangle in which I understand fully the idea of a triangle in my mind and yet when I go to draw a triangle, even using the best measurements, I fail because the lines which make the triangle have width and the lines which make up a true triangle do not. God is similar in that we can have concepts of God and understand facets of who He is yet we will never know Him in fullness. It is also not a waste of time to study who God is for in studying about Him we are praying to Him and in doing so we will inevitably be drawn closer to Him.

When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence. ... A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator.

Hell:
When we are created we are given an eternal soul in a mortal body. Therefore, from the moment of conception the soul is to live forever and our earthly body is to perish until we are given our glorified bodies at the end of time. When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence, not our will or our intellect but our soul, which some may equate with the will but is not the will. When a soul goes to hell it is an eternal act by which the person decides to be as far from God as possible. A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator. An example of this thought comes from St. John of the Cross’s book the Ascent to Mount Carmel where he writes, “It ought to be kept in mind that an attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the greater the equality, for love effects a likeness between the lover and the loved.” Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.

Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.

Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.

For one in Purgatory it is a similar idea. God’s Goodness is so “bright” that it burns and this burning heals the soul so it can be purified and perfected so to enter eternal glory." ~The Anonymous Reader.



Thank you to the readers who have responded to me with very helpful thoughts on this topic which I find quite difficult.



December 7 is the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Feast of St. Ambrose (✝ 397) (both calendars).

Regina sine labe originali concepta et Sancte Ambrósi, orate pro nobis.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In

Three topics on which I am quite interested in gathering the various thoughts of great Catholic thinkers are the determination of authority in the formulation of Catholic doctrine, the problem of evil, and the nature of time. I was pleased to come across a lecture by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in which he speaks on all three of these topics in a span of nine minutes. An audio recording of the complete lecture can be found on this page at therealpresence.org. It is the fourth lecture, entitled Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, in a series on the Catholic Faith.

Two years ago, soon after the founding of the DCMission blog, I had written a post in which I alluded to a question of great interest to me: What weight do the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas hold in the formulation of Catholic doctrines? Given the arguably unparalleled genius of Thomas, does the Church accept everything that he wrote as true?

Fr. Hardon, in the lecture mentioned above, states the following on this subject and its relevance to the Society of Jesus during its early years, around the end of the 16th century:

...a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

In the context of this passage, he addresses the question of whether everything that Thomas taught is necessarily accepted as true by Church authorities. Fr. Hardon's statements may surprise you. In two specific cases he mentions, he goes so far as to say that Thomas, in spite of his "towering genius," was wrong.

There is a controverted question in theology over the possibility of an eternal creation of the world. First, let's be clear. The world had a beginning. That is an article of the Faith. The world - and not merely the world of space and time - but the world of spirit, too - whether angelic or our own souls - began. That's number one. The world had a beginning. Secondly, it is therefore erroneous to say that the world is de facto eternal. Because if it began in time, it could not have been timeless in having always existed. But thirdly, can we prove from reason alone that the world began? Yes. A fourth question: Can we hold that the world might have existed from all eternity? Among the persons who held this was Thomas Aquinas. At least, he said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world. This, among other things that Thomas taught, he was wrong in. And, sometime after St. Ignatius prescribed on the Society of Jesus that we follow the teaching of Thomas Aquinas - it is part of our constitution in our teaching - a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas. So our then-Father General commissioned Robert Bellarmine, a great Saint and now since a Doctor of the Church, to examine the writings of Thomas Aquinas - who by that time had already been canonized - and which things that Thomas taught, in his judgment, Jesuits would not be bound to hold. He ended up with twenty-four things in Thomas that Jesuits need not folow. This is one. And as I'm sure you all know, another is that Mary was not immaculately conceived. Thomas held it: he was wrong. Which indicates why we need an infallible teaching authority to stand judgment even on a towering genius like Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

The next question, on the problem of evil, is much more difficult for me personally. St. Augustine in his Confessions famously cast the problem and subsequently addressed it. Here is the problem in simplistic terms: if God is perfectly good and created everything, and evil exists, then how did God create it? Augustine addresses the problem by saying that evil is not itself a created thing. It is, rather, the lack of something: the lack of being. I've heard an analogy given between this proposed model and the familiar phenomena of light and darkness. Darkness is not something in and of itself, the analogy states. It is, rather, our perception of the absence of light. (As a bit of a digression, I recall a series of lectures at Notre Dame in which the late Prof. Michael Sain proposed a compelling case for a correlation between this model of evil and the nature of the Ringwraiths in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.)

While somewhat satisfying at first, this solution seems to create problems with respect to some aspects of the Faith. For example, if Hell entails complete separation from God, and God is necessary for an entity's existence, then how can Hell exist?

Fr. Hardon addresses the problem of evil as follows:


...what God created is good. Why is it good? Because God made it. Well, that's not really maybe answering the question. What is good that God created is such because it corresponds perfectly to what His will wanted to make. And, therefore, in Genesis when we read that God saw what He made and it was not just good but, remember, "very good." Is there evil in the world? You better believe it. Let me ask this: why is there evil in the world? Is it because of God? It must be because of what? Creatures. So whatever is good in the world is the result of God's will. Whatever is evil in the world is the result of created will. And can we ever produce evil things. If I further ask: what makes what man creates - if it's evil - evil? It's because it is contrary to the will of God. The essence of goodness is that it conforms to the divine will. The essence of evil is that it conforms to the created will and contrary to the divine will. And you don't push beyond that. You believe it.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

This response is, admittedly, a bit problematic for me. With his mandate, "you don't push beyond that," I gather that Fr. Hardon is suggesting here that we forgo our reason and accept the claims given regarding the nature of evil. However, we've been taught through documents such as Bl. John Paul II's Fides et Ratio and Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg Lecture not to accept the contemporary narrative that faith and reason work contrary to one another. Rather, the Church has proposed in such documents that faith and reason complement one another. They are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." This being the case, why does it seem that we are being asked here on the problem of evil to forgo reason? Should not the use of reason, in general, be commended? I can't say that I understand Fr. Hardon's "you don't push beyond that" against the backdrop of the narrative of the complementary nature of faith and reason given to us by Church authorities in recent decades.



Finally, Fr. Hardon offers some brief thoughts on a topic that is dear to me: the nature of time. My inclusion of this excerpt here entails less of a question for addition to the list of Quaerimus posts, and more of a point of interest to me that I serendipitously found addressed in media res.


Then he created in time. ... Consequently, the world had a beginning in time. Or, more accurately, it began with time. What is time? Somebody? [Change.] ... Change. Well, change is part of time. Time is, rather, the measure of change. You've got to have things changing to have time. That's why God, in an absolute sense, is timeless. And the fewer changes or the less aware you are of those changes, the more swiftly the time passes, right? It's when you're watching that clock - and it never moves more slowly than when you watch it - because you're conscious of the change - whatever you're expecting or looking forward to seems to be so slow in coming. In other words, there was no time before creation. Why? Because the only being that existed was a changeless being. Since time is the measure of change - sometimes called the "measure of motion," which is the more philosophical definition but less intelligible because the word "motion" in philosophy corresponds to "change" in more popular language. Now the motion or the movement may be through space, and that's a change. Or the motion may be inside my head, and that's a change. For example, I hope in the last five minutes, you've learned something ... Whatever change took place - and we can measure the change that took place, whether in body or in spirit - can be measured. Therefore, you have time. The moment God created anything, at that moment, time began.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.



On the Traditional Calendar, today is Solemnity of Christ the King.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!




Update: I noticed a possible problem in the first excerpt above. Fr. Hardon states that, "At least, [Thomas] said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world." This is a bit of a difficult statement to parse with all the negatives (i.e. "...could not disprove ... the impossibility..."). However, we understand the intended message: the Church teaching is that the world is not eternal and that we can prove this from reason, but Thomas said otherwise. However, I believe the way in which Fr. Hardon formulates this has one-too-many negatives. I believe what he meant to say was either that Thomas said that "you could not prove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world" or "you could not disprove from reason the possibility of an eternal world." Feel free to check me on this.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Screwtape's Eighth Letter and the Spiritual Undulations
of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Currently in a reading group that is covering C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, one of the letters I found particularly noteworthy is number 8, in which Screwtape instructs his nephew on the "law of Undulation" and its effects on the interior lives of humans. I came across a recording of a reading of this letter and thought it would be worth sharing here.

[The Enemy] will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs -- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. ... Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.


— Screwtape, from Letter 8.





On a related note, tomorrow is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. (Perhaps it is worth noting here that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pontiff.) Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a Jesuit priest, has given an eloquent summary of the conversion story of St. Ignatius. Key to the story is St. Ignatius's overcoming of his attachments to the fleeting pleasures he enjoyed that were part of his life prior to his conversion. Fr. Pacwa explains how Ignatius's gradually deepened intimacy with Christ allowed him eventually to recognize the passing nature of these pleasures, to found the Jesuit order, and to become at last a great Saint.

The homily begins at 5:14 in the video.


...key to his conversion is that the process of reading the life of Christ and the life of the Saints is that he found that very enjoyable, and it left him with peace. But - even though he didn't have books about it - he would consider saving damsels in distress, fighting great battles, riding off for the king of Spain, and doing all sorts of great things - and he felt good about that too. Both of them made him feel very good. But what he noticed as time went on is that when he considered various aspects of being a knight, it would only feel good at that moment. It would then become hollow and leave him feeling empty. And thinking about Christ and the Saints and the joys of heaven gave him peace, and that did not leave him empty. It gave him a peace that lasted. And he began to notice the difference.


— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. on the Conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola (@9:30 in the video).




July 30th is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola (✝ 1556) and St. Peter Chrysologus (✝ 450), pray for us.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

QUAERIMUS I, II: Audible Congregational Responses in the Tridentine Mass and the Canonical Status of SSPX

Most who have spent a significant amount of time reading the blog of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf likely have some exposure to his series of posts tagged Quaeritur (translated from the third person singular present passive indicative Latin word: "it is being asked"). Well, given that priests are in general rather busy fellows -- what with their administering of the Sacraments, offering of spiritual direction to members of the faithful, and carrying out of other activities generally directed toward saving souls from the forces of evil, etc., etc. -- it makes sense that they don't always have time to answer every Quaeritur that comes their way. (This is not to mention the fact that some of the questions that some of us (and by some of us I mean me) ask can every now and then be a bit academic.) In any case, I can see it being expedient to keep a record of the questions from myself and others that have accumulated over time. I'll tag posts containing such questions as Quaerimus (translated from the first person plural present active indicative Latin word: "we are asking").

Now, the lay faithful have a bit of a responsibility to make a sincere effort to look for answers to such questions that come to mind (Mt 7:7). In this age of the internet, the answers to them may very well be as close as our smartphone. However, among the many challenges one might encounter in seeking answers is the deluge of convoluted, misleading, or even incorrect information that is widely available. How often has one thought of an excellent question whose answer could greatly advance his spiritual and moral life and, after having searched the internet for it, come across only a few lengthy discussions on Catholic forums containing a plethora of people's speculations, opinions, and expressions of uncertainty about the matter?

It is not an exaggeration to say that the internet is an increasingly vast ocean of information in which one could easily find himself lost in the middle of nowhere surrounded by ominous figures. We set out like quasi-Chestertonian wayfarers, as it were, during the dark night in search of those islands of truth which will eventually lead us to our home, with the lamp of reason as a guide. The night sky is filled with the Saintly stars who also offer us some direction, albeit in a way that is mysterious, frequently unclear to us, and often involves some degree of uncertainty. We have also the moon: Mary, Our Mother -- to borrow the famous analogy -- receiving her light from Christ, the Sun, toward whom we look to the East for His rising, but presently see only through the veil of the Sacred Species.

Conscendamus.



QUAERIMUS I: Audible Congregational Responses in the Tridentine Mass

I recently attended the Tridentine Mass with my father. Not having attended many Tridentine Masses recently, he expressed confusion afterwards due to a discrepancy he observed. When he served Mass as a young boy -- even prior to Vatican II -- the congregation always responded aloud to the prayers when the servers did so, and in some cases, such as the Pater Noster, the congregation even recited the prayers aloud in their entirety. But at this Mass, the congregation was silent nearly the entire time. I noted that this is frequently the case for Low Masses I attend. Perhaps, I suggested, he had always served Solemn Masses? But I thought this unlikely for every daily Mass he'd ever attended as a child. Further, at the Solemn Masses I've attended, the Pater Noster has been chanted aloud only by the priest.

Fr. Z has posted on this topic more than once in Quaeriturs. In July of 2008, he wrote in response to a reader:

There is no hard and fast rule about vocal responses. I think you have to go with the flow.

That said, various Popes before the Council encouraged congregational responses, the so-called "dialogue Mass".
...
In my travels, I have seen various levels of participation. ... Much will depend on what the priest wants and promotes.

But yes, congregational responses are permitted and, in many cases, a good idea.

Personally, I prefer responses from the congregation and have no problem at all with them saying the parts pertaining to the server, and even prayers like the Gloria and Creed.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: congregational responses at TLM, 1 July 2008.


More recently, in a response to a similar question from a reader, he has written:

I think people should make the responses. Popes of the 20th century were speaking about “active participation” before the Second Vatican Council.
...
In a nutshell, before the Council, it was strongly encouraged that people make responses, especially at Solemn and Sung Masses. This applied often to Low Masses as well, the so-called dialogue Mass.
...
That said, if no one else at the place you are going makes responses – at all – then I don’t recommend making them loudly all by yourself.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: Should people make responses during the Traditional Latin Mass?, 30 May 2013.


Returning to 2008, we find Fr. Z responding to a reader specifically regarding whether the congregation is permitted to sing the Pater Noster:

But, the bottom line is yes, even before the Council the Holy See said that the congregation could sing the Our Father with the priest during a sung Mass.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: Can the congregation sing the Our Father at a TLM?, 20 October 2008.


Notice here, though, that Fr. Z is referring specifically to the sung Mass. My father mentioned that, as a young boy, at all the Masses the Pater Noster was recited by the congregation. To remedy this problem, we have a statement from Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., of the Dominican Liturgy Blog, offering clarification in the comment box of Fr. Z's post referenced above:

...It was my understanding that the recitation of the whole Pater by the people applied to dialogue Low Mass...


— Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., from the combox of Fr. Z's QUAERITUR: Can the congregation sing the Our Father at a TLM?, 20 October 2008.




QUAERIMUS II: Canonical Status of SSPX

Some confusion arose following the Mass during my discussion with a woman who was claiming that the excommunication of the SSPX had been invalid. While this may or may not be true, I was somewhat certain that their excommunication had been lifted, while also fairly certain that the fact remains that they are not in full communion with the Church. On these points, it appears that I was correct:

The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.


— Pope Benedict XVI, from Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remission of the Excommunication of the Fourt Bishops Consecrate by Archbishop Lefebvre, 10 March 2009.


See also SSPX Excommunications Lifted.

(Note that I said that it may be true that the original excommunications were invalid only because I don't see in this case how a latae sententiae excommunication -- which, as I understand it, happens automatically without any statement made by a Church authority -- could be remitted in such a way that it was valid only for a period. It seems that such an excommunication would either be valid and remain so or never have been valid to begin with. Perhaps this would not be true if the laws were changed in such a way that the offending act is no longer an offending act, but I don't see how this could be true in this case. At any rate, I digress.)

Now, in trying to verify anything beyond my claim that the SSPX is not in full communion with the Church, I've found that the whole situation gets quite controversial and confusing very quickly. I've heard claims that some of their Sacraments are valid and other such things. These claims may be true. I will say one last thing on this here: as recently as May of this year, we see none other than Fr. Z himself casting doubt on the validity of Sacraments administered by the SSPX:

In a nutshell, the article argues that SSPX priests absolve validly. I do not believe that to be true. SSPX priests do not have faculties to receive sacramental confessions. Period. Faculties are necessary for validity.


— Fr. Z, from Again about validity of absolutions by SSPX priests, 16 March 2013.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J.: Six Key Excerpts

Aside from the men and women of heroic virtue who have been canonized as Saints by the Church over the centuries, there are others whose lives are under close examination by the Church for the purpose of considering that they also may be recognized as Saints. We say that for such men and women, the cause is open for their canonization. The stages for canonization include designation of the individual as a Servant of God (e.g., Fr. Michael J. McGivney (1852-1890), founder of the Knights of Columbus), as Venerable (e.g., Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979)), as Blessed (Beatification) (e.g., Mother Teresa (1910-1997)), and finally as a Saint (Canonization) (e.g., Thomas More (1478-1535)).

It is worth considering the lives of the men and women whose causes are open but who are in the earlier stages of the investigation. Part of the canonization process is the detailed examination of miracles alleged to have occurred following an individual or group requesting a certain individual's intercession, so it is worth the time to consider requesting the intercession of individuals who are recognized by the Church as having lived particularly holy lives. Note that it is, in some cases, centuries before the Vatican finally determines that an individual should be beatified or canonized. Consider the case of Bl. John Duns Scotus -- known for his famous defense of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception -- who died in 1308 but was not beatified until 1993 (it is apparent that the Vatican is diligent in the study of its long-kept records of certain individuals' lives!).

Among the individuals whose causes are open is the Jesuit priest Fr. John Hardon (1914-2000), currently designated as a Servant of God. As will be more frequently the case for men and women with open causes, many of Fr. Hardon's writings and lectures are available online for our study and edification. Those interested in getting to know Fr. Hardon through his own works can visit the archives over at therealpresence.org to browse the texts, audio recordings, and videos.

After listening to a small portion of the lectures posted, I came across a few excerpts that I thought were especially worthy of being written down and shared here. I will offer a brief thought before each clip.



First are two excerpts from a men's retreat Fr. Hardon gave in 1999. He speaks here on the importance of our own personal spiritual writing.



As you know, during the retreat, it is customary to make a good confession. ... Also, I recommend that those who make the retreat do some writing. What you write is more surely remembered than what you just think about in your mind.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Retreat for Men, July 14-18, 1999.




...we go on with this important, shall I call it, an exultation. I urge every one of you to do some writing: maybe your daily reflections; maybe your spiritual insights; something you read or heard. During my four years of undergraduate theology, I would write down what I thought from books I was reading deserved to be remembered. By the time I was ordained, I had over five thousand quotations.

Now we get closer to our subject: What is spiritual reading? We can begin by describing it in terms of what it is not. That's easy. Spiritual reading is not secular reading. And more positively, spiritual reading is that reading whose purpose as writing is to assist the believer to better know, love, and serve God and thereby become more God-like, which means more holy, especially in his life of prayer and the practice of Christian virtue.

Whatever I would recommend during these, I'll say, four days of the retreat: in God's name, write. That's the imperative: write.

— Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Retreat for Men, July 14-18, 1999.


The remaining clips are from a two-semester course on the Catholic Faith Fr. Hardon gave beginning in 1978. In the first clip, he offers a story to illustrate the difficulty that we all must face as a result of original sin: detachment from the things of this world and the willingness to sacrifice anything if it is God's will. I suspect that many, if not most of us struggle often with the specific temptation that the woman in the story was able to overcome through heroic fortitude: namely, the temptation to put affection for another person over one's devotion to God.



...and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Whether it was a physical apple is not important, but it seems somehow Adam took a piece of what she gave him -- whatever it was. He loved Eve more than God. All I know is one of the hardest responsibilities in life is to sacrifice human affection for God -- that's hard. The hardest thing in life is to give up what or especially whom you love when it's God's will that you do so.

Like the woman in Indianapolis: I came a week after the event on supply at a parish -- a week after one of my Jesuit confreres had been on supply, as we say, at that church. And it seems after the eleven o'clock Mass as he was going into the rectory though the front door -- from the church to the front door, he just stepped inside, when the woman was running up the rectory steps, rang the doorbell in great distress, and just as he opened the door, two shots rang, and the woman fell into his arms. She was killed. She was taking instructions for the Catholic Faith, was living in adultery with another man -- or the husband, well, of another woman's, in other words, another wife: he had another wife. She was told she'd have to give up this man to become a Catholic. You have a man who was divorced and felt he wanted this woman. "But I'm becoming a Catholic." He threatened her life. So during the course of instruction, she was going from church to church in Indianapolis to try to avoid him, because she was scared. She realized he meant business. This Sunday he saw her coming out of the church. Instead of shooting into the crowd, at the risk of killing somebody else, he waited till she was alone. And luckily for him, she -- well, she saw him, and she panicked. She was killed. ... And how often -- how very often -- in our lives this lesson has got to be lived: to give up what we love because we love God more.

The consequence, therefore, was not only for Adam, but, as we know, for the rest of the human race.

— Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, 1978-9.


We live in a world today in which the consecrated religious life of Catholicism, from the perspective of the mainstream culture with its egocentric principles likely seems impractical or even nonsensical. I try to make it a point to recall often that in the Catholic Faith, the consecrated religious are indispensable -- are necessary. Fr. Hardon emphasizes this point beautifully here. Let us consider these words carefully and continue to pray for those who have given nothing less than their entire earthly existence to know, love, serve, and grow in deeper union with Our Lord.



...the Christianization of Europe is unintelligible without a flourishing monastic life. It is not only that the monks and nuns were the ones who both evangelized and prayed Europe, you might say, into the Faith, but that ever since, a good barometer of the strength of the Church in a given country or part of the world is the strength of its religious institutes. The Church is no stronger or weaker in any given period or place than are Her religious institutes: which, by the way, says something very serious and significant about the condition of the Church in our country.

— Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, 1978-9.


Fr. Hardon next highlights the necessity of devout women for the preservation of the Faith, especially in nations such as ours that are in spiritual and moral decline.



...my Jesuit brethren ask me, "Whatever possessed you to get so involved with sisters, with nuns?" Well -- humanly speaking -- speaking mainly to sisters: this would not have been my choice. But, I know that if we can keep the women in the Catholic Church sound, we can preserve the Faith. If you let the Church down, even God -- barring a miracle -- will not save it. The Church needs you.

— Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, 1978-9.


In the lectures, Fr. Hardon sets forth detailed expositions of several of the various mysteries pertaining to Mary, Our Mother. The veneration of Mary expounded upon in the lectures, along with the material such as that given in the previous quotation, emphasize important aspects of the Catholic teaching on the special dignity -- or "genius," to quote Blessed Pope (soon to be Saint) John Paul II -- of women that would likely be foreign to many in the mainstream.



Absolutely speaking, Christ might have been conceived by carnal intercourse. It is not absolutely impossible, of course, for God. Nevertheless, in order to both emphasize Christ having only a divine paternity -- to emphasize Christ's divine eternity -- to show that those who are conceived and born in sin are conceived and born in sin through paternal generation: it's the father who is the source of the sinful contagion with which the rest of us are conceived and born. Mary, then, conceived Christ virginally, and miraculously she gave him birth...

— Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, 1978-9.


Could an institution that is considering for veneration a man who has taught such things be justly labeled as misogynistic? I will leave that to you to decide.

Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, pray for us.



July 24 is the feast day of Sts. Christina of Bolsena († 3rd century) and Christina the Astonishing († 1224).

Orate pro nobis.