Sunday, April 28, 2013

Paul's Letter to the Romans refutes Luther's innovation


Martin Luther (d. 1546) declared sola fide – ‘faith alone’ – as being “the article with and by which the church stands.”

Several years ago, Pope Benedict said: “Luther’s expression of sola fide is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love.”

In other words, as Galatians 5:6 has it, “faith working through love.”

The obedience of faith: Saint Paul never separates the two.  Proclaiming “faith alone” is like speaking of the mercy of God, and never bothering to mention His justice!

This is how Paul begins the Letter to the Romans:
“…we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”  (1:5)
And how Paul ends it:
“…the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed…according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith..”  (16:26)

Of course Saint James, in his letter (2:24), explicitly states “that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

[Saint Paul, who didn't hesitate to employ the word “alone” when necessary, chose not to include it in Romans 3:28 (“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”)
But that did not prevent Martin Luther from inserting the word.  Here is how he defended that move in part:
“I know very well that in Romans 3 the word ‘solum’ is not in the Greek or Latin text – the papists did not have to teach me that… If the translation is to be clear and vigorous, it belongs there.”]

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dusting off “il poverello d’Assisi” from the sentimental shelf


For Saint Francis (d. 1226), his love and devotion for the Holy Eucharist was paramount.  The humble deacon admonished the priests of his day: "Let all who administer such holy mysteries," clean your altar linen and polish your chalices!  

The Poverello always reserved his harshest words for those who ignored the Eucharistic presence.  In a recent biography of Assisi's famous son, the Dominican author says:
"The locus of Francis's 'mysticism,' his belief that he could have direct contact with God, was in the Mass, not in nature or even in service to the poor... For him, the change of the elements from bread and wine to Christ's Body and Blood was like the Incarnation."

It's funny about those who are always tooting their horn of "multi-culturalism” -- their understanding of Saint Francis on his own terms is weaker than a man who claims to know about the Father of our Country because he can parrot back an apocryphal tale or two from Parson Weems!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Red Cardinals and Bloodied Copts: True Ecumenism

by Dr. David Pence


The escalating murders of Copts in Egypt (the largest Christian group in the Middle East) reveal the continuing emasculation of Christian authority in public life that followed the separation of Church and State as religious and protective institutions.

It is good there has been a separation. But it has been a disaster for the most vulnerable – because the Christian men in the nations and the men of the Church have not formulated a more effective protective strategy for those who face religious persecution. (“Religious persecution” here is the old-fashioned kind: you get murdered trying to worship God.) The strategies for the unarmed Church and the armed nations must be very different, and yet complementary, to face this growing threat. Jesus reminded Pilate that if His Kingdom were of the world, his men would have fought back.  Nations are of this world. We are of the time (the real meaning of secular). The nations must use the sword justly and prudently – at home and abroad. Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The churchmen do not use the sword. Their Kingdom is of a higher order – their weapons more powerful. But if they will not organize military protection for the slain, certainly they must place themselves in nonviolent confrontation with the slayers. How long can a white cardinal ask that yet another dark-skinned woman fill his place of martyrdom? The meaning of the red garments of the cardinals of the Catholic Church is that they are willing to be martyred. This was the Christian witness of Reverend Martin Luther King. Non-violent confrontation with the evil of racism was “meant to create tension.” It was a strategic tactic to dramatize an evil, and involve onlookers in an injustice that for years had seemed another’s problem. The middle-class black ministers and their flocks put themselves, as Christ had, in the place of the persecuted.

The non-violent protesters never asked the state legislators to disband their police departments! They were not fighting for a universal pacifism. Their non-violence was a way of placing them in a redemptive encounter with evil. They did not ask legitimate authority to renounce the use of force, but illegitimate authority to renounce hatred. No one in that deeply religious movement objected to President John Kennedy sending federal troops in 1962 to integrate the University of Mississippi. The armed federal marshals he first sent did not have enough protective force to prevent violence -- so he sent more military firepower to establish the tranquility of order which was necessary for justice.

The bravery of the nine children who integrated an Arkansas high school a decade earlier was supplemented by airborne federal troops and a nationalized state guard under the orders of President Eisenhower. They were all armed. No one asked to “give peace a chance.”


Sending a few cardinals to Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo (seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope; the late holder of the office is shown welcoming John Paul in 2000) would be an ecumenical gesture of unprecedented force and meaning. It would be the kind of action that could also change the kind of man seeking the cardinal’s red. Martyrdom has always been an antidote to ecclesial careerism, which Pope Francis so abhors.  We know Cardinal Mahony has no public duties to keep him tethered to Los Angeles, and he showed us he could travel by showing up at the papal conclave. There will be some old curial hands who could join him in this act of witness for a year or two.

These intramural Catholic concerns aside, the Copts of Egypt need a strong gesture from the papal office of Christian unity.  Church unity can mean nothing if it does not mean their danger is our danger. These risky acts of witness are another reason that bishops are celibates.

Who will play the role of armed authority? Will it be Pharaoh or will a new Exodus be necessary? That is a question for the nations. Only dramatic action by the Church will force them to answer. This will cleanse the nations as well, by forcing Islamic nationalists to show their true colors – while focusing the protective authority of once Christian nations on more fundamental freedoms than the strange concerns which have become hobbyhorses of the elites.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Catholic Education vs. the Modern University

by Dr. David Pence


The denial – in March 2013 – by an education official at Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington) of a student request to form a Knights of Columbus chapter is a perfect local instance of the fundamental contradiction between the communal tradition of Catholic education and the individualistic tenets of modern universities.

The Catholic tradition, grounded in the reality of God-made-man who is incarnate in every daily Mass, posits transcendent truth claims about God, man, and nature… and searches from there into the unknown. The modern university begins with the individual – whose nature is unknown – but whose autonomy is paramount. One tradition builds community from a Trinitarian communal reality. The other assembles a gathering place of atomic monads free to seek their own individual truths and, more urgently, their individual career paths.

Dr. Sue Weitz is the official. She has played multiple administrative roles in her own distinguished career, winning her PhD from Gonzaga University in a discipline called ‘Higher Education Administration.’ As Vice President for Student Life, she flawlessly recited the modern tenets in her letter turning down the request:
“The Knights of Columbus, by their very nature, is a men’s organization in which only Catholics may participate via membership… These criteria are inconsistent with the policy and practice of student organization recognition at Gonzaga University, as well as the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion… [I] believe strongly in the University’s commitment to non-discrimination and inclusivity… If Gonzaga was an institution that served only Catholics and limited the benefits of the collegiate experience only to them, the decision-making process may have been different… To embrace the diversity and yet endorse a group based on faith exclusivity is a challenge that cannot be reconciled at this time… It is a decision about social justice, equity, and the desire of the University to create and maintain an environment in which none are excluded.”

Dr. Weitz, in an earlier University podcast, had explained the difference between a Jesuit University and state schools: “It is total student centeredness – it’s all about the student…”
The official motto of the school actually has a different emphasis borrowing from the Jesuits: AMDG (ad majorem Dei gloriam) which means “All for the greater glory of God.”

Now, the lesson to learn from this embarrassing story is that both the hyper-individualism of student-centered culture and the fetish for inclusiveness as the crowning attribute of social life are deeply related and quite unlike the religious military spirit of Ignatius Loyola. Our new Jesuit pope has said, "The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesial institutions have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism."

Communal associations based on deep commitments to transcendental truths are precisely the forms which oppose the self-referentiality which is the evil of our day.

In the academic literature which reflects on the nature of community and intermediate associations like student clubs, there is a term called “social capital.”  Exclusive organizations are capable of forming the bonding kind of social capital which is the “super glue” that precedes and makes possible the bridging social capital which “oils” the broader relationships of society.

Dr. Weitz is no ogre. She is a daughter of her age, and absolutely consistent in enforcing the modern ideology:  every student an autonomous individual, and every organization a place to benefit autonomous individuals. But she should not mistake such a policy with the Jesuit or Catholic tradition. Truly, that is not how community works – especially a community aiming to increase the glory of a Living God. The Knights of Columbus (the instance at hand) were formed in 1881 to provide for the widows and orphans of deceased members. The men exclusively bonded, and the least fortunate women and children benefited.

The Catholic Church is known for three meals. There is the highly restricted Eucharistic communion, available only to Catholics in a state of grace and administered by an exclusively all-male celibate priesthood. There are the KC and Holy Name pancake breakfasts open to all who will pay a small price, and promise to listen to the programmed speakers. Finally, throughout the world’s slums and city streets there are kitchens and centers whose price for drink is one’s thirst and whose charge for food is hunger. The restricted sharing of Christ’s Body on our altars is fundamentally related to the unrestricted sharing found on those streets and in those slums. We can be calmly confident the Gonzaga superiors of Dr. Weitz will correct her error – that too is the Jesuit tradition.