Jansenists Look East to Combat Protestants

An obscure academic article (aren’t they all?), “From East To West: Jansenists, Orientalists, And The Eucharistic Controversy” by Alastair Hamilton, which appeared in the anthology How the West Was Won (Brill 2010), sheds light on an obscure, but interesting, piece of ecclesiastical history: the Jansenist use of Greek (and other Eastern) first-person sources to combat Protestant polemics against the doctrine of transubstantiation.

When they weren’t engaged in their favorite pastime, namely beating on the Jesuits, Jansenist luminaries Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole enjoyed picking fights with Calvinists, specifically Jean Claude, a Hugenot minister. He maintained, rather unconvincingly, that the Catholic profession of transubstantiation was no older than the 10th or 11th centuries, “the darkest and most polluted centuries, the most lacking in men of piety and learning, which Christianity has ever known.” In response to the Jansenist suggestion that the separated communions of the East professed belief in the dogma, Jean Claude declared that “every Greek on the face of the earth” should be interrogated as to whether their church taught such a thing—and that’s just what the Jansenists did. Over the course of many years, allies of Arnauld and Nicole, along with other Jansenist sympathizers, collected attestations from Russian, Greek, and Oriental Orthodox clerics that their respective communions all upheld the dogma of transubstantiation. Some of the scholars recruited for the project helped lay the groundwork for Oriental studies in the West. These attestations, along with various Eastern professions of faith, were eventually translated into Latin and made their way into ever-expanding editions of Arnauld’s La perpetuité de la foy, which continued on even after the author’s death.

The response from Protestant Europe was mixed. Jean Claud had hung his belief in the Greek rejection of transubstantiation on the controversial catechism of Cyril Lucaris, multiple-time Patriarch of Constantinople whose notorious Western and Calvinist sympathies resulted in him being strangled to death by the Turks. Lucaris’s catechism was rejected by the Greeks and never accepted by the Russians, who instead looked to the 1640 catechism of Metropolitan Peter Mogila. That catechism, which was eventually adopted by other Orthodox patriarchates, defended transubstantiation. Although Mogila’s catechism has been derided by Protestant and even some Orthodox theologians as “Latinized,” the Orthodox never rebuffed it. Moreover, the Jansenists and other Catholics interested in defending transubstantiation, were also able to cite attestations and confessional documents from Eastern churches out-of-communion with the Orthodox to show that the Christian East as a whole, regardless of confessional commitment, held to transubstantiation.

Given that, Protestant polemicists turned to attacking the intellectual integrity of Eastern Christendom, noting examples of where Greek and Ethiopian clerics clearly did not understanding the minutiae and theological subtleties involved in the Western-rooted debates over the Eucharist. To a certain extent, they had a point. Eastern Christians laboring under Muslim rule were largely cutoff from their own centers of learning and their theological-polemical interests were focused on combating Muslim claims, not Protestant ones. Moreover, while Eastern Christians were not inclined to deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they spent little time “theorizing” how bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. That controversy was not on their radar. Still, many Protestant scholars eventually conceded that even without a specifically Latin theological context or vocabulary, it was a bridge too far to claim that the Christian East rejected transubstantiation outright. This “error” had deep roots in Christian history, East and West.

It is interesting to speculate why this chapter in Christian history is not mentioned more often. The fact that it was the Jansenists, rather than “orthodox” Catholics, who opted to repair directly to the East for theological ammunition may be one reason. Whatever contributions the Jansenists could make the Catholic Church’s wider battle with Protestantism were largely overlooked in favor of condemning them for their hyper-reading of St. Augustine’s theological corpus. In more recent times it has become fashionable for some Orthodox scholars (and too many Western Orthodox converts) to take an absolutist position against “the Latins,” arguing—often unconvincingly—that any dogma, doctrine, or theological concept framed in Latin theological language are unacceptable to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the Jansenists are owed a bit of a debt for helping to pave the way for deeper studies into the affinities between Catholics and Orthodox. In so doing, they also shed further light on the extent to which many Protestant sects, rather than returning to “ancient” or “primitive” Christianity, were instead churning out unchecked innovations.

Sorel

Movement shifting, the sort Georges Sorel engaged in during the sunset of his atypical and prolific writing career, is a luxury reserved to those who live long enough to see everything they believe in fall apart. Depending on who you ask, Sorel spent the end of his life shifting from his idiosyncratic brand of Marxism to syndicalism to integral nationalism and back to Marxism (albeit of a more conventional sort) one last time. Sorel has been so intellectually quirky by some that some now suppose “Sorelianism” to be a “thing” even if it’s unlike that Sorel, despite his eccentricities, was terribly interested in founding a school. Neither a friend of liberal democracy nor capitalism, Sorel looked to the day when the working class would be liberated, when it would achieve a particular renewal uniquely its own, untainted by bourgeois decadence. While critical minds such as Carl Schmitt saw in Marxism/socialism little more than the fulfillment of liberalism, Sorel’s willingness to harness myth, conflict, and ultimately violence in the service of class liberation set him and his ideas a few steps apart from the discussion-based, entertainment-infatuated liberalism that so horrified Schmitt.

Sorel, in the view of thinkers such as Leszek Kolakowski, retained the Jansenist mentality he inherited from his upbringing. However, given that Jansenism was well on the decline in 19th century France, it stands to reason that Sorel’s radical rejection of hedonism and materialism was more than a relic of his childhood. With little-to-no faith to speak of (not even faith in historical determinism and the final triumph of communism), it’s probably not worth speculating too much on the extent to which Jansenism qua Jansenism shaped Sorel’s soul. Asceticism does not demand a fleeting form of Catholic heterodoxy to give it vitality.

It is perhaps safe to say there are no men in Sorel’s mold living today, though certainly there are still some who retain Sorel’s single-minded dedication to a liberating cause. And yes, while both the far Right and far Left have men of violence within their ranks, how many of these things are men of principle? Sorel was not an intellectual. He was learned, even deeply so, but he did not make a living off trading ideas and certainly not off of academia. Even if he was unwilling during his lifetime to acknowledge the benefits of his top-tier secular French instruction, Sorel invested more than enough time in solitary study to credit him with being a self-educated man. The only element missing from Sorel’s biography are some choice tales of direct action, of moments where thoughts of violence gave way to acts of violence, and all in the service of his cause (whatever that happened to particularly be at one point or another). Had Sorel been a politically violent man, he would today be a romantic figure. Maybe he would have even come to be elevated to the status of a legend, like Che Guevara. Instead, Sorel remains something of a lonely figure in radical intellectual history, blamed for normalizing violence for the Left and anticipating fascism in the Right.

If there is anything to be learned from Sorel’s example, it seems to be this: to advocate and agitate for the success of a cause, particularly one dedicated to the liberation of men from something (poverty, racial oppression, sin, etc.), demands not simply personal certitude, but complete self-sacrifice. There can be, or at least ought not to be, any trace of self-interest or personal gain to be found. How difficult this would be to actualize in our social media-saturated age where even the most honest sentiments are hardly ever given without the hope of Likes, up-votes, and re-Tweets. The radical intellectual, certain he has the “answers”—the sort that can only be printed and bound by a university press—never has tenure or paid sabbatical far from his mind. We are not accustomed to calling the sorts “frauds,” though I imagine a good number of persons struggle to admire them. If anything, the Twitter-star Leftist or the posturing academic who landed an Ivy League post via a derivative work that happened to appear at the right time are objects of envy and scorn, not adulation. May they be taken down at the masses’ earliest possible convenience.

In a letter penned in 1907, Sorel, opining on the social power of myths, had this to say: “Catholics have never been discouraged even in the hardest trials, because they have always pictured the history of the Church as a series of battles between Satan and the hierarchy supported by Christ; every new difficulty which arises is only an episode in a war which must finally end in the victory of Catholicism.” Catholicism, as we all know, is not a myth. What is a myth, at least for the moment, is the idea that Catholics are never discouraged. Now history has become a tale of losing battles where the war is more likely to be lost than won. I dare say that when it comes to comparing the faith of the contemporary Catholic and Sorel, dear Georges possessed far more.

MacIntyre, Strauss, and Some Voegelin

The latest podcast episode from The Josias provides an overview and discussion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s most famous work, After Virtue. Joel the Host, with his guest Pater Edmund Waldstein, are generally sympathetic toward MacIntyre while also pointing out his knack for broad (though compelling) generalizations and intellectual zingers. Joel the Host, at points, indicates that he has some reservations about After Virtue, though time constraints prevent him from exploring those. What’s clear, however, is that MacIntyre’s thought is important, or at least important for a certain brand of conservative Catholic intellectual who is unwilling to double-down on Thomism and disregard MacIntyre as either unnecessary or uninteresting. Part of this may be due to the fact that MacIntyre is now himself a Catholic, which means he is “safe” compared to two other towering critics of modernity, Leo Strauss (atheistic (?) Jew) and Eric Voegelin (unorthodox (?) Protestant). Voegelin, certainly more than Strauss, had the pleasure of running in Catholic intellectual circles back in his day, though unlike Strauss, Voegelin never had the luxury of developing a school of ardent disciples to spread his good news to the four corners of Anglophone academia. Strauss, for his part, never interfaced directly with Catholics, though he acquired a number of influential Catholic students, including Frs. Ernest Fortin and James Schall. Moreover, a number of Strauss’s students went on to teach at Catholic colleges and universities, including the University of Notre Dame. Even if it requires some effort to tease out a Straussian influence on contemporary conservative Catholic thinking, it certain exists and, perhaps, warrants closer inspection.

Joel the Host and Pater Edmund make mention of Strauss in their discussion of MacIntyre, highlighting the fact that MacIntyre is ultimately a historicist while Strauss is not. (I will leave to the side any discussion of Strauss’s “true teaching”; his anti-historicism, even if a ruse, remains influential to this day.) By “historicism” I mean the idea that all modes of thought, including moral philosophy, are historically contingent, thus transitory. Even great thinkers can never escape their age and it is all but impossible to adjudicate between the ethical claims of the ancient Greeks as compared to the ethical claims of the modern Taliban. According to Pater Edmund’s reading of MacIntyre, however, it is still possible to adjudicate the claims of different historical periods and/or cultural contexts, though it remains important to recall historical context at all times. Strauss and his students would likely reject this compromise, noting that while it is clear norms and conventions shift throughout time and locale, there is always a true understanding, a true teaching, to be grasped that transcends history and culture. Besides, in Strauss’s mind, historicism per se is self-defeating insofar as it claims all modes of thought are contingent yet professes to furnish a teaching on the nature of thought that is true at all times and under all circumstances. This is why, according to Strauss, radical historicists such as Martin Heidegger are so much more difficult to wrestle with: instead of professing a universal teaching available to all men at all times and in all places, they profess a revelation available only at an absolute moment. Before Heidegger, all men were confined to a certain darkness.

I contend that Strauss’s anti-historicism, regardless of the man’s “true beliefs,” is much more congenial to the Latin Catholic intellectual tradition than MacIntyre’s soft (compromised?) historicism. That is to say, Thomists of the Strict Observance and their intellectual forebears (including St. Thomas Aquinas himself) would be far more inclined to take up with Strauss’s adherence to the possibility of pure, universal knowledge than any notion which confines thought as attaining, at best, to an expression of “truth” that is and will always be contingent on time and place. Sure, St. Thomas thought there were gaps and errors in the works of Aristotle, but he sought to correct them in the light of either later philosophical insights, or the inerrancy of revelation. Aquinas did not reduce Aristotle to a man who was doomed by the truth of history to achieve nothing more than packaging certain Athenian intellectual prejudices into his philosophy. Aristotle, right or wrong, had something to say to all men at all times and in all places, and only after a thoroughgoing understanding of his thought would it be possible to judge whether or not he delivered truths beyond doubt unto the ages of ages.

None of this is to say that Catholics should bolt to the works of Strauss and cast aside their lightly-read copies of After Virtue. There remains good reasons for not accepting Strauss at face value, particularly his attempt  to burn away all trace of metaphysics from great thinkers whom Strauss determined were trying to evade prosecution by popular prejudices. Voegelin may have more to say to Catholics today than he’s given credit for, though his body of work is exceedingly difficult to penetrate and there is very little resembling a “definitive statement” in Voegelin’s many writings. He was a man caught in a constant quest to discover the order of history, and he detested the idea that his work should be ever calcified into a “doctrine.” Rather, Voegelin hoped that his efforts would light the intellectual flames of others who would build upon, revise, and ultimately overcome his work by drawing closer to the truth as more and more materials and discoveries from around the world informed the science of politics. With rare exception, this never really happened and probably never will.

And so MacIntyre, as I said, remains a safe option for a certain style of Catholic, though not a particularly interesting one.

Toward Glorious Times

If Sam Kriss can return to web-logging by ironically referring to himself as an “idiot” after being #MeToo’d out of social media for being a sexual predator, I believe I am entitled to leap back in the ring after five of some of the most hectic months of my life.

For the past month or so, I have been quietly observing—and occasionally participating in—an online group dedicated to those who were once a part of, but have since left (or at least distanced themselves from), the Eastern Orthodox Church. As I am sworn to secrecy regarding the membership of the group and the information shared, I cannot get into specifics. What I will say (and this should come as little surprise to anyone who has followed “things Orthodox”), there is much that is rotten “out East.” No, Orthodoxy (at least in the West) does not have the same highly concentrated, visible scandals as those which currently afflict the Catholic Church, but it is not difficult to find credible tales of spiritual, psychological, and even physical/sexual abuse in the Orthodox Church. The problem of “guruism,” a problem recognized by the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann, runs rampant in Ameri-doxy and far too many priests, unequipped with any formal training, believe they have the authority and ability to direct their flocks like serf-holding nobility. This problem is distinct from the “cult of personality” phenomenon too often seen in Catholic circles, particularly around the figure of the pope. Sure, Orthodoxy has its own personality cults, but those tend to be far less insidious than the cleric-as-oracle or monk-as-prophet phenomena which so easily set the stage for abuse in the Orthodox Church. Due to Orthodoxy’s powerful “last outpost” narrative whereby all other Christianities are marginalized to the point of being characterized as demonic delusions, many souls burned by the false promises of the Eastern Church find themselves turning not to Catholicism or some form of Protestantism after Orthodoxy, but rather to agnosticism if not full-blown atheism. A soul that falls away from Orthodoxy is not picked back up by another confession, but rather resigns itself to a disquieting nothingness that must, at a certain level, feel comforting compared to the overbearing spiritual manipulation that proceeds largely unnoticed behind parish doors.

Not that Catholics don’t have plenty to lament over themselves. However, given the mountain of commentary on the ongoing abuse crisis (most of it trash) that is already floating around in cyberspace, I see no pressing need to contribute to it.

As some of you may know, in my “free time” I do a bit of consumer protection work, specifically debt defense for consumer, medical, and student loan debt. Though sometimes inadequate to the task, there exists a number of federal and state laws intended to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive debt-collection practices. While some attorneys go into this line of work in the hopes of scoring a “big one” against a larger debt collector, perhaps in a class-action context, I have found a great deal of professional comfort in taking on collectors and their attorneys one case at a time. The harsh reality is that 98% of consumers being sued on an alleged debt never have representation and nearly 80% default, that is, fail to respond to the legal complaint issued against them. This sad situation encourages debt-collection firms to file thousands upon thousands of auto-generated lawsuits, many of which fail to meet state and/or federal legal standards. Instead of fighting, however, consumers are apt to just throw the lawsuits in the trash, defaulting, and then eventually coming to learn that their wages and/or tax returns are being garnished. While it is never too late to fight back, it’s much easier to stop collectors on the front end than look for remedies on the back end. If you or someone you know is staring down the barrel of a collection action and/or garnishment, please know that help is available. While I operate out of Michigan, you can find debt-defense attorneys all over the country through the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

And speaking of consumer defense, in the past people have challenged my adherence to Catholic social principles by saying that they are unrealistic and are only workable in the context of a Catholic confessional state—the sort which is unlikely to reappear on the timeline at any point in the foreseeable future. Maybe. However, it is important to understand that even in a suboptimal socio-political context, it is still possible for all persons, regardless of class or station, to effectuate Catholic social principles in their daily lives. As an attorney, I can think of no better way to do this than to come to the assistance of those being exploited by an immoral, usury-based economic ordo that often runs roughshod over the most vulnerable populations in society. No, the laws of the United States are not properly configured to uphold the full panoply of Catholic social principles, but there are avenues available under statutory and common law to defend individuals from unlawful and immoral practices. Seeking economic justice is a good in and of itself, even if there are costs and setbacks. Even lawyers otherwise disinclined from pursuing this line of work full time can still get involved through legal aid organizations or just answering the call of a needy potential client, regardless of their primary practice area. It is one way to put principles into practice, and I would encourage all attorneys to put some time and effort into it.

With all that said, I have no plan for what the next iteration of this blogging endeavor will look like. Given my full plate, I doubt I will be able to post as often as I did several years ago. If you are new to this web-log, I encourage you to scan through the archives to get a sense of what my writing is all about. (I apologize in advance for all of the broken links; I assure you that the internal content which they connect to is still available.) If you are a longtime reader, then please let others know I am “back at it.” What that means in practice…we’ll see.

The Ecclesiastical Politics of Inevitability and Eternity

In his latest book, The Road to Unfreedom, Timothy Snyder contrasts what he calls “the politics of inevitability” with “the politics of eternity.” In Snyder’s words, the former is “a sense that the future is just more of the present, that the laws of progress are known, that there are no alternatives, and therefore nothing really to be done.” This form of politics is acutely known in both the United States and Europe, albeit with different nuances and emphases. The politics of eternity, which in Snyder’s opinion lie at the heart of Vladmir Putin’s Russia, “places one nation at the center of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the same threats from the past.”

Transplanted to an ecclesiastical context, I wonder if it isn’t too much to say that the Catholic Church, with its internalization of liberal premises during the last century embraces the politics of inevitability while the Eastern Orthodox Church, a large segment of which is beholden to Putinism, labors under the politics of eternity. Eastern Orthodoxy’s narrative of victimhood, which is often applied as readily against Muslims as it is Catholics, has become one of its distinguishing features in the last century or so. The Orthodox, and the nations in which they hold denominational control, have no particular responsibility for native corruption, material scarcity, and social disorder; “the Latins” in 1204, “the Turks” in 1453, the “Uniates” in [insert every year here] have entered into a pan-national, trans-historical conspiracy to erode the integrity of God’s one Holy and Apostolic Church and those secular powers duty-bound to protect it.

As for the politics of inevitability, it has been commonplace—at least up until the reign of Pope Francis—for Catholics to turn a blind eye to the problems in the Church and society on the belief that they will work themselves out. Because Christ promised to St. Peter that he was the rock upon which the Church was to be built and “the gates of hell will not prevail,” everything from a decades-long sex scandal to a banalized liturgy to a collapse in sound catechesis are interpreted as mere bumps on the road to a Church just as accustomed to speaking human rights-jargon as it is preaching the Gospel. The Catholic Church, now tasked with being the world’s largest NGO, is present to cheer on and support the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy, freedom of conscience, economic flourishing, and so on and so forth. Just as sure as Christians once believed Christ will come again, the Catholic Church instills an intramundane eschatology among its faithful where the light of liberalism will finally illumine all.

Francis’s pontificate has not overshadowed the Catholic politics of inevitability, at least not wholly. While certain conservatives in the Church may be having buyer’s remorse over Francis’s election and are starting to wonder if the new ultramontanism that swept the Church during John Paul II’s reign was a good idea or not, by and large they believe that better is around the corner. The next pope, perhaps a prelate from “Holy Africa,” shall come to power and correct the errors and the Franciscan papacy. It’s not that Francis is a “bad pope” (for there can be no such thing!) or a “heretic” (what’s that?); it’s just that his “style,” his “charisma,” and his “lack of sophistication” concerning theology and doctrine have sown confusion—the sort that can still be disposed of quite easily and without any significant harm being inflicted to the Mystical Body of Christ.

The politics of eternity, the only politics the Eastern Orthodox seem willing to embrace on a mass scale, may keep their communion ostensibly safe from theological, spiritual, or intellectual trends that could upset their comfortable calcification, but at what cost to the Great Commission? With the exception of some minor incursions into the geographic west (Europe and America), the vast expanses of the world constitute a hostile “other” that threatens Orthodoxy’s wellbeing. For Orthodoxy, now is the time for its particular churches to rally together under the protectorate of a single, state-backed ecclesiastical juggernaut (namely the Russian Orthodox Church) rather than tolerate new assertions of autocephaly. The Ukrainian question, for instance, is about more than the historic rights of the Ukrainian Church; it is about the soul of Orthodoxy itself, including its willingness to accept being true to itself while no longer denying its position as both an heir of and contributor to what may still be called “Western Civilization.”

Should the Orthodox ever break free of their politics of eternity, it is doubtful they will immediately submit to the politics of inevitability. Orthodox history, which is inextricably bound up with the history of Mediterranean, Slavic, and Arab peoples, harbors a harsh realism deep in its bosom; nothing is truly inevitable except the Second Coming and nothing is more impossible than the return of Byzantium. Can Orthodoxy overcome this tension in its character if it ever gets past the politics of eternity? Yes, it can, and the likelihood of it doing so appears, at least at this moment, equal to the chances of Catholicism shifting away from inevitability to what one Cistercian monk called “the politics of nostalgia.”

Metternich on Freedom of the Press

We are certainly not alone in questioning if society can exist with the liberty of the press, a scourge unknown to the world before the latter half of the seventeenth century, and restrained until the end of the eighteenth, with scarcely any exceptions but England–a part of Europe separated from the continent by the sea, as well as by her language and by her peculiar manners.

– Klemens von Matternich, “Confession of Political Faith” (1820), in Memoirs (1881).

Freedom of the press and its annoying sibling, freedom of speech, are today perceived to be cornerstones of a healthy liberal society (if any liberal society can, in fact, be deemed healthy). The idea, which has taken on new vitality in the digital age where every man with Internet access allegedly has “a voice,” is that people have an inherent right to express themselves regardless of talent, training, or temperament. While most who made it out of middle school should know that the right to one’s opinion does not mean a right to having it respected or even not laughed at, there are still far too many adults who accept, on faith more than anything else, that the unhindered expression of thought conveys a vaguely understood good for humanity. Even those who do not accept such nonsense still maintain that while it is no loss that Ben the Baker is restrained from pontificating on politics or Ernie the Economist ought to keep his mouth shut on art, who decides who speaks, when, and under what conditions? Censorship may not be evil per se, but men are evil and will use the power to silence others for their own personal advantage. Better, then, to have a very low signal-to-noise ratio in print, on blogs, and on television than dare allow any authority, spiritual or temporal, to police speech.

The great Austrian diplomat Klemens von Matternich didn’t see it this way, of course. He lived at a time when there was still a glimmer of hope that the revolutionary forces of liberalism, secularism, and nationalism could be thwarted. By 1848, the battle was all but lost and Matternich saw himself going from Austria’s top statesman to a political exile. The Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, one of the chief accomplishments of Matternich’s storied career, had some success in quelling rebellion throughout Continental Europe, though rampant distrust of Russian actions in Western Europe coupled with inconsistent policies toward nationalistic movements (e.g. Greek independence), soon fractured the various alliances against liberalism that Matternich and others constructed throughout the first half of the 19th century.

In the hopes of stomping out the flames of revolution before they could spread, Matternich advocated for tighter strictures on the press. He knew all too well the dangers of the printing press–dangers that first manifested themselves in the lead-up to the Reformation centuries earlier. Pay no mind to Protestant polemics. It was not the printing of the Bible that undermined the “superstitions” and “heresy” of Catholicism; it was the dissemination of false interpretations of Holy Scripture, including the pernicious and untenable belief in sola scriptura, that poisoned the Corpus Mysticum. By the 19th century, the publication of religious heresy was matched in volume by the printing of what Matternich saw as political heresy, namely the overthrow of the natural order of monarchs, religious institutions, and the imperial system as a whole. Believing, with perhaps more empirical evidence than we recognize today, that some peoples were meant to rule while others had to be ruled, the nationalistic fervor that spread across Europe during Matternich’s lifetime was an abomination, one that Matternich and the imperial powers of his time were ultimately unable to put down.

Today, the liberty of the press and freedom of speech are less the agents of macro-level political revolution and more the pretty playthings of capitalists and other liberal ideologues who seek to dismantle the last vestiges of decency in morality in the name of power and profit. Liberalism, secularism, and, in a modified sense, nationalism are no longer seen as revolutionary but normative. If there is still a revolution to be had, it is against the possibility of restoration, and that will only be successful if truth is diluted with such a frightening volume of error that there will be little hope ever distilling the former from the latter. Matternich, during his time on earth, likely could not comprehend such a catastrophe, for despite his own personal shortcomings, he no doubt believed that the Church and the intellectual fruits of Christendom would continue to witness for the truth, empowering those with eyes to see and ears to hear to halt and eventually overcome the revolution. But since when does the Church bother to speak the truth? What remains of Christendom but some chapters in history books?

The Exceptionalism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Last week, in writing on Greek Catholicism, I made passing mention of the “exceptionalism” of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) (my ecclesiastical homeland). Misunderstood by a couple of individuals as an expression of chauvinism blind to the trials and hardships of the UGCC, I nearly felt compelled to defend myself before realizing that to certain Catholic ears, any thoughts that fail to heap praise on Latin, Scholasticism, and “the Mass of all time” will always be subject to needless, even thoughtless, scrutiny.

To recognize the exceptional status of the UGCC is not to exalt the Byzantine Rite over the Roman, to denigrate the subtle complexity (or complex subtlety) of Scholastic theology, or to privilege the icon over the statue. Rather, recognizing Ukrainian Catholicism’s peculiar vibrancy—and announcing that recognition—is to recognize that despite the great trial the Universal Church finds herself suffering, there is reason for hope. The UGCC spent a majority of the past century undergoing a living martyrdom at the hands of various ideological factions, including atheistic communism. Unlawfully suppressed in 1946 by the Russian Orthodox Church acting in concert with Soviet authorities, Greek Catholicism nearly died out in Ukraine, the spark of its flame being kept alive underground and in the diaspora. The liberation of its leader, Patriarch Iosif Slipyj, in the 1960s ensured the Ukrainian Church’s continuation, though it would take decades before the Vatican finally supported its sister church despite continuing calls by ecumenists to appease the Russian Orthodox.

Now, during the reign of Pope Francis, fears have resurfaced that the UGCC will again take a backseat to a new form of ecumenical outreach toward Russia—fears that, for the time being, have been overshadowed by ongoing Vatican capitulation to communist China. And yet still, the UGCC, under the rule of Patriarch Sviatoslav, presses ahead in a Ukraine beset by its own crisis and a larger Catholic world where Greco-Catholics have long endured a ghetto existence. In the Anglophone world, the UGCC recently released Christ Our Pascha, a comprehensive catechism that expresses the unchanging truths of the Church in a Byzantine-Slavic vernacular. Slowly but surely, new studies are emerging on the history of the UGCC and its unique patrimony which assist both in helping Greco-Catholics reclaim their heritage and Latin Catholics in appreciating the particularity within universality that is part of the genius of Catholicism.

What makes the UGCC exceptional, particularly at this moment, is that instead of looking to accommodate Church doctrine to the world, she seeks to reshape the world in line with doctrine. Recently, Patriarch Sviatoslav took to Ukrainain TV to promote the Church’s social teaching, including the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. Knowing that Ukrainian society is in need of moral leadership, the UGCC is there to remind the citizenry that what they need above all else is God. Neither Western liberal nor secular nationalism will bring peace and prosperity to Ukraine, and the Church must never become the handmaid of the state—a lesson the Russian Orthodox Church, lacking as they do an authentic integralist tradition, has never internalized.

Adding to this exceptionalism is the Ukrainian Church’s internal push to restore its patrimony without sacrificing in full the mutual enrichment it has received from its Western orientation. Granted, this process has not always been as neat and clean as some have hoped. It is important to recall that the project of “de-Latinization” and restoration began under the watchful eye of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky and even he knew that a “big bang” solution was neither feasible nor desirable. While the Latin Church has flirted with the ideas of restoring its own sense of the sacred through the re-introduction of the traditional Latin Mass and the abandonment of liturgical innovations, it has not, as of yet, been able to pull off this feat. If anything, traditional Latin Catholics are finding themselves forced to return to the bunkers in the hopes of weathering the current ecclesiastical storm introduced during the last five years.

None of this is to say that the UGCC doesn’t face genuine problems. The Ukrainian diaspora, particularly in the United States, is ageing and missing one, if not two, generations of adherents, lost to conversion, intermarriage, or apostasy. Moreover, Greco-Catholic orthodoxy has not always been able to withstand the machinations of neo-modernism and certainly the ethno-nationalist problem has yet to be resolved in full. Yet there is much in the UGCC that all Catholics, regardless of their particular church affiliations, can admire, if not emulate. Catholics of all stripes, who truly believe that the Church must breathe with both lungs, should pray for the growth of Greco-Catholicism, not just in Ukraine, but around the world. In turn, Greek Catholic Christians, fierce in upholding the universality of the Church, should petition Our Lord and His Blessed Mother for an end to the present crisis and the restoration of all things in Christ.

Lawyering Beyond Convention

Note: This post first appeared at the “Legal News” section of The Maul Law Group website. For more of my ongoing posts on law and related topics, please visit over there.

Giambattista Vico, writing in chapter two of his De Antiquissima, observed: “An esteemed jurist is, therefore, not someone who, with the help of good memory, masters positive law, but rather someone who, with sharp judgment, knows hw to look into cases and see the ultimate circumstances of facts that merit equitable consideration and exceptions from general rules.”

Most lawyers today, for better or worse, needn’t master positive law; they have numerous subscription databases at their fingertips for that. That hasn’t made them better jurists, at least not in the Viconian sense. Attorneys no less than judges are beholden to what the retired federal judge and scholar Richard Posner called “the law made me do it” conception. That is, lawyers will look at the positive law (statutes, cases, or both) and too often believe that a “right answer” emerges from it, even if that answer is not right for their clients. Judges, not wanting to reason through difficult problems dynamically, will look for an easy escape hatch, such as flat textualism or an over reliance on precedents (precedents which may have been formed in different contexts than case at issue).

Some will want to brush this concern to the side, arguing that law should be neither a dynamic nor an innovative profession, but a static and predictable one. Certainly, predictability is a virtue in any legal system. However, lawyers and layman alike place too great of a premium on it. The truth is that the application of many rules, even at the lower-court level, is always fraught with uncertainty due to the different temperaments, interests, and sophistication of judges. Even in Michigan, what flies in a judge’s court in one county crashes and burns in another. Lawyers who recognize this and adjust tactics accordingly tend to be more successful across the board, but many in and out of the legal profession are, understandably, left with a sense that this degree of variance is a legitimate problem that ought to be rectified.

Maybe, but how likely is that to happen? Michigan, like many states in the Union, has an elected judiciary and most voters have neither the time nor the inclination to research judicial candidates thoroughly. An appointed judiciary wouldn’t necessarily solve the predictability problem either as those appointments will be made by an official or officials with varying policy preferences and judicial goals. (For more on this problem, see my 2014 article in Bridge magazine.)

Circling back to lawyers in particular, how should they reasonably face a situation where the law does not appear to be “on the side” of their clients? Appellate attorneys are naturally better situated than those who tough it out at the trial level to get the law shifted in their clients’ direction, but that doesn’t mean trial-court lawyers have to accept the constraints of “the law made me do it” approach to both lawyering and judging. Numerous Michigan statutes are open-ended, vague, and poorly worded, and binding interpretations on what they mean are few and far between. Lawyers, in concert with judges, may love to say they “start with the text,” but that’s not entirely true; they likely start with what they want and look to see if the text confirms or denies it. Or, more dismally, some do start (and end) with the text, thinking—wrongly—that their personal take on the words and that take alone should guide them toward an outcome than may be suboptimal for their clients.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that attorneys are all that interested in these and related matters. It stands to reason than most people go to law school and pass the bar not to wrestle with the “meta” problems of law and representation, but to make a (hopefully good) living. Fine. But professional pursuits need not come at the sense of introspection. When it comes to how best to service clients, thinking about law in a three-dimensional manner, including the way in which we believe the legal system ought to function, can pass on considerable benefits to those attorneys are charged to represent (and represent zealously).

Writings on Law

As many of you have surely notice, my writing on here has been sporadic over the past few months. In addition to my full-time job, I also handle legal cases on the side for The Maul Law Group, located in West Michigan. As part of my service to the firm, I am starting to contribute writings on legal topics that I come across during my practice. I have, from time to time, written on legal topics here, though that will be changing going forward.

If you are so inclined, please click over to the Maul Law “Legal News” section and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts, especially if you are in the legal profession. Remember: sharing and clicking material from Maul Law helps raise the firm’s search profile which in turn helps us attract new business.

For those of you who have been reading me for years, hopefully you agree that the time has come in my life to purchase a yacht. Your help is appreciated

Saturday Scribbling on Greek Catholicism

Because I am not particularly interesting, I avoid blogging about myself these days. I save all of my autobiographical reflections (a.k.a. things I overhear in West Michigan Christian coffee shops) for Twitter. As most of my blog readers know by now, I am Greco-Catholic and have spent the bulk of my religious life, from childhood to my late 37th year, in and around Eastern Christianity. The biggest “break” I took from this reality was roughly between 2011-13 when I found myself attending the traditional Latin Mass on a regular basis. My tiny parish, St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Grand Rapids, MI has undergone serious trials in the last couple of years, not the least of which being the loss of its pastor due to serious health complications. With only visiting priests available, typically on Saturday evenings, it has been a challenge to get my family there and to keep them focused when all they want to do is wind down for the night. That’s on me. What is also on me is a lack of serious participation in the life of my parish and really local Catholic life as a whole. To say that life is “contradictory” and “confused” would be a bit of an understatement, though perhaps it is like that all over. With few exceptions, West Michigan Catholicism, when it is ostensibly “conservative” or even “traditional,” is largely reflective of peculiarly American religiosity. Think of John Paul II/Benedict XVI-style theological sensibilities blended with neoliberal economics, Calvinist iconoclasm, and a frightening dose of “Prosperity Gospel” thinking. Liberal West Michigan Catholicism, as far as I can tell, looks like liberal Catholicism plain and simple; there’s nothing terrifyingly special about it.

As I have written about before, the experience of being Greek Catholic, especially in my younger years, has never been easy. Not “Catholic enough” for Latins and “traitors” to the Orthodox, there’s an ever-present temptation to pick a side and cease being altogether. American Orthodoxy may be splintered and insular, but if feels like a more sensible home from time to time. The Roman Catholic Church, by virtue of its size, is a wonderful place to hide out; there’s no beating it for the ease in which one can find a parish, a Mass, a quiet “way of life” and be perfectly anonymous. The great exception to that route is traditional Latin Catholicism which, despite its expansion over the last decade, remains on the peripheries of the Church in most parts of the world (and most dioceses in the United States). It’s unfortunate, then, that traditional Latin Catholics typically don’t get along with their Eastern brethren for a variety of chauvinistic reasons. There is a part of me that really believes both sides have a lot more in common than they think.

I was to give a talk in Phoenix the other week at the local chapel of the Society of Saint Pius X entitled, “Eastern Catholicism: A Mansion with Many Rooms.” Hopefully I will be deliver that talk someday, either out west or closer to home. I had wished, given my audience, that I could find some ways to bridge the gap in understanding between the Eastern Catholic world and traditional Latin Catholicism, highlighting where the two convergence spiritually and liturgically, while not suppressing the legitimate diversity present among the various Catholic traditions out there. My secondary goal was to disentangle the meaning of Eastern Catholicism by laying out in as simple terms as I am capable of the array of particular churches, rites, and traditions that make up the Eastern Catholic fold. Too often it is assumed that Eastern Catholicism is a monolithic entity or that even Eastern churches sharing the same rite, like the Ukrainians and the Melkites, don’t have legitimate differences which reflect the historic flowering of Christianity throughout the Eastern world.

Though it has not been posted yet, an English-language news story is coming summarizing a recent interview given by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav on Christian social ethics, particularly Leo XIII’s teaching on just wages from Rerum Novarum. It is a testament to what I believe is the exceptional status of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) that it has been able to both reintroduce its Byzantine patrimony and hold fast to right-oriented contributions of Latin theology and doctrine through the saintly leadership of Andrei Sheptytsky and Iosif Slipyj up to the present day. I say this not to put the UGCC on a pedestal or deny that as a church it faces its own struggles and contradictions, but to call attention to its ongoing commitment to authentic catholicity after decades of intense persecution. I pray there is something all Catholics can learn from that.