All good things must come to an end, including my accidental series of posts on St. Gregory of Narek and the 21 New Coptic Martyrs (see here, here, and here). Before taking leave of this topic, I must state in no uncertain terms that neither my belief that the 21 men murdered by the Islamic State over a week ago are genuine martyrs, nor my unwillingness to descend into hysterics over St. Gregory of Narek’s elevation as a Doctor of the Church, is indicative of indifferentism. That all of the Apostolic churches — Orthodox and non-Orthodox — should be one with the See of St. Peter is a point of hope and prayer from which I have never reneged. The failure of some to draw a simple distinction between how the Catholic Church treats matters related to these separated churches and, say, Protestant and non-Christian sects is baffling. As Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P has argued in Rome and the Eastern Churches (2d ed. Ignatius Press 2010) and elsewhere, the Orthodox — and by extension the other Oriental churches — should be Rome’s primary ecumenical partner. Although I remain critical of the way in which Rome has, at times, approached one or more of these separated churches, particularly when these approaches have come at the expense of the sui iuris Catholic churches already in full communion with her, I see no point in waging an endless polemical battle against the Orthodox and Oriental churches. Yes, there are genuine doctrinal, theological, and ecclesiological disagreements which have to be dealt with. Yes, some of these are more complicated than others. However, if real progress toward reunification is to be made, it must be made with charity and humility, not invective and triumphalism.
An unexpected flood of new traffic—coupled with numerous e-mails, texts, and social-media messages—seems to indicate that I touched a few nerves (and hopefully a handful of minds) with my reflections on the 21 New Coptic Martyrs and, more recently, St. Gregory of Narek’s elevation as a Doctor of the Church. Some have opined that my explanations on their eternal status are “unsatisfactory,” even “problematic.” The problem is that I do not have any “explanations” in a precise sense, only thoughts on the complex and messy realities of East/West ecclesial affairs. My original intention with both posts was to raise some key points that have to be taken into account before delivering apodictic statements which hold, for example, that the 21 men murdered by the Islamic State just over a week ago are “definitely not martyrs” or that Gregory of Narek is unworthy of both the title “saint” and “doctor.” To be honest, I don’t have a problem with fellow Catholics who want to hold those views as matters of private opinion. Expressing them loudly in public, however, strikes me as temerarious. If, for instance, St. Gregory of Narek is neither a saint nor doctor, do these earthly “keepers of the keys” to Heaven’s gate intend to stroll down (or, more likely, fly over) to the nearest Armenian Catholic parish and strip the insides of any venerated images of St. Gregory? Moreover, do they plan to write Rome protesting the dozens—perhaps hundreds—of openly venerated Eastern saints who lived and died outside of the visible borders of the Catholic Church? The Second Sunday of Lent for Byzantine Catholics using the Gregorian Calendar is just around the corner. Quick, there is no time to lose: stop these misguided souls before they go singing stichera and troparia to St. Gregory Palamas at Saturday Vespers and Sunday Matins. And by no means must you let these lost easterners, dancing haplessly as they do on the devil’s strings, press their erroneous lips against the image of a man who surely died with the sin of heresy and schism on his dirty black soul. If your municipality has a Greek Catholic parish in its vicinity which intends to honor Palamas, then I assure you it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city.
St. Gregory of Narek, the great Armenian poet and theologian who lived at the turn of the second millennium, was far less of a household name than the Coptic Orthodox Church before yesterday’s official announcement that Pope Francis is elevating St. Gregory as a Doctor of the Universal Church. As Rorate Caeli and other outlets have noted, St. Gregory lived and died during a period of history where the whole of the Armenian Church was out of communion with both Catholics and Orthodox. Although several attempts at healing the Armenian/Catholic divide took place between the time of the Crusades and the Council of Florence, official establishment of the sui iuris Armenian Catholic Church did not occur until 1749—nearly eight centuries after St. Gregory’s birth. This fact has stirred up needless panic in some circles, with various accusations of papal chicanery being hurled at the Holy Father for allegedly breaking down the borders of the “true Church” to let in a “schismatic” who might very well have been a “heretic” because “schism” and “heresy” and “being the worst among sinners” are, in the minds of some, all part of the package deal you receive for not being officially Catholic.
Could there be anything more vile to read than Christians of all confessional stripes commenting, nay, waxing indignant about pornography, either the sort popularly portrayed in films like 50 Shades of Grey or the everyday stuff which litters the Internet? Pornography is evil — is there much more to be said about it than that? The attempts of some to build-up utilitarian arguments against its production and consumption are not without merit; but that’s a dangerous road to walk down. For whether some wish to admit it or not, there are plenty of pro-pornography arguments cast in utilitarian terms, and the social-science literature has only yielded findings which are, at best, inconclusive and, more often than not, contestable. The less charitable side of me, the one activated by social media and e-mail chains, finds almost all Christian writings on pornography is perverse. The curiosity that sits just underneath the condemnatory rhetoric is — if I may use the word again — perverse. It’s not enough to just say that the sort of “deviant sex” portrayed in most pornographic (or quasi-pornographic) videos is “disgusting” or “immoral”; graphic descriptions, the sort which ended up enticing more than horrifying, are part of the package. O, how I long for the days of yore when a sly euphemism or two might have stood-in for “analingus.”
A day late and $0.83 short. I am keeping it brief this week.
A friend queried me the other day as to why Left-leaning blogs are, on average, more fun to read than Right-leaning ones. Because I am quite aware of his politics, I am confident he meant something else other than, “Why are Democratic blogs more fun to read than Republican ones?” Still, the categories “Left” and “Right” are often difficult to define, especially when applied to bloggers who write about more than just politics. I’ll start here. Is Opus Publicum a Right-leaning blog? Regardless of whether or not my posts are fun to read, the views they express are integrally bound up with the Catholic Faith. If I read an academic article and comment on it, I do so as a Catholic. If I read a book and review it, I do so as a Catholic. And when I discuss socio-economic matters, whether in the form of critiquing liberalism or championing alternative avenues, I do so as a Catholic. Given all of that, it seems that Opus Publicum can be safely categorized as Right-leaning, which maybe also means that it’s foolhardy for me to advertise its contents as “fun” to a single, well-adjusted human being.
The tragic and brutal slaying of 21 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (popularly known as ISIS) has generated worldwide outrage, at least in religious circles. Setting aside the insane rantings of some evangelicals who deny these heroic souls the title “Christian,” the vast majority of Christians have lauded these men for “bear[ing] witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom [they] are united in charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2473). Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Christians around the world have gone a step further, referring to these men as “New Martyrs.” Here are Pope Francis’s remarks on their death:
One point often raised against what I will broadly refer to as the “anti-liberal tradition” is that it lacks intellectual, if not moral, seriousness. There is a whiff of truth in that claim, just as there is an element of truth embedded in observations that liberalism—and those who champion that ideology—are intellectually timid, complacent, and devoid of any horizon which stretches beyond their individualistic self-satisfaction. Anti-liberalism, which comes in many different forms and encompasses persons and movements with greater-or-lesser degrees of antipathy toward liberalism, has shifted courses many times over the past three centuries. With the last vestiges of the old regime now swept away, anti-liberal movements are compelled to either start anew, looking to the past while fixing their sights on the future, or—as is too often the case—desirous of taking up the mantle of socio-political movements which were not so much lacking in seriousness as they were overflowing with evil. Some today, understandably disillusioned with contemporary political realities, flee to whatever they can find. If they happen to be Christian—Catholic or Orthodox—they might seek refuge in an integralist position that is either principled or escapist. If they happen to harbor a distrust of religion, specifically the Christian religion, then there is always the so-called “New Right,” along with any number of unsavory racialist and nationalist organizations. Why people make the choices that they do cannot, in my estimation, be reduced to a handful of causal factors, though certainly these types of orientations, which are “fringe” by their very nature, have a tendency to draw in socially marginalized individuals. At the same time, these movements can also attract bright, well-educated young people who, out of boredom more than principle, find the anti-liberal posture congenial even if their daily lives reflect very little of the sacrifice which such a posture should entail if it were serious.
Professor Bruce Frohnen, writing over at Nomocracy in Politics, asks, “Is Libertarian Socialism Our Future?” I confess I am not a fan of catchy, chimerical labels like “libertarian socialism,” especially since there are plenty of iterations of run-of-the-mill socialism which embrace heavy-handed government intervention in the market (including sizable redistribution and entitlement programs) while upholding social and moral libertinism. Perhaps Frohnen should have just gone with the expression “libertine socialism.” For as difficult as it is to reconcile the basic economic tenets of libertarianism with those of socialism, “libertarian socialism” would seem to imply a bottom-up or grassroots approach to economic organization, such as guild socialism or even more radical movements like mutualism and anarcho-syndicalism. Those movements have a long intellectual pedigree and have already been grouped together under the macro-heading “libertarian socialism.” If Frohnen is discussing a new phenomenon (and I don’t think he is), a fresh term is in order.