One Paragraph Before Sunday Liturgy

A thought: How far is the average American Catholic willing to go to sacrifice the principles of the faith in exchange for some form — even a grotesque form — of socio-political relevance? That is to say, at what point does this Catholic decide that St. Thomas Aquinas and numerous other theologians of the Church were wrong to assert that if one loses a part of the Faith, they lose it all? For today the Catholic Faith, like much of anything in this world of moving parts and endless preference fulfillment, is not only “negotiable,” but malleable. This piece is outdated (or inconvenient), and so it can be cast aside. Another piece provides existential comfort, so it can stay and yet another works as a soapbox upon which to stand in the midst of the so-called “culture wars.” This is the reality of Christian living today; it is the reality of all living. Those who lack faith of any sort, whose horizon expands no further than to the Apple Store, cannot be blamed entirely for living lives which are subject to serious (or a-serious) revision at a moment’s notice. Fads change; tastes change; people change, and no one wants to be left clinging to an outmoded posture or cultural form unless clinging to some outmoded posture or cultural form is indeed what is most current at the time. Life becomes — to lift from Leo Strauss — little more than the joyless pursuit of joy; everything terminates in entertainment. Should not a Catholic find this gross spectacle of waste nauseating? One Catholic did. Writing nearly nine decades ago in his seminal work The Concept of the Political, Carl Schmitt saw that the apotheosis of liberalism is entertainment — a life without seriousness or grandeur or even much of a point. But today’s American Catholic wants to be a good liberal, meaning a good consumer who carries around a few moralizing positions in their side pocket (e.g., abortion, birth control, death penalty, etc.) and a wallet full of bank cards in the back. “Give me religious liberty or, absent that, give me a house in the suburbs, two cars, and a fantastic vacation package to Disney World.” Where have gone the gifts of counsel, understanding, and fortitude? They have been exchanged for a “lifestyle choice.” Господи Помилуй

Tuesday Comment on Christ the King

Mattias A. Caro, writing over at Ethika Politika, calls on Catholics to detach themselves from the petty things of this world in order to better serve Christ the King. I couldn’t agree more. Quoting Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas, Caro reminds readers that before Christ can reign in society, He must first reign in our hearts, minds, and wills. In most instances, Christ’s social reign begins in the home and then moves outward into the schools, workplaces, and seats of political authority. It is a pious practice for Latin Catholics to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their homes, reciting this prayer nightly:

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A Followup Note on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine

Web-logging about complex phenomena is always a fraught enterprise, particularly when no single blog post can hope to capture the density of religious and political life in Europe during the last century. Yesterday’s entry, “Comments on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine,” may have left some readers with the (false) impression that the intersection of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with national political life amounted to little more than the subservience of the UGCC to bald nationalistic interests. Nothing, I would argue, could be further from the truth. For while it is true that some segments of the UGCC became too involved in the affairs of Ukrainian nationalism at the expense of its God-ordained vocation, the sticky truth of the matter is that the UGCC, since the 18th Century at least, found itself placed in a complicated role of both forging a political living space for the faithful it served and putting itself in the service of saving souls.

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Comments on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine

Anton Shekhovtsov’s chapter, “By Cross and Sword: ‘Clerical Fascism’ in Interwar Western Ukraine,” published in the illuminating, albeit imperfect, volume Clerical Fascism in Interwar Europe (Routledge 2008), adds needed depth to understanding the role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in building the Ukrainian state, or at least an iteration of the Ukrainian state which did not survive the Second World War. The term “clerical fascism,” as Shekhovstov notes at the outset, is problematic, though he manages to settle on the following working definition: “[A]n authoritarian socio-political current, which emerges within clergy holding nationalist views, legitimizing and supporting fascisticised politics as a means of creating a state, in which religion’s authority, once forfeit, is expected to be revived, bringing order and earthly salvation to the nation.” Whether this definition—which Shekhovstov refers to as a “heuristic construction”—properly encompasses the full range of Greek Catholic clerical involvement in early 20th C. Ukrainian political life is questionable. Even more questionable is whether it can be meaningfully applied to other religious and national contexts, though that query can be dealt with at another time. Even if Shekhovstov’s definition holds for some aspect of 1920s/30s Ukrainian national realities, it is not immediately clear what should be thought of such realities today.

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Integralism is Not an “Option”

The “Options” phenomenon is quite out of control, and even Rod Dreher, progenitor of the so-called Benedict Option, seems to recognize it. In a recent American Conservative blog post, “Benedict and the Omnibus of Options,” Dreher attempts to defend “his option” (which he ultimately credits to Alasdair MacIntyre) against the plethora of others floating around out there. Devastated though I was to see no mention of my own comprehensive list of “Options” in Dreher’s post, that devastation quickly gave way to confusion over what exactly the Benedict Option is other than a call for Christians to retreat, set-up shop away from the world at large, and wait for the present storm to blow over. If that is what the Benedict Option is at its core, then it is an option set-up for a select few persons who have the means to relocate from their current jobs and find (or invent) new ones. Not everyone writes for a mainline conservative magazine after all, and very few these days have the agrarian or artisan chops to make it in one of the communities Dreher idealizes as embodying the Benedict Option.

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Further Remarks on Integralism and Symphonia

Symphonia, as a theological-political concept, is practically dead in our times. Maybe, just maybe, a few glimmers exist in contemporary Russia, though a large body of critics, including political scientists and churchmen, think otherwise. What may look something like symphonia at first blush is merely a (post)modern form of caesaropapism, with the Russian Orthodox Church serving as the handmaid of the Russian state. The Moscow Patriarchate’s “Russian World” ecclesial ideology fits snugly with secular Russia’s larger international ambitions—ambitions that have made themselves violently felt in places like Georgia and Ukraine over the past several years. In other parts of the so-called Orthodox world nothing like sympahonia exists. It certainly does not exist in the Middle East nor in Greece, where the state finds its future crushed on the heel of the European Union while the Orthodox Church remains almost powerless to provide firm moral guidance under seemingly impossible conditions. Integralism, which has become a rallying cry for a small (but dedicated) band of Catholics, is certainly not dead, but it remains, at best, a theory and, at worst, a concept without teeth. There are more than a few of those floating around right now. May we forever be spared the suggestion of a coming “Integralist Option” or, for the symphonia crowd, a “Justinian Option.”

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