In his posthumously published journals, entitled Glossarium, Carl Schmitt provocatively stated the following: “I believe in the katechon; for me he is the sole possibility for a Christian to understand history and find it meaningful.” The term katechon, which is found II Thessalonians 2:6-7, has been interpreted by theologians as the restrainer that holds back lawlessness or the coming of the antichrist before the Second Coming. Who or what the katechon is has been the subject of fierce debate for centuries, and it is possible this restraining force has never been static throughout history.

Why did Schmitt put so much stock into this (originally Biblical) concept? Henrich Meier, in his controversial work The Lesson of Carl Schmitt: Four Chapters on the Distinction Between Political Theology and Political Philosophy pg. 162, offers the following answer with brief quotes from Schmitt’s writings:

The notion of the katechon achieves three things. First, it “explains” the delay of the Parousia, it offers an answer to the question of why there is still “history.” For that purpose, Paul’s expression was originally introduced. Second, it protects historical action from despondency and despair in the view of a seemingly overpowering historical process that is progressing towards its end. Third, and conversely, it protects historical action from the disdain for politics and history in the certainty of promised victory. Thus for Schmitt, the katechon is simultaneously the complement and correction of the “genuine, ever-present, and necessary eschatology.” For the “living expectation of the immediately impending end seems to rob all history of meaning and gives rise to an eschatological paralysis, of which there are many examples in history.” The figure of thought of the “restrainer” forges a link between eschatological faith and the consciousness of “historicity.”

It could be said that the concept of the katechon has receded from Christian memory, particularly in these time where “enlightened Christians,” most of them young and suffering from a nasty case of Weltschmerz, claim to either no longer believe in politics or, laughably, exist “above” politics. This phenomenon can often be detected in Protestant circles, though Catholics are hardly immune. Why demonstrate any political allegiance at all when the only thing that matters—the only thing worth living for—is the End of Time? St. Augustine viewed history as the great boredom before the eschaton, and he was partially correct. Compared to the Day of the Lord, what are the days of history? But that observation does not necessarily rob history of meaning and purpose, not if there is evil to be held back in the time that remains.

There is an obvious tension in belief in the katechon and it is this: Is not the “benefit” of restraining the antichrist come at the “cost” of delaying the return of the Son of God? And yet it might be argued that due to the perennial difficulty in identifying the antichrist will always compel serious men to seek that which they perceive contains any genuine outbreak of lawlessness rather than suffer desolation for nothing. That is anything but a comforting thought for Christians will thus be tempted to throw their allegiance behind all sorts of authorities (political, moral, theological, etc.) who seem to hold the promise of being a katechonical force in whatever epoch they happen to inhabit. Only the Pope can save us from Protestantism; only capitalism can save us from economic ruin; only Vladimir Putin can save us from cultural decadence; only Donald Trump can save us from the Islamic State; and so on and so forth.

Carlton on Capitalism

Eastern Orthodox writer Clark Carlton, whose podcast Faith and Philosophy runs on Ancient Faith Radio, broadcasted some critical remarks on capitalism last month. It’s an interesting listen (or read—a transcript is available as well) despite its brevity. As Carlton points out, capitalism did not usher in the era of private property; that concept existed long ago. But more importantly, capitalism is not about “free markets.” Without money manipulation, biased tax schemes, and tilted regulation, contemporary capitalism could not survive. While these observations are all well and good, Carlton is a bit vague about what should replace capitalism. Here is his conclusion:

The only real alternative to capitalism is something along the lines of what Jefferson envisioned. This is similar to the vision of the Catholic distributivists, such as Belloc and Chesterton, and to the third way of the Protestant economist Wilhelm Röpke. The foundation of such a system is widespread property ownership and decentralized government.

There problem here is that some of Carlton’ does not address the contingent of Christians (including Eastern Orthodox) aligned with thank-tanks like the Acton Institute who promote the idea that the only way you can achieve widespread ownership and decentralization is through the adoption of libertarian economic policies. Such ideologues posit that what Carlton is critiquing isn’t “real capitalism” but rather “crony capitalism”—a disease which can be cured through massive deregulation, tax cuts, and widespread privatization of all goods and services. These libertarian Christians would likely argue that implementing the Jeffersonian, distributist, or ordoliberal visions would result in illicit confiscatory policies that would do more economic harm than good, and so the real task at hand should be clearing government out of the economy altogether in order to let the market breathe freely, regardless of the result.

Of course, the Actonites and their allies have no proof that all will be fine and well if their policy preferences become the law of the land. The rest their conclusions on a theoretical framework derived from the heterodox “Austrian School” of economics, one which—by their own admission—has never been fully put into practice. Although serious-minded “Austrians” dismiss utopianism, they have not been able to demonstrate thus far that their economic approach will yield better social outcomes than either the “crony capitalism” they claim to detest or some alternative approach. At best they have made a plausible case that free-market policies work better than centralized, command-planned policies, but even that conclusion has been met with serious criticism over the decades (criticism which many Austrians prefer to ignore rather than answer).

It’s not clear how much Carlton agrees or disagrees with Acton’s economic orientation. His critique of capitalism also serves as a broad critique of taxation and regulation as well. Does Carlton deny that taxes and regulation serve some useful purpose in society? Does he believe it is appropriate—and moral—for local municipalities to regulate businesses in accordance with longstanding customs and social norms? If Carlton’s desire is to see an economic system put into place which is compatible with the Eastern Orthodox faith, then surely he must agree that the economy must be seen as subservient to the common good, one which finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ Jesus alone.


I am terrible with links. I admit it, and I haven’t done a thing to update the Links section to Opus Publicum since I (re-)launched it in July 2014. There are so many blogs and sites that I read regularly which have simply been left off of here and I plan to rectify that in due course.

Two lesser-known blogs I want to briefly highlight come from regular combox contributors to this one: Gregory Stackpole’s Into the Clarities and Bernard Brandt’s Random Conjectures. Both are well worth reading.

Also, if you notice that I have updated my links and omitted your blog or website, please don’t feel it rude to bring it to my attention. Sometimes things just get lost in the sauce, as they say.

Happy Monday

At some point the Catholic indignation industry will implode, right? I thought that more than a year ago when Episode I of the Synod on the Family was taking place. Silly me. Things have gotten so much worse since then. Several new websites, and at least a dozen new blogs, have popped up to inform us just how bad things have gotten in the Catholic Church. The Pope is nuts; the bishops are heterodox; and the laity are left in a perpetual state of confusion. I can’t blame any observer of “things Catholic” for stating the obvious nor for losing their patience with mainstream Catholic writers who try to cover-up the crisis. What I sometimes wonder, though, is what these well-meaning (mostly traditional) Catholic critics are hoping to achieve. Yes, there’s the usual rhetoric about “restoring Christendom” and such, but I am at a loss for how increasingly angry ranting is actually going to do that. Part of me wishes that some of these people would just go full-blown sedevacantist and be done with it all. Or, better yet, just become Eastern Orthodox. They at least recognize the Pope; they just don’t listen to a single word he has to say.

I jest, of course. I can’t fathom the damage that would be inflicted on East/West relations if disgruntled Catholic traditionalists converted to Orthodoxy en masse, and I am not sure American Orthodoxy can handle the internal rumble of ex-Catholics sparring with ex-Protestants over what “real Orthodoxy” looks like. None of this changes the fact that I am still mildly perplexed why certain disgruntled (if not disillusioned) Catholics stay Catholic when the Orthodox seem to be offering everything they want: a beautiful liturgy; more rigorous fasting and Eucharistic disciplines; doctrinal orthodoxy; beards; and so on and so forth.

I know there are many good answers as to why someone ought to stay Catholic and I am not interested in challenging them. My confusion does not arise out of a lack of confidence in Catholic doctrine but a lack of faith in some of those who claim to adhere to it. At what point does the papal office simply because an ideal which completely ceases to manifest itself in reality? When do we finally start staying home on Sundays instead of mindlessly attending parishes that offer grotesque, if not sacrilegious, liturgies? When do we just acknowledge (not accept) that most of the Church is enveloped by heresy and that there is no longer anything substantive to covert people to?

Let me be frank. I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. What I do believe, however, is that something has to give eventually. The Church herself won’t collapse, but things cannot go on like this without the advent of schism (or worse). Sooner or later secular and ideological forces will push harder on the faithful, expecting all to conform to the ways of the world. Maybe that will be the Church’s refining moment.

Thus the world is like an oil press: under pressure. If you’re the dregs of the oil you’re carried away through the sewer; if you’re genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures of the poor and the worries of the state: we have evidence of them… we have found men who grumble under those pressures and who say: ‘How bad are these Christian times!’ . . . Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their colour is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendour. The oil has splendour. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?

– St. Augustine (quoted in Karl Lowith, Meaning in History)

The Paris Agreement

The 2015 Paris Climate Conference (better known as COP21) is over and we have an agreement—sort of. Despite what you read in the press, the so-called “Paris Agreement” looks a lot less like a binding multilateral treaty and much more like an aspirational policy statement. The short and the long of it is that the Paris Agreement has no teeth, only a soft shaming mechanism intended to keep countries compliant with its loosey-goosey terms. Here’s how it works. Every signatory state is expected to put forth “nationally determined contributions” (NDC), that is, domestic policy steps intended to reduce emissions. These NDCs are then subject to monitoring and review, with countries expected to dial-up their NDCs every five years (though there is no requirement that they do so). Potential scofflaw states, so the thinking goes, will not wish to be “outed” under the Paris Agreement’s transparency requirements, but even if they are, so what? All countries defect from their international commitments when the costs of compliance outweigh the benefits. The Paris Agreement will not change this reality.

Some commentators have stated that the Paris Agreement should have come packaged with a stronger enforcement mechanism without bothering to think through how such a mechanism might work. Imposing multilateral sanctions on defectors would probably be next-to-impossible to coordinate. Bilateral enforcement is easier to pull off, so long as there is a real incentive in play. If China, for instance, defected from its NDCs, why would Canada bring an enforcement action against it? NDC defection arguably harms the whole planet, not just Canada, and Canada will not want to incur enforcement costs alone. Now compare this scenario to a routine trade dispute where China imposes illegal quotas on imports of Canadian maple syrup. In that case (which would likely be handled through the World Trade Organization), Canada has a concrete and unique economic interest in trying to force China to remove the quotas and if China doesn’t, Canada can take retaliatory measures. The Paris Agreement is not a trade treaty, and so it’s unrealistic to expect it to function like one.

Another gripe about the Paris Agreement is that it does not impose concrete emissions benchmarks on states but instead allows each country to come up with their own independent determinations that may fall far below what is needed in order to keep global temperatures at bay. Let’s assume the Paris Agreement did come up with these standards. Would any country—particularly ones with developing economies—have signed on? The odds are strong that any imposed standards would have been fairly low level and, again, without a strong enforcement mechanism in place, would the imposed standards have mattered at all? At least the NDC model allows states to make their own economic and environmental calculus in line with domestic interests which can be altered as the political winds shift. A country hesitant to make strong NDC commitments now may be singing a different tune in 10 years.

In the end the Paris Agreement isn’t worth getting too excited about. Conservative critics of the accord miss the point when they act as if international law is once again encroaching upon American sovereignty. The whole agreement is built around domestic policy considerations, not internationally imposed standards. The U.S. can be as “progressive” or “regressive” on emissions policy as it wants without offending the terms of the Paris Agreement. And even if the U.S. defected from its NDC commitments, it’s unlikely that anything would come of it except for some bad international press. And Americans should be quite accustomed to that by now.

A Remark on the Gifts and Calling of God

If one wants a learned analysis of Christian doctrine on Judaism and supersessionism, then let me suggest you head over to Fr. John Hunwicke’s singularly excellent web-log. It’s timely stuff, what with the Commission on Religious Relations with Jews issuing a polarizing new document, The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable. For those who have been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, the document — which everyone and their brother is reminding us is non-magisterial — is the clearest official expression yet of the so-called “Two Covenants” theory. As a matter of policy (which a Catholic may or may not have to abide by), the document calls for an end to institutionally evangelizing the Jewish people while suggesting strongly that Salvation can come without confessing Jesus Christ. This is not a matter of drawing up exceptions for those suffering from “invincible ignorance,” mind you. This about doing an end-run around one the core tenets of the Apostolic Faith.

Now, some may say, in solidarity with the document, that the Jews “are different” for God gave them the Law and the Prophets; but Judaism rejects the One who came in fulfillment of the Scriptures. It would be wrong, nay, insulting to tell a devout Jew that his path is “ok” because mine, too, is “ok.” If he had a shred of self-respect, he would reject such a claim out of hand as gross. By the lights of a devout Jews, Christianity is an abomination for it is (allegedly) overrun with idolatry, impiety, and ignorance. The Christian believes, much to the horror of the orthodox Jew, in the Incarnation. Jesus, by Christian lights, is the Christ. He’s not simply a “nice guy” with some “good ideas.” How arrogant of the Vatican to try and whitewash over what devout Jews actually believe about Christianity by acting as if two religions with fundamentally opposed answers to the most important question in human history (“What think ye of Christ?”) are somehow capable of being equally true and existing in harmony with one another. St. Justin Martyr must be rolling over in his reliquary as St. Romanos the Melodist composes a lamentation in the Heavens.

The conservative Catholic establishment is trying to do some damage control here. They are stressing to all who would listen that this new document is not magisterial. Ok. But so what? The fact of the matter is that The Gifts and Calling of God will be treated by the vast majority of Catholics as quasi-magisterial in much the same way as some well-intentioned (though mistaken) Catholics believe the so-called “Balamand Statement” means that Catholics should never proselytize the Eastern Orthodox. Moreover, faithful Catholics are kidding themselves if they believe this statement is not the first (loud) step toward another doctrinal revolution, one which will attempt to relativize Christianity and the Catholic Faith while opening the door further to the false belief that there are “multiple pathways” into Paradise. Today it starts with Judaism; tomorrow it will be Islam, and so on and so forth.

Pastor’s History of the Popes

Ludwig von Pastor’s 16-volume History of the Popes is a monumental scholarly achievement, and like so many monumental scholarly achievements, nobody reads it anymore. Part of the reason may be that so few Catholics are aware of Pastor’s work. It’s not something you are going to find browsing an Ignatius Press or TAN Books catalog. But thanks to advances in on-demand printing and the good efforts of my friend Eliot Milco (author of learned and intellectually quirky web-log The Paraphasic), Pastor’s magnum opus is becoming available once again.

Milco has posted some brief information on the project here and you can peruse the available volumes here. Anyone seriously interested in Catholic history cannot afford to ignore these books and the wealth of information they contain. Also, every volume purchased puts a bit of money in Milco’s pockets, which means he won’t have to go back to teaching at a heterodox Jesuit high school for a living.

Was Vatican II All Bad? An Eastern Comment

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. To “commemorate” this event, Professor Peter Kwasniewski posted two closing addresses from the Council, the first by Pope Paul VI and the second by Archbishop Pericle Felici. The naïve optimism expressed in both should give any soberminded Catholic reason to pause. Still, at the risk of sounding like a heretic to many traditional Catholics, can it really be said that all of Vatican II was a wash? And here I am not just referring to passages in Lumen Gentium or Sacrosantum Concillium which merely reaffirm longstanding Catholic doctrine and praxis. What I mean to precisely ask is did Vatican II not give something positive to the Church which, over the last half-century, has borne good fruit? Without claiming to cover the Council’s whole terrain, let me suggest that there is at least one document from Vatican II which deserves honest appreciation (if not praise) even if falls a bit short in certain areas: Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE).

Prior to OE (and in some instances for decades after), most of the sui iuris Eastern Catholic churches had undergone various processes of Latinization regarding their liturgy, theology, and governance structure. One of the principal effects of Latinization was to reduce Eastern Catholicism to a ritual form, thus obscuring the reality that the Eastern churches are true particular churches in full communion with Rome. OE, in continuity with calls from popes such as Leo XIII and St. Pius X, pushes back against Latinizations in the Eastern churches, particularly in the area of liturgy and the sacraments. Unlike the Roman Church, Eastern Christians have long administered all of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Chrismation/Confirmation, and the Eucharist) at the same time and to infants. Moreover, Eastern disciplinary practices regarding fasting, holy days, and liturgical norms have their own logic and history to them which were not always respected by neighboring Latin Catholic bishops and priests. OE helps remind the universal Church of the full integrity of Eastern Christianity and helps stem the tide of Latin chauvinism which has washed over the Eastern Catholic churches for centuries.

Another important feature of OE is its openness to reconciliation with the separated Eastern churches (Oriental and Eastern Orthodox). While some traditional Catholics have expressed dissatisfaction with the document’s positive (but tempered) tone toward communicatio in sacris, it’s important to note that OE is only restating and affirming the centuries-old reality of Catholics and Orthodox ministering to each other’s flocks, particularly in areas such as the Middle East where all Christians were and remain subject to Muslim persecution. Contrary to the claims of some hysterical traditionalists, nowhere does OE claim that the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox should stay separated from the Catholic Church. What OE does state, however, is that the Eastern churches should remain true to themselves. The goal of Catholic unity is not to impose a monolithic rite upon all of Christendom or discard practices which do not align perfectly with Latin disciplines, but to dwell together as one flock under one shepherd who is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world.

Now, none of this is to say that OE is a perfect document. From the Orthodox perspective delivered by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, OE is still subject to an overly Latinized ecclesiological and theological framework—an observation shared by a number of Eastern Catholics as well. Further, it is arguable that OE did not go far enough in granting to the Eastern Catholic patriarchs and metropolitans the autonomy they and their respective churches deserve by right. A simple, but telling, example is the ongoing “need” for the Pope to officially canonize Eastern saints—a process that flies in the face of ancient Eastern (or, for that matter, Western) praxis. Additionally, the continuing existence of the Congregation for Oriental Churches coupled with Rome’s all-too-frequent interventions into Eastern Christian affairs highlights the fact that there is still a long way to go before the Catholic Church will truly breathe with both lungs.