A Sorrowful Anniversary


Tomorrow, March 10, is the anniversary of the pseudo-Synod of Lviv, which was orchestrated by the Soviet government and the Russian Orthodox Church for the purpose of abolishing the Union of Brest and liquidating the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). For the next 53 years, the UGCC would remain the largest outlawed religious group in the world. Following the intervention of Pope John Paul II, the UGCC was allowed out of the catacombs and today serves as a spiritual bridge between East and West throughout the world. Under the pastoral care of His Beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Kyiv-Halych and All Rus, the Ukrainian Church continues to spread the Gospel in the lands St. Andrew the First Called first blessed with an eye toward the bright and glorious day when Catholics and Orthodox will share one cup in full ecclesiastical communion.

Pitstick Contra Balthasar – Round Two

Lyra Pitstick, who rocked the (neo-)Catholic theological world with her towering critique of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light in Darkness, returns to the ring later this spring with Christ’s Descent into Hell: John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Theology of Holy Saturday. Here’s the book description from Eerdmans:

Pope John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) both held Hans Urs von Balthasar in high regard. Many assume that their praise of Balthasar implies approval of his theology of Holy Saturday, but this book by Lyra Pitstick shows that conclusion to be far from accurate.

Pitstick looks at what John Paul II, Joseph Ratzinger, and Hans Urs von Balthasar have said regarding the creedal affirmation that Christ “descended into hell,” and she shows that there are radical differences in their conclusions. She then addresses some important questions that follow from these differences: If they disagree, who is right? If John Paul II and Benedict XVI have lauded someone with whom they disagreed, are there implications for papal infallibility? Finally, whose theology best expresses the Catholic doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell — and how can we know?

This careful, concise exploration of what three of the twentieth century’s most famous Catholic theologians had to say about Christ’s descent into hell provides an accessible take on a difficult point of theological debate.

Pitstick’s decision to expand her critical analysis of Balthasar by incorporating the thought of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a clever one. Those accustomed to pro-Balthasar apologetics know full well that the admiration of both pontiffs for (some of) Balthasar’s theology is often used as “proof” that his theology is not only without serious defects but ought to be placed on a pedestal next to the contributions of Ss. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Now Pitstick wishes to cast light on the divergences between Balthasar’s theological account of Holy Saturday and the accounts endorsed by the previous two popes, a project which will no doubt lead to much weeping and gnashing of teeth among contemporary Catholics who believe Balthasar can do no wrong. Further, as the description suggests, Pitstick sets out to correct popular misapprehensions about what it means when even popes bet on the wrong theological horse while also reminding readers of the importance of Catholic tradition. It should be a good one.

More From Lilla on France (and Manent)

A couple of weeks back I linked to a New York Review of Books article by Mark Lilla on France’s decline. He has now returned with a follow-up piece, “How the French Face Terror,” which is actually a review of four recent publications on the problem of Islam and terrorism in France. (For what it is worth, I also offered a few remarks on Lilla’s forthcoming book on political reaction here.) One of the books under review, Pierre Manent’s Situation de la France, comes under fire from Lilla for its apparent nostalgia and schadenfreude. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

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Longenecker on “Catholic Fundamentalism”

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, an ex-Anglican cleric who blogs over at Patheos, is here to set us straight on “Catholic fundamentalism,” or so he thinks. Really what he’s out to do is take some not-so-subtle swipes at traditional Latin Catholics without having the courage to come out and say it. Here is a small sample (with my own commentary) on some of the “10 traits” Fr. Dwight identifies.

Cafeteria Christianity – The Protestant fundamentalist picks and chooses which parts of the Bible he wants to adhere to. Catholic fundamentalists do the same. They pick which parts of Catholicism they consider “authentic” and ignore or denigrate the rest.

I must say that I agree with Longenecker wholeheartedly: cherry picking texts and doctrine is a real problem in contemporary Catholicism, albeit one exhibited more heavily among American conservative Catholics than traditionalists. For instance, conservative Catholics accustomed to embracing the neoliberal/Acton Institute consensus on socio-economic matters routinely “ignore or denigrate” all aspects of the Church’s social magisterium which cannot be squared with capitalism and liberal democracy. They will freely absolutize certain passages in Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum which uphold the right to private property while dismissing Leo’s no less authoriative teaching on the right to just wages. Granted, traditionalists sometimes fall into the error of completely blowing off all of the texts of the Second Vatican Council and other post-conciliar teaching documents, but more often than not they are working to make sense of them in the light of 1,900 years of Catholic tradition. Given that not even non-traditional Catholics struggle to reach consensus on what this-or-that element of the Church’s recent magisterium is in fact saying, are traditionalists all that blameworthy for either their perplexity or their desire to follow less ambiguous articulations of Catholic teaching?

Private Prophets – Protestant fundamentalists always raise up their own preachers and prophets. Mini demagogues–they cultivate a celebrity status and promote them as infallible mini popes. Catholic fundamentalists fall down before their own prophets and preachers who they also raise to a status of authority that supersedes the bishops and even the Holy Father.

To be honest, I am having a difficult time figuring out who Longenecker is referring to here. Yes, a number of traditional Catholics do hold up figures like the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (a cleric Pope Benedict XVI referred to as a “great man of the Church”) as a beacon of truth and holiness, but what’s wrong with that? In a day and age when so many bishops of the Church assert error on a daily basis, does it not make sense for the faithful to seek guidance from prelates like Cardinals Burke and Mueller or Bishops Schneider and Fellay? And if one is being honest, mainstream Catholics seem far more likely to make prophets out of popes and theologians than traditionalists. Consider, for instance, the cult-like status surrounding John Paul II or the radical homage paid to 20th C. thinkers like Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac. Perhaps Longenecker is looking in the wrong direction here.

Fear and Loathing Protestant fundamentalists are fueled by fear and loathing. Catholic fundamentalists are the same. There is little light, joy, peace and confidence in their lives. Instead life is narrowed down by fear and loathing.

To be frank, this is a ubiquitous problem found throughout modern-day religion, not just one wing of Catholicism. And yet one finds among traditional bishops, particularly Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X, a routine call for Catholics to set aside fear and despair in favor of charity, even towards those with whom we disagree most passionately. This is not to say that traditionalists don’t succumb to fear and loathing; they struggle against temptation like the rest of us. But to (quietly) single them out for rebuke in this area is simply negligent. As Eric Voegelin pointed out time and again, human consciousness is fragile; existential uncertainty coupled with apparent contradictions within our cherished beliefs leads to all sorts of spiritual destabilizations which yield political ones as well. Instead of taking time to reflect deeply on this brutal truth, Longenecker — encased in his polemical bubble — opts for a potshot.

As for the other “traits” Longenecker identifies (e.g., persecution complex, conspiracy theories, self-righteousness, etc.), it’s hard to believe that these pathologies are limited to one “type” of Catholic (or even one “type” of Christian or person of faith). No doubt Longenecker would defend himself by claiming he wasn’t specifically trying to call traditionalist to the carpet. In fact, he notes at the end of his post that all Christians are, from time to time, susceptible to fundamentalism of some sort. True, though given that Longenecker writes for a website which has routinely attacked traditional Catholics and has made known before his low view of traditionalism, it is challenging to take Longenecker’s post as anything other than a low-brow, uncharitable attack on his fellow brethren in the Faith.

More From Pater Edmund on Integralism

Pater Edmund Waldstein, whose writings on monarchism and integralism have had a profound impact on my own thinking (see here), has an outstanding new article up at The Josias entitled “Integralism and the Gelasian Dyarchy.” More than just a restatement of the integralist thesis, Waldstein’s piece provides a powerful critique of radical Augustinian and Whig Thomist approaches to spiritual and temporal power. Here is a brief excerpt:

What (for lack of a better term) I call Augustinian radicalism comes close to abandoning the idea of dyarchy altogether. It takes a highly pessimistic view of earthly power, which it associates with Augustine’s city of man, it emphasizes the temporal, passing nature of such power, and sees a quasi-inevitable conflict between it and the Church. The Church on this account should reject the coercive means used by earthly power, and by already living in an anticipatory fashion the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, serve as a sign of contradiction to the powers that are passing away. This position comes in many forms and degrees. The writers of whom I am thinking in particular are Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Baxter, C.S.C, John Milbank, and William T. Cavanaugh as well as Dorothy Day, whose practical example serves as an inspiration to many of the others.

Whig Thomism on the other hand, takes a much more positive view of temporal power. The Whig Thomists emphasize the distinction between the two powers. Welcoming a certain form of the separation of Church and state, they reject any juridical subordination of the state to the Church, and hold that the influence of the Church on the state should come only through the Church’s influence on the consciences of individual citizens. By far the most eloquent and insightful expositor of Whig Thomism was John Courtney Murray, S.J.

The question of the relation of spiritual to temporal power is intimately connected to the question of the relation nature and grace. Christianity is able to distinguish between the two powers, because it is a religion of grace, which does not destroy the order of nature, but presupposes, elevates, and perfects it. I shall argue that Augustinian radicalism tends to exaggerate towards a monism of grace, in which the natural loses all standing. Whig Thomism, on the other hand, tends to exaggerate the distinction, not sufficiently understanding that nature is for the sake of grace. Only integralism fits well with a fully satisfactory account of the elevation and perfection of natural teleology in grace.

Waldstein’s words warrant careful and deep reflection, particularly during an era where the most “popular” alternative available to our present situation is one or another escapist “options” which appear to be rooted more in certain lifestyle aesthetics than Scripture or tradition.

UGCC and Rome Reaffirm Full Communion

Despite the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s (UGCC) widespread dissatisfaction with the so-called “Havana Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the heads of the UGCC were in Rome last Friday to both commemorate the sorrowful 70th anniversary of the “Pseudo-Synod of Lviv” which liquidated the Ukrainian Church and reaffirm the UGCC’s ties to Rome and the Holy Father. Here is an excerpt from the official address of the UGCC’s Holy Synod:

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Lilla’s Forthcoming Shipwreck

After an eight year hiatus, Mark Lilla has a new book coming out this September, The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction. (Apparently a post at Columbia University comes packaged with a less demanding publication schedule than one might expect from Lilla’s former home, the University of Chicago.) Here’s the description:

A sense that history has taken a catastrophic course and attempts to recover a lost philosophical or religious tradition characterize the twentieth-century intellectuals whose work Mark Lilla investigates in The Shipwrecked Mind. From Franz Rosenzweig, who sought to lead assimilated Jews back to the sources of Jewish tradition, to Leo Strauss, who tried to recover the Socratic tradition in philosophy, to Eric Voegelin, who wrote a multivolume universal history to explain human consciousness, to the rediscovery of Saint Paul by former Marxists, Lilla traces the craving for theological-political mythmaking, for grand—if imaginary—historical narratives that explain why we feel shipwrecked in a decadent present and how we can escape it. In the 2015 attacks in Paris and their aftermath, he finds political nostalgia on both sides: the terrorists’ longing for a glorious Muslim past that they hoped to recreate in a modern caliphate and the cultural pessimism of French intellectuals worried about the decline of France. Reactionary illusions of a lost golden age, Lilla argues, continue to have potent effects in our own time.

Anyone who has kept tabs on Lilla’s output at the New York Review of Books won’t be terribly surprised by the list of thinkers Lilla chooses to examine nor his interest with France. With respect to Rosenzweig, Strauss, Voegelin, and more recent critical theorists enamored with St. Paul (e.g., Badiou and Agamben), Lilla has penned essay-sized reviews of their works over the last decade, meticulously noting how each offers an ostensible “escape” from late modernity through a return to some semi-utopian past. The problem posed for Lilla is that “escape” may not really be what the thinkers he considers were after, particularly Voegelin and Strauss who, despite appearing to superficially romanticize the past, always had their eyes set on the future. They weren’t seeking to escape modernity an its various iterations; they wanted to overcome them, and they believed — in very distinct ways — that those who came before had managed to chart a pathway beyond. That’s not exactly a new thought, mind you. Roll back the clock more than half-a-millennium and one finds any number of medieval philosophers and theologians casting a long gaze back at pagan thought in order to both unlock some of the most pressing puzzles of their times and, to a possibly more limited extent, overcome the limitations of their age. No, neither St. Thomas Aquinas nor Moses Maimonides thought a “better future” lay in a more “glorious past”; but both were broad enough in their respective thinking to know that that the past, or more specifically a particular past and the great minds it produced, still had much to say well over 1,000 years after the fall of classical civilization.

Of course, Lilla deserves a fair hearing, but “fair” doesn’t mean “blind.” Recall, for instance, that Lilla’s last scholarly effort, The Stillborn God, was rightly panned for its radically incomplete treatment of religion and politics for choosing to omit Catholic thought altogether. And notice that once again Lilla seems to be intentionally side-stepping Catholicism, choosing instead to focus on secularized Jewish, atheistic, and religiously ambiguous figures (e.g., Voegelin). Could it be that this time out Lilla is giving quiet credit to Catholicism for producing thinkers who were not “political reactionaries” in his limited, polemical, sense? If only that were true. However, anyone who has perused Lilla’s hard-hitting critique of Brad Gegory’s The Unintended Reformation knows full well that Lilla believes Catholics are quit capable of engaging in their own form of historical (and hysterical) myth making in order to both critique modernity and, in some sense, escape it.

Maybe he’s right. Contemporary Catholicism is shot through with a very amateurish form of myth making, one that posits a glorious Catholic age in the not-so-distant past while suggesting, nay, advocating that the resurrection of certain pieties, to say nothing of liturgical forms, will help usher it back into existence or, absent that, protect “the remnant” from the pathologies and temptations of the present age. Then there is that other, most liberal, form of myth making, the one that claims that every renovation, innovation, or flat-out insurrection against anything and everything recognizably Catholic from within the Church herself has some sort of historical antecedent, a connection with a more “pristine age” of Christianity where love and mercy flowed freely and the intolerance of dogmatization and legalistic thinking had no place whatsoever. What are the political consequences of this dueling myth making? I doubt Lilla knows, or cares.

My Third Shameless Professional Wrestling Blog Post In Years: Hayabusa

I was deeply saddened to learn this morning that Hayabusa (real name Eiji Ezaki) passed away today at the age of 47. Few fans under the age of 30 likely know the name, but anyone who watched international pro-graps during the 1990s remembers Hayabusa as one of the most spectacular junior heavyweights of that era, mixing outstanding high-flying maneuvers with solid Japanese-style in-ring psychology. Devastatingly, in 2001, he slipped on a “routine” springboard moonsault (known otherwise as the “Lionsault” which Chris Jericho uses to this day) and broke his neck, leaving him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Although he finally managed to walk again last year with the use of a cane, the amazing performer die-hard wrestling fans knew and loved was never the same after that tragic day nearly 15 years ago.

I make mention of Hayabusa for two reasons. First, as an avid collector of pro-wrestling video tapes in the 1990s and early 00s, he was one of my favorites. I was privileged in August 1998 to drive down with one of my best friends to Dayton, Ohio and watch him perform at Extreme Championship Wrestling’s Heatwave 1998 Pay-Per-View. (For those interested, the event is available on the WWE Network and I can be clearly seen throughout on the far left of the screen sitting in the second row.) Heaven only knows where his career would have gone had he avoided injury, but he left behind a body of work that still inspires pro-wrestlers to this day.

Second, and more importantly, Hayabusa’s injury should serve as a reminder to all of those who deride pro-wrestling that the sport is dangerous. Even “routine” or “casual” moves can lead to devastating consequences if executed poorly or something as “simple” as a slip-of-the-foot occurs. People who decry pro-wrestling as “fake” have no idea what they are talking about, and the price Hayabusa paid to be among the top talents in the world is proof positive of that. I haven’t the foggiest idea why Hayabusa got into the world of pro-wrestling or what he hoped to get out of it. But I have no doubt, after watching him in the ring for years, that he loved and dedicated himself to the craft which ultimately cost him everything. Requiescat in pace.