Most Have Read This, But…

Since I have tried to chronicle the ongoing saga of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and Rome, I thought I should direct you, dear readers, to the New Liturgical Movement website where you will find an approved English translation of Fr. Franz Schmidberger’s leaked communique concerning the Society’s (pending?) regularization. I thought this was one of the most important points made in the document.

Let us not lose sight of the danger that the faithful and certain confreres may get used to the abnormal situation and regard it as normal. The criticism here and there against any participation in the Holy Year, and also the complete disregard for the conferral by Pope Francis of ordinary jurisdiction for Confession (we have always cited the emergency situation and have quite rightly made use of extraordinary jurisdiction for Confession) are cause for concern. If the faithful or some confreres feel comfortable in this situation of freedom relating to independence from the hierarchy, then this indicates a creeping loss of the sensus Ecclesiae. We must never argue: “We have sound teaching, the true Holy Mass, our seminaries and priories and above all bishops. So we don’t need anything.”

More to come.

Posner on Reforming Legal Practice

Judge Richard Posner does a fine job of angering just about everyone from time to time, though he often does it in service to reforming the legal profession from top to bottom. Good for him. While I am far from being in perfect agreement with Posner about a great many things, I can’t help but think he’s on to something with his latest (academic) article, “What is Obviously Wrong with the Federal Judiciary, Yet Eminently Curable – Part I,” 19 Green Bag 2d 187 (2016). Here are some excerpts (but definitely read the whole thing):

Does Moscow Want to Play Nice?

Here’s a bit of news from the recent Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate. (H/T Byzantine Texas)

Assessing the results of His Holiness’s meeting with Pope Francis of Rome, which took part during his visit and which resulted in signing a Joint Statement, the Holy Synod made special reference to the leaders’ statement that “the past method of ‘uniatism’ understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity”.

At the same time, the Holy Synod expressed regret at the reaction of the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to these words and the statement as a whole.

The Holy Synod stressed that unia remains a running sore in the Orthodox-Catholic relations and supported the call to reconciliation between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and to a search for mutually acceptable forms of co-existence voiced in the statement of the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope of Rome.

Well, it could have been worse. The second paragraph quoted above is confusing since the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) made no concrete statement supporting the past method of “uniatism,” nor did it condemn the so-called “Havana Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in toto. What the UGCC — and specifically His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav — did do was point out certain problems with the “Havana Declaration” while also expressing regret that the Ukrainian Church itself was not consulted on the contents of the declaration.

Old Orthodox Prayer Book – Third Edition

The Church of the Nativity has just released the third edition of its wonderful Old Orthodox Prayer Book with parallel English/Church Slavonic text. You can get a look at the new edition, including the improved font size, at the Church’s website here. As a longtime user of the second edition of the prayer book, I can’t recommend this spiritual resource enough. If you’ve never used this book before or, like me, have worn your second edition down, this is wonderful news.

A Remark on Patheos, Natura Pura, Not Knowing What You’re Talking About

Vapidity is never in short supply over at Patheos, particularly when Artur Rosman is at the helm as a writer, “channel manager,” or facilitator of guest blog posts. Though the entry is nearly a year old, an online acquaintance recently called my attention to Michael Martin’s guest post on Rosman’s Cosmos in the Lost web-log. The post claims, inter alia, that Pope Francis’s 2015 encylical Laudato Si “counters the theology of natura pura that has poisoned some quarters of Catholic theology since at least the seventeenth century[.]” There are several problems with this brief, triumphalist, assertion, not the least of which being the fact that it is highly contestable that the theology of natura pura is an early-modern innovation rather than a continuation of St. Thomas Aquinas’s own intellectual project. Martin doesn’t discuss this, of course; instead he quickly cites John Milbank’s The Suspended Middle, a book which has been subjected to withering criticism from numerous Thomists, including Reinhard Hutter in his 2012 tour de force Dust Bound for Heaven. Joining Hutter in refreshing the theological discussion surrounding  the topic are the likes of Steven A. Long and Lawrence Feingold, both of whom have penned substantial treatments of the subject which cast serious doubt on the commonplace criticisms of natura pura. Martin fails to mention them, or even bother to discuss how Laudato Si in any way, shape, or form upsets the theology of natura pura.

Maybe Martin is enchanted by the myth that embracing natura pura means embracing a modern, non-teleological and non-theonomic conception of nature which paved the way for both scientism and materialism. If so, he really ought to read Long’s Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace. In it, Long shows that those who defend natura pura work with a decidedly premodern and teleological conception of nature which has not lost its theonomic structure. While it is still possible to reject natura pura or to argue that it is not theologically necessary to preserve a thick doctrine of grace, Long — and others — show that natura pura‘s proponents are not responsible for ushering in secular modernity or belittling God’s action in the world. Unfortunately, no reader of Martin’s post would have any idea about this, perhaps because Martin himself remains beholden to a theological legend of recent vintage which has only served to silence natura pura‘s proponents rather than clear the way for a frank and thoroughgoing investigation of the subject.

To conclude on a positive note, let me stress that it is possible to be critical of natura pura while being both charitable and intellectually honest. Take, for instance, Aaron Riches’s freshly pressed work, Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ (Eerdmans 2016). As an aside on pgs. 13 and 14, Riches suggests an affinity between natura pura and what he calls “quasi-Nestorian logic,” though he also stresses that classical proponents of natura pura, particularly of the Thomistic school, always retained “a robust Cyrillian doctrine of the hypostatic union[.]” Riches further notes that those seeking to overcome the theology of natura pura ought to first reckon with Long and Feingold’s work, something which most contemporary theologians have simply failed to do.

Part of the Solution or…

Several years ago the website ROCOR Studies published a lengthy interview with Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. entitled, “Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?” In it, Taft discussed the history of his relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and Russian Orthodoxy in general, including his efforts to bridge the divides between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. With the Pan-Orthodox Council just over the horizon, some might wonder whether it will be “part of the problem” or “part of the solution” when it comes to Catholic/Orthodox relations. Sadly, it seems that the hierarchs of ROCOR wish it to become the former rather than the latter.

For those curious, the ROCOR synod’s eight-page epistle on the upcoming council can be found online here. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a conservative synod still enchanted by a somewhat romantic view of Orthodox history and a hyper-exclusivist ecclesiology which has less to do with “Holy Tradition” and far more to do with ethnic and national chauvinism. This is not to say the entire critical commentary is bad. For instance, the synod’s commentary on the conciliar document “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” rightly denounces the use of the term “human person” for “man” in the document, arguing that this terminological switcheroo is predicated upon both a flawed anthropology and theology. In the end, however, ROCOR wishes to keep alive the dominant ecclesiology of the Russian Orthodox Church, one which sets it as the pinnacle of not just world Orthodoxy, but Christianity as a whole.

Hopko on Christ’s Descent into Hades

Since my brief review of Lyra Pitstick’s new book has prompted a mini-discussion of the “Eastern view” of Holy Saturday and Christ’s descent, let me direct you, dear readers, to a 2008 podcast by the late Fr. Thomas Hopko housed over at Ancient Faith Radio. The podcast is also available on YouTube here. Fr. Hopko makes some needful distinctions concerning the nature of Christ’s descent and who he came to liberate from the underworld. I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Hopko that speaking of “Christ’s descent into hell” as opposed to Hades creates some unnecessary confusion and that it’s important to recall that according to the received teaching of the Eastern Church, those who rejected God’s Law before the Incarnation were not necessarily saved. However, that point really doesn’t touch on the central question Pitstick asks in her two works on Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Holy Saturday theology, namely whether or not it can find support in the teaching of the Universal Church. As Hopko makes clear, Christ did not experience the torments of hell and on this point Balthasar’s theology can find no support from the Christian East.

Review: Christ’s Descent into Hell

Some time ago, when I found it necessary to wrestle with the theological debate over natura pura (the “Ur-debate” in Catholic theology, as one social-media acquaintance put it), I advanced the point that contemporary Catholics had moved from the question, “Was Henri de Lubac right?” (about pure nature and an assortment of other things) to, “Lubac can’t be wrong.” I have seen on more than one occasion Catholics treat the suggestion that Lubac failed to properly understand St. Thomas Aquinas and his Scholastic interpreters as treasonous, even quasi-heretical. Why? Because, as the story goes, popes such as John Paul II and Benedict XVI thought well of Lubac and even cited him in both their formal papal statements and private theological works. A similar tactic has been employed to defend another “new theologian,” Hans Urs von Balthasar. When Alyssa (Lyra) Pitstick’s Light in Darkness (Eerdmans) hit the academic shelves in 2007, it set off a tidal-wave of hyperbolic criticism against Pitstick and anyone who dared agree with her that Balthasar’s theology of Christ’s Descent into hell was, well, defective. Perhaps no one led the charge against Pitstick with greater fury—and less charity—than the late Fr. Edward Oakes, though in the end neither he nor his intellectual cohorts managed to rehabilitate Balthasar’s twisted account of Christ’s infernal suffering. And so instead Pitstick’s critics threw John Paul II and Benedict XVI against her, and by doing so attempted to create the impression that Pitstick was little more than a retrograde, reactive theologian whose own thinking may be incongruent with the Catholic Faith.