Ephemera XI

Peter E. Gordon has a review up at The New York Review of Books of a(nother) new book on Søren Kierkegaard, this one by a staunch non-Christian. Based on Gordon’s summary, the book sounds ghastly; his remarks, however, merit some attention. Kierkegaard is a vexing figure in the history of theology/philosophy. The kids love him, but by the time they settled into their mid-to-late 20s, the gloomy Dane’s writings start to lose their savor. Kierkegaard the seeming non-conformist is “cool”; the real man behind the writings is decidedly less so, what with his melancholy religiosity fueled by fideism, individualism, and maybe a wee bit more Hegelianism than Kierkegaard himself would admit. His call for others to live as “authentic Christians” (a height he may or may not have achieved during his relatively short stay on earth) has a certain attractiveness to it, at least until people have to get jobs, juggle marriages, deal with kids, etc. Gordon, naturally, tries to find contradictions in Kierkegaard, such as his support for the old Danish regime over and against 19th C. liberalizing reforms. How can such a staunch individualist like Kierkegaard not buy into the promises of liberalism? Gordon doesn’t really bother with what Kieregaard had to say on the subject (it’s really not all that much anyways). He just shakes his head in disappointment, unable to reconcile how someone who saw Christianity to be the narrowest path in life couldn’t be bothered to embrace the wide and easy road to comfort, entertainment, and indifference — the unholy trinity of the liberal imagination.

Rorate Caeli may have blocked me on Twitter for not agreeing with their pro-Trump heterodoxy, but I still check-in on their blog. Their latest post, an op-ed, discusses the perennial importance of Latin in the Roman Rite. While I find the piece a tad it ahistorical and maybe a little too enamored with the exoticness of Latin, I remain generally favorable toward the idea of Latin being retained as the Romans’ primary liturgical tongue. Today, in the age of hand missals, it is not terribly difficult for a layman unschooled in Latin to follow the Tridentine Mass. Moreover, basic ecclesial Latin is far easier to pick up than other extant liturgical languages such as Byzantine Greek and Church Slavonic. In fact, some time ago, I posted a defense of Church Slavonic which, for better or worse, was met with some mixed reactions. My point then — which some missed — is not that Slavonic should hold primacy of place in the Slavo-Byzantine Rite, but that it should not be abandoned wholesale. There is much to be said about retaining a basic sense of liturgical continuity through the ages and for local churches not to abandon their patrimony fully even as they seek appropriate ways to spread the Gospel.

Yesterday’s post, “Heaven Forbid,” along with “All Earthly Cares,” were not intended to signal a new direction for Opus Publicum, though I can understand how some may have interpreted them that way. If anything, they represent a “summation” of certain views which I have developed over the course of this particular blogging endeavor, though I doubt either post constitutes my “last word” on the fraught matter of religion and politics. What is starting to become clear to me is how tempting it is to turn Catholicism, particularly traditional Catholicism, into a political religion that fills-in certain moral and metaphysical gaps left by liberalism. It is disturbingly easy for an authentic concern for the common good to degrade into an ideology or, worse, associate itself with an extant ideology (e.g. Marxism) to the point where advancing the ideology becomes more crucial than preparing for the return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a temptation to flee, to build-up a quasi-Gnostic existence that shuns the world entirely and hope that something — anything — saves us.

As a final remark, let me say that yesterday’s post in no way, shape, or form questions the reality that the entire deposit of faith is to be found in the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In discussing the Eastern Orthodox, my point was entirely empirical and I believe I was clear enough on the fact that contemporary Orthodoxy limps when it comes to certain moral matters. Obviously the Orthodox do not agree with the Catholic conception of primacy in the Church, a crucial fact that sadly keeps the East/West estrangement alive to this day. However, on any given Sunday, what an Orthodox priest thinks privately about the Ordinary of Rome and the extent of his jurisdiction is peripheral to what he preaches based on the infallible Word of God. A priest who believes it is his duty to share his personal theological opinions or pet social causes from the pulpit is in dereliction of his duty, or so I believe. This is not to say there aren’t Orthodox priests who go down that road; they just appear to do it far, far less on average than Latin Catholic clerics. If Latin Catholics are uncomfortable with that reality, then praise be. Do something about it; don’t just sit there and lament and make excuses.

Ephemera X

Call me crazy, but I had no idea that linking excerpts on Facebook from a talk Archimandrite Gabriel Bunge gave recently in Ukraine would elicit so much critical feedback. Bunge, for those unaware, is a former Catholic Benedictine monk-turned-Russian Orthodox who has penned several books on Evagrius Ponticus. A former student of one Joseph Ratzinger, this line seems to be raising some hackles: “My teacher and professor who later became Pope Benedict XVI understood many things but did nothing.” If spoken by a traditional Catholic, I imagine it would generate more than a few likes; uttered from the mouth of a “schismatic,” however, it immediately draws Catholic ire. For the record, I think Bunge (and extreme traditionalists) are wrong: Summorum Pontificum was not “nothing”; the symbolic value of lifting the (illicit) excommunications of the Society of St. Pius X bishops was not “nothing”; and many of the strong words Benedict XVI had concerning Islam, secularization in Europe, and the loss of direction in the Catholic Church were not “nothing.” Although I believe Papa Ratzinger fell way short of correcting many major problems in the Church and likely even contributed to some of them consciously, his pontificate — like most pontificates — deserves to be approached with nuance and charity. As for Bunge’s other remarks regarding Catholicism, it’s hard not to see them as much more than an expression of Byzantine chauvinism mixed with a serious lack of understanding of how “Protestantized” parts of Orthodoxy have become. Yes, the Catholic Church has many serious issues facing it; so does the Orthodox Church. The sooner both camps realize this and tend to those issues the better off we’ll all be.

I know this is a little offbeat for me to write about, but for those of you who, like me, have fallen out of shape and/or are dealing with nagging injuries from past athletic activity (two bum knees and right shoulder issues for yours truly), let me recommend that you seriously consider trying DDP Yoga. DDP stands for “Diamond Dallas Page,” a former professional wrestler who made it big in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s and early 00s. DDP designed the program to aide in his own recovery and it has helped numerous other wrestlers (past and present) rehabilitate themselves while — according to the testimonials — transforming numerous lives. Personally, I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that my slow immersion into DDP’s low-impact, high energy workouts has resulted in noticeable improvement in my shoulder mobility, considerably less knee pain, and an overall sense of just feeling better. Granted, I haven’t been as committed to the program as I should be (that’s now changed) and I definitely had some changes to make in my diet (ugh kale), but this is the first program I have come across that literally anybody can do, regardless of where they are physically. Every workout — even the most basic — comes with numerous examples of modifications people can make based on their fitness level and the beginner workouts are very accessible. If, like me, you prefer to use a mobile device for streaming, there is also DDP Yoga Nowwhich has all of the current workouts; past workouts from earlier iterations of the DDP Yoga program; and new live workouts added at regular intervals. The site/app also allows you to track your workouts, receive great advice from others who have tried the program, and pick up other helpful hints. If you are worried about this form of “yoga” meaning “Eastern spiritualism” or some other fluffy nonsense, don’t. It is 100% practical; geared to be fun; and — dare I say? — inspirational.

Not to make this post too plug heavy, but this one won’t cost you a dime — and it will improve your mind and Catholic outlook. The Uncommon Good, from Iowa Catholic Radio, is hosted by Bo Bonner and Dr. Bud Marr. The show is dedicated to discussing the common good, Catholic social teaching, and the social reign of Christ the King. It airs every Wednesday at 9am and 9pm CST and can be streamed from the link above. If you are interested in listening to past shows, they are readily available from iTunes here. If all goes according to plan, I will be appearing on the show in the near future. When that happens, I will certainly post about it here.

Hunwicke on the New Coptic Martyrs

Last year, I wrote several posts on those 21 brave Coptic souls who gave their lives for Christ in Libya at the hands of the so-called “Islamic State.” You can find the first one here, and the follow-ups here and here. Not everyone agreed with what I wrote at the time. Certain traditional Catholics, armed with their fortress ecclesiology, could not contemplate a heavenly reward for any individual who died outside of visible communion with the See of St. Peter.

Now comes Fr. John Hunwicke with a renewed take on the matter. The blog entry is short, and so I will quote it in full below. If you have any questions or concerns about the content of the piece, I would suggest you take it up with him in his web-log’s combox.

In the fine CDF documents Communionis notio and Dominus Iesus, the Church’s Magisterium clarified the position of those Christian bodies which possess true ministry and Sacraments. This does clarification most certainly not imply, as some people have foolishly argued, that “the Orthodox Church” is a “sister Church” of “the Catholic Church”. Nor does it mean that “the Moskow Patriarchate” is “a sister Church” of the “Latin Church”.

By “particular Church”, what is meant is a Church constituted organically with a Bishop, his presbyterate, his diaconate, and all the holy People of God. That is a true Church by divine right, and, incidentally, this is why from time to time it becomes necessary to remind everybody that Catholic ecclesiology has no place for “national Churches”; and views with justified suspicion any movements towards giving Episcopal Conferences anything other than minmal and practical functions. As Cardinal Mueller once wisely said, we must never think of the Chairpersons of Episcopal Conferences as any sort of vice-popes. Nor, as he made clear, must Conferences and their bureaucracies come between the Diocesan Bishop and the Bishop of Rome, each of whom (unlike the Conferences) is iure divino.

What this definition of “Particular Church” means is, for example, that the Diocese of S Petersburg, and the diocese of Brentwood, are true sister Churches; it being understood that the Diocese of S Petersburg is a true particular Church but “wounded” by its separation from the See of S Peter; and the Diocese of Brentwood is wounded by the schism which hinders the Catholic Chuch from realising and manifesting the complete fulfillment of her universality in history.

This, I think, is why we need have no hesitation in recognising those Coptic peasants who, murmuring the Name of their Redeemer, had their throats cut on that Mediterranean beach as “our” martyrs.

Ephemera IX

Last Wednesday, much to my shock and chagrin, a rather unremarkable meme tweeted by yours truly concerning the farce that is “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” was picked up by none other than right-wing darling Ann Coulter. In less than 24 hours, my tweet had been re-tweeted nearly 1,000 times. Then the zaniness set in. As much as I appreciate new Twitter followers and web-log readers, I should stress in no uncertain terms that I do not identify with the alt-right, nor do I support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency. As I tried to make clear on Twitter, I am an integralist — nothing more, nothing less. That doesn’t mean there aren’t certain positions that I hold that are alt-right-ish. For instance, I support thorough background checks for immigrants and refugees arriving from the Middle East and believe that Middle-Eastern Christians should be prioritized; I am skeptical of free-trade accords and surrendering of economic sovereignty; and I harbor a very low opinion of international institutions and law (at least as conventionally understood). However, as I have repeatedly made clear on Opus Publicum, I reject the ethnic and racialist elements of the alt-right and I stand by the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church that I am under no obligation to vote in the upcoming election. Admittedly, that does place me at odds with many conservatives, including some conservative and traditional Catholics who feel that it is their duty to stop Hillary Clinton’s White House run at all costs. So be it, so be it.

On my way to church this morning I heard a brief, but positive, story on Michigan Radio (National Public Radio affiliate) about the Institute of Christ the King’s (ICKSP) arrival today in Detroit at the St. Joseph Oratory. The report probably wasn’t as clear as it ought to have been, though I appreciate the story stressing the ICKSP’s work in restoring old churches while bringing the traditional Mass to the faithful. As some readers may recall, I paid many a visit to the Institute’s Shrine in Chicago when I lived there. Tragically, last October, the Shrine was engulfed by flames and the restoration work already put into the historic structure was lost. By the Grace of God, the ICKSP received the green-light to press ahead with bringing the Shrine back to life. While it will take years before the church building is fully restored, you can help in the Institute’s good work by donating to their efforts here. I can say without reservation that my experiences with the Institute’s clergy was uniformly positive. Moreover, their willingness to reintroduce certain aspects of the pre-1962 liturgy is to be applauded.

Speaking of liturgy, there is an Antiochian Orthodox mission not terribly far from my abode — St. Willibrord — which does a rather remarkable job combining Antiochian liturgical norms with a Russian musical aesthetic. This strikes me as wise. To most Western years, Byzantine and Arab chant can be a little off-putting, and if it’s not done well, it’s absolutely wretched. Additionally, there are far more online and published resources for Russian liturgical music available in English than for any other Eastern chant system around. Years ago I suggested that, in time, a common liturgical aesthetic would eventually took root in the United States, though that was back during my “optimistic days” when I thought American Orthodoxy was less than a decade away from ecclesiastical unity. This is not to say that I think American Orthodoxy needs to flock to one chant system alone. There are many beautiful Byzantine (or Byzantine-inspired) settings that should be retained, not to mention a number of other lesser-appreciated systems, such as Carpatho-Rusyn chant, that many Orthodox rarely get to hear. Maybe the hope I had was that one day a man could walk into an Orthodox parish and know before it starts how many litanies he will pray. Is that too much to ask?

Since I am already “out East,” I’ll close this out there. I am starting to make my way again through the two-volume memoirs of Metropolitan Evlogy, My Life’s Journey. I want to see if, on a second reading, my initial judgment holds up, namely that these memories are indispensable reading for all Orthodox Christians (particularly would-be converts). For those unaware, Evlogy lived and served the Russian Orthodox Church during the waning years of “Holy Russia” and was instrumental for leading the Orthodox diaspora in Western Europe after the Soviet Revolution. It seems there was no ecclesiastical event (or upheaval) from that period that Evlogy was not front-and-center for. Even non-Orthodox, particularly Greek Catholics, may be interested in Evlogy’s interaction with Greek and Latin Catholics during that period. Needless to say, while Evlogy recounts the efforts of many holy priests and monastics to keep the flame of Orthodoxy alive, his first-hand account of “Holy Russia” is less-than-edifying at times. A clerical caste system, political interference, mixed levels of education, disaffected youth (particularly the sons of clergy), and a most of other social and political problems conspired to consign Orthodoxy to being little more than a cultural artifact in late-Imperial Russia. Just like today, the 19th/early 20th Century was no “golden age” for Russian Orthodoxy, and the sooner more Orthodox understand this, the healthier their communion will be.

Ephemera VIII

Adam DeVille, over at his Eastern Christian Books blog, posted an interview last month with Will Cohen, author of The Concept of “Sister Churches” in Catholic-Orthodox Relations Since Vatican II. Although I have not yet had a chance to read Cohen’s book, my suspicion is that the title alone will lead to some knee-jerk reactions from both sides of the ecclesiastical divide. So it goes. As for the interview itself, I am intrigued by Cohen’s observation “that the East-West schism wasn’t so much something that happened as something that was and still is in process of happening[.]” I think that’s accurate, at least to the extent that we know by now that the rupture in Christendom wasn’t a “big bang” moment in 1054 A.D. and that East/West relations were, at points, cordial up until after the Council of Florence. By the close of the 18th Century, however, it seems that one can say that the schism became more severe, what with the rise of hyper-nationalism in Greece and the imperial ambitions of Russia. Somewhat ironically, only when Orthodoxy was driven West due in large part to the Soviet Revolution and its aftermath did a truly separationaist mindset fully set-in, one which has bequeathed us a strange legacy of historical revisionism, conspiracy theorizing, and incoherent ecclesiologies. Despite all of this, Cohen thinks there is hope for the future — and I certainly hope he’s right.

Speaking of DeVille, be sure to check out his latest piece on primacy and synodality over at Catholic World Report. In reflecting on the recent Catholic/Orthodox joint statement on the topic, DeVille suggests that one of the impediments to East/West reconciliation is not so much doctrinal as it is canonical. Specifically, DeVille looks to the 1917 and 1983 codes of canon law (along with the 1990 Eastern code) to track how papal authority is framed in the light of the two Vatican councils and what might be done about it in order to bring Church governance closer to a first-millennium model. To be clear, DeVille does not ignore the dogmatic statements concerning primacy contained in Vatican I’s Pastor Aeternus; he simply rejects the idea that this document serves as an insurmountable wall between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Of course, changing some canons probably won’t get all of the work done. Given that we live now in the era of the “celebrity pope” where papalotry runs wild, it will take some time to ween Catholics — including many conservative Catholics — that the papacy is akin to the U.S. presidency, where meaningful limits on the exercise of power are more illusory than real and “the executive” can and should micromanage the government. That is not the historic role of the pope in the Universal Church, and it shouldn’t be his role today.

It’s taken a little bit, but The Josias is starting to come back to life, especially in the wake of the Tradinista nonsense. Now that Elliot Milco has channeled Matt Hardy and finally deleted the Tradinistas, hopefully more work will be put into The Josias‘s work of trying to “articulate an authentically Catholic political stance from which to approach the present order of society.” If you have not yet visited the site and perused the archives, please do. There you will find a treasure chest of fresh commentaries, original translations, and reflections on topics such as the common good, Catholic Action, integralism, the American Founding, and history. It is a wonderful resource and one that I encourage all thoughtful and faithful Catholics to consider contributing to.

Finally, the Major League Baseball postseason is now well underway and I couldn’t be more disappointed with the results thus far. After my Detroit Tigers failed to secure a Wild Card spot, I have been forced to watch two lackluster and tilted American League Division Series while also recoiling in horror over the possibility that this year might actually be the Chicago Cubs’ year (Heaven forbid). At this point I don’t see how the Cubs won’t be in the World Series at the end of October. As for the American League, while I believe the Toronto Blue Jays have a stronger ball club overall than injury-plagued Cleveland, I won’t sell short Terry Francona’s ability to lead the Indians to victory. And so I am going to go with Cleveland over Toronto in six and then do my best to believe that they can eventually overcome the Chicago juggernaut.