Nice. Now Catholics Get to Argue Over Liturgy.

The catholicity of the Catholic Church is already being tested by the usual hot-button chestnuts (sex, gender, etc.), but now there is a new, stupider controversy. Recently, Pope Francis restored the restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, and it now requires episcopal permission. This is a reversal of Benedict XVI’s 2007 “olive branch” to traditionalists in Summorum Pontificum, which allowed priests to celebrate the 1962 Missal freely.

Some believe that the move is a defining moment in the good kind of way. From this perspective, Summorum Pontificum only heightened the polarization between progressives and traditionalists, with Tridentine masses serving as rally-points for reactionary Catholicism and Vatican II denialism. Some Bishops are definitely worried about this; Francis’ decision came as a result of their responses to a questionnaire on Pontificum’s effects.

So there is certainly a connection between the “extraordinary” Mass and hard-right shennanigans, but is this true of all parishes? Ritual traditionalism is not just a bitter, rightwing thing; it is what attracts many to Catholicism. The Church should not close off liturgical pathways to reaching today’s youth, a large number of whom are oddly fascinated with the old-timey stuff. 

Roman-stans form a small part of Global Catholicism, so this could just be a big nothing-burger. But it is worth reflecting, along with Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen, about whether liturgical restrictions are really a solution to what is undoubtedly a deeper problem in the Church. Even though it’s likely that most Bishops will continue to allow the Latin Mass, taking away a community’s freedom to their preferred style of worship (and during a pandemic, no less) risks greater disunity.

 

 

Noted Insurrectionist Josh Hawley Punches Down at Pelagius

Credit: Francis Chung/AP (well, half of it)

Lost amidst all the rebellion of the past few weeks was a charming theological nugget that resurfaced from well over a year ago. We almost missed it ourselves! Josh Hawley, last seen avoiding Mittens’ gaze, wrote a lovely little tome back in the good, pre-pandemic times, blaming all of America’s liberal failures on Pelagius, the mortal nemesis of none other than St. Augustine. When he got caught up in the most recent shenanigans, the NYT decided to revisit his theology in a profile linking him to Bill Barr and the other greats of Christian Nationalism.

Pelagius, for the laity, was the great patristic pitchman of human freedom. For him, free will was a gift of Grace, and human beings ought to make full use of it- with God’s help and Christ’s guidance of course! Admittedly, Augustine was a bit overzealous in the takedown of the man; his polemics are why some folks today wrongly assume Pelagius believed that human beings were capable of perfection completely on their own. Really, Pelagius’ biggest sin was underestimating sin itself, as he did not agree with Ol’ Hippo’s understanding of the Fall. But to be completely fair to the poor Irishman, Original Sin was not yet doctrine at the time.

Now we certainly know better today, but any good Catholic will tell you that the inherent sinfulness of man is no reason to poo-poo the good works of free will, even if it needs a touch o’ Grace to set in the right direction. Nor is it any reason to blame Pelagius for his wrong ideas, especially since no one friggin’ knows who he is. Well, outside patristics nerds – they certainly had a good day on Twitter:

If Hawley wants a real antagonist, he should look closer to home. The dear Senator was apparently raised Methodist, where he was undoubtedly was exposed to the *gasp* horrors of John Wesley and his Arminian notions of sanctification. Indeed, Jacobus Arminius is the greater, more relavent instigator of human freedom in faith. Perhaps that’s why poor young Joshua had to flee to the safety of the Evangelicalisms…which are premised the fundamental choice of accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior or not. Whoops.

Pelagius was just a straw man for Augustine’s theology, just as he is a straw man for Hawley’s social conservatism-cum-White Christian nationalism. Hawley’s theology makes zero sense. For all their faults, neither Pelagian nor Arminian freedom necessarily led to moral relativism. Our free choices are always meant to be guided by a principle of goodness! What Hawley really has a problem with is that other people – and other Christians – have different understandings of the “good life,” and they choose to live accordingly. Hey, we totally sympathize, Joshua! We’ve been dealing with Christian pluralism since 1517.

Trump is Not a Classical Theist

Donald Trump’s faith claims have always been dubious, leading his Christian supporters to double-down on millenarianism to justify that support. At this point I am inclined to believe that they’re right, and he will bring about some variation of apocalypse, though probably not the one from the LaHaye and Jenkins extended universe.

But while I strongly believe he’s an atheist, what Trump says reveals much about how he thinks about God, should that God exist. Recently, in Ohio, he went on one of his extended rants against Joe Biden and his “handlers” in the radical left. One of the more interesting things he said was that Biden would “hurt God:”

Now any mainstream theologian will tell you that such a statement is nonsensical, if taken literally. God cannot be harmed by any human action or natural event. A Biden victory would not in any way diminish the totality of God. Now it’s true that classical theism has come under increasing scrutiny. Certainly, the idea of a static, immovable God does not exactly cohere with the sacrificial and emotional aspects of the cross. Therefore more dynamic conceptualizations have been proposed, most prominently the “process” ones. While no less omni-potent, -present and -scient, the basic idea behind process theologies is that because God is with the world and the world with God, God must change as the world changes. However, process theologians think in terms of addition, never subtraction: God grows with the world, but never shrinks, i.e., God cannot be negatively affected in any substantive way. Joe Biden can become President and declare God dead and God would not even bat an eye. Likewise Trump could blow up the planet and God would still be there. Might Trump believe his policies, whatever they are, better actualize God’s growth potential?

Or maybe Trump meant that God would be emotionally hurt — angered or saddened — by the papist Biden’s Presidency and Marxist agenda. There’s nothing inherently unorthodox about thinking that way, as God certainly feels. Of course, that then moves us from a primarily philosophical argument to a more practical, moral dispute over Scripture and whether or not certain interpretations of it displease God. But this is actually the better debate, and one that still reveals a lot about how Trump and his evangelical rabble understand divinity. Put simply, their God is a God who prioritizes not getting His feelings hurt. Now, God is indeed a jealous God (Ex. 34:14), but there’s a difference between jealousy for the sake of one’s own gain and a selfless, sacrificial “jealousy” for the sake of others. In the latter sense, Christians worship the crucified God because that God wants love, justice and peace for all creation.

But Trumpists are clearly not really interested in all that sjw propaganda, instead favoring the former divine characterization. Like themselves, their God is basically a mean-spirited, envious, self-centered and fundamentally insecure entity. Look no further than Trump himself, who clearly doesn’t believe in God (or anything else that could possibly transcend him), but whose imagined God is basically a projection of himself: a narcissistic man-child that demands loyalty through material sacrifice. So no, Trump is not a classical theist — more ancient, tribal deities more greatly appeal to him.

Pope Encourages Direct Confession if One Absolutely Must

The Holy Father suggested last week that if good, honest Catholics like myself cannot find a priest, then they may confess their sins directly to God. Truly we live in extraordinary times! But before you Calvinists and Lutheranists pop any champagne over this temporary deviation from sacramental norms, this is all perfectly in order. Hard-headed as the Faith may be we are certainly not inflexible, hence our most beautiful Catechism No. 1452! 

I would also very much like to stress the highly contingent nature of this novel practice. It is only permitted if one is restrictively cloistered-in-place or an ordained priest is completely unavailable (perhaps due to chloroquine poisoning). But already my brethren are finding novel ways to keep the confessional supply chain moving!

(Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Furthermore, “perfect contrition” is a valid but ultimately provisional practice. When the coast is clear, all must get to a priest without delay for a proper expulsion of sins. Make sure to jot down all your transgressions!

This is not our first plague, dear Catholics. We’ve been beating back the Devil’s microbes since before the schismatics started marring our sacrosanct doorways with unsolicited comment cards.