Category Archives: Catholicism

Helping you with Latin in the Novus Ordo

I attend a Novus Ordo Mass (that is, the Mass in the vernacular) almost daily on campus at Notre Dame. I do love it when Latin is used in the liturgy, either in chant or in the parts of the Mass which remain the same weekly. Pat Archbold recently wrote an article titled, “7 Things to Restore the Sense of Sacred Your Pastor Could Do Tomorrow.” His suggestions are returning to an ad orientem Mass (thus having the priest and congregation face liturgical East together instead of the priest facing the congregation), using Gregorian chant and polyphony (recommended by Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Concilium), etc. 

Another one of his suggestions was to use Latin for the parts of the Mass which remain the same week-to-week. I think this is a good idea and so I wanted to help do my part for anyone interested in implementing this. Thus, I’m going to start a series of posts where I give the Latin and English of the Novus Ordo line-by-line, then provide grammatical explanations for anyone interested. The grammar of the Mass in Latin is simple. Ecclesial Latin is not Cicero. I’m not going to provide pronunciation help, but you can easily find this online. The best way to get down the pronunciation is just to do it, however. 

I also want to mention that I am allergic to liturgical politics, so this is not my way of siding with “traddies” or with “new-agers.” I just love the Mass, I love Latin, and I think both the TLM and the Novus Ordo  can be celebrated reverently. If a parish were interested in using Latin and my explanations helped them, all the better. 

As it’s always wise to begin with the beginning, let’s look at the Introductory Rites of the Mass in Latin. The parts the priest says are regular, the response of the congregation is in bold. 

In nomine Patris et Filii                  In the name of the Father and the Son 

et Spiritus Sancti                           and the Holy Spirit. 

Amen.                                           Amen. 

First up: you already know at least one Latin word here and it’s the only word the congregation has to respond with, so you’re set. 

For anyone with a bit of Latin under their belt: 

nomine is an ablative neut singular noun from nomen and means “name.” In is a preposition and with the ablative means…well…”in” (among other things, but we’re only worried about it here).

Patris – genitive masculine singular from pater. The genitive case is often used for possession, so it makes sense here that we use it. We’re beginning the Mass “in the name of“.  If the word for “Father” is in the genitive case, can you guess what Son (Filii) and Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sancti) are in? That’s right, genitive. The endings don’t look the same because they’re all different declensions (i.e. groupings of nouns in Latin). Pater is third, Filius is second, and Spiritus is fourth. The different declensions utilize different endings. You don’t need to know that to hear and understand these words in the Mass, however. 

Then is said: 

Dominus vobiscum.                                    The Lord be with you. 

Et cum spiritu tuo.                                   And with your spirit. 

Dominus is a nominative masculine singular noun meaning “Lord” or “the Lord.”  Nominative nouns are the subjects of sentences. Dominus is related to English words like “Dominion” and “Domicile” (think of someone being Lord of their home). 

Vobiscum should really be thought of as two words, vobis + cumCum is a preposition that means “with.” It is often affixed to the word with which it is translated into English so that it looks like one word. You can see the same word in your response “Et cum…” (and with). So what of vobis? It means “ya’ll” (I’m privileging my North Carolinian upbringing – when I teach Latin at Notre Dame, I make the students translate second plurals as “ya’ll” since English doesn’t really have one).  So Vobiscum means “with you (all).” 

Et is just the word “and.” It’s not the only word in Latin that means “and”, but it’s frequently used. 

Spiritu is the same word we saw in the opening, except in a different case (there Spiritus). Here it is ablative masculine singular. It means “spirit.” 

Tuo is a possessive adjective that goes with “spirit.” It simply means “your.” Easy, right? If you know any Romance languages, you probably already recognized this as “your” (think of Spanish “Tu” or the Italian “Tuo/Tua”). 

One more part: 

Kyrie eleison.                            Lord, have mercy. 

Kyrie eleison.                         Lord, have mercy. 

Christe eleison.                        Christ, have mercy.

Christe eleison.                     Christ, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.                           Lord, have mercy.

Kyrie eleison.                        Lord, have mercy.

Oremus.                                  Let us pray. 

If you have ever recited the Kyrie and thought, “This is some funny sounding Latin”, you were onto something, because this is Latinized Greek. If you attend the TLM, you’ll know that each of these is said three times, but only once here in the NO. In the Greek, the phrase is Κύριε ἐλέησον.

If you have Greek, you’ll recognize Κύριε as the vocative (the case you use in direct address) of κύριος – the Greek word for Lord. Remember the Latin for this? Dominus. So you’re directly addressing the Lord here. Likewise, Χριστέ (Christe)  is the vocative of χριστός (Christos). 

ἐλέησον is the 2 singular aorist imperative of the verb ἐλεέω or its later form, ἐλεάω. Either way, you’re imploring God to be merciful. 

The only actual Latin is what the priest says afterwards – oremus. This means “Let us pray.” It is a 1 plural (so “We” or “Us”) subjunctive (a hortatory subjunctive, if you’re into these things) from oro, orare. You may recognize the infinitival form of the verb (orare) from the famous Benedictine motto ora et labora (Pray and Work). The subjunctive is used here because the priest is exhorting us to pray. 

That seems like enough for one post. I’ll continue to write more and try to get most of the Latin used in the Novus Ordo explained. 

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Feast of St. Dominic, Founder of the Order of Preachers

St. Dominic, historically speaking, is an interesting figure. Or, rather, the lack of history surrounding him is interesting. Unlike many religious orders which seek to emulate their founder, the Dominicans are less interested in becoming an alter Dominicus. He was born, gave us the Order of Preachers, poured his life out for the sake of others, and went on to his eternal reward.  Nevertheless, we do know a few things. He was born in Castilian territory around 1171 (though possibly as late as 1173). Before his birth, his mother received a vision of a dog leaping from her womb with a torch in its mouth, setting the world on fire. This signified that St. Dominic would go out and set the world on fire with his preaching. He was brought up to be a priest – his education having been the responsibility of his uncle, an archpriest. He first founded a community of women (who had converted from being Cathars to Catholics and were thus distanced from their families) in Prouille in 1206, and finally the Order of Preachers in 1216. He was known to spend long nights in the chapel, weeping and asking God, “What will become of sinners?” He died on August 6th, 1221. His feast on the traditional calendar is August 4th and on the new calendar is today, the 8th. So this week is doubly blessed by St. Dominic’s presence.

Fanjeaux Dominic

My favorite story about St. Dominic comes from Jordan of Saxony’s Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum (Book on the beginning of the Order of Preachers). Dominic had traveled to Fanjeaux, a town in France which was a known Cathar stronghold. Public disputations with the Cathars were common.  Jordan writes:

 

24. One day a famous disputation was being held at Fanjeaux and a large number
of the faithful and unbelievers had gathered. Many of the former had written their
own books containing arguments and authorities in support of the faith. After
these books had been inspected, the one written by Blessed Dominic was
commended above the others and unanimously accepted. Accordingly, his book
and that produced by the heretics were presented to three judges chosen with the
assent of both sides, with the understanding that the side whose book was chosen
as the more reasonable defense should be regarded as having the superior faith.

25. After much wrangling, the judges came to no decision. Then they decided to
cast both books into a fire and, if either of them was not burned, it would be held
as containing the true faith. So they built a huge fire and cast the books therein.
The heretical book was immediately consumed by the fire, but the one written by
the man of God, Dominic, not only escaped burning, but, in the sight of all, leaped
far from the fire. For a second and a third time, it was cast into the fire, but each
time it leaped back and thereby openly testified to the truth of its doctrine and
the holiness of the person who had written it.

 

A humorous addition: https://thejesuitpost.org/2014/04/whether-the-society-of-jesus-is-greater-than-the-order-of-preachers/ 

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2 Peter and the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery).jpeg

Οὐ γὰρ σεσοφισμένοις μύθοις ἐξακολουθήσαντες ἐγνωρίσαμεν ὑμῖν τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δύναμιν καὶ παρουσίαν ἀλλ’ ἐπόπται γενηθέντες τῆς ἐκείνου μεγαλειότητος. λαβὼν γὰρ παρὰ θεοῦ πατρὸς τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν φωνῆς ἐνεχθείσης αὐτῷ τοιᾶσδε ὑπὸ τῆς μεγαλοπρεποῦς δόξης, Ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός μου οὗτός ἐστιν εἰς ὅν ἐγὼ εὐδόκησα, καὶ ταύτην τὴν φωνὴν ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἐνεχθεῖσαν σὺν αὐτῷ ὄντες ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ ὄρει.

For we followed not craftily devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were made eyewitnesses of his greatness. Receiving from God the Father the honor and glory, such a voice was brought upon him by the majestic glory, “This is my beloved Son – this is the one in whom I am well-pleased.” And we heard this voice borne from Heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1.16-18)

 

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Trinitarian Questions and Mormon Accounts of the “Great Apostasy”

I’m currently reading some essays from a book titled Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.  Each essay is written by a different author and covers a different subject. I have long been interested in the Latter Day Saints and particularly their concept of the “Great Apostasy” – i.e., the idea that early Christianity fell almost immediately into decline and (as it typically goes), with the death of the last Apostle, Christianity ceased to have a priesthood or authority. This decline narrative isn’t unique to the LDS, but the way they employ it is interesting.standing-apart

One of the essays I have read is by Lincoln Blumell, a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. He notes in his essay that:

it may be noted that the term Trinity (Grk. τριάς; Lat. trinitas) is not used with any technical meaning, as it would be in subsequent centuries, to define and circumscribe the relationship existing among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (“Rereading the Council of Nicaea and Its Creed,” p. 197)

He points to Clement of Alexandria in the footnote and admits that Clement does use the phrase ἁγία τριάς  in Book IV of the Stromateis, but there it refers to the trinity of “faith, hope, and love” from 1 Cor 13.13. This is true indeed. However, Clement also uses the phrase in Book V of the very same book to discuss the actual Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The opening of the 14th chapter of the 5th book indicates that Clement is going to demonstrate how the Greeks borrowed heavily from and misinterpreted Hebrew wisdom. He writes,

τὰ δ’ ἑξῆς <προσ>αποδοτέον καὶ τὴν ἐκ τῆς βαρβάρου φιλοσοφίας Ἑλληνικὴν κλοπὴν σαφὲστερον ἤδη παραστατὲον.
Now it must be shown with greater clarity the Greek plagiarism of the philosophy of the Barbarians (Hebrews).
Then, in 5.14.103, Clement writes:
οὑκ ἄλλως ἔγωγε ἐξακούω ἤ τὴν ἁγίαν τριάδα μηνύεσθαι. τρίτον μὲν γὰρ εἶναι τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, τὸν υἱὸν δὲ δεύτερον, δι’ οὗ “πάντα ἐγένετο” κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ πατρός.
I understand it [the subject of the passage from Plato] to be nothing other than the Holy Trinity, for the third is the Holy Spirit, the second the Son, the one through whom “all things came to be” according to the will of the Father.
Dr. Blumell’s footnote, quoted in part below, seems misleading:
Similarly, Clement of Alexandria is the first to use the phrase “holy trinity/triad” (ἁγία τριάς) but has it refer to the attributes of “faith, hope, and love” when discussing 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Clement indeed does use it to refer to the triad found in 1 Cor 13, but the footnote seems to imply this is the only time he uses it. This is clearly wrong, as demonstrated here. Perhaps this isn’t the sort of “technical language” Blumell is discussing, but I’m not sure exactly what he means by the phrase. Clement refers to the Word being God repeatedly throughout his works, though he does distinguish Him from the Father. However, every good Trinitarian does. Blumell makes another point here that seems unclear – he says that many of the Fathers in the second and third centuries “regarded Jesus as subordinate to and distinct from the Father.” (p. 197). With respect to subordinationism, it is true among some, though not as many, I think, as often stated (e.g. I think Origen’s “subordinationism” is totally overblown in the secondary literature). But as said above – every Trinitarian today thinks the Word is not the Father.
At any rate,  I’m not trying to impose a post-4th century Trinitarianism on the 2nd century, but it’s not as dire as Blumell is making it out to be. There is reference to the Trinity long before Nicaea and the word is used to discuss the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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The Agnus Dei Explained

Though the majority of Catholics in America attend Masses almost entirely in English, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is something that is often sung in Latin. If you have ever wondered what each word means in the song, here you go:

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

miserere                        nobis

have mercy                    on us                          (x 2)

Agnus     Dei           qui                        tollis                        peccata             mundi

Lamb   of God      (you)who            takes away                   the sins           of the world

dona             nobis                pacem

grant             to us                 peace

The initial line comes from John 1.29 where John the Baptizer says, “Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἀμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου” – Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

A few grammatical notes, for those interested:

qui is a relative pronoun and it means “who”. It is most often used with 3rd singular verbs, just like in English. “I saw a man who loves ice cream.” However, Latin will sometimes use it with a 2nd singular verb, which here is tollis (you take away/lift up/raise/destroy). So it’s “you who takes away the sins”.

miserere is an imperative, a command. “Have mercy”.

dona likewise is an imperative. “grant” or “give.” You can see it is related to the word “donation.”

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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.4

Here’s my next little chunk of Chrysostom’s “On the Priesthood.” Here he’s relating what his mother said in response to him wanting to live a communal life with a friend of his. I haven’t done the whole of her response, just this little part.

Greek Text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ᾔσθετοταῦτα βουλευόμενον, λαβοῦσά με τῆς δεξιᾶς, εἰσήγαγεν εἰς τὸν ἀποτεταγμένον οἶκον αὐτῇ καὶ καθίσασα πλησίον ἐπὶ τῆς εὐνῆς ἧς ἡμᾶς ὤδινε, πηγάς τε ἠφίει δακρύων καὶ τῶν δακρύων ἐλεεινότερα προσετίθη τὰ ῥήματα, τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀποδυρομένη. Ἐγώ, παιδίον, φησί, τῆς ἀρετῆς τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ σοῦ οὐκ ἀφείθην ἀπολαῦσαι ἐπὶ πολύ,τῷ Θεῷ τοῦτο δοκοῦν· τὰς γὰρ ὠδῖνας τὰς ἐπὶ σοὶ διαδεξάμενος ὁ θάνατος ἐκείνου, σοὶμὲν ὀρφανίαν, ἐμοὶ δὲ χηρείαν ἐπέστησεν ἄωρον καὶ τὰ τῆς χηρείας δεινὰ ἃ μόναι αἱ παθοῦσαι δύναιντ’ ἂν εἰδέναι καλῶς. Λόγος γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἂν ἐφίκοιτο τοῦ χειμῶνος
ἐκείνου καὶ τοῦ κλύδωνος ὃν ὑφίσταται κόρη, ἄρτι μὲν τῆς πατρῴας οἰκίας προελθοῦσα
καὶ πραγμάτων ἄπειρος οὖσα, ἐξαίφνης δὲ πένθει τε ἀσχέτῳ βαλλομένη καὶ ἀναγκαζομένη φροντίδων καὶ τῆς ἡλικίας καὶ τῆς φύσεως ἀνέχεσθαι μειζόνων. Δεῖ γάρ, οἶμαι, ῥαθυμίας τε οἰκετῶν ἐπιστρέφειν καὶ κακουργίας παρατηρεῖν, συγγενῶν ἀποκρούεσθαι ἐπιβουλάς, τῶν τὰ δημόσια εἰσπραττόντων τὰς ἐπηρείας καὶ τὴν ἀπήνειαν ἐν ταῖς τῶν εἰσφορῶν καταβολαῖς φέρειν γενναίως.

My translation:

For when she perceived that I was deliberating these things,  seizing me by the right hand, she led me into her own house and sat down near me upon the bed where she gave birth to me,  she sent forth streams of tears and she put forward words more pitiable than her tears, lamenting these things concerning us. She said, “I, child, was not given to enjoy the virtue of your father for long, for this seemed good to God.  His death was made manifest during the birth pangs of your birth, setting upon you orphanhood and me untimely widowhood, and also terrible things of widowhood, which only those who have suffered them are able to know well.  For there is no word suitable to describe that storm and wave which a young woman undertakes,  having just left the home of her parents and being inexperienced in business matters,  she is instantaneously cast down into unmanageable grief and forced to uphold responsibilities greater than her age and nature should allow.  For it is necessary, I say, for her to set right the laziness of the slaves and to watch closely their wickedness,  to drive away the schemes of family, to bear nobly the tax collectors and the abuses and the rudeness in the paying of taxes…”

Issues:

Again, I felt like this was a pretty straightforward text as far as the Greek goes. This piece is doubly interesting in what it tells us about women and slaves according to Chrysostom. I thought it was intriguing that Chrysostom records his own mother saying that slaves are indifferent (ῥαθυμίας) and are bad workers or even wicked (κακουργίας). I imagine that if he found these to be embarrassing, he wouldn’t have included them, though I could be wrong. I haven’t read enough Chrysostom to see if he ever says anything bad about his mother’s view towards slaves.

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John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood 1.3

I returned from Boston yesterday and found myself sitting in a coffee shop this morning, looking forward to reading a little more of Chrysostom in Greek. I think I’m getting the “tempo” of his Greek after having read a little of him now.

Greek Text:

Πλὴν  ἀλλ’  ἀγαθός τε ὢν καὶ πολλοῦ τὴν ἡμετέραν τιμώμενος φιλίαν, ἁπάντων ἑαυτὸν ἀποστήσας τῶν ἄλλων, ἡμῖν τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον συνῆν, ἐπιθυμῶν μὲν τούτου καὶ πρότερον, ὅπερ δὲ ἔφην, ὑπὸ τῆς ἡμετέρας κωλυόμενος ῥαθυμίας. Οὐ γὰρ ἦν τὸν ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ προσεδρεύοντα καὶ περὶ τὰς ἐν τῇ σκηνῇ τέρψεις ἐπτοημένον συγγίνεσθαι πολλάκις τῷ βίβλοις προσηλωμένῳ καὶ μηδὲ εἰς  γορὰν ἐμβαλόντι ποτέ. Διὰ τοῦτο πρότερον διειργόμενος, ἐπειδή ποτε ἡμᾶς ἔλαβεν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τοῦ βίου κατάστασιν, ἀθρόως ἣν πάλαι ὤδινεν ἐπιθυμίαν ἀπέτεκε τότε καὶ οὐδὲ τὸ βραχύτατον τῆς ἡμέρας ἡμᾶς ἀπολιμπάνειν ἠνείχετο μέρος, διετέλει τε παρακαλῶν ἵνα τὴν οἰκίαν ἀφέντες ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ κοινὴν ἀμφότεροι τὴν οἴκησιν ἔχοιμεν· καὶ ἔπεισε καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα ἦν ἐν χερσίν. Ἀλλά με αἱ συνεχεῖς τῆς μητρὸς ἐπῳδαὶ διεκώλυσαν δοῦναι ταύτην ἐκείνῳ τὴν χάριν, μᾶλλον δὲ λαβεῖν ταύτην παρ’ ἐκείνου τὴν δωρεάν.

 

My translation:

In addition to being a better man than most, and honoring our friendship, he separated himself from all the others, he associated with us all the time, wishing for how it was before – but just as I said before, he was hindered by our indifference.  For it was not possible for the one regularly attending the law court and excited by the delights of the stage to associate with the one ever fastened to books and never going into the market.  After this was removed, and when he had received us into his state of life, he all at once brought forth the desire which he had long anguished over, and he could not stand to leave us even for the smallest measure of time, and so he persevered calling on each of us to give up our own home in order that we both might have a common home.  He persuaded me and the matter was in hand. But the continuous wailing of my mother hindered me from giving this kindness to him, or rather to receive this gift from him.

 

Issues:

This was fairly straightforward. I’m getting a little less wooden as I become more comfortable with reading Chrysostom. If you find something you think I’m being a little too loose with or if I’ve just misread Chrysostom entirely, please let me know.

Chrysostom’s use of ὤδινεν and ἀπέτεκε is interesting. ὠδίνω means to be in pains due to childbirth, and τίκτω (from which we get ἀπέτεκε) means to give birth to a child. It’s interesting that Chrysostom uses this sort of language before mentioning his own mother whose “continuous wailing” (αἱ συνεχεῖς ἐπῳδαὶ) hindered Chrysostom. Chrysostom’s biological mother is hindering the birth of his friend’s “child”, the desire for a communal life and Christian friendship.

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The Filioque

Here at the Pappas Patristics Institute I’m having the chance to help with a course on the Filioque. The institute is held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, though many of the participants come from a variety of religious backgrounds. It’s great to see such an interest in the Fathers.

In our Filioque course this morning we read some excerpts from Gregory Nazianzus’ oration on the Holy Spirit (31). He states that his purpose in writing this section is:

ἵνα τὸ ἀσύγχυτον σώζηται τῶν τριῶν ὑποστάσεων ἐν τῇ μιᾷ φύσει τε ἀξίᾳ θεότητος

“In order to safeguard the distinction of the three hypostases in the single nature and dignity of the Godhead.”

Thus, for Gregory, the issue is protecting the individual hypostases from Sabellianism, which he identifies in the same passage.  He stresses John 15.26’s use of “procession” as a hypostatic quality of the Holy Spirit.

We also read a bit from Hilary of Poitiers in Book VIII of De Trinitate. Throughout he stresses the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. He makes the point that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son in Jn 16 and is said in 15.26 to proceed from the Father. Does the Spirit receive from the Son alone? Of course not. This would be absurd to Hilary. Likewise, does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone? Hilary would say no. Proceeding is like receiving in that both Son and Father participate.

The issue seems to be where one’s theological emphases are. For Hilary, he has to argue against Arianism. Arianism tried to say that the Son was of a different nature than the Father, overstating the distinction between the hypostases, so Hilary works to show the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. What the Father does, the Son does. Gregory, on the other hand, is dealing with Sabellians (Modalists) for whom there was absolutely no distinction between the hypostases, thus he has to stress the particular hypostatic qualities of each person within the Trinity. Therefore when he comes to Jn 15.26, he cannot say that proceeding (τὸ ἐκπορευτὸν) is like sending, giving, or any other term the Latins use, because that would wreck his argument. He has to find something in Scripture to keep the Holy Spirit hypostatically unique in order to fend off Modalism.

The instructor for the course made a good point concerning these texts: we’re essentially looking at a train wreck that won’t happen for another 400 years. The beliefs of each are wholly orthodox, but the trajectories of these texts point to future problems.  As a Catholic, I’m quite happy to be here discussing these ideas with others, particularly my Orthodox brothers and sisters. We’re far from gathering around the altar and singing  Te Deum, but it never hurts to truly understand the position of another.

 

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A response to nonsense: Catholics and Scholarship again.

As an undergraduate student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I could, without a second thought, dismiss Catholicism (without knowing what it really was) and all Catholics easily. In fact, like C. Michael Patton, I would say that I hated Roman Catholicism and, not that he has said this, that I just knew that most Catholics (those who were actually Papists) were going to hell. I was not in the minority there. I get this sort of response to Catholicism. I, however, never wrote blog posts titled “Why I hate Roman Catholicism.” Patton has decided, after being taken to task both with the content and tone of his post by Protestants and Catholics alike, to write a post in defense of what he said.

Jeremy at “Unsettled Christianity” has responded against to Patton’s post and I think has made an interesting point with his story.

Brian LePort has written another calm response to Michael as well.

I have a few things I guess I can add to this discussion as an Evangelical-turned-Catholic.

Firstly, all revelation, by nature, restricts our freedom in what we can and cannot say if we’re to remain honest to revelation.  If we believe that God really did reveal some things (whatever you take the word ‘reveal’ to mean), then there is already a limitation. This is the nature of naming or categorizing anything – it is a limitation.  Not all limitations are bad. The Church’s teaching authority is as much an imposition on me as gravity is on my body or logic is on my mind. I was an atheist before I became an Evangelical. I was an irritating, know-it-all, quoting Nietzsche without understanding Nietzsche atheist. I have heard from atheist friends that by becoming a Christian, I have given up my ability to be a rational, critical reader of the Bible and Church history.  Would Michael say that I am no longer a critical thinker because I now affirm the Resurrection and say with faith that I know it to be true? How about the Apostles? Ought they to have doubted Christ’s resurrection in perpetuity for good measure? Is ‘faith’ just a good guess in Michael’s theology, not a gift from God, an epistemological source of Truth about the mysteries? Ought I to have remained atheist or perhaps only made my way to agnosticism? I know he wouldn’t prefer that, but in trying to score cheap points against Catholics, he’s set the stage for such an argument.

Michael’s praise of doubt has rightly been criticized as empty skepticism, the sort of methodology used by people who tell us that by not believing anything, they are the true scholars, the truly unbiased.  Bryan Cross’ examples were great. If someone tells me I don’t have arms, I need not think, “Well, in order to be truly critical here, I ought to accept the fact that maybe I’m wrong about my having arms. Perhaps they are right.” At that point I should throw up my possibly non-existent arms because that sort of thinking makes people crazy.

Catholics are a community and do theology accordingly. Could one remain an orthodox Christian in the 4th century while claiming that the logos is simply an emanation of the supreme God who did not create but sent His Wisdom to teach us about how we can be liberated from materiality? No. Can one imagine Marcion writing a letter to his friends complaining that those silly orthodox Christians are so weighed down with their orthodoxy that they won’t even let him teach that the OT is not Scripture?  I cannot. It would have been ridiculous. There are certain things that go into being a Christian and those things, as stated above, are naturally limitations. Apples cannot be oranges. This is not an insult to oranges. If one does not want to be Catholic because they find something objectionable, they are free not to be Catholic. But, calling oneself Catholic naturally brings with it certain “things” and those things are, just like revelation in general, limitations. If they are true, and I believe they are, they are beneficial limitations.

Michael goes through a list of things with which he disagrees (the usual list, handled so many times on the internet it makes little sense to get into it here).  I think the difference between what Michael does as a Protestant and what I do as a Catholic is that I am willing to submit that the democracy of the Christian dead and the community of the living is probably in the right when I disagree with things. Does this mean that the Church asks me to be infantile in my beliefs? μη γένοιτοThe Church asks no such thing. Read Fides et Ratio by Blessed John Paul II. As a Catholic, I have yet to have anyone tell me anything is “out of bounds” for questioning. Does this mean that I teach against something before I understand it? No.  Chesterton tells a story of two types of men who come across a fence built across a road. The modern reforming type of man looks at the fence and determines that he has no use for it, that it serves no purpose and knocks it down. The other man is a bit more historically inclined, a bit less sure that he is in the right about the fence. He studies it and thinks on the fence for a long time before deciding how to proceed. I try to be the second man, even when my modern reforming tendencies come out.

Lastly, I just want to speak to the tone. I am at times snarky, perhaps even downright mean. I can admit this. However, Michael’s justification of his gaffe has me shaking my head. When you are taken to task for your tone and content of your post, the wise decision is probably not to write a post with a title such as, “Why I hate Roman Catholicism” and then discuss how you feel you have the “right” to write such a “wounds a friend post every once in awhile.” He affirms how great it is to see his Protestant brethren supporting Catholics, but then justifies his own ridiculous post. At least he affirms that posts like that do little to glorify Christ.

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Can Catholics, Roman or Otherwise, be Scholars?

C. Michael Patton over at the “Parchment and Pen” blog has written a post where he states that he doubts that Catholics are able to be scholars, or at least honest ones. He writes:

 I don’t believe one can be a true Roman Catholic and a scholar at the same time. Why? Because being a Roman Catholic militates against what makes someone a scholar in my opinion.

What is it about true scholarship that Patton finds is incongruent with Catholicism? Doubt. Because Catholics cannot doubt the Magisterium, says Patton, we cannot be true scholars. I think his post has been met with several good critiques in the comments that I do not think he has handled, specifically by Bryan Cross (of Called to Communion Fame) and Frank Beckwith. If I can quote Bryan here, I think he has hit the nail on the head with respect to Patton’s post:

Your position eliminates all *Christian* theological scholarship, insofar as anyone attempts to engage in theological research while taking as a given any theological proposition. In other words, it instantly eliminates from the canon of scholarship any piece of work (Protestant or Catholic) that takes any theological claim (e.g. Jesus is God, the Bible is true, etc.) as a given. In that respect, you’ve just destroyed the possibility of all *Christian* scholarship.

Patton, in looking to score points against Catholics, has used an argument that could just as easily be used by someone who is not a Christian against Christians who study Christianity.

Jeremy at “Unsettled Christianitywrote a post in response to this wherein he quotes Donum Veritatis (On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian). The document handles just what it means for a theologian to doubt Magisterial teaching and what sorts of things go on in that situation.

Brian LePort responds on his blog “Near Emmaus” with a post entitled “Roman Catholics cannot be scholars?! If so, then neither can most evangelicals.” On top of listing a number of great Catholic scholars (and to his list I would add people like my adviser, Blake Leyerle, John Cavadini, Brian Daley, Robin Darling Young, Paul Griffiths, Reinhard Hütter, and a whole host of others), he makes a great point with two questions and answers:

Would the University of Notre Dame employ an accomplished evangelical scholar? Sure. Would Wheaton College employ a Roman Catholic scholar? No.

Not only would we here at ND employ Evangelical and other non-Catholic scholars, we do so! Even in the theology department! The kind of dialogue we have here at Notre Dame is fantastic. Some of the people with whom I have grown close in the last year, students and faculty, are Protestants. Did I get this sort of interaction while a student at Southeastern Baptist? Of course not. Would Southeastern Baptist ever think to hire a Catholic to teach Hebrew or Greek or Church history? Not in a million years.

Patton’s arguments are ridiculous, but they have been handled both in the comments on his own blog and on the websites of others. If I respond at all, it will be to one aspect of his post, the idea of Luther’s “doubt.” Luther undoubtedly doubted himself at some points, but we have claims to authority from his very hand that would be absolutely shocking if a Pope were to claim the same thing.

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