Thursday, April 30, 2015

Does the Church Teach that Hell is Empty?

Q. Why are you bothering with Dante and his vision of Hell? Don't you know Hell is empty or at least almost empty? Pope Benedict, in Spe Salvi 45-47, said so! Thinking people are damned is no different than dissenting over Humanae Vitae!

This comment is incredibly misleading as to the contents of Spe Salvi and is thus unfair to Pope Benedict (as it entirely misrepresents his opinion). Let's look at the paragraphs you cited.

Paragraph 45 speaks about Purgatory and only mentions the following about Hell,
"With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell."
Nothing here about the number of the damned, only a description of how people become damned and an admission that at least some famous people, and maybe more obscure people, fit this mold and would, then, be damned. Paragraph 45, then, seems to eliminate the idea that no one is lost.

Paragraph 47 is irrelevant to this discussion, leaving only paragraph 46 to consider. It is here that Pope Benedict offers a non-magisertrial opinion, one which is not meant to override previous magisterial teaching (see Eugenius IV's Bull Cantate Domino from the Ecumenical Council of Florence for example) or to bind theologians to agree with. Benedict says,
"For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God." (emphasis mine)
Note: we may suppose, not we must suppose.

To argue that we are bound by a pope's suggested supposition or that disagreeing is tantamount rejecting Humanae Vitae is absolutely absurd. Paul VI does not say that we may suppose contraception is wrong, he magisterially declares it to be so.
Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong. (14)
Further, Paul VI is merely repeating what the Church has always taught. He isn't proposing anything new. To think Benedict meant, by offering a possible supposition, to settle this question in a way that goes against the greatest theologians in the Church's history over the last two millennia is beyond absurd. Benedict's words are clear. We Catholics are free to suppose that many are saved and free to suppose many are not. This is an open issue for theologians to explore. To suggest anything else is to show ignorance of Spe Salvi and how the magisterium of the Church is exercised. That, or it is a disingenuous attempt to misappropriate Pope Benedict's words to prop-up a misrepresentation of Church teaching.

As much as I love Benedict (readers know he's my favorite pope to read), and deeply respect any supposition of his, let's not try to attribute knowledge to Benedict that he doesn't claim to have. That's unfair to him and to faithful Catholics. No one knows what the proportion of saved to damned will be. Jesus tells us that many will be lost (Mt 7:13). Turning His words on their head, saying "no Lord, many will be saved," is clearly not Benedict's intention.

If we would reflect a little more on our great Catholic tradition, we'll see how absurd this interpretation of Spe Salvi is. St. Faustina, who received revelation from Jesus about Divine Mercy, was shown a vision of Hell, which didn't show an empty pit, but one that accords with what Jesus says in the Gospels,
Souls perish in spite of My bitter passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is the Feast of My Mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity....Today, I was led by and Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is!... I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there.... (Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul)
Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, also granted to grace of revelation, clarifies hat the damned choose Hell more than God casts them into it,
How great is the stupidity of those who make themselves weak in spite of my strengthening, and put themselves into the devil's hands! I want you to know, then, that at the moment of death, because they have put themselves during life under the devil's rule (not by force, because they cannot be forced, as I told you; but they put themselves voluntarily into his hands), and because they come to the point of death under this perverse rule, they can expect no other judgement but that of their own conscience. They come without hope to eternal damnation. In hate they grasp at hell in the moment of their death, and even before they possess it, they take hell as their prize along with their lords the demons.
Vatican Two even tells us that,
often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to... procure the salvation of all of these... the Church fosters the missions with care and attention. (Lumen Gentium 16, emphasis added).
That's right, Vatican Two teaches that often men can only be saved by missionaries bringing the Catholic Faith to them. Sadly, especially recently as the missions have fallen off and as even ancient Christian lands have become "mission territory," Vatican Two's teaching can hardly be seen as sounding an "everything's okay here, move along" note.

Finally, Our Lady, at the Church approved apparition of Fatima (the same Fatima that was accompanied by one of the most public miracles in world history - the miracle of the sun) revealed the same thing to Lucia and her friends. From Sr. Lucia's Memories,
"She opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear."
At the end of the day, I find the idea that the Angels, more perfect and intelligent than we and unaffected by original sin, could choose eternally against God, but that no human (or very few) have to be ridiculous. Will many be saved? Will many be damned? No one knows, but looking around at a society that increasingly hates Christ, His Church, His teachings, and even the natural moral law, I wouldn't bet my life on it. In fact, it seems to this blogger that more are in jeopardy of eternal self-imposed separation from God today than at any time in the history of the Church, perhaps even in the history of man. My own recommendation is to assume anyone living might be heading to Hell (so help them!) and, with anyone already dead, to hope they might have been saved, but God's Will (and more decisively, their will, be done). That might not give the same "warm fuzzy feeling" that automatically canonizing everyone we meet does, but it might just save someone's soul, maybe even your (or my) own.

Kyrie eleison. 

Recommended Reading:

Get yourself a copy. This isn't just recommended by me. It is also recommended by,

Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York

For many years we have all appreciated Dr. Martin's considerable contributions to the mission of the Church. Now he gives us a profound doctrinal foundation for understanding and implementing the 'new evangelization.' This is a shot in the arm for bishops, priests, and laity as we respond to the Holy Father's call.
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ralph Martin's Will Many Be Saved? contributes significantly to a richer understanding of our faith, helps restore confidence in the gospel message, and engenders a desire to share the truth of Christ's message. An important contribution to the pastoral strategy of the 'new evangelization.'
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago

Martin clarifies a doctrinal point that has been often obscured but must be recovered as a necessary foundation for the 'new evangelization.' This is a uniquely important book."
Peter Cardinal Turkson
President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Provides a refreshing reminder of the undiminished urgency and validity of the missionary mandate of Jesus to his followers to evangelize.
Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
Vatican City

These penetrating reflections will compel us to reassess our pastoral approach to the preaching of the gospel in our present circumstances. An important book.
Archbishop Robert Carlson
Archbishop of St. Louis

Our response to the new evangelization will lack enthusiasm and conviction if we don't realize what's truly at stake here -- our eternal salvation in Christ. Ralph Martin's book provides much-needed clarity on these very important issues.
Bishop David L. Ricken
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Chairman, Bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis

I highly recommend that all Catholics and other Christians concerned with salvation give this important book the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt. 6) - Hell's Architecture

As our travelers through the realm infernal continue past the Tomb of the Epicurean Heretics, who denied the immortality of the soul and are now destined to spend eternity in a tomb, a fitting rebuke who claimed their entombed bodies were all that would be left of them, a horrid odor blows up into their faces. Virgil recommends that the pair stop to accustom themselves to the malodorous air of lower Hell. To do so, they take shelter behind a massive tomb of Anastasius, the Byzantine Emperor who was led by Photinus into the Arian heresy1. Now, eager to learn and no longer wanting to waste time, Dante asks Virgil to describe the layout of Hell. The positive effects of traveling this arduous path are beginning to show.

We drew ourselves aside behind the cover
Of a great tomb (XI:6-7)
Virgil, happy that Dante seeks to understand, lays out the basic division of Hell into the now famous "nine circles." Each circle holds a different type of sinner, with a punishment that perfectly fits the crime. We've seen this already several times, for example Francesca and Paolo (who couldn't control their bodies in life and are now uncontrollably whipped about in an eternal tempest) and the heretics we just left behind. The primary division of Hell, represented by the gates of the Infernal City of Dis, which Dante has just entered, is between sins of malice and sins of incontinence with the malicious sinners being confined within the city walls and the incontinent being punished outside of Dis (but still in Hell). The distinction between these two types of sinners is important. Sins done with malice are those done intentionally to harm. Sins of incontinence are those committed by an inability to control our passions. Thus, murder (a sin of malice) will be punished in Dis, while wrath (a sin of incontinence) is punished in the River Styx, outside of the city gates.

Further, Dis is sub-divided between those who commit violence and thus who commit fraud. It is instructive to see Dante place both the misers and the sodomites among the violent. He sees both groups committing acts of violence against nature - the one (represented by Sodom) against human nature, the other (represented by Cahors, a city in the south of France that became synonymous with usury in the Middle Ages) against human industry (what Dante calls "l'arte vostra," "your art"). Art, defined more broadly as anything created by man, is to follow nature, which itself follows God's Divine Plan, making human industry "God's grandchild" (XI:105). Therefore, violating human nature (or human industry) is to offended against God. As usury and sodomy are more than incontinent desires, but are willed evil acts, those who die unrepentant of such sins are rightly punished in Dis among the violent malicious.

Map of Dante's Infernal Topography
As Dante's mini-tutorial on Aristotle's ethics comes to an end, Virgil urges him, and us readers, onward in our journey as Holy Saturday is waning.

1. In the Fourteenth Century the heretical Byzantine Emperor (ruled from 491-518) was mistakingly confused with Pope Anatastasius II (pontiff from 496-498), thus Dante has the tomb read, "Pope Anastasius I hold." (XI:8)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Converts - A Secret Weapon in the New Evangelization.

Say the word "evangelize" to many Catholics and the first thing that will spring to their is "oh, yeah, that's that thing Protestants do, right?" Wrong. Catholic popes have been imploring the faithful to go forth and evangelize for decades and the need to evangelize has become a major focus for the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Avery Cardinal Dulles makes this point better than I can,
Vatican I, which met from 1869-1870, used the term gospel (evangelium) only once and never used the terms evangelize and evangelization. Less than a century later, Vatican II mentioned the gospel 157 times and used the verb evangelize eighteen times and the noun evangelization thirty-one times.1
As important as evangelization, and indeed the "New Evangelization," are to the Church, many (dare I say most) cradle Catholics shy away from the terms as something uncomfortable, something foreign, something Protestant. The Holy Spirit, desirous that the repeated admonitions of the Holy Fathers be heard and acted on, has thus brought to bear a "secret weapon" for the Church - converts from Protestantism. It is, in many cases, these ex-Protestants (e.g. Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Dr. Taylor Marshall, Steve Ray, Tim Staples, Jimmy Akin, Brandon Vogt, and many others) who are ready, willing, and able to go forth and evangelize.2 It is from this rich background, from a tradition that has long emphasized and embraced evangelization (or "evangelism" as many Protestants seem to prefer), that Shaun McAfee comes and he comes ready to share the fruits, the "inside information," of the Protestant world. It is just this that he does in Filling Our Father's House. What Converts Can teach Us about Evangelization, a book I was happy to receive a review copy of in the mail from Sophia Press.

In this great new manual for evangelization, McAfee takes Catholics through the foreign lands of Evangelical Protestant culture mining that culture for the valuable lessons we Catholics can learn about Evangelization from those more accustomed to it than we sometimes are. In this book we become familiar with: how to develop and deliver our "personal testimony," how to read the Bible regularly, how to deepen our "personal relationship" with Jesus, how to develop and lead "small groups," and how to take a more active role in the life of the parish (yes, there's more to it than just showing up on Sunday!)

Each section is well worth the price of the book (especially at only $10.83 for the paperback on Amazon.) I found the chapter on developing and giving a "personal testimony" to be particularly challenging. As readers may have noticed, I tend to write quite a bit about theology, philosophy, apologetics, news, etc, but not overly much about myself. I suppose I'm more Aquinas than Augustine in my writing in that regard. McAfee makes a great case for the power of the story of our conversion to a deeper love for Jesus and the Church. People love stories and would often rather listen to how we came to love Christ and the Church than to hear an argument for the existence of God (although there is a time and place for that important work, too). McAfee gives us the "how" in response to Pope Paul VI's "why,"
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.3
For example, McAfee recommends having several different "versions" of different lengths ready to go for any opportunity that comes to share your story.

My wife, who has been contemplating starting a "small group" at our parish (she is also a convert from Protestantism where such groups are common) will find the chapter dedicated to that topic invaluable as McAfee again gives not just the "why," but the "how" for starting such groups.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with jumping into the New Evangelization. As evangelizing has become the primary mission of the Church even in historically Christian lands (which are rapidly becoming "mission territories"), I could even see parishes handing out copies of Filling Our Father's House to "jump-start" the evangelical fervor of their people. If we are to experience the much talked about "new springtime of the Church" in our Western world, indeed if we are to even survive as a Christian culture in the West, we need to first "go forth and make disciples" (Matt 28:19) and McAfee's book is a great way to get started doing just that.

1.  Avery Dulles “John Paul II and the New Evangelization: What does it Mean?” in ed. Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson, John Paul II and the New Evangelization (Cincinnati: Servant/St. Anthony, 2006), 4.

2. Not that only Protestant converts to Catholicism are, or ought to be, the only ones doing this. I myself am a baptized Catholic and try my best here online and in life to evangelize as do many other "cradle Catholics." One needs only think of men like Father Barron, Patrick Coffin, Patrick Madrid, Popes Francis, Benedict, and John Paul, Mother Teresa, and many others here. 
3. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 5) - Into the City of the Damned

Last time, we had left Dante and Virgil waiting to continue their God-ordained journey on the outside of the gates of the City of the Damned - Dis (taken from an ancient Roman name for the god of the dead - Pluto, not to be confused with Plutus, who we met earlier). Dante notes the fearsome quality of this perversion of human cities, centers of learning and culture in our poets day,
"Master, already I can see
the clear how of its mosques above the valley,
burning bright red, as though just forged, and left 
to smolder. (VIII:70-71, Musa)
Yes, one of the most predominant features of lower Hell, and one important for the next group of sinners we will meet, is its fiery red, burning Mosques. Hell, thus conceived, is an infernal Islamic city, one in which God isn't know as love and certainly not as "abba" ("Father"), but only as a powerful master, the Creator to us creatures. God's power and justice are known to the sinners of Dis, and all of Hell, just as they are known in Islam, but His tender, parental love, His self-sacrificial love, is entirely alien. God may be feared, but He isn't loved here.

After a brief run-in with three demons who seek to turn our pilgrim into stone by calling on Medusa, Dante and Virgil's hoped for Heavenly aide arrives. The damned in the River Styx dive out of the way of the Heavenly messenger who walks dry-shod over the marshy waters, in a scene that brings the Israelites passage out of slavery, dry-shod, through the Red Sea or Christ's walking on the storm tossed seas in Galilee to mind. This latter image out to be especially striking as the Angel here represents the "first advent of Christ," i.e. His incarnation as Savior of mankind in a still hostile, indeed Satan-ruled, Earth. St. Bernard of Clairvaux describes this "first advent" as,
We know that there are three comings of the Lord... In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him... In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh...1
In a similar manner, the Angel here comes and the reaction of the damned is hatred. In the Purgatorio  we'll need to keep our eyes open for the other two advents of Christ.

The Angel, again representing Our Lord and sent by Him, has no problem battering down the defenses of Dis, as once Christ Himself destroyed the gate on the entrance to Hell, the gate that once stood underneath the "cruel" words we read in the third canto. In fact, the mere touch of a "little rod" swings open the gates and allows our journey to continue.

He reached the gate, and with a little rod
He opened it, for there was no resistance. (IX:89-90)
Once inside that fearsome city, Dante is struck by the proliferation of tombs, in-between which fires rage. Virgil explains,
"Here are the Heresiarchs,
With their disciples of all sects, and much
More than thous thickest laden are the tombs. 
Here like together with its like is buried;
And more and less the monuments are heated." (IX:127-131)
As Dante and Virgil make their way past the tombs, they converse with one another. Hearing Dante's Florentine dialect, one sinner rises up from the tomb,
"O Tuscan, thou who through the city of fire
Goest alive, thus speaking modestly,
Be pleased to stay thy footsteps in this place. 
Thy mode of speaking makes thee manifest
A native of that noble fatherland,
To which perhaps I too molestful was." (X:22-27)
It is the shade of Farinata of the degli Uberti family, one of the noblest in Florence. Farinata's first question gives us a hint at his personality,
As soon as I was at the foot of his tomb,
Somewhat he eyed me, and, as if disdainful,
Then asked of me, "Who were thine ancestors?" (X:40-42)
Farinata knows the likelihood of any fellow Florentine rising to the eminence of his own family is next to none. His question, then, isn't asked so much out of interest in the family of the living man walking past his eternal tomb, but rather is a way for Farinata to lord over Dante with his superior lineage. Farina's extreme pride in life lead him to even reject the revealed truth of the Catholic Faith. Buried here, with the Epicurean heretics, who rejected the truth of the immortality of the soul. It is interesting to note that Epicurus is buried here, in Dis, as a heretic even though he was a pagan philosopher. His philosophy, which denial of the immortality of the soul, is a heresy because it denied a religious truth which the pagans had access to.

And he uprose erect with breast and front
E'en as if Hell he had in great despite. (X:35-36)
Farinata's pride in his, and his family's, Earthly fame is one consequence of his embrace of the Epicurean heresy which emphasized the importance of temporal happiness. Another consequence is represented in Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti who, raising himself on his knees to Farina's waist, seethes with envy that Dante has been chosen to journey through the underworld instead of his son, Guido. Cavalcante assumes, wrongly as we know, that Dante's great poetic genius is what has brought him on his travels and wonders why his son, Guido, another poet and Dante's "first friend" according to La Vita Nuova, wasn't chosen to accompany Dante. Dante uses the past tense to refer to Guido, which prompts Cavalcante to ask if his beloved son is dead. Dante, pondering why the damned have knowledge of the future, but not of the present, delays in answering, which Cavalcante takes as a confirmation of his son's death. Before Dante can correct him, Cavalcante collapses back into the tomb. Farinata, too proud to even notice Cavalcante's interruption, continues on discussing Florentine politics with Dante as if nothing happened, eventually giving Dante another prediction of his impending exile, which Virgil commands the pilgrim to well remember as they leave the Epicureans behind.

1. Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 {1966} 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Importance of Catholic Boys Education in Today's America. An Interview with the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy (pt 2/2)

On Wednesday, we looked at the first part of an interview I was blessed to be able to give with the Headmaster of a cutting-edge (by adhering to tradition) educational institution, one, along with other around the country, that consciously strives to instill a Catholic weltanschauung and virtue-ethics by forming our male youth in a radically different manner. Let's pick up where we left off,

St Pope Gregory the Great, pray for us

4. All students at Gregory the Great Academy study Latin. What advantages do they gain from being steeped in the language not just of the Church, but of Western Civilization?
At Gregory the Great Academy, we seek to teach Latin not simply as a language to be learned, but a language in which to imitate great and holy men, and a language in which to pray with the whole Church. Things can be considered “good” from three points of view: the useful, the moral, and the pleasant. In all three ways, the study of Latin can be considered “good.” Considering usefulness, Latin is directly or indirectly responsible for more than half of English words, and so the study of Latin increases vocabulary, bolsters SAT and ACT scores, and prepares for careers in the sciences, law, and medicine. Moreover, the process of learning any new language often improves students' abilities in non-linguistic areas such as mathematics, and the special precision of Latin syntax is particularly useful to precise and clear thinking.
These mental habits gained from the study of Latin lead into consideration of its “moral good.” Studiousness and precision, besides being words derived from the Latin language, are also virtues. Moreover, the literature of the Latin language offers the student access to a treasure trove of the higher virtues of faith, hope, and love. The song of the Knights Templars walking towards probable death, “Crucem Sanctam,” expresses their belief in Christ's victory over death and their hope of sharing in that victory. Thomas Aquinas's beautiful “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum” and Bernard of Clairvaux's “Jesu Dulcis Memoria” move the heart toward love of God.
These hymns bring us to the consideration of Latin as a pleasing language, both in the sense of being pleasing to the ears and the mind and as a language that aids us in experiencing the ultimate pleasure of communion with God. The historical development of the Roman liturgy illustrates both: what a feast for the senses a High Mass is, how each note of Gregorian chant accords with the language and the sentiment expressed by the language, and how all of these are centered on the real representation of the holiest moment in history! Moving on from the liturgy, we find Latin remaining the universal language of the universal Church when its head speaks in encyclicals and pastoral exhortations. The mystery of God's Providence in His Son taking on the same flesh as sinful men is recapitulated in the mystery of placing His vicar in a particular location, and in the mystery of clothing this vicar's voice in the flesh of Latin.
Rooted not only in the universal Church but also in the Western tradition, Gregory the Great Academy seeks to flesh-out Latin. What does this look like? Instead of making the language mere grammar practice, we have our students memorize prayers and songs in Latin. In addition to vocabulary tests, we encourage our students to speak simple phrases and ask basic questions Latinly. As opposed to simply decoding texts by Latin authors, we encourage them to read the Latin directly for comprehension. As much as possible, Latin is not separated from the study of other subjects such as religion and history, but is joined to them, as students read the Latin Vulgate and read selections from the works of St. Augustine. And finally, Latin is present not as a class to be academically conquered, but as a mode of spiritual life. Outside the Mass, the best example is our praying of Compline, joining in the very same prayers prayed in the same language that millions of Christians through centuries have prayed. In this way Latin becomes an entryway to both the democracy of the dead and the kingdom of heaven.

5. If there was time to tell people about just one thing that makes Gregory the Great Academy so special, what would it be?
The vision that informs the school has often been called “poetic education,” but it can be given other names as well, for example, “education according to the Muses.” The first thing to note about this kind of education is that it is an approach to the Liberal Arts. What is essential to education in the Liberal Arts (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) is that it aims to produce a free man (The Latin artes liberales means arts befitting a free man.) In this context, the  “freedom” being sought after is a freedom from the constraints of worldly ends, or, stated positively, a freedom to pursue man's ultimate end or goal which is eternal beatitude.
Poetic education differs from other kinds of Liberal Arts education in a number of ways, but I want to focus on three that interpenetrate and reinforce each other: First, it gives precedence to synthesis over analysis, in other words, it values the whole over the part. This may seem like common sense, but in fact most schools, at least implicitly, value the part over the whole. They do this by emphasizing the acquisition of analytical skills that allow their possessors to break down wholes into comprehensible parts. The unspoken premise is that truth is to be found in the part, or, more fundamentally still, that matter is higher than form or that form does not even exits.
Of course it is necessary to acquire analytical skills, and the Academy teaches such skills. The problem lies not with analyzing, but with taking analysis as the end of the activity of knowing. In coming to know, we only distinguish in order to unite. Analysis must have a complementary and completing movement that re-situates and views the analyzed parts in the context of the whole. The human mind naturally desires to see the whole, that's why there are scenic overlooks on the side of highways. As St. Augustine said, “Our whole reward is seeing.”
A second way that poetic education differs from the usual Liberal Arts curriculum is in the precedence it gives to experience over what might be called “remoteness.” This remoteness takes any number of forms, but three examples are textbooks, scientific experiments, and the increasing use of communications technology in the classroom.
Textbooks are an attempt to present complex, wide-ranging, and difficult subjects in an attractive and easily accessible form. The problem with this is that it short circuits the learning process and often deceives the student as to the true nature of the subject. It is far better for the student to wrestle with Hamlet or The Odyssey in all their difficulty, profundity and beauty than to encounter them predigested and excerpted in an anthology. This principle applies across the curriculum. Better to study the daises in your own backyard than to read about the exotic orchids that only grow half a world away.
Experiments have their place in an advanced science curriculum, but they cannot replace a basic experience of the natural world. A moment’s reflection reveals how ridiculous it is to dissect embalmed frogs in a lab when the student has never experienced a living frog in its environment. What does he really learn about frogs from such an activity? Experiments are designed to isolate the experimenter, his tools, and his subject from the world at-large. However, the results of the experiment only have meaning when they are interpreted in terms of the very world from which they have been isolated.
Many different kinds of digital technology are being enthusiastically introduced into schools. Most of this is communications technology, or what is called “media.” It is important to remember that all human knowing is mediated, and therefore, in some sense uses “media.” Our senses mediate between their objects and our brains, and our bodies mediate between the world around us and our souls. Further, Our Lord Jesus Christ mediates between the Church and Our Father in heaven. So there is no question of rejecting mediation in general.
However, it is important to critically examine the messenger, in other words, we must ask, “does this communications technology communicate?” In the case of the computer, which is the most prevalent form of communications technology being used in schools, there are serious problems. When we look at the computer, as it is functions in the “real world,” day-to-day life of the school, what jumps out is its power to distract. Thus, even before we question the capacity of the computer to mediate objects effectively, we see that its versatility as a platform for many kinds of tasks makes it an ideal tool for never getting to those objects, for never completing a given task. This power to distract strikes at the very heart of education which is concerned to build up a habitus, whether a science or moral virtue, through a continual engagement with a given object.
A third characteristic that distinguishes poetic education from other liberal arts education is the centrality of the liturgy. (As Jean Leclercq notes in his book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, the liturgy itself is a kind of poem.) There are many ways to look at the liturgy and many things we can learn from it. Being a work of the Holy Spirit it is inexhaustible and of a transcendent integrity that resist all analysis. So what I have to say is in no way exhaustive, but all the same, I just want to point out two things.
First, the liturgy is the end or purpose of the Christian life made present in time, or, looked at in another way, the liturgy brings us into the presence of the end of the Christian life; it is a participation, already on earth, in the life of the blessed. Now, as I’ve already mentioned, the end of the liberal arts is to free men from the seeming urgency and finality of worldly ends so that they may pursue beatitude. Thus the liturgy is intimately connected to the liberal arts. (Historically this is the case since the tradition of the liberal arts began with Plato’s Academy, and the Academy was an association established to worship the Muses.) It has an irreplaceably centrality in a liberal arts school since only the liturgy can open the school to the divine world, thus protecting it from the everyday world which continually threatens to enclose it.
A second thing to note about the liturgy is that it is a school of praise. The book of the Apocalypse, which lifts the veil on the heavenly liturgy, gives us a glimpse of the praise of the angels and saints. They praise God as both creator and redeemer of the world.  The philosopher Josef Pieper entitled one of his books, Only the Lover Sings, taking the phrase from St. Augustine. What does the lover sing? He sings praises. He praises God and his whole creation—women, wine, the deeds of great men, dappled things—everything under the sun and above the moon. It is here that we are closest to the heart of poetic education. All the great poets are lovers. It’s their love that gives them eyes to see and tongues to sing with. Poetic education aims to open its student’s eyes to the True, the Good and the Beautiful, not as dead subjects in a textbook, but as objects worthy of praise. 

6. If someone is interested in getting more information about sending their son to Gregory the Great Academy or in donating to your fine school, what would be the best way for them to contact you?
Anyone interested in contacting Gregory the Great Academy to acquire more information about giving options or student applications can call or email our office manager, Karen Beebe, at (571)295-6244 or, or our headmaster, Sean Fitzpatrick, at (570)904-1045 or Admissions queries should be initiated through our website’s application page, and our website also has a general information contact form. Our website is able to receive online donations, either one-time or by monthly subscription. We also invite anyone interested in our school to sign up online for our free newsletter, “The Minstrel.” 
If you didn't get a chance to watch their video for their ongoing appeal to raise funds for students who can't pay the tuition, please give it a watch. It shows, with a sense of humor, what places like these are, which is enough to show why we must value them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gregory the Great Academy, Happy As Kings! (action item)

Earlier today, I posted the first part of a two part interview I had the opportunity to give to the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. Schools that are willing to be "progressive" enough to respect and embrace our past, especially our great Catholic tradition of education (which itself includes the best of Greco-Roman ideals), represent a new way forward. Yesterday will have to become the new tomorrow if we want to save our schools, our boys, or indeed our culture. Gregory the Great, by marrying the best of the past with the best of today, is one place that is blazing a trail in this regard.

And if that wasn't enough to convince you of the worth of such places (would that all Catholic children had access to true Catholic education at an affordable price) this short video, put together as part of their fundraising campaign to finance the education of boys who's families can't afford the tuition, ought to.

Please prayerfully consider whether you can and ought to help Gregory the Great Academy in its goal of educating our children in the great tradition of Catholic education. Perhaps even more importantly, consider what you or your parish might be able to do to create more places like this. In times like ours a Benedictine spirit of retreat from the world, to preserve culture and to establish "bases" from which to launch the New Evangelization and the Catholic Countercultural Revolution, is of paramount importance. Gregory the Great's crowdfund page can be found HERE.

Gregory the Great Student Body

The Importance of Catholic Boys Education in Today's America. An Interview with the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy (pt 1/2)

For centuries, education was in the capable hands of the Holy Catholic Church. Catholic education, infused with the spirit of the best of Greco-Roman Classical civilization, was married to the virtues known to be essential not just to live a good life here and now, but to enter the Kingdom of God. This Catholic educational system, the best in the world, mind you, saw the man as a man, not just as a worker to be given technical skills. Not for Catholic education the ludicrous idea that the "great books" should be replaced with technical manuals. Not for Catholic education an even more ludicrous "sex-ed" program that only encourages children to engage in immoral sexual acts. No. Catholic education uplifted man.

Then came along secular education. Public schools, run by the government and thus slaves to whatever the latest political fashion is. But Catholic education didn't disappear, it just grew costly. One school that still seeks to educate our nation's children in the best Catholic tradition is Gregory the Great Academy. Their website,, ought to be checked out, but this picture alone sells me on it,

I recently had a chance to interview the Headmaster, Sean Fitzpatrick, on what makes Gregory the Great Academy so special. It is a long conversation, which I'll share today and tomorrow here on the blog, so we'll skip the formalities and jump in media res. My questions are in bold, answers are in plain. Enjoy!

1. Gregory the Great Academy is an all boys Catholic school. What advantages do you think the boys at Gregory the Great Academy derive from the single sex setting?

There is a longstanding tradition of single-sex education. This wisdom teaches us that boys and girls fare better when they are educated separately especially after they reach adolescence. This is both because they are different and deserve different approaches, pacing, and even different courses of study; and because when educated together they greatly distract one another. This is especially true for boys. Such distraction—whether from young ladies, entertainment technology, or popular and pernicious media—retards education, which strives to build up good habits through continual and concentrated engagement. Boarding schools can provide such continuity because they render education a continuous, focused, habit-forming reality.
Boarding schools are especially appropriate for boys since the male trajectory involves breaking away from home to search for adventure and to make a way in the world. Chesterton tells the story of the man who left England on a great sea-faring adventure and found himself on the shores of a strange and wonderful island. The island turned out to be England but he only came to see it in all its truth and beauty by leaving it. 

2. With public funding out of the question for Catholic schools in the United States, what initiatives does Gregory the Great Academy have in place to keep the school from being only able to serve the wealthy?

Boarding schools are less common than they once were, and partly because they tend to be out of reach for most families in terms of cost. One important element at Gregory the Great is that we do not model ourselves as an “elite institution.” Most of our students come from middle-class families and more than half of them receive some form of tuition discount. This is only possible due to the generosity of our benefactors and supporters who help to subsidize our students’ schooling in various ways.
At Gregory the Great, our emphasis has always been on culture rather than cash, and we admit students primarily on their worthiness as students rather than their parents’ ability to pay full tuition. We believe that if we take care of first things first, God will provide the rest. The Academy is blessed with a small but loyal giving-base that contribute regularly by means of fundraising newsletters, alumni fundraisers, special events, and online campaigns. Over 30% of our operational budget relies on small donations, and this reality has always kept us focused on Providence, trusting implicitly in the graces that God provides—never too little, neither too much. 

3. As our culture, and especially public education, drift farther and farther not just from Divine Revelation, but even from the natural moral law, how important are places like Gregory the Great Academy in preserving virtue for our nation’s future?

At Gregory the Great Academy we strive to foster an authentic Catholic culture. We are especially inspired by the tradition of Benedictine monasticism, and although our students are not expected to live as monks, we do ask them to live harmoniously as a prayerful community. Saying prayers together, working, studying, and playing sports, our boys form very close friendships with one another and are encouraged to thrive in a healthy and well-balanced way of life.
One of the ways that we engender this cultural atmosphere is through the restriction of modern technological devices. Although these things are not bad in and of themselves, we feel that they are often a huge distraction to teenagers and separate young people from the real world around them. In the absence of television, cellphones, and iPods, our students take the opportunity to form close bonds of friendship and develop new skills. For example, if they want to listen to music, they have to pick up a guitar and learn to play songs for themselves. I have often thought that perhaps typical human boredom is the mother of culture. Even something as complicated as juggling becomes a much simpler task in the absence of television sets and other distractions.
The overall result at the Academy, is a culture that is grounded in experiment and experience. Our boys thrive on testing their strengths in new endeavors—whether it is a dramatic play or singing Christmas carols for a nursing home or playing rugby—and it is in these trials that they learn and cultivate the virtues and develop a spirit of evangelization for the good things that God has given us.
That being said, when we consider all the aspects of the model of Gregory the Great Academy, we can’t say that it should be the model for all of education. After all, girls need to be educated too, and there is a place for day schools. However, if we consider it more formally, i.e. if we consider whether a strictly poetic education should be the model for all education, I would say, yes, it should. A short route to why this is so is by way of the Liberal Arts tradition. If we agree that authentic education follows this tradition, then we must affirm that all education should be poetic or, in a broad sense, liturgical or musical. The cultures of Greece and Rome and Christian Europe that gave us the Liberal Arts were deeply imbued with this ethos, some principles of which I have already tried to give. They did not teach the Liberal Arts in isolation from one another, nor in the cultural and religious impoverishment characteristic of today. The people of those times lived and learned in what might be called a liturgical or poetic culture. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Does Galileo Prove the Church Hates Science?

Galileo. The mere sounding of those four syllables are supposed to immediately and forever end any idea that religion, especially Roman Catholicism, is anything but an eternal enemy of reason and science. The Church viciously tortured, imprisoned, and would have killed Galileo just for saying that the Earth moves around the sun (which is so obviously true!) Ha. Stupid, bigoted Catholics. Or so the story is supposed to go. Of course, the reality is far more interesting, complex, and doesn't cast the Church in the role of the persecutor of science, but to anti-Catholic secularists (and Protestants) those facts are not known. Let's take a closer look at the "Galileo Controversy" today with my latest on,

One absurd, yet frequently recited, attack on the Catholic Church is its supposed hostility toward science. Science, so say promoters of this view, is opposed to religion which is nothing more than a pre-scientific way of viewing the world. When asked to produce evidence of the incompatibility of science and the Holy Catholic Faith one name and one name alone is ever produced as evidence, Galileo Galilei.... 
Read the whole thing THERE

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 4) - Greed & Wastefulness; Anger & Sullenness

"Papë Satàn, Papë Satàn, Aleppë!" are the words that greet Dante as he crosses into the fourth circle of Hell. These words, utter nonsense to us (although variously interpreted as a reference to Satan as the pope of the underworld or as a cry of distress at seeing an enemy (satàn) of Hell in Dante). Virgil, after a brief, Christlike call to Dante, "Let not thy fear Harm thee" ("Be not afraid"), turns on this latest demon, Plutus (once worshipped as the god of wealth in ancient mythology), with a stunning and effective rebuke,
"Be silent, thou accursed wolf;
Consume within thyself with thine own rage. 
Not causeless is this journey to the abyss;
Thus is it willed on high, where Michael wrought
Vengeance ion the proud adultery." (VII:8-12)
The mere mention of the powers of Heaven, symbolized in the name of the mighty defeater of Satan, St. Michael the Archangel, causes Plutus to collapse to the ground as Dante and Virgil move past him to see the sinners, Plutus' devotees in life, and their punishment.

Dante, upon seeing the fate of the greedy and the prodigals, both of whom worshipped money - the former by hoarding it, the latter by spending it recklessly, is moved, once again by pity,
Justice of God, ah! who heaps up so many
New toils and sufferings as I beheld?
And why doth our transgression waste us so? (VII:19-21)
These two sets of sinners are eternally set to the task of rolling enormous weights, the weight of the money they so desperately desired in life, around the fourth circle. Each group occupies half of the circle and at each point where the two groups come to together the sinners slam their weights into one another shouting, "why hoard?" and "why waste?" at one another in an eternal, if now useless, reproach.

Dante is shocked to see so many souls condemned here. In fact, he says more souls are confined to this circle than all the souls he's yet seen added together. Money, then, is the "root of all evil" (1 Tim 6:10). Dante asks Virgil if he might not stop and see if he knows any of the souls here. Florence, after all, was, in Dante's day, on the cutting edge of economic growth and prosperity. It was Florence, with her newly minted gold coin, the Florin (1252-1533), that would transform Europe's economy and be home to some of the wealthiest men in the world. Dante's hopes of interacting with these souls are doused by Virgil. The worship of money has forever made these souls indistinguishable. Indeed, unlike souls throughout the rest of Hell, these men can't even be bothered to look up at the novel sight of a living man striding through their accursed resting place. Money is all that will never matter to them, even though,
"... all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or ever has been, of these weary souls
Could never make a single one repose." (VII:64-66)
The coin that changed the world - Florence's "Florin"

 After a brief discussion of Fate, another entity worshipped in ancient times, but now set within the Christian revelation as a minister of God, indeed as an angel, and on God's reasons for granting her the power to raise up and knock down the wealth and prosperity of societies and men, Virgil leads Dante, and us with him, father into the abyss, for time is running short (remember the entire trip through Hell must be completed on Holy Saturday. Dante is here to learn the consequences of sin, not to see the sights).

As Dante follow his guide they come to a fetid swamp, the Styx (another appropriation from classical mythology). Here, in the dark gray waves, they behold
... people mud-besprent in that lagoon,
All of them naked and with an angry look. (VII:110-111)
These souls, who add to the torment of their fellow sufferers by clawing, biting, and punching each other, are the wrathful. They weren't violent in life (those sinners we'll meet later in lower Hell), but allowed anger, one of the deadly sins, to fester in them and dominate their personality. They rejected the command to love their neighbor (cf. Jn 13:34) and the forgiveness which is only on offer to those who forgive others (cf. The Our Father), instead fixating on hatred and rage. The angry state in which they died now consumes them as they rage, without result, for eternity.

Beneath the waves and feet of the wrathful, Dante sees yet more souls. These are the slothful. They could take no pleasure in life and now are denied it for eternity. Unable to "shout to God with cries of joy" (Ps 47:1) then, they are reduced to sighing,
"We sullen were
In the sweet air, which by the sun is gladdened,
Bearing within ourselves the sluggish reek; 
Now we are sullen in this sable mire." (VII:119-124)
Dante and Virgil then see signals being flashed back and forth across the Styx and notice a rapidly approaching boat, oared by Phlegyas. For those rusty on their ancient mythology, Phlegyas, a demigod (the son of Mars), in a fit of wrath, burned Apollo's temple to the ground in Delphi. Here he is seen as the epitome of wrath, and thus a fit boatsman to transport Dante and Virgil across the abode of the wrathful sinners.

As they journey across a Styx, a shade leaps from the waters, the soul of another Florentine, Filippo Argenti, who, like Francesca da Rimini, seeks to gain the pity of Dante by identifying himself as one who weeps. Dante, growing spiritually on his journey, reacts quite differently, though. Instead of weeping with the soul or collapsing into a swoon, Dante turns on his fellow Florentine in a display of righteous anger (which is contrasted nicely with the sin of wrath displayed by Argenti),
"With weeping and with wailing,
Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain;
For thee I know, though thou art all defiled." (VIII:37-39)
"Thou seest that I am one who weeps" (VIII:36)
Virgil, happy to see Dante's spiritual progress, echoes the woman from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke (verse 27),
"... Indignant soul,
 blessed is she in whose womb you were conceived (VIII:45, Musa)
As the boat moves forward, and Argenti is "dunked" back into the slime by his fellow sinners, much to Dante's delight (showing our pilgrim is still struggling with the sin/sinner distinction), we arrive at the walled city of Dis, the city that makes up "lower Hell" where the worst sinners are housed. The fallen angels that guard the gates of the infernal city mock the Divinely approved mission of Dante by slamming the doors in Virgil's face. Dante, frightened by the thought of his journey's progress ending with him lost in Hell, is assured by Virgil that help from Heaven will arrive. It is with this hoped for divine assistance yet to come that our canto ends, leaving us, like the chosen people before the Incarnation, awaiting a Savior...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 3) - Those Lost to Love

Another way my sapient Guide conducts me
Forth from the quiet to the air that trembles; 
And to a place I come where nothing shines.
Such were the dreary last words we heard at the end of Canto IV, when we left behind the last of the souls who, though unable to enjoy the beatific vision, yet still dwell outside of the pains of Hell and entered into the entirely lightless skies of Hell. This imagery, of course, reflects the total absence of Christ, He who is the Light of the world, and shows Hell to be a perfect contrapposto to the city of Heaven which "has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Rev 21:23). Here God's glory shines not and the souls, who hate the light (cf. Jn 3:20), dwell in an endless, Godless darkness.

As Dante finishes his descent into the second circle of Hell, he encounters another demon, Minos, who is tasked with the unpleasant role of hearing the evils each newly arrived soul left unrepeated in life and, by wrapping his scaly tail around himself, sends each soul to its perfectly just eternal home. It is important to reflect here on an essential truth revealed by Minos about Hell. Each soul, through confession (the very act that would have saved their souls had they been willing to do it in life with repentance) to the demonic judge condemns itself to its place in Hell. The damned have chosen their own final resting place. Minos can do nothing but "rubber stamp" that choice. Distracted from his eternal bureaucratic task, Minos is no happier to see the living Dante than Charon was, but Virgil, with a short, albeit veiled, reference to God, who's name is never directly mentioned in Hell, easily leads Dante past the enraged infernal judge and into the second circle proper.

The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine
Here Dante is overwhelmed by what he sees. As he looks upward he witnesses an eternal tempest raging and, within its relentless winds, he sees scores of souls being whipped about here and there, totally out of control. These souls, forever flying past the seat of Minos, where their eternal fate was proclaimed, call out the most awful yells and blaspheme God. They are, as we see in this act, eternally unrepentant. They hate God and curse Him. These souls, self excluded from the sight of God, do not wish to see Him who they hate, thus confirming, eternally, the choice they made at the moment of death.

Despite this hatred for God, Dante is overwhelmed by pity at the scene. The words he read on the Hell's gate still seem "cruel" to him. Dante realizes that these souls, who have forever lost the ability to control their bodies, are "the carnal malefactors... who reason subjugate to appetite" (V:38-39), i.e. those who couldn't control their bodies in life. These are the lustful and it is love that has undone them. Not for Dante, or for us as Catholics, the banal claim that "love" justifies anything and everything. We see here, right at the beginning of Hell proper, souls eternally lost because of love wrongly pursued.

That day no further did we read therein. (V:138)
After seeing out a slew of famous souls, everyone from Achilles and Helen to Cleopatra, Dante calls two souls, forever wrapped together, over to speak with, Francesca and Paolo. Dante asks Francesca, Paolo says not a word, how she came to this awful fate. After briefly protesting, Francesca eagerly delves into the tale. She was undone, not through any fault of her own - at least in her own mind, because of "the media." Of course, she didn't have television or the internet, but she blames here adulterous affair with Paolo on the fourteenth century equivalent - romance novels, specifically the Arthurian romance Lancelot du Lac. It was the book, and its author, that is to blame. More, Francesca blames her lover, Paolo, by changing the details of the Lancelot story, having Lancelot kiss Guinevere, when it was the Queen who kissed the knight. Francesca, as all the souls in Hell are, is entirely unwilling to repent or accept any blame for what she has done - cheated on her husband, the very husband who caught her and Paolo in the act and sent them to their judgement (Francesca reveals that her husband is farther down in the pit of Hell and is entirely unmoved, indeed almost happy, about it).

Dante, who before penning the Comedy, was a love poet (of the dolce stil nuovo - see La Vita Nuova for his prime accomplishment there), is immediately taken in by Francesca. Our poet, and many modern commentators, sympathize with her self-chosen fate so much so that he swoons a second time. Which makes us ask ourselves, do we too sympathize with Francesca? Do we find her and her lover's fate too hard to bear? Are we seeing here an image of Divine Justice and ultimately Divine Love (which grants such freedom to us mere creatures that we can choose something over God and get that thing forever, even if it means Hell) or do we want to declare that we "believe in a God of love and mercy" as if it is either loving or merciful for God to force us, against our wills, to be with Him forever? Do we fall into a swoon like Dante or do we thank God for being a suitor, not a rapist, and repent of our own failings though His Grace? Hopefully the latter, but if we are like Dante, we might need a bit more time in Hell before coming to that realization.

Upon awakening, our pilgrim guide finds himself surrounded by new sinners and realizes that Virgil has transported him to the next circle of Hell. Here he finds rain,
Eternal, maledict, and cold, and heavy;
Its law and quality are never new. 
Huge hail, and water somber-hued, and snow (VI:8-10)
Yes, snow. Dante's conception of Hell includes both extreme heat and fire and extreme cold, ice, and even snow.

As Dante turns he sees another demon, Cerebrus, the three-headed dog famed from ancient Greek myth. The beastial character of Cerebrus, and his unending appetite, make him the perfect tormentor, even while himself suffering the same conditions as the other sinners here, of the gluttonous. As Dante moves downward through Hell he encounters worse sinners. Thus, those lead astray by lust are the least punished and the least sinful of all the properly damned in Hell. It might surprise us at first to think that gluttons, those who love food inordinately, are worse than the lustful, but if we pause to consider the higher value of human love vis-a-vis mere food, we can understand how making you belly you God is worse than corruption what in itself is a higher good - love shared between a man and a woman. Both of these sins, however, are interconnected (as is the sin we will see being punished in the next circle) as they are sins of incontinence. This interconnectedness was concretely brought home to me in a discussion I once had with a well meaning, portly, Protestant minister. When the topic of divorce came up he dismissed the idea that such could be a sin by patting his stomach and declaring, "next we'd have to condemn gluttony!" as if the thought that he might have to deal with what could be a sin in his own life was cause enough to never help anyone deal with sin in their own. In this, he seemed to get Jesus' advice in Matthew 7 exactly backwards. Christ admonishes us to remove the sins in our own life and then to help others not to justify other's sins by appealing to our own (cf. Matt 7:5).

Finally, it is worth pausing for a moment on the meeting Dante has with a fellow Florentine, with someone he actually knew in life, here identified as "Ciacco" Italian for "the hog." Dante, still struggling with the idea that anyone might be lost (no, Von Balthasar wasn't the first Catholic to long to "dare to hope all are saved") breaks out in tears at the filth covered shade of his former fellow citizen. Ciacco is the first of the damned to reveal something to Dante about his own future (the damned have the ability to know of things that will come thanks to being removed from time, but this seeming power is finally a curse. They can do nothing about what will happen, unlike the living, and will even have this foreknowledge come to an end once time ends.) Ciacco gives Dante the first premonition of his impending exile from his beloved Florence.

After a brief philosophical dialogue with Virgil where Dante learns that the pains of the damned will be increased after the Final Judgement for the same reason the joys of the blessed will be increased, we descend to the next level,
Round in a circle by that road we went,
Speaking much more, which I do not repeat;
We came unto the point where the descent is; 
There we found Plutus the great enemy. (VI:112-115)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Is Income Inequality the Greatest Evil Facing the Church Today?

My recent posts on the evils of the Sexual Devolution have prompted one faithful and well-intentioned Catholic to respond by pointing to "unequal distribution of wealth" as the greatest evil afflicting the Church and the world today. While exploitation of workers is a moral evil (in fact it is, along with willful murder and sodomy, one of the "sins that cry to heaven"), is it in-line with Church teaching to claim that "unequal distribution of wealth" is more evil than abortion, murder, gay "marriage," apostasy, etc? More, is it even fair to conflate "unequal distribution of wealth" with exploitation of workers?

My first reaction is simple, it certainly seems worse to kill someone than to hire them at minimum wage. But let's take a closer look.

1. What Does the Social Magisterium of the Church Tell Us?
Our Holy Father's, since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, have spoken forcibly against the increasing exploitation of the poor by the rich. This teaching was launched by the great Pope Leo XIII with his masterful encyclical Rerum Novarum. The Church teaches us that we can never sit idly by and allow the weak, poor, infirm, unborn, or otherwise oppressed to fend for themselves. No one, within the bounds of Catholic teaching and thought, advocates a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality where we, like Cain, declare "am I my brother's keeper?" The call to aid the poor, however, cannot be conflated with denouncing that some are rich and others are poor. The Gospel cannot be confused with irradiating world poverty for such isn't the first concern of the Church.

2. What is the Church's Primary Concern? 
The primary concern of the Holy Catholic Church is, and must always be, the salvation of immortal souls and can never be the temporal enrichment of the poor. The Church, as Pope Francis has pointed out, is not another NGO. It isn't primarily occupied with enriching the poor and it is even less occupied with taking from the rich to give to the poor. We are followers of Christ Jesus, not of Robin Hood. That doesn't mean the Church has no concern for the temporal wellbeing of Catholics or of the poor. She does. The Church, as evidenced by encyclicals like Rerum Novarum and in her perennial call to the "works of mercy" including "feeding the hungry," "sheltering the homeless," and "clothing the naked," cares deeply about both the body and the soul of each person. We wouldn't want to fall into a Gnosticism that holds that the body is unimportant, while the "spirit" is all that matters. However, we will also note that the corporal works of mercy include sharing with the poor but mentions nothing about taking away (and certainly not by force of the State) anything from the rich. Catholicism rather calls on individuals to practice charity and almsgiving as virtues than it calls for a high tax rate to strip people of wealth and "redistribute" it.

3. What About the Sixth and Tenth Commandments?
The advocacy of wealth redistribution runs into yet more problems when we look to God's abiding moral law - the Ten Commandments. We read, in the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shall not steal." What is taking, by force of the State, from some to give to others but stealing? Certainly, we can see the fairness of allowing the proper authorities tax citizens. Jesus Himself approves of this by establishing the principle "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's" in the context of questions over Roman taxation of the Israelites. However, taxation can become unjust when it seeks not to simply provide for the State but seeks to steal from citizens to give money to a privileged group. Worse still, the advocate of wealth redistribution, in looking at someone like Bill Gates and demanding his money be given to those less wealthy, seems to be immediately trespassing the Tenth Commandment - "thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods." If we are seeking not just to pull people out of poverty, but to create and equal distribution of wealth then we certainly seem to be coveting. On top of this, we seem to have also run afoul of the Deadly Sin of Envy. The redistributionist isn't just jealous of his neighbor's wealth - i.e. he doesn't just want to become wealthy himself - he envies his neighbor's wealth - i.e. he wants his neighbor to be poorer. All of this runs clearly against the grain of the Gospel which seeks to free us from being overly concerned with money and to be more concerned with holiness.

4. What Would Jesus Say?
Jesus Himself best exemplifies what is wrong with the attitude of a redistributionist. He tells us that hoarding wealth can be fatal to the soul (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12). Jesus goes on to tell us, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God." (Matt 19:24). More directly, He says, "take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Lk 12:15). Jesus warns us against wanting to acquire wealth, not against an unequal distribution of wealth (which the Gospel takes for granted, hence the call for almsgiving, which would be impossible without some have more than others).

5. What Did Mother Teresa Say?
Perhaps no saint in modern times, and maybe even no saint, save for Francis of Assisi, in the entire history of the Church, better exemplifies the Church's commitment to the poor than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, known the world over simply as Mother Teresa. She, who lived among the poorest of the poor, among people so poor as to make the "poor" in a country like the United States seem wealthy, decried not "income inequality" but abortion as "the greatest destroyer of peace today." She realized that killing someone is always worse than taking possession from them, or even from hoarding wealth. Over sixty million babies have been brutally murdered at the hands of American abortionists in the last half century and Mother Teresa, who we might expect to be especially concerned with American wealth when compared to Indian poverty, pointed to precisely this evil (abortion) as the primary evil facing the world.

It is noble to want to help the poor. More than that, it is necessary for every true Christian. We can never sit back and amass possessions while being indifferent to the plight of the poor and the oppressed. However, as we've seen above, this righteous instinct can be used by the Father of Lies to warp our understanding of the Faith into something covetous, envious, greedy, and evil. There is no one better at twisting what ought to be righteousness into evil and sin than Satan. Almsgiving, and even encouraging the super-wealthy (the "1%") to share, are Christian ways of living the Gospel. Calling for the State to redistribute the wealth, calling for "wealth equality," is a perversion of the Gospel. All of which is why St. Josemaría Escrivá can say,
Don't you think that equality, as many people understand it, is synonymous with injustice? (The Way, 46).