Tuesday, April 19, 2005

My Thoughts on the Election of Pope Benedict XVI and the "Mind of the Church" in 2005

By Dave Armstrong (4-19-05)

Praise God! Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Arinze were the only two "candidates" I really knew all that much about, so I am absolutely delighted by this choice. But of course, that is only my own opinion, which counts for little. I believe in faith that this choice was led by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, similar to the workings of an Ecumenical Council, just as we observe in Acts 15:22, 25, 28 (RSV):

Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them . . .

. . . it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you . . .

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .
And so here we are with the first German pope since the 11th century; a man who has served faithfully under Pope John Paul the Great, and who will certainly continue his mission. I have a few comments; purely speculative, and of no authority whatsoever, but I throw them out anyway, for whatever they are worth:

I see (with my typically analogical imagination: part of the Chestertonian and Newmanian influence in my thinking) a great parallel to the history of the Church 100 years ago. Church history is often cyclical, and revivals have historically been cyclical events. I've often made a comparison in my mind between Pope John Paul II and Pope Leo XIII. Both were intellectuals and ruled with a similar style. Both were concerned with, for example, labor issues. Pope Leo XIII elevated John Henry Newman, the great English convert, to Cardinal in 1870, whereas Pope John Paul II declared him Venerable (the first step to sainthood). Both men were very attuned to their turbulent times. Leo XIII was a "man of the Vatican I Council"; Pope John Paul II was a "man of Vatican II." Leo XIII served from 1878-1903; John Paul II from 1978 to 2005.

And of course, the holy and great pope who followed Leo XIII was Pope St. Pius X, whose main accomplishment was a strong vanquishing of modernism and theological liberalism. Here, again, is the analogy: Pope John Paul II had many strengths, which have been well-catalogued and extolled in the period of mourning following his death. He had certain emphases (as all popes do) and a particular temperament and personality. His emphasis was on ecumenism and reaching out to all people. He was an evangelist.

Pope Benedict XVI agrees with all that, but clearly his emphasis will likely be more so as a "doctrinal watchdog" and a more stern disciplinarian, since that has been his role in the past 20 years or so. As Pope St. Pius X dealt with the modernists, who were just then trying to make serious inroads into the Church, at a time when Europe and Western Civilization was starting to forsake the Catholic and Christian worldview for the pottage of secularism (with the result being Naziism, Communism, the sexual revolution, the abortion holocaust, and the bloodiest century in history), so Pope Benedict XVI (I imagine) will decisively deal with the postmodernists in the Church, at a time when even the cultural remnants of Christianity are being ditched by Europe and Western Civilization (as he himself has written much about).

Pope John Paul II laid the fundamental groundwork for the defeat of the liberal dissidents and their nefarious goals for the Church; Pope Benedict XVI may very well deliver the death-blow. History shows us that the worst centuries in the Church and the world are followed by centuries of great revival and renewed hope. Stay tuned! We ain't seen nothin' yet!


Disciplinary measures in the Church are a matter of prudence and judgment. Perhaps Pope John Paul II did not do as much as he could have in this regard (some think so). This is also the main criticism of Pope Paul VI. But one man cannot do everything, has to do the best he can under the circumstances, and the Holy Spirit has His own timing for things to unfold, so that the best possible outcome will occur.

John Paul II laid down the boundaries of orthodoxy and explained to the masses exactly what the Church believed. Now may be the time for this orthodoxy to be more strictly enforced on the local level, where, oftentimes, sadly, liberalism runs rampant.

Again, this is all in God's time. I detest and utterly condemn all the so-called "traditionalist" claptrap, running down John Paul II in this regard, and also arrogantly opposing his ecumenical endeavors (as if they could be a better pope than he was). These hyper-critics are not thinking with the mind of the Church; nor do they know what God has in store.

I happen to have had the privilege to personally know one of the great catechists of our time: the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (who wrote the Foreword of my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism). He was a close advisor to Pope Paul VI and Mother Teresa, and he used to tell us in classes that the reason a full-scale crackdown on the liberals had not occurred was because of the very real possibility of massive schism.

Now, it may be time now to take more decisive action, just as it was in the reign of Pope St. Pius X. The choice of Cardinal Ratzinger would seem to indicate that this was a major factor in the mind of the electing Cardinals. Or it may not yet be time, and a more incremental approach to the problem might be more in order. Only time will tell. But the faithful Catholic lives in full confidence that God knows what he is doing, and that popes know what they are doing, too.

Whatever course Pope Benedict XVI takes in this regard, he will have my full support and obedience as a faithful Catholic and an apologist. I'm simply noting some parallels and possible trajectories of history that might perhaps explain a few things, as to the direction of the Church and of this papacy.

Whatever happens, I also believe that Pope Benedict XVI will probably be one of the most persecuted and even hated men in the world (the most hated since President Ronald Reagan). The liberals and secularists already take a very dim view of the man, because he is strongly orthodox and stands up for the truth. There is a place for this. All the early popes were martyrs. There is also a martyrdom of sorts which comes through slander and lying and severe opposition from the waves and currents of the presently fashionable zeitgeist.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is precisely the sort of man, I think, who is willing to suffer in that way, in order to strongly assert doctrinal, theological truth. It is good to be loved by the world, as Pope John Paul II was, if it is for the right reasons. The world saw the goodness and holiness in John Paul II. But it is also good to be willing to be persecuted for His name's sake, and to draw clear lines and boundaries. That is the other motif in the Bible, and we certainly saw it in play among the apostles:

You will be hated by all for my name's sake.
(Lk 21:17)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
(John 15:18-20)

. . . now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It is to fulfill the word that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause.'
(John 15:24-25)

Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
(Lk 6:26)

Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:11-12)

. . . rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
(Acts 5:41)

Now, I can anticipate some critics of Pope John Paul II saying to themselves (as I have already observed in some), "see, look how popular John Paul II was! So he didn't fulfill this biblical injunction." But there is really no contradiction here. It's obvious that some good and true things are loved by the world and some good and true things are hated by the world. Ecumenism: reaching out to those of other faiths with a broader message (not to deny Catholic distinctives, but to emphasize common ground) will obviously hold more appeal to those outside of the Catholic faith. It's just human nature. Hence, Blessed Pope John XXIII was such a beloved figure among non-Catholics, just as Pope John Paul II was.

But if a pope's emphasis is on Catholic distinctives and orthodox Catholic theology, in his words and speeches and so forth, in more direct contradiction of the world and non-Catholic Christianity, then he will have to take a great deal more heat, and be accused of being divisive or "triumphalistic" and so forth (which is equally human nature; people don't like disagreement, and they seem to think it is arrogant to ever say that anyone else is wrong).

Note, for example, how Pope Paul VI's famous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated Catholic opposition to contraception, was received. It caused almost a wholesale revolution in the Church (at least in America), from those who had hoped to remake Catholicism into American Episcopalianism (which has excelled at following the spirit of the times and compromising historic Christianity again and again). But Pope Paul VI has turned out to be a virtual prophet. All his dire cultural predictions have come to pass, and then some.

I see this tendency all the time on a much smaller scale, in my own apologetics apostolate. I am passionately committed to both apologetics and ecumenism, and I have written quite a bit of material in the latter vein. Can you guess which one of the two is more popular? Of course, I get a lot more positive feedback when I write ecumenical papers. Then I am perceived as open-minded, fair-minded, more charitable, peace-loving, conciliatory, tolerant, and what-not.

Then when I write a paper asserting some Catholic distinctive, or criticizing, for example, Martin Luther (not Lutherans as people!) or Reformed distinctives or some point of moral difference, then all of a sudden I am accused of being prideful and arrogant and thinking I know everything, and against Church unity, and quite intolerant and intolerable (sometimes by the very same people, who see the two motifs as contradictory, when they are not). It's amazing how one person can change so quickly from a lovable character to an ogre! But this is simply human nature and the "either/or", "dichotomous" mindset which characterizes much of modern thinking. This has crept into the Church and larger Christianity.

I've often noted through the years, how people assume that there is a huge dichotomy or contradiction between apologetics and ecumenism. This is untrue. They are perfectly compatible. One endeavor seeks to defend what one believes; the other seeks common ground with other Christian and even non-Christians, and seeks as much unity as is possible to achieve, without compromising one's own belief-system and principles. But the strong tendency is for "liberals" to despise apologetics (fundamentally misunderstanding it), and for so-called "traditionalists" to despise ecumenism (fundamentally misunderstanding it). Post-Vatican II Catholicism (which is the same Church it ever was; only more developed) fully embraces both.

Both the late great pope and this present one are in full agreement with both endeavors (as they are men of Vatican II). That said: there is a time to emphasize one or the other thing (while not denying the other). As Pope John Paul II was such a superb ambassador of the faith, an evangelist, even a "diplomat," if you will (in the very best sense of that word), so Pope Benedict XVI may very well be the upholder and champion (in a more direct, "disciplinary" way) of theological orthodoxy over against all the currents of error that we have to deal with in the modern world and (sadly) among certain rebellious sectors of the Church.

Pope John Paul II made it a huge emphasis in his papacy to oppose the Culture of Death; perhaps now is the time to particularly oppose the Culture of Relativism, Secularism, and Theological Error? It makes sense to me, but again, I merely speculate. Time will tell if my observations have any foretelling value.

Both things are good: ecumenism and doctrinal orthodoxy and/or apologetics (which seeks to defend same), but (broadly speaking) folks love one and despise the other. They seem to think that one person with one coherent belief-system cannot do both. Well, this is untrue. Pope John Paul II did both; Pope Benedict XVI will continue to do both. But as the former pope emphasized one, and that was his "image," so to speak, so this present pope will likely emphasize the other, and his "image" will have to take a lot of hits, and he will undergo much persecution for doing so.

That will not be because he is somehow more "orthodox" or "conservative" or less ecumenical than Pope John Paul II, but it will be because his emphasis clashes more with the world and other Christian belief-systems than ecumenism does. And he may be more personally assertive or "disciplinarian," as a matter of style, resolve, temperament, or other factors.

It doesn't make him "bad" and John Paul II "good" or vice versa (wrongheaded, sinful stereotypes according to the heterodox / liberal and quasi-schismatic "traditional" fringes of the Church and nutty, goofy, ignorant media analyses by folks who don't have a clue). All this is, is a balance: one good thing being emphasized, and then another good thing being emphasized, at particular periods of time. God is in control. He guided this decision. He knows what He is doing.

Popes Leo XIII and St. Pius X were both great popes. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI will also, I'm convinced, both be regarded as very great popes, with the hindsight of history and the progress and development of the Church in the years to come. It is the glory of Catholicism that it can contain men of such vastly different temperaments and emphases, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi, or even of a St. Peter and a St. John among the apostles. It's all good.

May all our prayers be with our new Holy Father, and may we all learn to think in harmony with the Mind of the Church (the only sensible, reliable counter to the Spirit of the Times).

The Pernicious Heresy of Nestorianism

By Dave Armstrong (4-19-05)

To believe that Jesus could be tempted in the sense of having interior doubt or mulling over the temptation as if the possibility of succumbing existed, is ludicrous from an orthodox Christian (and especially a Catholic) perspective (and ultimately blasphemous). He could not be tempted in exactly the same way as we are because He wasn't subject to original sin and the result of concupiscence. That's why He couldn't doubt (our fault which causes us to be tried when temptations come) and He couldn't possibly give in to the temptations, because He was God. 

God cannot possibly sin, because that would be a self-contradiction and contrary to the very Being and Essence of an All-Holy God.

The devil can attempt to tempt God (both the Father and the Son), but he can't possibly succeed in either case. Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. But he is a non-fallen man, and not subject to the concupiscence which is a result of the Fall. That's what unorthodox Protestants of the quasi-Nestorian-type, don't seem to comprehend. Man is not essentially a "weak, fallen" creature. The fall distorted that. But fallen man is not the man that God created. Fallen man has original sin and the tendency to actually sin throughout one's life. Jesus has no sin, no concupiscence, and no weakness. He could suffer, but He couldn't give in to the devil's temptation.

Jesus had no "ability to be tempted" anymore than God the Father had. The devil could try to tempt Him and make Him sin (because the devil was too stupid to know that Jesus couldn't possibly sin, being God), but he also tried that with God the Father. We know this from Holy Scripture itself. In Acts 15:10 (KJV), St. Peter rebuked the Judaizers, saying:

Now therefore why tempt ye [RSV: "make trial of"] God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples . . .

The Greek word for tempt here is pirazo (Strong's word #3985): the same exact word used in Hebrews 4:15, which informs us that Jesus was "tempted in things as we are." God the Father tells us that the ancient Jews tried to tempt Him in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:9; same Greek word again).

So sure, the devil could tempt Jesus, just like he tries to tempt us. The difference is that Jesus is not tempted, in the sense of being weak and able to give in to these temptations (as we are). Therefore, He was tempted exactly like God the Father was tempted (which is why the same word is applied to both!): it was a failed attempt which was destined to failure. God the Father and God the Son are no different in this respect. To make out that they are somehow different, is Nestorian heresy and blasphemy.


Either Jesus is God or not. All Nicene Christians agree that He was. He was 100% God and 100% man. James 1:13 tells us that God cannot be tempted by evil (i.e., He can't succumb to it). Jesus is God, so this verse applies to Him, too. God the Father and God the Son are one. There's no way out of it; one would have to deny the deity of Christ. The context of James 1:13 makes it clear that it is discussing something entirely different than Hebrews 4:15. What is it trying to express? It's clear in the next two verses:

but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.
In other words, concupiscence is being discussed. God cannot be tempted in this sense, because He cannot give into it. Men can because they are fallen, sinful creatures. Jesus is a man but not a creature, and not a fallen man. And He is God. Hebrews 4:15 makes it clear that He is tempted without sin (i.e., the devil tries to tempt Him and fails). Therefore, it is senseless, unbiblical and blasphemous to try to make out that Jesus is more like us in this respect than like His Father, with Whom He is one.

Jesus could not doubt and "mull over" the lies of Satan, or be tempted by them in some sense of internal, existential agony -- as if He were actually influenced by Satanic lies -- He who possessed all knowledge and holiness (with no concupiscence), as a function of His Divine Nature. Even in His human nature, He possessed the Beatific Vision which all who go to heaven will one day possess. And He possessed infused knowledge.

That's really all that is necessary to annihilate Lojahw's argument: all right from explicit teachings in Scripture. Nor is this only Catholic teaching. It's not: it is the orthodox Christology of historic Protestantism, as well as of Orthodoxy. Thus, the Lutherans Bob and Gretchen Passantino wrote in a review of The Last Temptation of Christ:

The Last Temptation (and many critics of the protesters) think that "without sin" only means that he didn't perform sinful acts, but that true temptation would allow him to have sinful feelings and inclinations. What hypocrisy! Here is a philosophy that says matter is more Man and spirit is more God, matter is less important and spirit is more important, and yet the sins of the spirit are not sins, but the sins of the flesh are! Jesus pierced the sham of hidden sins when he said, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man." When The Last Temptation Jesus looked at a woman and wanted to have sex with her, but was afraid to, he fulfilled Jesus' definition of a sinner.

This is more than enough extremely serious error.

Jesus could not fall into sin, being God. Period. End of sentence. It doesn't matter if He had a human nature or not. You are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the Incarnation.

It is entirely possible that Adam and Eve could have never fallen and rebelled against God. The fall wasn't inevitable or predestined. There is such a thing (theoretically) as an unfallen race. In fact, it exists, because the angels never fell. The demons rebelled and fell but the good angels never did, so they are unfallen, uncorrupted creatures.

That was a possibility for man too, but we blew it. Now, Jesus was God before He became man. And God cannot fall into sin. We fall because we are tempted and have an inherent weakness. The inherent weakness now is the fall, and specifically concupiscence, or the tendency to sin and to move toward sin in our desires and will. But that comes from the Fall itself, and is a sinful tendency. The original weakness before the fall was our limitations of knowledge, being creatures and not God. Therefore, the devil could deceive us and lead us to rebel. God has no limitations of knowledge, and cannot rebel against what He is. He is necessarily what He is, and cannot be otherwise. Since we are different from God, and creatures, and limited because of same, we can rebel against Him and fall into sin.

Since Jesus didn't fall and had no original sin, He had no concupiscence, hence He could not have any desire to be enticed by temptation, as we do. He is still God, and God can't sin. Becoming a man as well doesn't change that. Sin is, therefore, impossible for Him. But you imply that it is possible for God to sin. It's not.

Adam and Eve could have possibly not fallen. But Jesus could not possibly have fallen, even in His human nature. That's the difference, even though He was indeed a man like us. It's not possible because He is God, and God is perfectly holy, and cannot contradict Himself or be other than what He is: a perfect and perfectly Holy Being.

When you ascribe the possibility of moral error to the Incarnate God we greatly err and blaspheme (though I'm sure most who hold these positions don't mean to; it simply follows from the position they take).

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope St. John Paul the Great: My Tribute and Long List of Links

By Dave Armstrong (4-2-05)

I'm at a loss for words (and many others can say what I would like to express far better than I can), so I'll be brief. Pope John Paul II was, I believe, the greatest and most influential man of the 20th century. I think he will in due course be canonized, declared "the Great" (like Popes Leo and Gregory), and also a Doctor of the Church. This is not mere "eulogizing exaggeration." I've thought this for a long time.

His impact was incalculable. What I'll remember most will be his extraordinary teachings and efforts towards greater understanding among all peoples. Everything he wrote about and did and sanctioned has been of immense importance: the Catechism, his encyclicals on the Gospel of Life, the Blessed Virgin Mary, ecumenism, faith and reason, labor, and all the others.

He was instrumental in the downfall of Communism, and has dealt a death-blow against Catholic liberals (though they don't appear to know it yet, or -- far more likely -- are too proud to admit it). He reinvigorated the true spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which had been hijacked and almost made a mockery of by the dissidents we are blessed to have in our midst. He instituted crucial liturgical, educational and even architectural reforms and spearheaded exciting, truly progressive (in the right sense of this highly-abused word) teachings such as his emphasis on the theology of the body, and on marriage and women.

His call for a renewed evangelism and re-evangelism has been central to the self-understanding and motivation of apologetic and evangelistic efforts and enterprises like EWTN, Catholic Answers, Envoy, The Coming Home Network, Catholic radio (including my associate John Martignoni, who is now on the radio), Catholic publishing (such as my own publisher, Sophia Institute Press, OSV, and Ignatius) and all of us on the Internet and elsewhere who are trying in our own meager, deeply-flawed ways to share the truth and rationales of Catholic Christianity with the world.

He was my hero and, I think, the greatest man in the world, by any estimate of the word "greatness." He was Peter Among Us. He exhibited and manifested the Spirit of Jesus like no one I have ever seen in my lifetime (save perhaps Mother Teresa). May he rest in peace, and praise be to God for delivering such a "holy giant" to the Church in our terrible times. He will be a powerful intercessor in heaven. If ever there was hope incarnate in one (living, created) man, that Christianity still can have a significant cultural and evangelistic impact, it resided in John Paul II: the holy man and singular leader of men; shepherd of the world. And the world knew it; that's the marvelous and wonderful thing about it. The Gospel of Jesus lives, so powerfully! It can and will transform the lives of all who accept it by God's grace.


I shall list below some articles which document the impact that His Holiness, Pope John Paul II has had on the Catholic Church and the world, and then his own writings:

A Man of Vatican II (James Hitchcock)

Pope of Hope (Karl Keating)

Review of New Papal Biography—Pope John Paul II: Witness to Hope [George Weigel] (Mary Ann Glendon)

John Paul II: Servant of God, Hero of History (President George W. Bush)

Address to the Pope (President Ronald Reagan, 1982)

John Paul II: Letter of God (Mario Agnes)

Impact of John Paul II's Pontificate (Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino)

Petrine Ministry and Communion in the Episcopate (Cardinal Bernardin Gantin)

A 25-Year Pontificate at the Service of Peace (Cardinal Angelo Sodano)

Missions in the Pontificate of John Paul II (Cardinal Ivan Dias)

The Family in the Pontificate of John Paul II (Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo)

Proclaiming the Splendid Truth of the Family (Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo)

Ecumenism in the Pontificate of John Paul II (Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir)

Introduction to the Symposium of the College of Cardinals (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

John Paul II’s "Ecumenical Passion": A Clear-Eyed Look at Dominus Iesus(Msgr. John O. Barres)

Heart Attack: Catholic Academe Meets Ex Corde Ecclesiae (Michael J. Mazza)

John Paul II vs The American Catholic College (Msgr. George A. Kelly)

Centesimus Annus: A Perspective (William Luckey)

The Catholic Human Rights Revolution (George Weigel)

20 years as Successor of Peter (L'Osservatore Romano)

Criticizing John Paul II (James Schall)

Revitalizing Society Through the Family: Vision of John Paul II (J. Michael Miller)

The Biography That Might Have Been (George Weigel)

The Pope's Siege Mentality (Peter M.J. Stravinskas)

John Paul Stands Firm [Veritatis Splendor] (Robert Moynihan)

Moral Theologians and Veritatis Splendor (William E. May)

Splendor of Truth (William Most)

The Gospel of Life (Richard John Neuhaus)

Fanning Anti-Catholic Flames [life issues] (Judie Brown)

St. John of the Cross and the Hidden God ( [JPII's dissertation was on St. John] Donald F. Haggerty)

The Crisis of Faith and the Theology of Mission: A Reflection on Redemptoris Missio (Timothy T. O'Donnell)

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: Exercise in Infallibility [re: ordination of women] (Jeff Mirus)

Pope Deepens Conciliar Theology (William Most)

Declaration on Euthanasia (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 May 1980)

Pope John Paul II: Encyclicals and Other Official Proclamations

Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life, 1995)

Dominum Et Vivificantem (On the Holy Spirit, 1986)

Centesimus Annus (On Rerum Novarum, 1991)

Laborem Exercens (On Human Work, 1981)

Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer, 1981)

Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man, 1979)

Dives In Misericordia (On the Mercy of God, 1980)

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On the Social Teaching of the Church, 1987)

Ecclesia Dei (concerning Tridentine Mass and quasi-schismatic Catholics, 1988)

Ad tuendam fidem (To Protect the Faith, 1998)

Duodecimum Saeculum (Veneration of Holy Images, 1987)

Familiaris Consortio (On the Family, 1981)

Orientale Lumen (The Light of the East [Ecumenism], 1995)

Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One [Ecumenism], 1995)

Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women, 1988)

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone, 1994)

Rosarium Virginis Mariae (History of the Rosary, 2002)

Pastore Gregis (Pastors of the Flock, 2003)

On the Devil (1986)

Common Declaration Signed in the Vatican (Pope John Paul II & Patriarch Bartholomew I, 1995)

Papal Consecrations to the Immaculate Heart (Pius XII and JPII, 1984)

Church Must Proclaim ‘Gospel of Life’ (1991)

Augustine of Hippo (1986)

The Church Must Learn To Cope With Computer Culture (1989)

Television and the Family: Guidelines for Good Viewing (1994)

Cinema: Communicator of Culture and of Values (1995)

Letter to Families (1994)

The Husband-Wife Relationship in Ephesians 5, 21-23 (1982)

Morality of the Marriage Act Determined by the Nature of the Act and of the Subjects (1984)

Importance of Harmonizing Human Love with Respect for Life (1984)

Responsible Parenthood (1984)

Faithfulness to the Divine Plan in the Transmission of Life (1984)

The Church's Position on the Transmission of Life (1984)

A Discipline That Enobles Human Love (1984)

Responsible Parenthood Linked To Moral Maturity (1984)

The Power of Love Is Given to Man and Woman as a Share in God's Love (1984)

Continence Protects the Dignity of the Conjugal Act (1984)

Continence Frees One From Inner Tension (1984)

Continence Deepens Personal Communion (1984)

The Redemption of the Body and the Sacramentality of Marriage (1984)

Respect for the Work of God (outline of conjugal spirituality, 1984)

Loss of Original Sacrament Restored with Redemption in Marriage-Sacrament (1982)

Dangers Of Genetic Manipulation (1983)

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory (1999)

New Catechism: Gift to the Church (1992)

Population Conference Draft Document Criticized (1996)

Tertio millennio adveniente (As the Third Millennium Draws Near, 1999)

Women: Teachers of Peace (1995)

'He descended into hell' (1989)

Missionary Activity (1995)

Perseverance in Mission (1995)

Culture of Equality is Urgently Needed Today (1995)

We Cannot Remain Separated (Orthodox and Catholics, 1995)

All Must Strive for Goal of Full Unity (1995)

Celebrate and Serve Life! (1995)

Judges Cannot Bend the Objective Norm or Interpret Divine Law in an Arbitrary Way (1996)

I Appeal to World's Scientific Authorities: Halt the Production of Human Embryos! (1996)

Message to the Pontifical Academy of Science on Evolution (1996)

Seek to be active in life of your local Church (to Catholic Charismatics, 1996)

Wipe out the tragic scandal of hunger (1996)

We entrust, O Mary, and consecrate the whole world to your Immaculate Heart! (1982)

Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dimitrios I - Joint Declaration (1987)

Pacem in Terris: A Permanent Commitment (2003)

To Delegations of Other Christian Churches and Organizations (1978)

Beatification Homily: Mother Teresa (2003)

Symposium of Cardinals: Closing Address (2003)

General Audiences: John Paul II's Theology of the Body (1979-1982, 1988)

Cosmology and Fundamental Physics (1981)

On the Centenary of the Birth of Albert Einstein (1979)

On Catholics and the Media (21 February 2005)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terri Schiavo's Legal Murder: Has the New Neronian Age of Martyrs Begun?

By Dave Armstrong (3-24-05)

How far we have come in our moral progress in Western Civilization (led by the sterling, shining example of "give me your poor" America: bastion of liberty, freedom, and personal rights). What was considered one of the most heinous tortures and executions by the Nazis (and their imprisoned victims) -- starvation and hunger, till death -- is now widely regarded as a "humane, compassionate, painless death with dignity"; indeed, a precious "right." Our legal system would have done the Nazis proud.
Imagine if the Nuremburg Trials were held today. The majority of our own Supreme Court could consistently argue the Nazi criminals' case on the basis of the highest, most respectable legal precedent, and the pro-death, anti-child, anti-life logic that has held sway in our beloved country for more than 30 years now (with more than 48 million legally-slaughtered babies as a result: far exceeding the Nazi body piles and burned human remains: by some eight times).

Rather than hanging the horrific war criminals like Goering, perhaps (ah, the virtue of hindsight) he should have been offered the "humane, painless, dignified" death of dehydration and starvation . . . "If only" . . . But alas, we are a much more progressive and caring people now than we were then. Goering killed himself by lethal injection, as it turned out. Today, many thousands of bleeding-logic, heartless, morally clueless liberal "doctors" would have gladly volunteered to do it for him.

Perhaps Terri Schiavo can be regarded as a martyr (I'm writing before her death, but there looks to be no hope left, on this Holy Thursday, after six days of no food and water)? St. Maximilian Kolbe did, of course, volunteer for his heroic death. Terri was not given even that choice. Her loving, committed husband decided it for her (after having been granted a million dollars in a previous court finding after agreeing under oath to take care of her with the money for a presumed full life of perhaps "70 years").

But of course we also know (on her dear husband's word) that this is how Terri would want to die (coincidentally just as the Jews and Catholics and other unfortunates in the Nazi camps did), so (granting his report, which every court system seems to think unquestionable), she has volunteered for the death that has been the main cause of the canonization of Fr. Kolbe.

What does this travesty of justice and absolute moral outrage tell us about our country and ourselves? I place the blame squarely on the Catholic Church, first and foremost, secondarily on other committed Christian groups, and thirdly, on our morally upright, decent non-believer friends. After all, I believe the famous saying from Edmund Burke: "evil triumphs when good men do nothing."

We are blessed with legal abortion largely because the Catholic Church was so weak in 1973, and was suffering through a huge liberal crisis on the level of the priests and many laypeople (not in its dogma, which has not changed). Such a huge societal shift would have been inconceivable just ten years earlier, when Catholicism had achieved the height of its power and influence, and we had our first Catholic President (albeit a personally nominal one).

But 1973 was an entirely different time. The Church was weak, so the secularist juggernaut (fully in the throes of both the sexual revolution and feminism) acted, and here we are, 48 million citizens (all 32 years old and younger) fewer, and in a wonderful society (almost a Utopia) where we are further blessed with events like high school massacres, and so forth.

Not that other Christians were not to blame, too. Many other groups and influential Christian individuals had caved on abortion, or were actually sanctioning it in individual "hard cases." But "to whom much is given, much is required." The Catholic Church (ironically, given American religious history) was the largest single Christian group in America (and the world).

Yet where were the priests and bishops and influential, important, high-placed Catholic laypeople leading massive, unprecedented public rallies in disapproval (then and now)? Where was the mass protest and civil disobedience? After all, there was much precedent, before and after. The abolitionists caused quite a stir before the Civil war. Their cause was just (though not always their tactics).

As recently as eight years earlier, there had been huge, entirely justifiable and necessary peaceful civil rights rallies and marches and civil disobedience, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (with many Catholics and other Christian activists participating). These included the breaking of unjust laws. Four years earlier, there had been huge (legal) protest rallies in Washington, D.C. over the Vietnam War.

That tragic conflict took only a puny 56,000 lives: a mere two-weeks' worth of work in our legal abortuaries (please excuse my sarcasm: I trust that my very serious point of comparison will be understood). But I guess when big healthy people die, it is much more a cause for alarm and protest than when little and unhealthy and defenseless people do (at least the soldier in Vietnam had a machine gun at his disposal, to fight back).

Why is it, then, that something so clearly wrong and outrageous and contrary to all Christian morality as abortion was not also so protested (then and now)? I think we need to ask ourselves that and take a good, long look in the mirror. Virtually all of us are moral cowards, unwilling to undergo the slightest suffering for the sake of the Church, God, or the most obvious of injustices and suffering of others (up to and including death).

We have all basically sat idly by (like Germans in the 30s) as our nation has sunk to depths that would be the envy of the Nazis and "Uncle Joe" Stalin himself (who once starved 10 million Ukrainians: 10 million Terri Schiavos: maybe this is why the liberal press in America uttered nary a whimper in protest: they were ahead of their time, and were compassionate far more than they knew; better to starve than die in the then-inevitable World War II, right?).

We keep reaching new milestones of butchery, savagery, and barbarism: beyond the ancient Romans, beyond the Nazis and the Communists . . . first legal abortion came in 1973. It then became legal to dismember a ten-week old preborn child, with all its organs in place, a beating heart, and brainwaves, and all the DNA that it would ever need. The next major milestone of the Culture of Death, as I see it, came in 1989, with the Supreme Court Webster case, dealing with abortion. Do you remember that one? After Robert Bork had been denied a seat on the Court after a ridiculous, slanderous Kangaroo Trial in the Senate, Anthony Kennedy got the seat instead. He had been a conservative judge, and was a Catholic. He seemed like a decent choice at the time.

But he voted against life in 1989 when that case came up. There was actually a real opportunity for Roe v. Wade to be overturned then. It failed because (one could argue) the Catholic justice Kennedy voted against it. So did Sandra Day O'Connor (Episcopalian, and a Reagan appointee). Kennedy was key in that development because he eventually became a "swing vote". In 1973, Harry Blackmun wrote the Roe ruling. He was a Methodist. The only two dissenters at the time were William Rehnquist (Lutheran) and Byron White (Episcopalian).

Along with Chief Justice Rehnquist, the two most conservative justices presently are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both Catholics. It seems to come down to us Catholics, any way you look at it. That's why I say we are most responsible for the New Savagery that we find ourselves in, in America.


So 1989 was a milestone. The chance to overturn Roe and institute any reasonable limits on abortion-on-demand at all was lost. If one Catholic justice had stayed true to his previous legal and moral principles, it may have turned out differently. That was 16 years after legal abortion began. Here we are sixteen years later, passing another pro-death milestone: now a woman is being starved to death in the name of compassion, mercy, and the "right to die with dignity."

And everyone is watching and letting it happen. Her (devout Catholic) parents want to care for her; so do a brother and a sister. They will pay for her care. But an estranged husband, who is living in adultery, with two children, wanted her to die, so his will has reigned supreme (much as any mother can kill her child today, and the husband or grandparents have no say whatsoever). This is the culture of death.

And guess who again played a central role in this travesty and moral and legal lunacy? Anthony Kennedy. He was the Justice who reviewed the desperate appeals from Terri's parents. Great work, Justice Kennedy (and any other Justice who concurred)! I'd like to listen when you explain this to your Maker one day. Let's see how far your sophisticated legal reasoning will get you then (God being not nearly as gullible and sheep-like as the American people). Note: I'm not saying these judges are condemned to hell; but rather, that all our sins will be judged, in any event: for the saved as well as the damned.

The other notable milestones were the advent of "partial-birth abortion," where a full-term child is delivered up to the neck, and then a "doctor" sticks scissors in the back of its neck and sucks its brains out (all because the mother doesn't "want" the child; whereas one million couples waiting to adopt would be more than happy to take the child, and even let the little boy or girl live!). Majorities in the Senate during the Clinton administration refused to outlaw this butchery of the most inhumane, monstrous sort.

After that came the assisted suicide movement, spearheaded by the ghoulish "Dr. Kevorkian," from my own state of Michigan, who killed 30 or so people. At least my state (the land of Carl Levin and John Conyers) had sense enough to convict him and put him in jail. And soon we'll have wholesale harvesting of aborted babies for stem cell research (and no doubt mere commercial reasons, too). Coming up in the next 20 or so years (virtually inevitably, if nothing changes), will be active infanticide of born handicapped children, and euthanasia of older handicapped people, whose worth is decided based on what they can do for society, not because they are made in the image of God and possess an eternal soul.

These instances will be, of course, against the will of the people involved, just as in Terri Schiavo's case. This is perhaps the most frightening development at all. We need only look at Nazi Germany and current "progressive" countries like the Netherlands (formerly a strongly Christian country, much like our own: one which heroically resisted the Nazis). But we know that men won't learn from the past, and so are doomed to repeat it.

Personally, I saw some hope to end the madness of the Culture of Death in 1988, when the Operation Rescue movement exploded nationally. It seemed to be a movement much like the civil rights movement. It involved civil disobedience and biblical obedience. I took part in it (some 24 rescues, and five arrests). That could have been the beginning of what needs to happen. But alas, it petered out within a year and a half because of unwillingness to suffer consequences for doing what is right. Our opponents starting playing hardball and passing laws equating rescuers with organized criminals, and that was the end.

Even then, we could have easily prevailed by adding more bodies (i.e., live ones) to the front lines. What would the police and courts have done? They could have been brought to a standstill in a week. We tied up the courts and jails just with our rescues and some 50-100 arrests. They simply couldn't handle it. The jails didn't have any room. That's why I only spent a night in jail, after being sentenced to a week. Christians and other "good people" could accomplish this goal if we would only get off our butts and stand up and be counted (literally). But we're too afraid, compromised, and cowardly.

I would participate in such a mass movement again, in a second. But I can hardly go out and get arrested and go to jail for a year when I have a wife and four children to provide for. If we had 100,000 people out of the committed Catholics, Protestant, Orthodox, and pro-life non-believers in this country stand up to this outrage, that would be an utter non-issue (strength and safety in numbers) and it would be over in a week or a month (the whole thing: abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, assisted suicide . . . ). There would be no choice (no pun intended). Perverse, corrupt, ungodly laws wouldn't be able to do a damned thing about that sort of massive protest.

But we sit idly by and watch. What does it take to wake us up? People being machine-gunned in the streets? Children being seized and raised by the state? Routine murder of people after they hit 80 (like that movie, Logan's Run, at age 30)? How much more will we sit and watch? Sure, we vote for pro-lifers, and try to live our own lives the right way as Christians. We preach to ourselves and pat ourselves on the back every Sunday. But what good has that accomplished, in terms of promoting the sanctity of life? The courts are running rampant, trampling historic legal principles of protection of life. We see how even President Bush and a majority of Congress were helpless against one liberal "judge" who holds a human being's life in his hands as if he were God Himself (may God have mercy on him at the Judgment too).

Law is obviously not working, and is clearly part of the present problem, because human law is often unjust and contrary to God. At such times massive peaceful, nonviolent societal protest and civil disobedience is necessary. History shows us that such dissent causes a change in the laws. I'm not talking anarchy, but moral and legal reform. I'm not against law per se (not at all), but against outrageous, immoral law. Christians are no more obliged to follow unjust laws than they were in Nero's time, where they had to take an oath to the emperor or be killed. We know what they chose. But will we Christians do that today? I highly doubt it. We're too comfortable and compromised and corrupted by the surrounding society.

Again, I ask: what will it take? Well, historically, it takes the shedding of blood and persecution to wake up sound-asleep Christians. That's why it struck me that Terri Schiavo is a virtual martyr. It could be that this is the event in God's Providence which will finally wake people up to reality and what lies ahead if we continue on this bloodthirsty path of death everywhere: to preborns, handicapped, brain-damaged, quadriplegics, elderly (in due course, conservatives, Christians, pro-lifers, non-feminists, those who deny homosexual "marriage"???); you name it, as this thing continues its diabolical course. Someone said, "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Perhaps we are now entering what I call (to coin a phrase) The New Neronian Age of Martyrs. We've now witnessed the cold-blooded murder by the state of a grown woman, by dehydration and starvation. If more people start suffering and dying, maybe we'll wake up and a revival will occur, by God's grace (just as happened in the early Church). Otherwise, we're doomed as a nation; not only culturally and morally, but perhaps even physically. God will judge this nation. I argued that after 9-11, and took a lot of heat for it. All I said was, "why are we so alarmed and mournful at 3000 deaths, when 4000 have been happening daily in abortuaries for 28 years?" I wasn't being callous (I mourned with everyone else); I was simply making a point of moral consistency. If we could mourn those in the Towers, we ought to also mourn babies being slaughtered every day in many of our own neighborhoods.

Then I wondered aloud if this was possibly the beginning of the judgment of America. It's a perfectly reasonable and biblical question and possiblity. But few understood it at the time. Granted, my timing probably left a lot to be desired, but my moral and biblical point stood. How much more corrupt have we become since 9-11? Now we murder our own grown women. We don't even need madman terrorists to do it for us. The whole country is sitting there watching it! At least abortion is mostly hidden, so people can pretend it isn't happening, or isn't morally significant.

I don't want to live the last 30 or 40 years of my life (I'm 46) in a sewer. I don't want my children to live in a culture, when they are my age, which will be even more degenerate and corrupt and evil than our own age (if indeed it is even imaginable to sink lower than we have).

Having expressed myself in no uncertain terms on a very unpleasant topic (many thanks to you for reading this, especially if you have gotten this far, as you seem to have done :-), I would like to actually end on a positive note. The Christian never despairs, and retains faith, no matter what. God is in control, and if it is His Providence that Terri's murder starts a revival, then some good can come out of this outrageous travesty of justice and humanity. I can see at least five "positive things" (believe it or not) that Terri's murder and the Culture of Death may lead to:

1) When we look at Church history; even history in general, we see that after all the most corrupt ages, the next age was one of revival and renewal. We see this also in the Old Testament, in recounting the history of the Jews. This is what we have to live with as human beings. We're so blind that things have to get absolutely awful before we will wake up and start seeing connections between morality and the state of affairs of society and cultures and nations. My spiritual mentor, the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., a very saintly man, used to say that he thought the 21st century would be one of great revival, precisely because the 20th had been the bloodiest in history. So history shows. He was speaking "historically" as much as he was making an observation from faith and hope.

2) This present case excellently illustrates the fraudulent, farcical, morally insane nature of liberal, secularist "compassion." If dismemberment of 10-week old preborn children weren't enough to reveal that, then perhaps partial birth infanticide does, or the spectre of seeing a brain-damaged woman starving to death in agony, with her parents not even allowed (at gunpoint) to put an ice chip in her mouth. Some things cannot be rationalized away: not even by fallen, corrupt, sin-blinded human beings. When we think of such "compassion", we must always keep in mind, Terri starving (like St. Maximilian in Auschwitz) and the full-term baby's brain being sucked out by a "doctor." If those two things won't jar people into moral sanity, nothing (on an earthly plane) will. And that will at least provide some moral sanity and sense from these absolutely monstrous, hideous, ghastly, unspeakable acts of evil.

3) As mentioned earlier, if the time has come for persecution and martyrs, I say, let it come. Praise God! That has always been the cause of great Church growth and individual spiritual growth in the past. If we can't learn by God's great blessing and the Bible and Church guidance, then it will have to come the hard way: by suffering and blood. We're no better than the first century Christians. What makes us think we can escape all these things?

4) Such events lead to a stark contrast between good and evil: far more than apologetic or pastoral rhetoric and arguments or political talk of "culture wars" could ever do. A picture speaks a thousand words. This tends to lead to better Christians, because the ones who decide to be on the Christian side do so at more and more cost these days. And in that scenario there are fewer lukewarm Christians. There's no reason to be a Christian in such a hostile environment as we have today, unless one really means it, and is willing to live it out, not just talk. It's better to have a "darkness and light" society, with very clear opposing choices, than to have a uniformly "grey" world where everyone is pretty nice, and religiously nominal.

Though I would live in the America of the 40s or 50s in a second, if I had the choice (compared to this filled toilet that Americans and most in the developed countries are forced to live in today), in this respect, arguably things were much worse then. Christianity had become mundane and routine. It must be a radical thing, by its very nature, and times like ours tend to foster more commitment and passion in those who do choose to follow Christ (as the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard often argued, in warring against the nominal Lutheranism of his Danish society and time). And that's a very good thing, of course.

5) Lastly, as this senseless, ethically-bankrupt killing continues, it's good to remind ourselves in our mourning and understandable feelings of despair and helplessness, that it is those people who believe in this perverse and wanton killing, who actually do it! In other words, they are killing themselves off. They've already been doing it by abortion. Now they're devising other ways to knock themselves off. So (I speak tongue-in-cheek, with black humor) if liberals and secularists and left-wing ideologues want to kill themselves off and lessen their number, let them do it! If we must endure this moral lunacy, at least we can have the solace that Christian numbers will increase, while non-Christian or nominal Christian ones will decrease (with a corresponding improvement of society and socialo justice).

Demographics is destiny. If only Christians would have more children than secular society (which leads into a discussion of contraception and its ultimately anti-child mentality), then this culture could easily be re-captured in a generation or less. That's great news. But we have to do it. We have to have more children and raise them in the faith, to be dissidents against decadence (say that five times fast!). It's really quite simple. But human beings, unfortunately, often fail to grasp the simplest and most obvious realities, as the Terri Schiavo case sadly proves once again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Martin Luther Espouses Prayer For the Dead / Retroactive Prayer

By Dave Armstrong (3-22-05)

I happened to notice a very interesting piece on the Lutheran blog Here We Stand, from "CPA", with whom I have had a few recent dialogues. It's entitled simply "Prayers for the Dead." I wanted to make note of it before the current discussion over there dies out (and because I have several projects I'll be taking on right after Easter). CPA opened the article thusly:

* * * * * 

In what Martin Luther regarded as his final confession of faith in his 1528 work against the Zwinglians, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, he wrote as follows:

As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: 'Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.' And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice. For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and merely the devil's annual fair.

(Luther's Works, vol. 37, p. 369)
Luther's approval of prayers for the dead given out of free devotion was shared in Melanchthon's apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXIV, 94), where he wrote:

Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead.
* * * 

CPA himself makes a rather interesting argument. While thoroughly denying purgatory, which he claims "has no Biblical foundation" (I beg to differ: in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, I outlined no less than 25 distinct biblical arguments for purgatory; supported by many Church Fathers, and also many other related Bible passages), he goes on to argue that one can pray for the eternal destiny of persons who have already died, because God is outside of time and thus that such prayers are applied retroactively for the deceased person's benefit. I've made the same argument before (about prayer being out of time because God is). And I agree with this application of the principle. Concluding with stirring words which I found quite eloquent and moving, CPA stated:

Far more typical is the loyal Christian woman in a mainline church who loved Christ but always indignantly denied the existence of hell, the occasional church-goer who is put into a coma by a stroke and dies without regaining consciousness, the Baptist missionary who spends all her strength winning souls for Christ and taught her converts to reject God's word concerning baptism and the Lord's Supper, the devout Christian man with an undiagnosed depressive condition who disappears for a day and is found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the grandmother who slipped into mindless senility years before her death, the writer who longed desperately for a faith she mournfully believed that God had never given her, the man of affairs who did great good for humanity and is cut down suddenly just as he seemed to be returning again to the faith of his fathers, a son baptized and raised in the faith who was drowned on a canoing trip with his live-in girlfriend. . . .
In such cases only simple-minded dogmatists would dare say for sure whether they are in heaven or hell. On what grounds then are we denied the right to pray for those we love, that in their moment of death they might remember the Gospel promise of God in Christ and cling to it? And if God tells us to pray persistently for all the concerns of our heart and especially for the salvation of all (Luke 18; Philippians 4; 1 Timothy 2), how can He be angry when we pray for the thing that weighs most on our hearts, something about which we genuinely do not know His will? And who can be confident denying that the prayers of loved ones, whenever they are offered, before, during, or after death, do not by God’s appointment, comfort and uphold those facing death without preparation and without full knowledge of God's grace?
For these reasons, for many years now I have believed that prayers for the dead (which are really prayers for those in the hour of death) are a true Christian practice, completely consistent with the evangelical faith, and have practiced this. As I have seen (on Luther Quest of all places), I am not alone in doing so.

I also found the comments fascinating, as several Lutherans and other Protestants agreed that it was not contrary to the Bible or the Christian faith to pray for the dead.

In my book, The Catholic Verses (2004), I have an extended treatment (pp. 169-174) of St. Paul and what I argue are his prayers for the (likely) dead man, Onesiphorus (which also appeared in briefer form in my chapter on purgatory, in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism - pp. 141-143 in the new edition). So (I maintain) Paul prayed for the dead, as did our Lord Jesus, when He raised the dead on a few occasions. That was my "new" argument (which actually came from a great insight from my wife Judy). The practice, therefore, is supported by explicit biblical evidence. Why, then, we ought to ask, do so many Protestants reject the practice (seeing also that it was very widespread in the early Church)?