Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Thanatos Church

These days I fluctuate between revulsion at our fellowman and a detachment from the world. Regarding both, it is fair to say that I emulate the example of Dr. Tom More in The Thanatos Syndrome.

Don’t get me wrong:  I have nothing against individuals. I know many individuals, some of them dear to me, and have witnessed their capacity for good. Rather, it’s our fellowman, the masses, people, society, in the year 2014 of what used to be A.D.

My thoughts began to coalesce after listening to Elizabeth Cook on satellite radio. A decent country singer and redneck, Cook complained that there was something creepy going on in America. People are so “well adjusted” through access to drugs and therapy that nobody seems to question the fact that more adult children are living under their parents’ roof. She yearned for her younger days when the households in her neighborhood were typically populated by a pissed-off father who served a tour in Nam and a mother angry about who-knows-what. Back then kids couldn’t wait to escape.

Cook identified part of the problem, but there’s something bigger going on. And it’s not limited to the millennial generation, though their lack of grounding is a constant source of amazement. It affects both young and old.

Our fellowman has been dumbed down and is getting dumber with each passing year. Part of this condition is brought on by choice, of course, but most of it is due to decades of conditioning, indoctrination, or misguided education.

Take a walk in any major Northeastern or West Coast city in the United States. What do you see? Men with bare feet in flip-flops dressed in clothing designed to make them look like little boys; professional women dressed like pornographic actresses; young men and women speaking in lilting cadences punctuated by rising inflections; people crossing against traffic signals as if they had some divine right of way; the dependency on personal electronic devices.

[N.B:  I have a long-held sympathy for commercial airline flight attendants, who must do their jobs in close quarters, at 35,000 feet, to all of this venality.]

These are symptoms of a society that has become lax in its standards of conduct. The fact of the matter is that our fellowman is disturbed. And he doesn’t realize it. No—worse still: he realizes it, but doesn’t give a damn. I offer the following observations in support of a hypothesis:

  • Acceptance by the heterosexual majority of the perversion of the natural definition of marriage championed by the homosexual minority
  • The recent proliferation of effeminate young men
  • An emerging primacy of women over men
  • Deteriorating driving habits on the major metropolitan roadways
  • Docile acceptance of expanded government regulations
  • Vapid entertainment accentuated by banal news programs
  • Societal infatuation with sex, celebrity and death
  • The substitution of philosophers and theologians with pundits, minstrels, and bureaucratic scientists
  • The rejection of high art
  • The elevation of sophistry over wisdom
  • An undermining of the categories of “win” or “lose,” so as to reinforce a feeling of exceptionalism for each and every person 
  • Idolization of animals (e.g. “multi-species households”) and the environment (e.g. “mother earth”)
  • The treatment of classical ethics and natural law as categorically relative

We may be hurtling toward an evolutionary change whereby homo sapiens metamorphoses into homo sed:  a pleasure-seeking creature with a brain capable of reasoning that spends its waking hours seeking out and feeding on various types of external stimulation, many contrary to its nature and damaging to its cerebral functions. 

Wait a moment! Take a deep breath. Better yet, take a drink. A cold can of beer, preferably National Bohemian (Brewed in the Land of Pleasant Living). Or bourbon in a glass piled high with ice.

Is it really that bad? Of course it is.

Walker Percy predicted our current condition. His advice for Catholics set the stage for Joseph Ratzinger’s comments about a smaller, purer church of the future: accept the fact that man is hurtling toward self-destruction, and those that stay true to the Faith despite this will turn out all right.

Easier said than done. Especially when the Church herself is turning upside down, trending toward an agreeable acceptance of things that are objectively immoral.

It begs a question: can orthodox Catholics expect the Church to be healthy in the midst of a society in decay? I’m not sure we can. Think of the Church as a golden chalice set upon a banquet table. Inasmuch as the chalice made of precious metal shines, it still reflects distorted images of those seated at the table.

This leads me to my hypothesis:  the “whirling adventure” of G.K. Chesterton—in which the Church navigated a steady course between heretical theologies and extreme ideas—has come to an end. The Church can no longer self-correct as she has in the past. The origins of this problem can be found in the hijacking of ressourcement at the Second Vatican Council, but Pope Francis has put the rocket into second-stage orbital velocity.

The Church of the Middle Ages or Renaissance could survive a Borgia or Medici or the other bad popes. However, I maintain that her ability to do so was in the context of the world as Christendom. Today the world has largely rejected Christianity. That which was sacred or venerated has been cast aside in a great leveling. Now anything goes. 

By all appearances, Pope Francis, his extracurial “Gang of Eight,” and other like-minded clergymen in the Vatican are making an all-out attempt to consolidate the work of bringing the Church into the world, thereby consolidating much of the program set forth by Hans Kung and the Conciliam camp soon after V-2. In my opinion, Francis and his allies will not be overt in their strategy, but will stick closely to the pope's operating style: signals and signs. He’ll joke about the tenets of orthodoxy, take private actions that are conspicuously leaked to the media, and, through both, emphasize pastoral theology and what Michael Voris has called “the church of nice.”

If he was still alive, Walker Percy might have taken ironic pleasure watching it all from his perch in Covington, LA. For Francis may well be known for a semiotic papacy.

Part II of this essay, wherein I make predictions, will be posted soon.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014


"'From my reading, Michelangelo, I have been able to follow the rise, fulfillment, decay and disappearance of many religions. That is what is happening to our religion today. Christianity has had fifteen hundred years to prove itself, and has ended in ... what? Borgia murders, greed, incest, perversion of every tenet of our faith. Rome is more evil today than Sodom and Gomorrah when they were destroyed by fire.'
'Even as Savonarola has said?'
'As Savonarola has said. A hundred years of Borgias and there will be nothing left here but a historic pile of stones'" 
                                  -- Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Spengler on Pope Francis

For anyone who hasn't seen David Goldman's (a.k.a. Spengler) penetrating analysis of Pope Francis, stop everything you're doing and read it. Read it again.

I've wondered how long it would take Spengler to weigh in on Francis, and I'm glad he finally has chosen this moment to do so. Finally, a clear-eyed and disinterested assessment of the man whose coat-of-arms motto should be "discord."

More thoughts later. I'm still reeling.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Diarchical Nonsense

As much as I respect +Joseph Ratzinger, as important as his theological writings are to me, his decision to renounce the Throne of Peter is indefensible. A man whose life was characterized by an abiding respect for the traditions of the Church suddenly decided to innovate, and, in doing so, pulled the rug out from under Catholics who expected custom.

At the time, I was inclined to defend him. Maybe he's seriously ill, I reasoned. Maybe he'll be true to his word and disappear in a monastery, a la Pope Gregory XVII in Morris West's book The Clowns of God.

It didn't turn out that way. And now? Apres toi, le deluge.

Benedict's innovation appears to have another layer. The latest news from Rome (translated stories on Rorate Caeli) is that he perhaps didn't really renounce the papacy. Apparently Benedict only cast aside the governing functions of the papacy and has retained prayer and suffering as his "office." As such, goes the story, the Church is effectively being ruled by a diarchy that consists of a CEO (Pope Francis) and Chairman (Benedict).

Ah. That clears everything up.

We have two popes at the head of the Holy Roman Church. Say that a few times to yourself. Now, take a slug of Early Times.

The lengths some are going to pass this stunning news off as just another evening in Roma resemble Han Solo trying to reassure Death Star command after shooting up detention block AA-23. First, there's this from Vittorio Messori, the Corriere Della Sera reporter who broke the news:  
"If it truly is so, so much the better for the Church: it is a gift that they are near each other even physically - one who directs and teaches and one who prays and suffers for everyone, but most of all to sustain his confrere in his everyday pontifical office."
Oh, dear. Then there's this from "The Anchoress":
"In a way I cannot explain, reading this filled me with joy. I’m sure it is filling others with horror and fear. They run to Revelation all-too-willing to consider verses about imposters and anti-Christs than to consider verses about two witnesses. Or anything else."
Funny, I thought we were supposed to be Roman Catholics, not Pentacostals. Now we see the chaos Benedict's pseudo-renunciation is causing.

Aside from the vapid dig at Steve Skojec (whose writings on the apocalyptic aspect of the dysfunctions in Rome are intellectually serious and definitely worth your time), what fills me with horror and fear is the dumbed-down Catholicism of the "The Anchoress." If you've ever listened to the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, you know what I'm talking about:  fides without ratio. "The Anchoress" can't explain what she's read because there is no rationalization for it. In this formulation (brother, is that a euphemism), 'joy' becomes a convenient substitute for thought.

Von Balthasar's book In the Fullness of Faith offers a guide to the serious ecclesial problems caused by two popes. Inasmuch as abolishing the primacy of the Petrine Office truncates the Gospel, the de facto diarchy contradicts it. Christ chose Peter as first among equals. The Francis-Ratzinger paradox, in essence, finds Christ in error for not raising one of the other apostles up as Peter's coequal.

This, in turn, corrupts the spiritual element of the Petrine Office. The term Vicar of Christ, let us not forget, refers to the unseen, spiritual element; the pneumatic and eucharistic Christ acting through the apostolic successor to actualize what is testified in Scripture. The concept that one pope governs and the other suffers and prays is to split Peter in two. And it calls into question the ability of the Holy Spirit to work through Pope Francis. Does one man lay more claim to the Holy Spirit than the other? How does this affect Francis' ability to conduct ordinations, for instance? Or to fulfill the other sacred functions entrusted to the pope?

Finally, the Petrine Office is the sole unifying principle in the Catholica:
"[T]he more worldwide the Church becomes, the more threatened she is in the modern states with their fascism of the right and of the left, the more she is called upon to incarnate herself in the most diverse, non-Mediterranean cultures, and the wider theological and episcopal pluralism she contains, the more indispensable this reference-point becomes. Anyone who denies this is either a fanatic or an irrational sentimentalist." (emphasis added)
How to repair the damage? As I see it, there's really only one way. And that is for Pope Francis to order Benedict away to a monastery, where he would live cloistered as Joseph Ratzinger, no longer garbed in a white cassock, until such time as God called him home.

What are the chances of that happening?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Leo XIII on Film -- Some Thoughts

If you haven't yet seen the amazing footage of Pope Leo XIII (circa 1896), have a look at the Holy Father born before the War of 1812.

Pope Leo's appearance and bearing inevitably prompt a few thoughts about our own Age of Francis.

First, Leo XIII was one of the best talent scouts Christ ever had, having set Katherine Drexel and Therese of Lisieux on the path to sainthood. Not too shabby. MLB could learn a few things from him.

Notice also the deference paid by the cardinals and guards attending him. The lesson for our time:  familiarity subverts prestige.

Finally, look at the way the old pontiff sits himself on the bench. One gets the impression that Leo was happy with his lot, accepting things simply as they were. He certainly would have looked askance at deceiving the faithful--and, more importantly, himself--through ostentatious displays of humility.

But then, Leo XIII was a pious man.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Man Who Gave Us Pope Francis: Bertone Under Investigation?

Whether an (earthly) day of reckoning will come for +Tarcisio Bertone, I knoweth not. However, this story makes for intriguing reading.

For admirers of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bertone has been a much-villified personality. By any objective measure, his management of the Secretariat of State during Benedict's reign was disastrous. True, Benedict tapped him for the job, and was perhaps not as shrewd as St. John Paul II in judging character. One also wonders how different things might have been had Benedict had a sentry as fierce as Msgr. (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz by his side.

We may never know the contents of the dossier--ordered after the Vatileaks scandal--but it apparently was a contributing factor to Pope Benedict's decision to abdicate the Throne of Peter. There's been plenty of wild speculation about it; but I'll bet a bottle of Early Times that a substantial portion was dedicated to the deprecations of +Tarcisio Bertone.

Here's why I believe this to be true. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in the course of cleaning up Vatican finances, uncovered a number of improprieties and reported them to the Holy Father in 2011. For his troubles, Vigano earned banishment to the United States as apostolic nuncio, a move that was none-too-subtlely engineered by Bertone. [N.B. If memory serves, Vigano is a blue-blood, and so the U.S. positing must indeed have been an affront to his patrician background.]

Around the same time, one member of the Italian Episcopal Conference was concerned that the Pope was being ill-served by his secretary of state. +Angelo Scola of Milan, in an audience with the Holy Father at which Bertone was present, told Benedict point-blank that he should fire Bertone for incompetency. This, of course, created a blood feud between Scola and Bertone.

The thread thus far:  uncovering of financial irregularities; Vigano sent far away from Rome; Scola confronts Bertone; Vatileaks; dossier; resignation.

Then the Conclave of 2013:  Bertone, working with ally-of-convenience Cardinal Angelo Sodano, organizes a bloc of votes against Angelo Scola. When +Jorge Bergoglio emerges as a compromise candidate, they pledge the bloc's votes to him, and Bergoglio becomes Pope Francis.

Thus, we have Bertone to thank for Pope Bergoglio, and not Pope Scola.

Bertone was subsequently dismissed by Pope Francis and is, apparently, living rather comfortably in some well-appointed digs.

Quite a record of achievement. But if the Tablet report is true, things may be coming full circle for Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Importance of Symbology

I've been a bad blogger. For anyone who discovered this blog and was even half interested in my ramblings, you would have been forgiven for believing that St. John's Tower had gone dormant, what with the absence of posts for the past two three weeks.

But I'm back. My work life has gotten incredibly busy of late with the taking on of new responsibilities. It's taken time to readjust, but now I intend to get back on track.

Let's begin with the photo above. 

Yet again, Pope Francis has managed to make headlines, this time for kissing the hand of Michele de Paolis, an avowed homosexual Marxist priest, shortly before departing for the Holy Land. Is this a big deal? Yes, but one has to tread carefully so as to avoid the pitfalls into which some papal critics (the rabid Mundabor, for instance) inevitably fall. For what it's worth, here's what I see as problematic.

If this was just an instance of the Holy Father honoring a nonagenarian priest, we'd all be saying 'class act.' But de Paolis is not just any nonagenarian priest. He's published and professed ideas that clearly run counter to Holy Scripture. He's long associated with political groups that have, over the course of history, fervently attempted to take religion out of the life of man. He's also part of a neo-fascist effort to employ state sanctions against those, by their thoughts, are deemed homophobic.

To sum up de Paolis' ministry:  heretical, anti-Church, and pro-thought crime. Though we don't know the man's heart, the outward form, as it were, makes it clear where his treasure lies. Nonetheless, the pope saw fit to kiss his hand.

The pope, if I may coin a term of art, has been somewhat hetero-flexible with regard to homosexuality. To be fair, he's not broken with orthodoxy, nor questioned the objective scriptural truth that God created man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. But strictly on the basis of his symbolic actions, there appears to be a subtext to the official line. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he wasn't exactly vociferous in his opposition to Argentina's homosexual "marriage" legislation. Since his election to the papacy, thus far, we've witnessed "Who am I to judge?" and now the hand-kissing of Michele de Paolis. 

I hear a voice from the cheap seats pipe up:  so would it be better if the guy was an in-the-closet homosexual? Is that what this is about?

Sit the hell down, dumbass, and learn something for a change.

The answer is:  not exactly. By which I mean, if the whole encounter between Pope Phil Donahue Francis and de Paolis had been couched in the concept of forgiveness, it might have been easier to fathom. In other words, the pope might say:  Allora, if some in the Church have been too harsh in their treatment of homosexual persons, please forgive us. In return, de Paolis might say:  Ecco, forgive me for advocating ideas designed to hurt the Church.

But that's not the case here. Not even close. The Church goes out of her way to accommodate homosexuals--to the point of letting the anti-Church homosexual agenda run rampant, in my opinion--and has consistently advocated civil treatment of those persons. Nobody is repressing de Paolis. In fact, if he had his way, the government would repress heterosexuals merely for feeling a native revulsion in contemplating the physicality of homosexuality. Since there are more heterosexual Catholics than homosexual, I suppose the Italian government would be sending a lot of people to prison.

It's the symbolism that makes this little incident a big problem.

Since a pope is an intensely public figure--arguably the most public figure in the world--symbolic actions are part of the papal record, to wit:  Urban at the Council of Clermont, St. John Paul II's visits to Poland, Benedict XVI's visit to the tomb of Celestine V. While not ex cathedra proclamations, a pope's symbolic actions are meant to demonstrate something important to the faithful. 

What message was Pope Francis trying to send by kissing de Paolis' hand? If it's the sanctification of sinfulness, we're all in trouble.