The Catholic Perspective V: Moral rules

Five hundred years ago, when somebody said that Catholic beliefs don’t make sense, he was probably talking about something like Transubstantiation; today, when somebody says that, he’s almost certainly talking about sex.  While moral rules are not the focal point of Catholicism, they are closely connected to it.  However, to one who holds the Catholic perspective as I have described it–an alertness to the symbolic depth of the public world–the Church’s rules on sex, killing, usury, submission to authority, and the like are no scandal to the intellect.  They are rather such natural conclusions that the Church’s commitment to them is evidence for her reliability.

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The virtue of obedience

The Marxist psychologists seek to discredit the virtue of obedience by conflating it with a certain psychological disposition.  The disposition in question is one we all feel to some extent.  We tend to conform to our social environment and feel distress when we find ourselves out of step with this.  Part of this conformity is the tendency to obey whoever this environment singles out as a commanding figure.  (I will not say an authority figure, because authority is a distinctly moral category, and we are now considering only the pre-rational level of psychological pressure.)  The psychologist then cites the Frankfurt School portrayal of the “authoritarian personality type” or Professor Milgram’s ghastly experiments to argue that we obviously need less respect for authority, where by “authority” they mean the residual rivals of their own power:  fathers and priests, never professors and newspapermen.

Now, the disposition to conform and obey is itself a generally positive thing.  In everyday life, the psychologically easy thing to do is usually also the correct thing to do, and I doubt even the liberals’ own order could last a day without this basic instinct to obey.  However, this instinct is not the virtue that we call “respect for authority” or “obedience”.  Obedience is a part of the virtue of justice, and it requires that we obey licit orders from legitimate authorities simply because this is a moral duty.  It may or may not be psychologically easy.  Usually it is, but we shouldn’t hold this against the virtue.  Virtuous acts are usually pleasant, or at least less unpleasant than the alternative.  This only sounds counterintuitive because our moral energies concentrate on those rare times when desire and duty clash.  Ordinarily, eating, wearing clothes, being friendly, paying taxes, and pulling over when the cops signal are the right things to do, but we don’t need to moralize ourselves into them because self-interest suffices.  However, like the other virtues, obedience shows itself most clearly when it is unpleasant, when the virtue is performed for its own sake.  Thus, the best image of obedience is the menial sailor who remains loyal to his captain even when the whole rest of the crew is crying mutiny and demanding he join them; the sailor does this, moreover, not because he particularly likes the captain, but because he knows that the captain is the one he has a duty to obey.  In such a situation, the one with a mere disposition to obey will not remain loyal; he will line up behind the powerful and charismatic leader of the mutiny.

The psychologists slander obedient men as being psychologically weak and ethically shallow, but this is the opposite of the truth.  A true appreciation of authority is only possible to one with a strong moral sense.  It cannot be a substitute for a personal sense of justice since this is its very foundation, and it in no way inclines a man to obey immoral orders.

Finally, I admit to being more than a little put off by these partisans of the anti-authoritarian status quo telling the dissidents that we need to stop being such mindless followers.

Repost from the Orthosphere: a plea for mercy

We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried.  Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage.  However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces.  Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church.  I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.

Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress.  Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship.  We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love.  Not to condemn them!  To walk with them!  And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.

What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church?  Do we not presume to judge them?  Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort?  Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy?  Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister.  But this is cruelly unrealistic!  A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress.  Illegitimate children might be involved.  Plus, she might be totally hot.

Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful.  Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?

What should the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses.  The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers.  It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion.  But if one, why not the other?  Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament.  The question that is posed in response is:  is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others?  Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?

Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful.  However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars.  Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance.  We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love!  Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people.  So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.

Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior.  Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman.  That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.

Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone:  the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.

“Bravo” “Good for him”

What a disgrace is the American episcopacy, congratulating people for embracing sin and perversion.  I hope to expand on this in the Orthosphere in a few days, but I think this is a major reason the Left feels so emboldened lately to impose their immoralism on the rest of us.  Why fuss over Christians’ conscience rights when Christian leaders (especially the selectively non-judgmental prelates of the Catholic Church) make it so clear that they don’t really believe any of these doctrines anyway?  It’s absurd to demand that our enemies respect our beliefs more than we do.

Nested commenting eliminated

I’m going to try an experiment with comments.  I find them easier to read when there’s only one conversation and all comments are arranged in chronological order.  If most people hate it, we can go back.

Are you ready for Pope Francis’ canonization?

Because you know it’s going to happen.  It’s getting to be pretty hard for recent popes not to be canonized.  They’ve even slated Pope John XXIII, the worst pope in the Church’s entire history, for sainthood.  If they can do it for Good Pope John, how can they not do it for Good Pope Francis?  After all, Pope Francis is perfectly replicating Pope John’s institution-smashing recklessness (Vatican II / the Extraordinary Synod) and deliberate downplaying of opposition to the most militant evil of the day (communism / sodomy) thus winning great personal popularity in exchange for the jeopardy of souls.  Francis is practically a Roncalli clone.

While we’re on that topic I honestly don’t understand why traditionalists get so much more worked up over the canonization of John Paul II.  It’s not that I agree with everything JPII ever did, but I’ve never doubted that he was fundamentally on the Catholic side against modernity.  He inherited an impossible situation, and he had to choose his battles.  Overall, I think he chose them wisely and fought them well.  Pope John inherited a strong, healthy church and murdered it.  Even Pope Paul VI, when he faced his judgment before God, had one glorious moment of courage to his credit.  When some day, God willing, the Second Vatican Council is forgotten, Humanae Vitae will still stand out as one of the glories of papal history.  (And, yes, they’re pushing for Paul’s canonization too.  I’m as ultramontanist as the next Catholic, but even for me this is becoming unseemly.)

Yes, I realize that one canonizes the man, not his policies, and it’s possible that Pope John was very holy and very stupid.  However, for a public figure like a pope, the policies are the main thing he’s known for.  Declaring someone a saint doesn’t just declare that this person is in heaven; it holds him up as an example.  If a pope does a bad job, and we don’t want him to be held up as an example of how the Church should be run, there’s nothing wrong with letting him enjoy the fruits of his holiness without official recognition.  It’s not like he’ll be kicked out of heaven.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it adds a new layer to that burden we reactionaries always feel, the weight of our descendent’s hatred.  Not for us is the comfort of imagining that history will vindicate us, that even if we fail, school children in the distant future will someday be taught that our cause was just.  We’ve always known that secular culture despises us now and will despise us more with each generation.  I suspect that even Catholic history in the future will condemn us.  The traditionalists criticized by Francis will be remembered in Catholic history like the Integralists are in the post-VII Church, as fools and bigots that the heroes had to overcome.  That, like yesterday’s Integralists, today’s traditionalists are actually right won’t mean anything to anyone, except God.

In what sense is it possible to believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church?

Proph has posted an important post on the danger of a new “pastoral” Church practice that would contradict her witness on the indissolubility of marriage (more brazenly than our farcical annulment industry already does, that is).  Like everyone else, I think it possible and even probable that this will happen.  That is, I don’t think that God has given us any assurance that such an evil thing won’t happen.

There is then an important sense in which I don’t have faith in the Church, at least in that I don’t trust Rome to promote Roman Catholicism and discourage sin.  However, before anybody tells me to get lost and become officially Protestant, consider the fact that no one believes anymore in the reliability of Rome in the way that seemed like the self-evidently Catholic position one hundred years ago.  No one believes it for the very good reason that there is no way to believe it.  Every position one could possibly take involves effectively dismissing the Magisterium as a usefully reliable guide.  Consider the options:

  1. What Proph calls “the Magisterium of the moment”:  Pope Francis’s Catholicism is great, and what looks like a gutting of morality and the sacraments is really a Spirit-mandated work of mercy.  But if that’s true, then all the popes prior to Francis were completely wrong about what they thought was their most important duty.
  2. Magisterial minimalism:  basically, no special trust is to be extended to papal or episcopal statements per se when infallibility is not explicitly invoked.  The trouble with this (aside from it being explicitly repudiated in Lumen Gentium) is that it means the protection the Holy Spirit gives the Magisterium is practically worthless.  I have no guarantee that the pope and all the bishops won’t deny the existence of God tomorrow, just that they won’t formalize it in a particular way.
  3. Sedevacantism:  Since we all admit that the Church has gone off the rails, I don’t see how this is a crazier position than anything else.
  4. Catholicism is a false religion, and the contradictions between Pius X and Francis I prove it.

All of these undermine the Church’s authority in serious ways.  We Catholics should keep that in mind when we criticize each other.  Here, for example, is a sedevacantist website criticizing the SSPX for not trusting that the Holy Spirit would prevent the true Church from falling into error (although He won’t, apparently, prevent her from being usurped and replaced by a false religion without noticing it).  And here is the SSPX attacking sedevacantists for drawing a distinction between a ruler having legitimacy and him having authority, which again is an odd point for the Lefebvrists to be emphasizing.  I myself certainly will not criticize the SSPX, like most Catholics do, for “disobedience” given that I will never submit to a change in the doctrine of marriage, no matter how many popes should demand it of me.  (One could argue that I’m already in rebellion against the Magisterium for what I’ve written on this blog on the subject of immigration.  I would disagree, of course, but that would be my Magisterial minimalism talking.)  The fact is that any contemporary Catholic can be accused of failing to trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the Church.