No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Not Heresy

The power of words, misused.

It is very common in the news to spin stories through the manipulation of language to sell papers.  The above story is a great example to look at that spin.  In the story a man and a woman had sex without being married.  As both were supposed to follow Catholic teaching to keep their jobs at a Catholic school, both were fired.

The story is written as a David verses Goliath story.  Evil Goliath Church arbitrarily enforcing their arbitrary morality on an innocent David couple, who simply love each other.  As it is written, “the firings ‘come off as incredibly hard and callous’ in juxtaposition with a couple in love”.

Looking past the formulaic writing, let’s look at what the Church teaches about love to see how this couple of haters shouldn’t be exposing school kids to their hate; and how they are not a couple which shows love to each other.

Love is so much more than “Baby Don’t Hurt Me.”

It is hateful to lie to someone, yet in having sex without marriage that is exactly what this couple was doing.  In their actions they were expressing, “I give myself wholly to you”, yet in their words they did not make this commitment by marriage, so either their mind or heart was holding something back.  This is not love, as love is a gift of self.  The fact this couple mistook this lieing for love shows how poorly they were living up to their contractual commitment to teach the faith to children.  If they were telling people they loved each other, but then lied to each other, then they are quite terrible roll models.

In our society love is becoming confused with what is meant to sustain it, like a plant being confused with the warm light meant to keep it alive.  Feelings and sexual gratification are meant to sustain the commitment and self-sacrifice that is love.  When we chase after the feelings and gratification we end up with neither, but when we seek out service of our spouse we receive those feelings to support that loving gift of self.  Call it the Benjamin Franklin effect in action — go Science!


When the couple in the story mistook sexual gratification for love, they became haters.  They selfishly went after the action that gave themselves pleasure without the commitment which that sexual pleasure is an expression of.  One might posit the cruelty they must have in exposing children to such selfish actions; if one thought they had any awareness that what they were doing was wrong.  In our world the word “love” is so misunderstood that one cannot help but feel pity instead of hostility.  Love reduced to a feeling is but an empty shell of it’s true power, and it is sad that this shrivelled and lonely “love” is all they are seeking.  To attain self-mastery through the self-sacrifice of service to another is so much more liberating than the crushing slavery that is the pursuit of pleasure.


Clerical celibacy could end, but should it?

I was given the above article by a friend, and it is really quite good.  It is about the potential of Popes to end clerical celibacy.  At root this is an issue of discipline rather than dogma, so unlike issues like women priests or same sex marriage, this could actually happen.

There is, however, one misstep and one point of ignorance that I thought would be wise to clear up for readers of this blog.

This misstep is that clerical celibacy has anything to do with the horrific sexual abuse scandal.  The article states “Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia”.  While intellectually plausible it is a claim that is empirically deniable.  In fact, there is some evidence that if we wanted to reduce pedophilia, we should all be celibate, as priests abuse at a lower rate than the general population.

Moving on, the point of ignorance is about the spiritual impact of the practice of celibacy.  The article states: “John told me that if celibacy had been optional back in the ’60’s, ‘most of us would have remained in active ministry’ (although ‘most of us would also have gotten in hot water’ over other disagreements with Vatican policy).”  The subtle message this gives is that priestly celibacy is still a good idea.  If permitted sexual license, heretical priests would have stayed in the church.  This subtly suggests that by demanding celibacy, only those truly committed to the ideals of Catholic Christendom stay within the fold.


In part, this is the Benjamin Franklin effect.  By giving up sexual intercourse priests become more attached to the Church.  The more strict the demands are, the greater the attachment.  In demanding a lot from priests, the Church ends up with priests more committed to the goals of Christianity and more willing to self sacrifice to attain those goals.  These are good things, and the article seems to ignore the point that priestly celibacy has been good for the Church in this major way.

All together then, the article seems to ignore what science has to say about celibacy in favor of populist arguments.  Science says celibacy seems to reduce sexual abuse of minors and suggests that celibacy might increase devotion of priests to the the cause of our Faith — both good things.  The article, while correct that maybe it is time to end celibacy, sadly uses some arguments that contradict this research.

Sing of Mary

This is an amazing article about how individuals have multiple genomes, not just one.  The quote that provoked my thoughts on Mary is this one: “It’s pretty likely that any woman who has been pregnant is a chimera”.  This means that Mary, the mother of God, had a unique union with her son.  The two of them, in a particular sense, were one; as parts of Mary shared the cells of Jesus even after he left her womb.

The goal of Catholicism, as I have mentioned before, is union with God.  As I am fond of quoting St. Joan of Arc, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.”  Mary had that oneness with God in a way that illustrates our own union with God in Communion — we become one body.

By science teaching us about this gift of Jesus to his mom, we can learn to appreciate even more Mary’s place in the Church.

Man = Brewery

Here is some happy news about beer.  Apparently brewers yeast sometimes survives the stomach and sets up a brewery in the gut!  While a sin to be a drunkard, it is a heresy to reject the joy of alcohol.


We enjoy our alcohol so much, we even have blogs devoted to it!  In Catholicism, we know “a joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one” (St. Philip Neri) so we have constantly been fighting off excessive rigorism to keep the heart joyful.  The vast majority of the heresies, especially the old ones, tended to be very severe in practice (Pelagianism, Donatism, Albigensianism, etc.), and it’s nice to know we have a long history of being relaxed about simple pleasures of life.

Which brings me to one of my favorite Bible verses, Proverbs 31.  Most Christians know this as the proverb about the good wife, but it is also about good drink:

Give strong drink to anyone who is perishing,
and wine to the embittered;
When they drink, they will forget their misery,
and think no more of their troubles. (verses 6-7)

So remember the next time life feels overwhelming, a pint or two to ease your troubles is God’s prescription, but please don’t abuse the medicine.

Boobs: what are they for?

There is nothing wrong about this.

There is nothing wrong about this.

Our culture has oddly sexualized and stigmatized the act of an infant eating.  It used to be even the Puritans weren’t offended by boobs on their tombstones:

Boobs represent God's abundance in the promised land of Heaven.

Boobs represent God’s abundance in the promised land of Heaven.

Now even at the Y they prohibit babies eating, lest someone see a boob.  This hyper vigilance about anyone being even slightly aroused creates weird dichotomies in our society where the below is acceptable for people to watch and not considered pornographic:

miley-cyrus-twerk-vmaAnd this is seen as vulgar:

Mary-feeding-JesusWhat this absurd state of affairs speaks to is a misunderstanding of the human body.  The body becomes a thing to be possessed and owned by “lovers”, rather than as a sign and enactment of love.  A woman giving of her very flesh to feed her child is representative of Christ, giving his very flesh to feed us, and our society distrusts this gift of self.

This didn’t come out of nowhere, but was the result of an event in 1930.  Less than 100 years after first removing books from the Bible (1827 was the first year a Bible was published missing 7 of the books determined as scriptural in the 300’s) Anglicans decided they needed to make another major change to Christianity, and were the first Christians to allow birth control in very limited circumstances.  This decision was made at the seventh Lambeth Conference.  Subsequently all the other denominations have agreed with this a-historical decision.  It wasn’t that the conference dealt with a new aspect of Christian life, but rather it decided new forms of birth control invented by science would not be governed by the same moral rules that the old forms of birth control were governed by.  One of the effects of widespread use of birth control is that sex ceases to have a component of procreation and becomes all about pleasure.  As Humanae Vitae states:

Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

When sex is reduced to pleasure, organs that are involved with sex are reduced to pleasure.  This includes boobs.  The connection of the boob to new life has been cut off by the use of birth control resulting in some men experience jealousy of the feeding infant!  Returning sex to it’s natural ends of both bonding and procreation would help return breast feeding to normalcy because the breast wouldn’t be looked upon only as an instrument of sexiness.

Celibacy and Dogma

I’ve recently written about some of the issues raised in this piece, but haven’t yet touched on celibacy.

Celibacy: Not just for clergy

Celibacy: Not just for clergy.

In thinking about the Church and celibacy, the first important distinction to make is between moral practices and expedient practices.  Some practices are morally right in themselves.  One such practice would be helping a drowning person.  Other practices are disciplines by which we might more easily practice morality.  Regular and predetermined prayer is such a practice (the Divine Office is a good example).  Clerical celibacy has always been seen as the later, not as the former, and could therefore be reformed if the practice no longer encourages holiness.  The goal of clerical celibacy is to increase the ease of doing moral acts.
Put another way, the moral teachings of the church are high up the scale of infallibility, while the ways in which moral teachings are lived out in any particular generation are much lower on the scale.  Priestly celibacy slowly grew over generations as a way for priests to live holy lives.  It kept particular churches from becoming dynasties, and was especially important in the Middle Ages when clerical abuse of office was more common.  So while not explicitly a more moral way to live, celibacy among the clergy does help encourage moral actions.One of the ways we can tell that celibacy is an aspect of discipline rather than moral dogma is that it is not required of all people.  The Church calls everyone to holiness, so that if celibacy was a necessary step on the way to holiness all people would be called to celibacy.  What everyone is called to is chastity, not celibacy.  A married couple is chaste when they don’t use each other for sex.  An unmarried person (like a priest) is chaste when he/she doesn’t have sex.  All people are called to live out chaste lives within the context of their vocation because chastity is an issue of morality.  Not all people are called to live celibate lives because celibacy is an issue of discipline.The fact of the matter is that Catholics already have married clergy.  To be open to discussion about married clergy is simply to accept the “facts on the ground”, and this is presumably what Pope Francis is willing to do.  An interesting addendum to this all is that the discussion about married clergy is something that laity need to do rather than clergy.  When one becomes ordained, they become the mouthpiece of the Church (they are ordained more perfectly into Christ’s own prophetic role).  Their obligation is to spread what the church teaches currently (even on matters that aren’t explicitly moral, like celibacy), not to speculate on what the church might teach in the future, and certainly not to act as though the church has already changed her teaching.  This dramatically limits what bishops, priests, and deacons might talk about outside of a church council on the matter.  So if one hears about bishops being excommunicated over talk of celibacy, it is because their unique roll as pastor limits what they might express, rather than because the idea of married clergy is heretical.

Atheists in Heaven


In recent days much attention has been given to the pope’s admission that Atheists could end up in heaven if they follow their consciences.  Far from being the heretical ideas of a rogue pope, this teaching fits firmly within Catholic teaching.

To unwrap this traditional teaching, it is first necessary to understand the Church is not absolutist in the understanding of the law.  The law of God was made to guide us to communion, not to be an arbitrary list of rules.  Related to this is that God will never require the impossible from us.  He knows who we are and desires our salvation, so he will never put it out of reach by a requirement that cannot be fulfilled.  Within the context of these two truths, we can see how layers of salvation can be added to the core of those who are firm Catholics.

Starting with the core, we Catholics understand ourselves to have the fullness of truth.  This truth leads us into communion with God, but we don’t hold it exclusively.  For instance, baptism into the body of Christ is a truth we hold as necessary for salvation, but other Christian groups also understand and practice baptism.  Hence the first layer of people who might attain salvation are those who are baptised into the Christian faith, but who through no fault of their own don’t hold the fullness of truth.  A fourth generation Baptist might not be required to hold Catholic teaching to enter heaven because they might never have had Catholic teaching explained to them.  To require knowledge of the way Catholics believe might be an impossible requirement for such a person.  This doesn’t deny that they do hold some of the truth, such as the truth of the necessity of baptism.

Adding on another layer, those of other faiths who are seeking God might also be saved, even without baptism.  Their desire for knowing God and loving their neighbor could be enough to save them, especially if they haven’t heard the Gospel or if those who have shared the Gospel did so in a very poor way.  The supposition is that if they knew of the necessity of baptism, they would have had themselves baptised.  Since they didn’t know how important it is, it is not a necessity for them.

Yet another layer are Agnostics and Atheists.  If the sexual scandal of Priests has driven them away from the Church, it might be the fault of priests and not of their own that they don’t believe.  Again, as long as they are seeking to follow their consciences and striving to help their neighbor, they might be saved because God doesn’t require the impossible of them — and with as horrible as the scandal was, it might very well be impossible for some Agnostics or Atheists to believe in God.

Each layer of salvation granted holds to less of the truth, but each layer can still be saved because God desires that all people have salvation.  But this raises the question: why teach people the Gospel if it puts a greater responsibility upon people to adhere to more truth?  The more Catholics share their faith, the less likely it is that others will still fall into the category of “disbelief through no fault of their own”.

The answer is that God’s law brings us into greater communion here on earth, not just in heaven.  The moral and faith teaching of the Church is meant to bring us into greater communion now, and isn’t an arbitrary code.  This greater communion is a good that out of love is shared.  It would make no sense to hold back a good from a fellow human — that would be violating communion with them.

Communion is the goal of Christianity

God’s law is meant to foster communion on earth, not to be a list of random rules.

Some might argue that this broadly granted salvation takes away from the saving work of Christ — why do we have to believe in Jesus if those who don’t believe can still be saved?  The reason is that even those who don’t believe are saved by the action of Jesus on the cross.  Understanding and knowing the gift of Jesus is a greater grasp of the truth, but we don’t need to know the truth to have the truth applied to us.  For instance, a severely mentally disabled person can still go to heaven, even if they understand nothing of the truths of our faith.  It is through no fault of their own that they cannot understand because their brain is mis-wired.  To bar these people from heaven would be an act of cruelty incompatible with a loving God.  Knowledge isn’t what saves, but rather the direction the heart is facing.  Does the heart face communion or does the heart face hatred?

Therefore, for all people, the requirement is that of love.  As long as the heart seeks communion with others, God will grant the communion of heaven — the sins of those people seeking communion are forgiven by the blood of Christ.  As long as the heart seeks the isolation from others, God will grant the isolation of hell — the sins of people seeking the worst for others will not be forgiven.  This is why the guidance of the conscience is so important.  That is not to say that the consciences of Atheists are as well formed as those who adhere to Catholicism.  Catholics believe we have the fullness of truth so we are held responsible to use that truth to educate our consciences.  Atheists who don’t believe the fullness of the truth will have a harder time educating their consciences.  At the time of Judgement, Atheists will be held to an easier standard than Catholics because Catholic should have known better, while an atheist might be innocent through ignorance.

The importance of sharing the Gospel on earth is because it helps others educate their consciences so that they might love others better right now on earth — it is not to make it harder on Atheists to get to heaven by raising the bar of what their consciences must be formed to, although that might be a side effect.  It is a mis-educated conscience that supports euthanasia, abortion, and other sins.  Most often, those who support sin don’t do so out of malice, but through having an under formed conscience.  Everyone I know, for instance, who supports abortion does so out of love, not out of hate.  Catholics hold that a conscience formed more closely to the truth of human life would not support abortion for the same reason of love.  Both sides are working within a framework of love, but one side has a greater understanding of the truth and so has a conscience educated to be more loving in effect, even if not more loving in intensity.  Helping others live out the truth of love is why it is important to spread the Gospel.  To fail to spread the Gospel keeps consciences under formed and therefore leads to greater disunity through ignorance of what it means to love one another.


Syria and Just War


This article discusses biological warfare in Syria, and why we see it as so horrible even though fewer people have died from it than from bullets.  I chalk this up to still adhering to some of the aspects of Just War Theory enumerated by none other than the Dumb Ox himself, St. Thomas Aquinas.

The 100% true to life picture of Thomas Aquinas.

The 100% true to life picture of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The start of Just War theory actually goes earlier, to St. Augustine.  He explained how it is just for the State (AKA, the Western Roman Empire) to use force against heretics because the Church may make use of earthly power to gain valuable spiritual ends.  In particular, he justified the use of State power to quash the groups of Donatists trooping around northern Africa and killing Catholics.

St. Aquinas elaborated and defined what a State is bound to in the military enforcement of good spiritual ends that St. Augustine taught was acceptable.  They are as follows:

  1. The aggressor needs to threaten to cause lasting, severe, and certain damage.
  2. All other approaches to resolve the conflict must have failed or be certain to fail.
  3. The defender must have a good chance of winning.
  4. The war must not create greater evils than the harm being fought off.

This last point is what condemns chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare.  Bullets and bombs can have very limited scope, whereas gasses and nuclear fallout cut a much wider swath and are more likely to kill innocents — such as children who have nothing to do with the fighting.

But why is the Pope opposed to US military intervention in Syria if chemical weapons are so evil?  It goes back to Just War theory.  For the US to join the fight to defend the rebels from poison gas, Assad must threaten lasting, grave, and certain damage, and it is not clear that he will do this.  He ran the country for some time without running it into the ground.  Also, attempts at dialogue with Assad and the rebels hasn’t really occurred.  We have failed to put a lot of diplomatic pressure on both groups to talk it out rather than fight it out.  Next, the US doesn’t stand a good chance of winning.  The talked about plan is to bomb some stuff and then leave, which won’t put the conflict to an end.  These are all reasons why the US joining the Syrian civil war would be unjust.

So while it is clear there is some holdover from Catholic Just War Theology it is also clear this holdover is limited.  The opposition to chemical warfare is good and right, but how we live out that opposition with the other aspects of Just Warfare seem much less so, at least in our President.  The low number of supporters for US intervention shows while maybe our society cannot articulate Just War Theory, we might still intuit it well as a holdover from our Christian past.  I pray with Pope Francis that this intuition pushes us back from joining the war.

My Commenters Are Not Heretics

There was a great comment the other day (in response to this post about amnesty for immigrants) and to do it justice, I thought I should give it a full post. Here’s the comment:

Jesus also said things like, “Turn the other cheek,” yet the Church obviously read this in context when defining the doctrine of ‘just war.’

Whom do you concentrate on educating, feeding and clothing, your children or other people’s children? By what right do you declare that American workers are to be put in competition with the global poor for wages and the global rich for housing to satisfy your pathological altruism? Europe at the height of Christendom consisted of numerous, explicitly ethnic nation-states. What new doctrine has been discovered that national borders are to be abolished?

Now you’ve got a Pope who’s more concerned with Muslims feeling welcome in Europe than that Europe remain as Catholic homelands. This is not a ‘catholic’ perspective; it’s universalist.

First, the poster is fully correct that there are negative consequences to amnesty.  If other better solutions are offered that still support the dignity of those immigrants who currently reside in America, I am all ears.  The Church teaches truth in matters of faith and morals, but sometimes our priests can understand the application of those principles incorrectly.  Priests aren’t all social scientists and economists, so maybe this is something they understood incorrectly.

One can easily lead into heresy if one blindly accepts all a priest says.  For instance, a visiting priest from Africa once spoke about how Mary, because she is the Mother of God, should been seen as a goddess.  This is not Catholic teaching.  I imagine that in the part of Africa where he was from the word goddess culturally means something different than it does in America.  These are things we in the pews need to pay attention to, and not blindly accept.

This is balanced with another truth of the Catholic faith, and that is the fact that we need “religious assent” (CCC 892) to things our bishops tell our priests to teach on.  Religious assent is another sort of “matter of degrees” which we have in the Church.  As there are various degrees of certainty on matters of faith, so too there are various levels of assent that must be given.  Our bishops have this authority because they are the successors to the apostles.  As Ignatius of Antioch said, “let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles.”  Consequently the base assumption should be that they are correct unless shown to be otherwise.

My position in my previous post was to accept immigrants with amnesty because it fits with the American ideal of accepting wave after wave of immigrant populations, and it fits with what the what I must adhere to with religious assent.  That said, religious assent might be contravened if there is good evidence the bishop doesn’t have enough knowledge about a particular topic to properly apply moral teaching.  I think that might be what the poster is claiming — the pope and bishops don’t understand the immensity of the immigrant population and consequently the problems associated with welcoming them into our land.  I am not convinced that is the case, but one doesn’t engage in heresy to claim that is the case with this particular topic.

Diana the Huntress

This article about Diana the Huntress of Bus Drivers.  Tired of the sexual assaults upon women by bus drivers, she has taken matters into her own hands.  Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not an heretical belief to have recourse to the death penalty.  Within Catholic theology, there could be some cases where this vigilantism is acceptable.  Normally I talk about heresies, but today I’ll write about what is often thought of as a heresy but isn’t.

The section of the Catechism that refers to this is paragraph 2267.  The gist is that if the State can effectively deal with crime using non-lethal means, then those means should be used.  Therefore in a place like these United States, there is no need for the death penalty — we can effectively restrain those who commit murder or other violent crimes with our prison system.  However, in Mexico the government is clearly failing to keep people safe, especially in boarder towns.  Although the situation is improving, people have a right to safety and justice.  While I’m not sure exactly what the situation is like, it is not impossible for me to believe things are so bad that individuals must assume the role of the state and enforce the law until the state can reassert their rightful authority.  And while it is not permissible to aim to kill someone in self defense, it is permissible as a secondary effect.  Combining this fact with legitimate use of the death penalty when it is impossible to otherwise keep people safe could very well mean Diana the Huntress is on solid theological footing.  I cannot definitively say one way or another because I lack a lot of details, but remaining is the fact that there are situations when this sort of action is acceptable and not heretical to support.  From what I know of the situation, I hope Diana continues to help restore justice to that part of the world, and then parks her invisible jet for good when the State is in control again.