Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Everyone Start Singin!

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me!


The Case for Traditional Principles Part III: The Rule of Law in Catholicism.

Out of all the errors and confusion that exist within Catholic thought today, one could say one of the worst concepts is that of pragmatism. That is, when faced with a situation, the ends justify the means you wish to establish. If for example, one wants Bishops who will agree with their positions, they are free to violate Church law in achieving that end, when current law forbids such a practice. If relativism is ultimately one of the illegitimate children of the Protestant revolt, pragmatism is it's twin brother.

There are very few circles of Catholic thought that remain unaffected by this concept. For the Charismatic, it matters little what Church law or those in authority say, they are hindering "worship in the spirit" so they should be disobeyed. For those who carry the moniker traditionalist, I have a little more experience to speak from. In some circles, those who flagrantly disobey Church law in celebrating the Latin Mass are the heroes. Rather than a tragic situation that harbors contempt for the institution Christ created to govern the flock, these rebels are hailed as heroes and men to emulate. For the progressives, it mattered little that communion in the hand and altar girls were forbidden by Church authorities, they believed the ends justified the means, so they disobeyed the current laws, and dared Church authorities to confront them. For those "conservatives", it is laudable when a priest innovates, but innovates with the liturgy in a conservative manner.

Everyone doing this believes they are serving a greater good. They further believe that times in the future will be more conducive to their manners, so their flaunting of Church authority will be forgiven by future generations. The problem is that Catholicism is not a "results based" religion. Rather, many times the things we do are secondary to the motives in which we do them. The Gospel of St. Luke recounts this principle well:

Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O god, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather that the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.

The things the Pharisee did in this parable were noble things. It is noble and good to fast, to give tithes. Yet those acts were turned into negative acts because of the reasons he was doing them, and the pride he took in doing such acts. For the fasting and the tithing were essentially external acts only. Fasting is an example of humility, relying on God to provide for the weakness that comes from fasting. The same with tithing, it demonstrated humility by recognizing that all gifts come from God, and we should use those gifts towards serving Him. Yet rather than humility, these acts made him arrogant, viewing himself high and mighty above others. Pride was his sin, and rather than those acts serving towards the man's salvation, it is probable they were used in his damnation.

It is no understatement that for the pragmatists I described above, their sin is pride. That sin completely negates any positive influence their good intentions give them. It says they no better than those who have the authority of carrying out the Church laws. And when they are more learned, the error is even more compound, for they believe that their knowledge exempts them from following those laws. The results the Pharisee achieved were positive, but the means he used to achieve them, and the mentality he adopted because of them were evil. Such is the same with the pragmatist. Whether or not his ideas are noble, the means he uses to achieve them are wrong, and rather than provide the desired outcome, in the end provide the exact opposite.

Now there are cases in which Church law does take a backseat to practical realities of the situation. An example would be communist China. For the loyal Catholics had at times consecrated a Bishop without receiving the approval from Rome, an act that was always viewed wrong, no matter the penalties attached to it. Yet they were cases where the means used to obtain the end were impossible to fulfill. They could not reach the Pope to get his mandate to consecrate Bishops. For if they came out and delivered such a letter, everyone would be placed in danger from the government, which was waging a war to stamp out the faith. Yet these situations are not normative. If the law can be fulfilled, one is obligated to obey it. One could learn much from the publican and adapt it to this issue.

The publican demonstrated humility, submitting to God's mercy, not trying to rationalize his behavior. The publican was wrong, and he knew it. No act of rationalization could change the fact that he was in the wrong. He acknowledged that fault, and begged God for mercy. Likewise, when such situations are not favorable to our opinions, we beseech God that the environment may become more favorable to them. We do not view ourselves better than everyone else, therefore we have a "special right" to do our own thing.

God Bless,