Special: Eight Days of Easter

In this special edition of Thinking with the Church: a reflection on the Octave of Easter.

When we left each other, friends, it was Good Friday: the body of Our Blessed Lord was still warm and sticky with blood and grime and filth, hanging lifeless on the Cross.

How long ago it seems: as the Pevensie children said once on a hunt in Lantern Waste, when they came upon the lamp post there, “Like something out of a dream, or the dream of a dream.”

This is, I think, the reason – or part of the reason – for which Our Blessed Lord kept His wounds: not for His sake, but for ours, to remind us of the price at which he purchased our salvation.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why my favorite moment of the Easter season is the first singing of the Regina Coeli at the end of the vigil: Regina coeli, laetare! Alleluia! Quia, quem meruisti portare resurrexit, sicut dixit! Alleluia! Ora pro nobis Deum! Alleluia! 

The simplicity and directness of that ancient Eastertide prayer of Marian devotion has always stuck me: Christ’s faithful call out to the Mother of God, reminding her to rejoice – and why?

I think it must be that she was and she remains the Mother of Sorrows.

Christ’s faithful feel a special solicitude for the Mother of God, who, in His human nature, suffered and died for our sins.

Our Lady knew intimately that her Divine Son was to destroy death itself – He has defeated our ancient enemy utterly, you must know – though, even when He had, her grief was not erased, but transformed – turned into something – not different, no – but something more like itself – mysteriously so like itself as to be unrecognizable.

Turning: the Gospel readings of this week are filled with turnings of all kinds.

God turning defeat into victory: the angel turning away the stone; the Chief Priests and the Scribes and Pharisees, with the Roman authorities, turning the story into something else; Mary Magdalene turning and turning and turning again at the sight of the angel, and of Our Lord, at the tomb – we are given to see her almost whirling in place – and it must have been dizzying.

We are offered an image of conversion, which is another word for turning, or a word for a specific kind of turning: something I have described elsewhere as:

[A] matter of emigration from ourselves, as we are, and a coming into something that will be like a received mode of speech, a discovery of ourselves as participants in a conversation that we did not start and cannot finish, a conversation regarding precisely the question of who we are and where we find ourselves.

This is at once conversio and conversatio, where this last is an outpouring of self into community of sense. – The Soul of a Nation, 98

Mary Magdalene’s turning may be a turning-in-place, but this turning is also of another kind.

Listen to the Evangelist:

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.
And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet
where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.'”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her. – Jn. 20:11-18

The verbs of movement in this passage are all telling: when it starts, Mary is staying – abiding, from ἵστημι – at the tomb; then, seeing something and being prompted by the speech of messengers, she first stoops (παρακύπτω – which is to bend down and examine closely – almost “to have a gander”) then turns (στρέφω) – and sees Our Lord, but does not recognize him yet; then, after an exchange with Him (whom she takes – to my endless delight, to be the gardener – and is she wrong?), she turns again (here the root is the same – στρέφω, but the verb form is different, participial – στραφεῖσα, meaning literally, “having turned again”), she recognizes Him at last; “Rabbouni,” she says to Him ; then, He tells her to go (πορεύου) and bring word to His disciples, and she goes (ἔρχεται – from ἔρχομαι, which literally means coming and going) and does what she was told to do.

It is especially that second turning, which happens while she is speaking to this strange fellow, that is most telling: I cannot but take it as the turning of con-version, even as I accept that the text tells us she turned bodily.

It really is a rather pedestrian thing: I think of how I did a double-take when I saw my friend, Patrizia, out walking her family dog the other day, right in our neighborhood, for the simple reason that I was thinking about other things, and did not expect to see her; I did not notice it was she, until she spoke a greeting – and then I was past her, and I did have to turn around (and now that I think of it, perhaps I ought to have apologized for not noticing her) to wave and return her salutation.

Community of sense: we should wonder at how it does make sense, after all: resurrexit, sicut dixit. “He rose, just like He said he would.”

Christianity transforms the order of society, bringing with it a new social reality and opening new possibilities for common life. Christianity does not, however, because on its own premises it cannot not break the power of the old ways of seeing things – or not seeing them – in history.

Christianity cannot force anyone to see that the world is good.

Christians can, however, show the goodness of the world, though only by living lives of sanctity, and we must live those lives in the world: in the midst of institutions designed for all men, noble but fallen creatures awaiting the Good News of their salvation, often unaware of what it is, for which they are waiting.

This is made the more difficult for us, since we do await the final fulfilment of redemption.

St. Paul describes us as people who see now through a glass darkly, capable of recognizing the goodness of the world only through premonitions.

St. Augustine, in book after book of the City of God, presents us to ourselves as pilgrims in a foreign city.

This state or condition is what we mean by the technical term, eschatological tension – a term that refers to a basic human experience: of the world as good, and at the same time not yet good enough — not yet as good as it should be.

“The world is a fine place, and well worth fighting for,” wrote Hemingway in For whom the bell tolls. “I very much hate to leave it,” concludes the famous line, spoken by Jordan, if memory serves.

It may be worth fighting for, but the point is that it is not a fine place: there is plenty of unfinished business about it.

The world, in the words of St. Paul, is groaning in travail:  sharp pangs that come at closing intervals, interspersed with periods of dull pain, and anxiety, and boredom, and a desire to meet new life mixed with a desire just to be done with it already.

The joy of Easter will wane, and give way to humdrum, over and over again, for so long as we remain in history.

Meanwhile, we have a tremendous opportunity: as long as we are here, we have the chance to prove, contra Paganos, that Catholic religion is not only not inimical to the morals of a republic, but can – if practiced – in fact have a quite salutary effect thereupon.

I’ve said it before and here, I’ll say it again: the Catholic Church is the bearer, the caretaker, the champion of the greatest intellectual and spiritual tradition that ever there has been or shall be; that tradition has always inspired those in it to dedicate themselves to the task of making subtle and particular distinctions within the unity of truth, to seek and always be in awe of the infinite nuance necessary and possible within the oneness of knowledge, to live in the confidence that comes from knowing that the world is larger (the Church wiser, and God greater) than one’s own powers of apprehension; indeed,  true religion has always inspired men and women to think all the good they can of those with whom they find themselves in disagreement; to mark and toe the line between the position and the one who holds it; to pronounce judgment only in the case of gravest necessity, and only for the best of all possible motives, i.e. the salvation of souls (the salus animarum, which in the present context also has the added incentive of serving the salus rei publicae).

Well, we may or may not save the republic: I’ll be sorrier than most to see it go, I think, though I am sure the best hope for it is to live so as to make it worth saving, and to leave the rest to providence.

The whole point is that the glory of the world is passing: only Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.

Surrexit Christus! Surrexit vere! Alleluia!

“Resurrection” by Piero della Francesca, via Wikimedia Commons

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Show Notes

Stabat Mater composed by Charles Villiers Stanford, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (there is a version available on YouTube under their standard license here)

Regina Coeli standard Gregorian plain chant.

Surrexit Christus Hodie composed by Samuel Scheidt and performed by Vox Luminis under the direction of Lionel Meunier (hear a short sample on YouTube here).






Special: Good Friday

Why do we call this Friday, “Good”? The question is not occasioned by any sort of mystical inkling, but by something rather more prosaic: the UK grocery chain, TESCO’s unfortunate ad, flogging their Easter weekend beer and cider sale.

“Good Friday just got better!” their ad proclaims. As Our Lord had only easel and gall to wet His lips, the bar were fairly low.

First, it bears mention that “Good Friday” is a diction peculiar to English. In most modern European tongues, anyway, the day is simply “Holy Friday”, while in the typical edition of the Roman Breviary, it is feria sexta infra hebdomadam sanctam – Friday of Holy Week.

So, if we are thinking with the Church about this peculiarity, we are not only thinking with the Church in English, but thinking with the English-speaking Church.

What is good about this day?

Certainly, it is good to recall the event that won for us redemption, and for the world, salvation.

The thing itself, though: the death of God?

What is good about that?


And also everything.

God made the world out of nothing, and it was good.

He annihilated Himself in His human nature, to save the world He had made.

The world of His creation is rife with examples of good things coming out of evil, but these are always cases of consequence, and often unintended.

On the Cross, God Himself becomes the nothingness of sin – for evil is privation, it has no being – and, having become that nothingness, makes all things new.

Stat crux, dum volvitur orbis.

I’ve always loved the hymn, “Were you there?”

I know it’s Protestant in origin.

I don’t care: there’s nothing wrong with it theologically (the way there is in many Catholic hymns from the silly season).

What do I love about it? I love its simplicity: it indicts us, and through it, we indict ourselves.

“Were you there?”

No, I wasn’t.

If I’d been alive, I’d have scattered and hid like His other “friends” … or I’d have been there, in the crowd, calling for His blood, or holding a scourge or a hammer.

That does cause me to tremble.

Ave crux, spes unica!


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Show Notes

Vexilla Regis performed by the Choralschola, Capella antiqua München, under the direction of the late Konrad Ruhland.

Were You There?” instrumental overture performed by the Annie Moses Band

Were You There?” performed by Victor Trent Cook and the Three Mo’ Tenors


Special: a meditation on Holy Week

Dear friends, this week and next, in view of Easter, we are not bringing out any regularly scheduled programming. Nevertheless, we thought it fitting to bring you some meditative reflections on the significance of this week in the life of the Church and of all those, who profess her creed.

In this special edition, we’ll be reflecting first on Holy Week in general, and on this Holy Week in particular.

Nowhere is it more visible – to those with eyes to see – that the Church is the Body of Christ, than in her liturgical life, and so at no time more clearly than during Holy Week.

Her official prayer is tense, taut, more and more so as the Week progresses; the Propers are terse, pregnant with anticipation and foreboding; her music wanes, tempos become irregular, harmonies withering as the hour of Passion approaches; then, all erupts in a song of lament to break the heart and shatter the sky, and then all tone gives way to thunder, and thunder to a soul-slaying murmur on Good Friday, with the cacophony of a death rattle, then…silence, and the darkness of the tomb; sometime later, a still, small voice pierces the silent but unquiet gloom, and a light flickers, grows, and spreads to fill the universe with its splendor and its glory, and a song of deathless joy fills the world.

Seven days, to mirror the Seven Days of Creation: we begin with a riot of color and pomp, as Our Lord enters the Holy City, Jerusalem; as the week progresses, the sounds and the colors and even the textures and olfactory delights first grow, then quickly fade and darken; they lose their strength, their vital complexity; on Good Friday, we are left only with the clang and clatter of the crotalus; then, silence.

Gaudenzio Ferrari, Stories of life and passion of Christ, fresco, 1513, Church of S.M. delle Grazie, Varallo Sesia, Italy, via Wikimedia Commons

Holy Saturday, the Seventh Day, Our Lord rests: not in glorious regal and imperial presidency over His creation, which He made for His abode and dwelling place among his creatures, with Men to be his stewards in the Garden; this is the silent sleep of death.

Night falls.

All creation is plunged into utter darkness.

Then, out of the darkling silence, a glimmering light, and a single, still sad and solemn note, that together split the night: Lumen ChristiDeo Gratias.

Then, not a riot, but a song of exultation and of praise: rising from beneath the basement of Time, a Song of Victory, waiting to be sung since before the fashioning of the world.

Exsultet iam angelica turba caelorum exsultent divina mysteria et pro tanti Regis victoria, tuba insonet salutaris. Let now the heavenly hosts of angels rejoice let the living mysteries be joyfully celebrated: and let a sacred trumpet proclaim the victory of so great a King.
Read the whole text of the Exultet at Preces Latinae

Reflections on the pitch and moment of this week, in which the whole course of history – from the first casting of light, to the cold failure of the universe – is played out for us in a pageant mysteriously more real than you or I – can often give rise to sentiments of penitence, gratitude, and deep delight.

The past several years, running, this has been the case for me: no matter what has been going on in my life, Holy Week has presented itself to me as a time of consolation.

This Week is different.

This Week for me is signed by dryness: I rise and work and eat and sleep a little, answer letters and run errands, and the world seems to fall apart.

If I am honest, I will say that I am angry – and I believe my anger to be righteous.

Then, I reflect that the Iscariot was worldly wise, politically savvy, and as legitimately aggrieved as almost any other member of his people.

That is as it must be, I suppose – and there, but for the Grace of God, go I (there go we all).

There is, however, something I have described elsewhere as a sort of grim determination: adamant, even uncanny.

This comes from knowing that what might go wrong must go wrong, that the center cannot hold, that the world is given over to the infernal powers for the punishment of the wicked.

This knowledge, however, is coupled with another: that, beyond history, there is the Victory established before the foundation of the world, in the slaying of the Lamb.

Just before his election to the See of Peter, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI said, “The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: he himself suffers for us, in the person of his Son.”

Here we are.

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Show notes: all the music used for the audio package is under fair use.

The pieces are:

The links take to full executions of the pieces, with full performance credits.

The crotalus sound effect was our production, based on a sample from FC Ziegler.

Episode 12: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: a conversation with Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.

His Eminence was very gracious to host Chris Altieri, receiving him in his apartments in Rome, and generous with his time, allowing them to unspool and to dig into questions that – wherever one stands on them – are of immense importance for the life of the Church.

We have prepared a transcript, which has been very lightly edited for clarity, and hyperlinked for easy access to documents, articles, speeches, etc., referenced during the course of the conversation.

The transcript appears below the audio player


RLCB: I was raised on a dairy farm, a small dairy farm in the state of Wisconsin in the United States of America. At that time, the state of Wisconsin was principally made up of small dairy farms, and it was a very good way of life: there was responsibility for the farm taken by all the children – I’m the youngest of six children – and also a deep sense of cooperating with God and working with nature to produce food and other products. In any case, it was in that context – of growing up in a Catholic family – on the dairy farm, and then attending the Catholic elementary school, and clearly, being part of the parish in the nearby town of Richland Center, that I discovered my vocation to the priesthood. Certainly, my parents encouraged me. My father died when I was quite young. I was just eight years of age, and I had actually begun to hear the call. Before his death, I was very attracted to the priesthood, but he certainly encouraged me, and so did my mother, but I never felt in any way forced to be a priest, but as time went on, I was able – having graduated from elementary school – then I was able to go to the minor seminary for my diocese, and that was a very positive experience, beginning in 1962. When I finished my high school education and began college, was when the ferment started in the Church following the II Vatican Ecumenical Council, and then the general turmoil in the world, with the cultural revolution in 1968 – and so I lived through that. In my last years in the seminary there was just a complete contrast between the first years – in the minor seminary, when there was a great tranquility, a great sense of the Church knowing herself well, and confident in what she was doing – to a time of really questioning almost everything, and upheaval, regarding those central aspects of our life in the Church: whether it be Sacred Liturgy, or teaching – especially catechesis – and question[s], too, over governance and even the moral law.

CRA: My own father talks about that. He was an undergraduate from ’64 to ’68, at Georgetown. So, this was right before and at the beginning of what we sometimes call “the silly season” and he says that, living through it – you know – you started out, and there were rules, and then all the rules were gone, and we were left adrift, and – he’s a lawyer himself, and has a lawyer’s respect for the law: he knows what it’s worth, and what it isn’t [worth] – and the idea of change for change’s sake, and “let’s throw it all out!” was something that was terribly disconcerting to him, even as – you could hardly call him a conservative, let alone a reactionary – [he was] very much willing to be excited about the idea of an openness of the Church to the modern world, and to see about what was – to see about a genuine process of renewal. There was no resistance to change, but there was this idea that we weren’t asking a basic question, which was: “Why?” “Why are we getting rid of this?” Does that resonate?

RLCB: Yes, there was a sense that everything that had gone before was somehow retrograde: that there was this kind of fantasy about the early Church, and how everything was perfect in the early Church and then in the succeeding centuries, everything got encrusted, and corrupted, and so forth; but this is simply not true to the life of the Church, which is organic, and from the very beginning, the Church had her struggles. St. Paul had to deal with – for instance – the severe difficulties at Corinth, or early on we had tremendous heresies like Arianism, and Nestorianism, which denied the Divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and so this idyllic time of the Church never existed and it never will exist, because Our Lord has taught us in His own life as the exemplification of it, of the Church as always [in] struggle with the world, in the sense that the Church teaches that good order, which God placed in creation from the beginning, and which, after the rebellion of our first parents, Our Lord Jesus Christ restored by His saving Passion, Death and Resurrection – and so we struggle with the effects of that rebellion of our first parents, the effects of Original Sin – but anyway, there was this sense – and it’s curious, too. I remember in my childhood, too, there was this strong sense of sin: not in a negative way, but in a sense of needing to be coherent with God and with the order that He had placed in creation and in the human heart; and when this rebellion set in, this kind of revolution, no one wanted to talk about sin anymore. In fact, we used to make fun of the constant talk about “love, love, love,” but what the question was, “What is this love? What form does it have?” Well, love is the virtue of virtues, but as the virtue of virtues, it presupposes that you are practicing all of these other virtues, like chastity, and honesty, and so forth – but that’s what happened. It’s what – Pope Benedict XVI described it as a kind of interpretation of the Church by way of rupture – that the Church is recreating herself in every generation, well, this just isn’t the nature of the Church. The Church is a divine institution that grows and develops over time, but its essence never changes.

CRA: As a theologian, he was a peritus at the [II Vatican] Council, and was terribly enthusiastic about a great deal of the work that was being done, both as a professional theologian and as a pastor, and then was suddenly – he – this is a matter of public record here – was traumatized in the years of the late ‘60s

RLCB: You’re referring to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

CRA: To Cardinal Ratzinger, yes, who became Pope Benedict XVI – he wasn’t obviously, then, but he was traumatized by this.

RLCB: He wasn’t the only one. A lot of those people of profound thought, who were very enthused about the II Vatican Ecumenical Council, and enthused about its documents, when they saw what happened after the council, that is, this “spirit” of the II Vatican Council superseded the teaching of the Council itself, so that the Council became susceptible to all kinds of abuse, both doctrinal and liturgical, and disciplinary. Many of the great contributors to the work of the Council became disillusioned, or to use your term, traumatized, and Pope Benedict XVI describes this in his memoires, the Ratzinger Report, and then Milestones, and he, in that rather noteworthy presentation to the Roman Curia and the College of Cardinals for Christmas in 2005, he says how there was this idea among some at the Council that they were like a constitutional assembly, that was drawing up a new constitution for the Church – but as he rightly points out: first of all, they had no mandate, they couldn’t have any mandate, because it is Our Lord Jesus Christ who constitutes the Church. That’s the kind of spirit that intervened, and we are still dealing with it. The pontificate of Pope John Paul II brought us a long way. For instance, you mentioned earlier on in our conversation [before beginning the recording] the importance of Canon Law, of law in the Church, but it was Pope John Paul II, who was not himself a canon lawyer, he was a philosopher and theologian, who insisted that the revision of the 1917 Code of Canon Law be brought to completion (St. John XXIII – Pope John XXIII had mandated the revision of the 1917 Code in 1959, but it wasn’t completed until some twenty-four years later. You can imagine all of the unrest and so forth that took place in the meanwhile, but there’s always this tendency in the Church for people to want to remake the Church according to their own ideas, instead of respecting the tradition that comes to us in an unbroken line.

CRA: You had had your legal training at that point, and were practicing as a canon lawyer?

RLCB: No, I – well, I started my studies in canon law – I was ordained a priest in 1975, and I returned to my diocese and I worked in a parish and taught in a Catholic high school until 1980, and I was sent here then, to Rome, to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Well, those were the final years of revision – of the work of revision – of the 1917 Code [of Canon Law]. So, it was not the best time to study canon law, in the sense that we had the 1917 Code that was still in force, but then we had all these photocopies of the drafts of the new legislation. But anyway, so, I defended my doctoral dissertation in 1984, so it was just – how shall we say? – my studies of canon law more or less coincided with those last years of the revision of the 1917 Code.

CRA: I guess I’m sort of interested now – sort of as a “working lawyer” – I mentioned earlier that I am the son of a lawyer, my wife is a canon lawyer herself – how was it trying figure out how the new Code worked?

RLCB: Well, it was – the new Code of Canon Law took a different approach from the 1917 Code, not in the sense that it broke with the juridical tradition of the Church, but in the sense that it presented the Church’s discipline in a different way. The 1917 Code had used a classic, Roman Law division of the material: according to persons and things and processes, but the 1983 Code followed the structure of the teachings of the II Vatican Ecumenical Council: you have general norms, but then you have a book on the People of God – and then in that book on the People of God, treatment on the laity, and then on consecrated persons, and [then] clerics; and then you have the books on [the] teaching office of the Church, the sanctifying office of the Church and then on the administration of temporal goods; and then a book on crimes (which there was also in the 1917 Code) Ecclesial crimes and the process by which to verify them; and then, finally, a book on procedural law. So, it took some adjusting, and the language in some respects was new, because in many cases the Code takes texts directly from the II Vatican Ecumenical Council, and so there was need to have a correct interpretation of those texts. But we – I’d say we’ve come a long way – and there are some good commentaries published now, to help to understand the law.

I might just make a comment, since we are talking from the perspective of the law itself, and from the perspective of the work of lawyers.

A code has a certain benefit, in the sense that it brings together the whole discipline under various categories – it’s easy to access – but the drawback is a Code gives you just the dispositive part of the law, in other words, the law in its essence, and it doesn’t give you the reason behind the law.

CRA: The jurisprudence is completely lacking, and so you don’t have the mens iuridica to hand, you just have a

RLCB: And that requires study – and the 1983 Code now has an edition – an edition now is published – with what are called the fontes or sources of the law – but it is important for canon lawyers to study those, so that they understand the reason behind particular legislation, because otherwise, it’s subject to misinterpretation, and even – sometimes – people manipulate the law to advance [a] certain agenda.

CRAWhy – and I’m anxious to get back to this point, but before that, because I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, and I realize that I was sort of doing that, in getting to the sort of technical [areas], “Why does the Church need law at all? Aren’t we this community of the saved? Aren’t we in perfect liberty in Baptism?”

RLCB: Yes, we are, of course, but the very fact of being alive in Christ, constituted in Christ through Baptism, and that grace strengthened and increased in Confirmation, means that a discipline is introduced into our lives, by which we are conformed more and more to Christ. In other words, we could use also the image – very popular and sound spiritual image – of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, from which comes into our hearts the grace, the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit. That grace presupposes, for it to be active and effective, means we have to be disposed – and the only way we can be disposed is if we follow a certain discipline of life – and we see this then, too, in terms of the most sacred realities of the Church. Let’s take, for instance, the Holy Eucharist: the greatest gift that God has given to us in the Church, by which Christ makes present sacramentally His sacrifice on Calvary. There has to be a discipline by which that gift is respected and safeguarded and fostered in the Church, and that’s why we have liturgical law. Otherwise we end up with a situation after the Council, where people were using the celebration of the Holy Mass, the offering of the Holy Mass, for all kinds of other self-expressions and other purposes that gravely distorted the reality of the Eucharist.

CRA: Safeguarding the gift is something that has been very much on the minds, and before the attention of all the faithful of every state of life in the Church and of every age, recently. I’m not going to beat around the bush with it: we’re talking about the eighth chapter of Amoris laetitia, the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. You have yourself made statements to suggest that the document itself is perfectly amenable to a perfectly orthodox interpretation, but that there are, as a matter of fact, others out there, that are not so much so, and you’ve asked the Holy Father to clear this up for us.

RLCB: Yes. The Holy Father says himself – in the document – that he’s not presenting the Magisterium – it’s a kind of reflection – and the language is often times imprecise, and there aren’t a lot of citations of the tradition regarding the teaching regarding Holy Matrimony and on the Holy Eucharist, and so I say the document is acceptable if the key to interpreting it is what the Church has always taught and practiced, and this is where the debate comes in, because there are other people who are saying – including Cardinals – “No, this represents a completely new approach.”

In the whole history of the Church, it’s never been possible that someone who was living publicly in a state of sin, for example a person who is bound in matrimony to one person, is living in a marital way with another person. It has never been permitted that such a person could approach to receive Holy Communion. Now, suddenly, there are those, who are saying, “Oh, yes, but it is possible in certain cases,” and so forth – but if this is something that is always and everywhere wrong, how is it possible that someone who is living this way can receive the Sacraments?

CRA: And it bears mention at this point, that the Church has been trying to help people, whose lives are not in order, for a very long time now. This is not new.

RLCB: Not at all. It is not new, and all of these questions – sometimes I had the impression during the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops, that all this was being discussed for the first time. Well, that’s ridiculous. The Church has dealt with this question throughout her history – and as recently as the time of the writing of Familiaris consortio.

CRA: I remember reading some of the statements that came either in and/or immediately following the release of [the President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts], Cardinal [Francesco] Coccopalmerio’s pamphlet on the 8th chapter of Amoris laetitia and I have to say that I was very sympathetic to him, and to – certainly one would have to be heartless not to feel for the people, whose cases he presented – as hypotheticals – though saying that there are real cases, which correspond to these – [which] are discussed – but one of the interesting things I found was [that] he kept coming back to the example of people who are in irregular marital situations, and who are being placed under enormous stress in those situations, perhaps by a spouse – a putative spouse, it is very important to make that distinction, too – who is saying, “Well, I’m not interested even in trying to forego relations with you, and if you try to force this on me, I’m going to turn you out with the children.*” Or – what may be worse, I’m not sure – “If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.” Now, that’s a terrible situation to have to live through, but the former, I think, is fairly describable as one of quasi marital rape – the person is being coerced – and so it is not a normal case, right? It is a special case. In the case of the psychological pressure being put on a woman who clearly – or a man, if it is the other way around – who is in a situation of having a [putative spouse] essentially commit emotional blackmail that way – that also is not a – that is a special case [as well], is it not?

RLCB: All of these situations are complicated. That simply is the way human life is, and some are beset with more suffering than others – but in the end the point is this: that one has to work toward achieving a chaste way of life; and yes, if a partner is violent, and so forth, it makes the situation much more difficult, the suffering much greater, but the fact of the matter is that, if the couple are living in a marital way, even if it is in this kind of stressful situation, of a spouse who is violent or a spouse who is very difficult, it does not chance the fact that the[ir] life itself does not respect the truth of Christ – and therefore the couple have to be helped in every way that we can, to achieve a chaste way of life, and therefore serenity – but that isn’t achieved by saying, “Well, come receive the sacraments,” because, for instance, the – with regard to the Sacrament of Penance – the person can’t make a firm purpose of amendment, because he or she knows perfectly well that the marital relations will continue. Likewise, too, the person can’t present himself or herself to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, because – no matter that the situation is very stressful and so forth, it is in itself a publicly sinful situation. So, I think the Church has always taught that a special compassion, a special help, a special pastoral care must be given to couples who find themselves in this situation, especially those, who find themselves in a very stressful situation – but that pastoral care can’t include the offering of the Sacraments. That doesn’t make any sense.

CRA: If people were willing to make a go of it, though, they could receive absolution, and

RLCB: If a couple want – if a couple is willing to – to live chastely, even though they don’t separate from one another because, for instance, there are small children – or for whatever reason – one of the partners has health issues that requires the help of the other – if they are willing to live a chaste life, that is, live as brother and sister, the Church has always helped such couples, so that they could receive Communion in a place where it wouldn’t cause scandal – because, normally speaking, when people see that a man and a woman are living together, they presume that they’re living as husband and wife – but if they are living as brother and sister, they can go to a church where they’re not well known, and receive the Sacraments – and the Church has always permitted that.

CRA: And that could very well – I suppose – be even their own parish in a big city or something like that – in the territory

RLCB: It could well be. I mean, if in some way it is clear that this is the way they are living, and that the only reason they continue to live together is because of these obligations, but that they recognize fully that one or both are bound in marriage to another person, then there isn’t a difficulty.

CRA: And the spirit may be willing – the flesh is weak – we know this. There was an attitude – and you still find it in some places, where confessors – who are willing to help people in the way that you’re suggesting – but will say, you know, “One strike and you’re out!” Is that perhaps too rigid by half? How do you deal with that as a pastor?

RLCB: Well, the point is this: that the couple has the firm resolve to live chastely, and to take all measures to live chastely. If they fail, on one occasion or another, then they simply have to confess that, and renew their effort to live chastely – but the point is that there is this firm resolve and corresponding practice to live chastely.

CRA: On the broader issue – because we got very quickly down to some very narrow and quite technical things – going back to the slightly broader question: we’ve seen bishops’ conferences, individual bishops, offer different interpretations of the post-Synodal Exhortation and especially [of] the things that appear to be in chapter 8. I have to say that I was sort of surprised to see whole conferences crafting more-or-less legally binding implementations of a thing that the Holy Father himself has said changes neither doctrine nor discipline. Is there a simple misunderstanding here about the right interpretative key? I know you’ve talked about this a little be, but I’d like – on a practical level – I’d like to dig into it.

RLCB: Yes, well. I travel a great deal now to different parts of the Church, and what I find everywhere is a great confusion about these matters, and division: between priests, and between bishops, and even between conferences of bishops, and this is the difficulty when people try to make change without respect for the doctrine – the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church – and so you end up with sometimes radically different practices [from] one part of the Church to another, and this cannot possibly be, because marriage and the Holy Eucharist are the same in every time and every place of the Church. So, we need to deal – right now – with all this confusion and put an end to it.

That’s one of the reasons why, together with three other Cardinals, we proposed these questions, or dubia, to the Pope: so that he could set this forth, and dispel a great deal of this confusion, because confusion is never helpful – and I don’t know what it means to say that changes neither doctrine nor discipline. Change has to follow doctrine and discipline. If it doesn’t, then in fact it is either weakening doctrine or even contradicting doctrine and discipline. Reason itself teaches us this.

CRA: That’s the thing that is consternating to me here – and I can speak as a Catholic – reading the document, and having the insistence from people who are the Holy Father’s appointed interpreters and mouthpieces on this, saying that this is development in continuity with doctrine, with standing doctrine, so we’re seeing doctrinal development in continuity with the tradition. I can see how, for a certain value of the term, we are dealing with doctrinal development. It’s developing from one doctrine into another, it would seem.

RLCB: And that can’t be. In other words, doctrinal development means that we have come to a deeper understanding of what is the constant teaching of the Church, and are able to give fuller expression to it, but it does not mean that we change the doctrine or that we go away from it, and that’s the difficulty with the people who call this interpretation of the famous chapter 8 a “doctrinal development”. If the doctrinal development means that now, in the Church, those who are living in irregular matrimonial situations may receive the Sacraments, then this isn’t doctrinal development: this is a change in the Church’s teaching.

In fact, there is a commentator in the United States, Ross Douthat – [Do-that] I think – is how you pronounce his name, but I could be pronouncing it incorrectly – and a certain bishop in the United States gave an interpretation [to Amoris 8], which was radically contrary to what the Church has always taught and practiced, and this commentator – I believe he is a convert to Catholicism, but – he just simply said [that] from the point of view of reason, this is the end of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage – and I believe that he’s correct.

CRA: I have tried to see my way to the people who are proffering a different interpretation – I can get a pretty good way toward them – I am sympathetic to the desire

RLCB: Certainly. All of us are sympathetic to the situation of people who are suffering, because of matrimonial difficulties, and that shouldn’t change, but the question is: how do we respond to their situation? And anything less than a truthful response isn’t worthy of them, and will redound ultimately to their harm and to the harm of the Church.

CRA: Some of the commentators and people with whom I’ve been in conversation, privately and out in public, where we are trying to work our way through these things, have suggested that, “Well, you don’t understand, and you’re not sympathetic to the weakness of people,” and, look, I know myself well enough to know what weakness is

RLCB: Of course, we are all weak, we are all sinners, but we are also all the beneficiaries of divine grace, which is a reality, it’s not an idea – and those, who marry, receive the grace to live an exclusive, life-long, procreative union, and with that grace, they can overcome their weaknesses – and this is the beauty of a marriage where a couple struggles – and there can be failures, of course – but they struggle to live in the grace, which they have received, and in that way bring great joy and happiness to themselves and to their children.

CRA: In the purpose of the podcast, and one of the things that I have been trying to do in my own intellectual life in the service of the Church is really to struggle to see my way, as far as I can, toward my interlocutors with whom I disagree: and so, if I could ask you, as we close out here, maybe to help me think aloud about what good has come of this thus far, and what is the best possible interpretation, or the fairest possible interpretation that we could put on interlocutors who don’t see it the way that you do?

RLCB: Well, the point is this: I say too many people, whom I meet, who are deeply concerned about this, who are confused – some feel abandoned in their Catholic faith – which they have understood correctly – and then they hear other Catholics or even their priests saying things that – or, God forgive! – their bishops, saying things that contradict that faith. I think the only way to go forward is simply to address the interlocutors who disagree with us, with the teaching of the Church in its deepest sense, and that is what we need right now.

A number of us, before the 2014 session of the Synod of Bishops, when the idea was put forth – in February of 2014 – by Cardinal Walter Kasper, that indeed, the Church could change her practice with regard to the reception of the Sacraments by people in irregular unions without touching the doctrine on indissolubility, a number of us got together and we produced a book, which I believe is a good presentation of the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding Holy Matrimony and Holy Communion. The title of the book is Remaining in the Truth of Christ. It is published in some – maybe eight or nine – languages now, but it is a series of essays in which one can deepen his or her appreciation of the constant teaching of the Church, and so, that’s what has to happen. We have to give an account of our faith to others and if they don’t agree with us, try to show them how what we are presenting is not our own ideas, but is in fact the teaching of the Church on the objective reality of marriage.

*An extrapolation from Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s remarks as reported in an interview with Edward Pentin in the National Catholic Register, and linked above. Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s ipsissima verba are, “If the two can live together as brother and sister, that’s great. But if they cannot because this would break up the union, which ought to be conserved for the good of these people [children], then they manage as best they can.”
Image credit: Paul Haring, CNS

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

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“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

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St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Special: backwards and forwards – recovering a sense of marriage

In this edition of Thinking with the Church, we are doing something a little bit different: rather than feature a conversation, our co-Founder, General Manager, and host, Chris Altieri, proposes an itinerary for the recovery of some basic notions regarding marriage.

My concern to say a few things about marriage arises principally out of an experience on social media this past week: I asserted something I believed to be uncontroversial, i.e. that marriage is not a supernatural vocation, but the natural state for human beings.

I went on to say:

It takes very little to *get married*. Having a good, or even a halfway decent marriage: now, that takes a little work, mostly at being human. If you suck at being human, you are going to suck at being married, see? Because marriage is the natural state for humans.

That language was certainly blunt, and perhaps overly harsh.

I stand by the substance of my remark, however, even as I crave pardon of anyone to whom I caused consternation, and beg leave to explain myself more fulsomely.

I had hoped to encourage a conversation about the nature and public purpose of marriage, rather than embark on a debate about whether the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is something generally different from natural marriage.

Nevertheless, it quickly appeared that some words were needful by way of explanation of the matter.

In the Catholic tradition – and indeed in just about every human society since man first appeared on Earth – marriage is the permanent union of one man and one woman (even in polygamous societies and in societies that practice polyandry, the women in the harem and the men in the stable are not married to each other, but one person – usually though not always a man – will enter into several iterations of the binary union), founded in the natural order, for the consolation of the spouses who enter upon it, and for the general flourishing of the human race.

Image credit: El Greco – Web Gallery of Art: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Our Divine Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, raised marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament: whenever two baptised Christians are validly married to one another, they have the Sacrament of Matrimony.

The union, in other words, is marital: it is by virtue of the spouses’ baptism, that they have the Sacrament when they are married.

It is not harder for Christians to contract marriage with each other, than it is for two persons of any other religion, or two persons of no religion, or one Christian and one non-Christian, to contract marriage with each other.

The Sacrament, in other words, is not something else, or something extra, something added by the Church: the Sacrament is simply what the marriage of two baptised persons is.

As one friend with many years’ experience with marriage tribunals in the Church pointed out: this is true of the union regardless of when the spouses were baptised in relation to their marriage contract.

In other words, even two non-Baptised persons who marry, have the sacrament once they are baptised – nothing else but their baptism is required in order that they have the Sacrament of Matrimony.

The principal purpose for my unsolicited assertion – a purpose I recognize as having been obscured by my brusqueness, was to point out that, while it is easy to contract marriage – even for Christians, whose marriages are Sacraments – it is not so easy to have a happy marriage, or even a halfway decent marriage.

This is, to one degree or another, something that has always been the case.

The problem for society arises when society itself loses sight of the public purpose of marriage as an institution – and the Church, I am sad to say, has been an unwitting participant in the darkening of society’s vision in these regards.

“Marriage,” said the Church to her members, who were also members of a society that had largely come to see marriage as little more than the public ratification of private sentiment and already begun in earnest to dismantle the protections it had erected for the institution, “is much, much more than mere ratification of sentiment – marriage is a Sacrament!”

This was true, to be sure, and still is.

The difficulty began to present itself when the Church began first to downplay the contractual character of marriage and then essentially to deny it: “Marriage is not a contract, it is a Sacrament!” we were wont to say.

The problem is, as I was at some pains to illustrate above, that the two categories are so far from being contraries, that they are actually concomitant – and that baptised spouses do not consent to something more, nor to something other than marriage, when they marry one another.

Pope Pius XII made the point in his October 3rd, 1941 Allocution to the Sacred Rota:

Indeed, if the tranquility, stability, and security of human intercourse in general demand that contracts be not lightly set aside, this is still more true of a contract of such importance as marriage, whose firmness and stability are necessary for the common welfare of human society as well as for the private good of the parties and the children, and whose sacramental dignity forbids that it be lightly exposed to the danger of profanation.

Pope St. John Paul II, in his own January 28th, 1991 Allocution to the same body, diagnosed the specific dangers to which contemporary society exposes both the institution of marriage and the people who enter into it:

In particular, in the affluent and consumeristic western world, such positive aspects tend to be distorted by an immanentistic and hedonistic vision that undermines the real meaning of marital love. It can be instructive to reread from the point of view of marriage what is said in the final report of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops about the external causes which impede the Council’s implementation: “In the wealthy nations we see the constant growth of an ideology characterized by pride in technical advances and a certain immanentism that lead to the idolatry of material goods, the so-called consumerism. From this can follow a certain blindness to spiritual realities and values” (I, 4). The consequences are ominous: “This immanentism is a reduction of the integral vision of the person, a reduction which leads not to true liberation but to a new idolatry, to the slavery of ideologies, to life in constraining and often oppressive structures of this world” (II, A. 1). From such a mentality the misconception of the holiness of the institution of marriage often follows, not to speak of the rejection of the institution of marriage itself, which opens the way for the spread of free love.

Even when it is accepted, the institution is often deformed both in its essential elements and in its properties. This happens, for example, when marital love is experienced in egoistic self-centeredness, as a form of evasion, which tends to justify itself and be consumed in itself.

Likewise freedom—although it is necessary for that consent which is basic to marriage—if it is absolutized, leads to the plague of divorce. People tend to forget then that in the face of difficulties in relationships it is important not to let oneself be dominated by fear or weariness, but to be able to find in love’s resources the courage to be consistent with the commitments made.

Renouncing one’s own responsibilities, moreover, rather than leading to true fulfillment of the person, results in a progressive self-alienation. In fact, it tends to attribute the difficulties to psychological mechanisms, whose functioning is understood in a deterministic manner, resulting in hasty recourse to the conclusions of psychology and psychiatry to claim the nullity of the marriage.

Three years earlier, on January 25th, 1988, Pope St. John Paul II made the point to the Rota that, in essence, many societies (and the Church present in those societies) have in fact confused the right and capacity to contract marriage, with the right and capacity to have a happy, successful marital union – even as they have also confused the issue of what constitutes “happiness” in marriage:

There is another and not infrequent source of misunderstanding in the evaluation of psychopathological symptoms. It arises not from an exaggeration of the extent of the illness but, on the contrary, from an unjustified exaggeration of the concept of capacity to contract marriage. As I noted last year (supra p. 192, no. 6), the misunderstanding can arise from the fact that the expert declares that a party is incapable of contracting marriage, while referring not to the minimum capacity sufficient for valid consent, but rather to the ideal of full maturity in relation to happy married life.

That last is a high and difficult ideal, indeed – and indeed, it escapes most of us, who are married.

Where I would like, humbly and tentatively, to suggest that – perhaps – we have gone wrong in the Church, is in our insistence that anyone who is not constantly living up, or close to that ideal, is therefore at present risk of total marital failure – is “doing it wrong” as the kids say today.

What we want – what we really want – is a return to a sense of basic decency and civility, of earnestness and willingness to make do.

As I put it, roughly, in a piece for the Irish Catholic a few months ago, in connection with World Youth Day:

We are all reluctant to admit failure, but find it easier to do when we can dress the task in which we failed in the raiment of impossibility.

Equally, we want to help young people find their way in a broken world – a world, for the brokenness of which we bear a great deal of responsibility.

We all want to empower young people to be courageous signs of contradiction and witnesses to the Gospel – but we often end up trying – vainly – to save them from our own missteps and seconding their angst-ridden adolescent penchant for navel-gazing even into their fourth decade of life on planet earth.

Let us rather encourage young people to get married and start families.

Times are tough, and life is complicated, but as we said at the outset, marriage is man’s natural state, and frankly does not take too much discernment.

My own American grandparents were 18 and 19 when they wed, and they’d grown up in the Depression and had to fight the II World War – which had just ended when they wed, so “times were tough” and “life was complicated” for them, too.

They had help, though: a sympathetic society and the GI Bill to pay for school – though there was no married student housing – something Catholic institutions might think about sponsoring today as a concrete way of putting our pro-life money where our pro-life mouth is.

Most importantly, let us remember that – Sacrament or no – the reason we say that marriage is the basic unit of society is that it is the one institution formed and constituted entirely on the giving and keeping of our word.

The kind of people we legitimately aspire to be, is one that does not despair of the human capacity, the capacity of men and women equally, though differently, to give their word, and to keep faith with it. Failure properly to exercise this duty of faith – of bona fides – is, here and there, inevitable.

Failure in commitment to doing it, is failure in fellowship.


Episode 11: Romanitas revisited

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: Part II of a conversation with theologian Christopher Wells, who is pursuing a doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas – the Angelicum – here in Rome.

In Part I of our conversation, we explored the Doctrine of Papal Supremacy and the Dogma of Papal Infallibility – both definitively taught by the I Vatican Council in Pastor Aeternus.

Here, we delve more deeply into the historical roots and theological origins of the two teachings – but we come to that part of the conversation rather organically – beginning as we do with a discussion of the role of the Pontifical universities in the life of the Church.

V0014422 Collegium Romanum, Rome: with the extended piazza a key to t
Image credit:  Wellcome ImagesCollegium Romanum, Rome: with the extended piazza a key to the surrounding buildings. Line engraving – via Wikimedia Commons

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Our discussions – taken singly or together – constitute what sounds like a “deep dive” into the issues of Papal Supremacy and Papal Infallibility: the truth is, we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Just a few of the outstanding questions that listeners have raised include:

  • Just exactly what does constitute “binding doctrine”? Could the Pope, for example, teach in a formal and binding way on, e.g. climate change?
  • What is the “hierarchy” of Papal pronouncements – i.e., given that, e.g., Papal interviews and homilies are not eis ipsis magisterial, and given that Popes have been using what is pretty much the most powerful tool in their teaching toolbox – the encyclical letter – for quite some time now to opine on all manner of question under the sun (Pius XII really got the ball rolling on that one), and given that the supreme governing authority of the Roman Pontiff is such, that it may be used to bind the faithful, even without teaching infallibly: what is the ordinary “scale” of authority controlling the various Papal teaching and governing tools in the present day?
  • What do we do if a Pope appears to teach something contradictory to previous teaching, or teaches something that appears to contradict established doctrine?

Well, those are hard questions, and well worth investigating with a blue-ribbon panel of theologians.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us, and we’ll do our best to answer you.

I will say one word on the subject broadly and generally: this is my personal opinion – and while I believe it is in perfect conformity with orthodox Catholic faith – I certainly can’t bind anyone to it.

So, for what it’s worth, here goes:

Popes have held – even publicly – positions either declared heretical later or later discovered or declared to have been contra fidem even at the time the Pope was holding/publicly proclaiming it/them.

The locus classicus is Jn. XXII on the saints’ enjoyment of the Beatific Vision:

In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision. – From The Catholic Encyclopaedia

His scriptis, the promise of Christ – which cannot fail – of the Holy Spirit, is such that no Bishop of Rome shall ever formally teach heresy.

The upshot of this is that we are free to question both the prudence of his procedure, and the correctness of this or that attempt to implement his teaching (up to and including the need for any such implementation).

With regard to this last point, Paul’s rebuke of Peter as recorded in Gal. 2:11-15, is perhaps especially pertinent and instructive: Paul rebuked Peter not for having taught erroneously, but for having taught one thing rightly (viz. table fellowship with Gentiles), and then refused to give his correct and true teaching the corroboration of personal example.

Broadly and generally speaking, then: one can disagree with the prudence of a measure, (take, e.g. the disciplinary rules regarding altar girls or communion in the hand), or with the manner in which a thing is done, viz. then-Card. Ratzinger’s criticism of what he saw as the incompleteness of HV (he thought it would have been well served by an extensive treatment of the philosophical underpinnings of the notion of nature on which the teaching rests), and yet accept wholeheartedly and even offer a full-throated defense of both the disciplines and the teachings with the prudence and/or execution of which one disagrees or for which one harbors reservations.

Perhaps Trumpkin the Dwarf said it best in Prince Caspian: “You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s the time for orders.”

It is the mark of a wise and prudent ruler, that he should not give orders, but after taking counsel from those he knows will speak frankly and disinterestedly, nor in such a manner as to allow for doubt among candid subjects regarding what his orders are, let alone whether he has given orders at all.

There are exceptions even to these general rules of conduct, though, and a good subject will always know how to obey.

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can donate by going to thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

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Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Episode 10: Papal Infallibility and Papal Supremacy

In this edition of Thinking with the Church: the nature and purpose of Papal authority.

In her Dogmatic Constitution, Pastor Aeternus, on the Church of Christ, the Fathers of the I Vatican Council taught that the Bishop of Rome has direct, immediate, and supreme authority over the whole Church and all the faithful.

This is the doctrine of Papal Supremacy.

The Council also taught that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex Cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals: and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church.

This is the dogma of Papal infallibility.

These teachings – of an Ecumenical Council – are to be held by all the faithful on pain of mortal sin: to deny them is to separate oneself from the Body of Christ.

Only, what do these teachings mean?

More importantly, what don’t they mean?

Where did they come from?

Why did the Fathers of the I Vatican Council bother with them at all, and why do we bother with them today, when the Papacy as an institution often appears rather to be an impediment to Christian unity than anything else (and don’t be upset with me – I didn’t say it, Pope St. John Paul II did in Ut unum sint, 96).

This week, we explore these questions and others with Christopher Wells, a theologian doing Doctoral work at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, who has written extensively on both subjects, especially their treatment in the thought and writings of the great 19th Century theologian and Churchman, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning.

Henry Edward Cardinal Manning by George Frederic Watts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Episode 9:Language and the Law

This week on Thinking with the Church: a conversation with Claudia Giampietro on language, the law, and genuine truth-seeking dialogue as a form of public witness to the faith in the search for Christian unity.

Claudia Giampietro is a young canonist pursuing doctoral studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas – the Angelicum – who is a trained professional interpreter and translator.

She has just completed her first major academic translation project: an English edition of the 2015 manual by Prof. Luigi Sabbarese of the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Diritto canonicoCanon Law: which is in the final stages of proofing and will soon be available through the Urbaniana University Press.

St. Thomas tells us that a law is a dictate of reason ordered to the common good and promulgated by competent authority (cf. ST IaIIae Q.90).

The Church has a whole legal structure of its own – and though there are in every age people who would oppose the characteristic freedom of the perfect society that is the Church to the compulsions and constraints of legal force, the Church is the People of God, and there cannot be a people without a law – and the Church’s law is not only an essential and integral part of the Church’s life, without which she could not be herself, let alone accomplish her mission, it is also one of the great and indispensable contributions the Church has made to the cultural patrimony of mankind.

Claudia’s training before the law, however, was in languages: ancient languages – especially Latin – and modern tongues: she is a professional interpreter, who has volunteered her expertise through several World Youth Days – and she shares with us some really terrific stories about her adventures in interpretation in the service of Papal MC Msgr. Guido Marini and even Pope Francis, himself.

We pick up our conversation, though, with Claudia explaining the importance of developing a deep understanding of language, not only or even primarily as a means of communication, but as a whole way of seeing and being in the world – a condition of intelligibility and therefore of communicability itself.

She uses the Latin term, mens, which could be translated “mind” but really conveys more than what we mean by “mind” in English: to have the mens of a language is to inhabit a whole world of words and of thought.

*********** Show Notes ***********

The doctoral dissertation to whichhost Chris Altieri alludes is by Elena Mannucci:


Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Special Edition: Alone in the universe?

***Editor’s Note: Our friend, Artur Sebastian Rosman of Cosmos The In Lost at Patheos, was looking for a Catholic response to news that astronomers have spotted several possibly habitable exoplanets in our corner of the galaxy. TwtC host Chris Altieri had the idea to reach out to Fr. Brian Reedy SJ, a biophysicist, philosopher, and officer in the US Navy,  to talk about the discovery – get the full write-up on Cosmos , here.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration captured the attention and imagination of a global audience late last month, when NASA scientists announced the discovery of seven planets orbiting a star dubbed TRAPPIST-1 (an acronym for Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope), a mere 40 light-years distant from Earth, all of which are Earth-sized and three of which are in the so-called “goldilocks” or habitable zone – meaning that their positions relative to their “home” star suggest they could have liquid water and temperatures capable of sustaining life as we know it.


We reached out to Fr. Brian Reedy SJ, a biophysicist (and philosopher and theologian and officer in the US Navy), who talked us through the science and shared some of his thoughts on the possible implications of discovering we have neighbors in our corner of the galaxy.




Episode 8: “Truth-telling” with Andrea Gagliarducci

In this edition: a conversation with veteran Vatican beat reporter Andrea Gagliarducci.

Listeners who pay any kind of attention to the news coming out of the Vatican will almost certainly have seen Andrea Gagliarducci’s by-line: he has a desk at the Italian-language editorial outfit of the Catholic News Agency, ACI Stampa, he has written for numerous publications ranging in size and reach from local Italian print journals to major international mastheads, and for six years he has been the principal author, editor and sole proprietor of MondayVatican – a weekly blog dedicated to frank and penetrating news analysis.

Still a young man, he is a journalist of the Old School, who cares deeply about getting the story right: he knows where the line between reporting and opinionating is drawn, and he toes that line with rigorous and scrupulous precision, even as he walks that line in his analysis pieces with acrobatic acumen.

Written in a style that is at once careful and quirkily inviting, Andrea’s work informs, explains, and encourages his readers to think more clearly and more deeply about the issues before them.

He also – and perhaps most importantly – challenges readers in the Anglosphere to see the issues at the center of the Universal Church from a new and different perspective, one that does not presume the Pope is always thinking about or speaking primarily or directly to the Church in the United States or the English-speaking world, but does not discount or deny the importance of English-speaking Catholicism in the life of the worldwide Church.

That is why we reached out to him – that, and his ability to correct, without seeming to correct, and to place a disagreement without being disagreeable: he is, we think you will hear and agree, a happy warrior and a consummate continental – and Catholic – gentleman.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

All joy and satisfaction consists in this: to discover and to recognize the truth about things, and the nobler the truths are the more joyfully and attentively our reason surrenders to their contemplation.


By Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At bottom, the journalist’s mission is to tell the truth about things: to find it out and to tell it frankly – and while, on a beat such as that, on which Andrea has chosen to work and earn his living, training in the sacred sciences is a big help, the building blocks of truth-telling remain the same.

Our conversation begins with the place that old j-hands always begin and end: the “Five W’s”: who, what, where, when, why.


Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!