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Friday, October 01, 2010

A Disturbing Indicator

[Dr. Janet Smith] argued that it was “unjust” for someone of Schindler’s influence to raise “very serious objections” in a public forum. “I believe here that he is stepping outside of the arena where the kinds of concerns he raises are best and appropriately addressed – the academic arena where issues can receive patient reflection and prolonged and careful assessment; not the arena of the Internet blog which invites hasty and unreflective judgment,” she wrote... (June 17, 2009, CNA)
I have commented at length on the errors in Dr. Janet Smith's critique of Dawn Eden, but one small detail of her essay deserves greater scrutiny: the idea that the Latin language is somehow a sign of "repression."

As I noted earlier, this is an absolutely odd view for a woman with a Ph.D. in classical languages to take. Why would anyone denigrate their own profession like that?

Eden repeatedly rejects West’s characterization of preconciliar Catholics as “often repressive” and finds that here too West has “set up a hermeneutic of discontinuity” (ET, 64). She does not argue that it is false that there was at one time and may be even now in some places, a tendency to teach the Church’s teaching about sexuality in a repressive fashion. I believe it would be difficult to contest that claim and in fact Eden notes West’s characterization “no doubt resonates with certain members of his audience” (ET, 63).

Let me note that when some ancient texts and moral theology textbooks were translated into English the portions on sexual morality were left in Latin. (e.g., Chapter 10 of Book II of The Instructor by: Clement of Alexander: and Part VI, Chapt III of A Manual of Moral Theology by Rev. Thomas Slater, S.J.: That suggests some “repression” to me.

In the comments section at Catholic Exchange, DCS questioned her on this point:
Why does this suggest repression? Would not a priest-confessor (for whom, after all, these books were written) be expected to know Latin? And other moral theology manuals, contemporaneous with Fr. Slater’s (such as Prummer or Jone), *were* fully translated into English. In fact the section in Jone on sexual morality is quite frank without a hint of “repression” about it.
But Dr. Smith doubled-down, refusing to admit error:
Yes, priests were “expected” to know Latin and thus they could have kept all of the manuals in Latin and not translated them at all. Why did they keep only the portions about sex in Latin? There may have been many reasons for keeping the sections about sex in Latin, but a reticence about speaking of sex openly was not an unlikely reason. I have heard from priests trained by those manuals that they had the impression that sex is something you just don’t talk about or read about.
Now, notice.

She admits there may be "many reasons for keeping the sections about sex in Latin" but she does not list what any of them might be. Instead, she continues to emphasize the decidedly dim view - one might even say the decidedly antagonistic view - of the authors'/Church's reasons for maintaining the Latin in those sections.

She isn't giving the authors or the Church in general the Christian charity of the doubt on this.
Let us endeavor to remedy that lack.

Why might the original Latin have been kept for some manuals?
And, notice, not all manuals treated sex this way, only some of them.

Reason One: It's Our Language
Let us assume English is the national language of the US (I do not say it is or it should be, I merely use this for example).

If you are a native speaker of Spanish, and I write an article that may be of interest to the Spanish-American community, but the article I write is written in a mixture of Spanish and English, is the presence of the English passages a sign that I want to repress the truth of those passages from the Spanish speakers in the nation?

Well, no, it isn't. In fact, this is a decidedly unusual view of foreign languages - treating language as if it were a secret code known only to certain intelligentsia who have been enlightened to its mysteries. Children who are first discovering that there may be other languages often view foreign languages this way, but it is rare for the educated adult to take this view.

Worse, such a view would make no sense in this situation. As an American, it is natural for me to reply in English. Insofar as I wrote in Spanish, it would be out of condescension to Spanish speakers, to make certain that they at least got the gist of the conversation. It would be the odd reader who would accuse me of trying to "hide" or "repress" portions of the article by writing those portions in my native tongue and not their own.

The official language of the Church is Latin.
This is not new.
It has been true for essentially the entire history of the Church.
Even during the Second Vatican Council, some bishops made their entire address to the council in Latin.

So, following Dr. Smith's thoughts here, were these fathers of the Second Vatican Council trying to repress the truth contained within their addresses from their fellow bishops or from the public at large? Or were they merely emphasizing the connection this council had with all the 20 previous ecumenical councils which preceded it? The very fact that one chooses to use one language instead of another is a way to emphasize a connection with a particular population, in this case, the vast democracy of the dead, the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory, a great many of whom spoke, wrote or read Latin.

And, ultimately, how secret and "repressive" can this language be, given that it was commonly taught in Catholic grade schools and high schools up through the 1960's, and that between one-quarter and one-half of all Catholic children in the nation attended these schools, so were trained in the use of this language?

Reason Two: It's Expected
If you read books, fiction or non-fiction, written prior to World War II, you will frequently find passages written in Latin, Greek, and French without translation in either the text or the footnotes. Were those authors trying to hide portions of their texts from their readers?

Quite the reverse, in fact.

The authors simply assumed their readers were well-educated enough to read the original Greek, Latin, or French on their own. Their assumption was not unfounded. Roughly 1-2% of the population were college-educated in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but college classes were not infrequently conducted in Latin and/or Greek. These tongues were taught in high school and grade school. You were not considered educated at the turn of the century unless you could read these languages.

To quote something in the original Latin, Greek or French was a trick used by the author to evoke the entire work from which the quote was taken. Not infrequently, these quotes were taken from common works which most students translated during the course of their studies - Cicero's orations, the Iliad and Odyssey, etc. So, such quotes were actually a way to pack in more information through evocation than would be convenient or stylistically wise to include verbatim.

So, to say that a pre-Vatican II manual for confessors retains some Latin is to say that it retains some connection to the ancient traditions of the Church and that it assumed a moderately well-educated reader. It could well be that using the Latin would allow evocation of certain concepts and connotations that would simply be unavailable in a foreign tongue.

Now, a classical languages scholar would certainly know all this history. It is the history of her own discipline, after all. But most modern readers don't know any of this and Dr. Janet Smith refused to enlighten anyone, even though she had ample opportunity in her follow-up comments.

Why did she not mention this?

But, before we wave it away as a simple case of thoughtlessness, let us continue to contemplate the problem.

Reason Three: Accuracy and Precision

Which is better?
To read a passage in translation or to read a passage in the original language?

As even the lowliest undergrad knows, reading the original is superior - it contains nuances of meaning that no translation or summary, no matter how good, can carry. Every language has its own nuances, connotations and flavors which are often simply untranslatable. Many a novel, play and movie has been based on these well-known translation problems.

Now, when a confessor is considering giving pastoral advice to someone involved in sexual activity and possibly sexual sin, it is extremely important that exact understanding be his. He can't afford to miss necessary nuance or shades of meaning.

This is the basis for Vatican II's insistence that all priests be very well-versed in Latin. This is the official language of the Church, in which all documents are either produced are into which they are translated.

The insistence on retaining the Latin phrasing for an extremely delicate and nuanced subject is an insistence on rigorous accuracy on the part of the both the author and the reader.

Far from repressing the meaning, to leave a passage in the original Latin accentuates the meaning and adds to the emphasis that it is extremely important to fully understand this section.

Sections which are not as critically reliant on nuance and exact meaning might be permitted to be translated into a foreign language, but obviously certain authors were so concerned about the translation problem, the sections involved were so crucial or dealt with so pastorally stressful a problem in the confessional, that the authors felt these did not permit the luxury of translation.

Again, anyone trained in a foreign language (or several, as is the case with Dr. Smith) would know this.

Reason Four: Subduing Prurience
As Kevin Tierney points out, the particular passages left in Latin in the works cited by Dr. Smith concern how the priest is to deal with hearing a confession involving sins against nature, such as bestiality. Does Dr. Smith feel that this discussion - a technical work intended for the technical audience of the priest-confessor - would be rewarding to the average Catholic? Are lay Catholics being repressed when they are not offered a discussion of how to hear the confession of someone who has had unnatural relations with livestock?

If this is repression, then exactly what kind of discussion does this seminary professor and educator of future priests, think lay Catholics should be having on this and similar topics? Certainly Luther supported a more open discussion and acceptance of both bigamy and polygamy, but we now see he was a prudish piker compared to Dr. Janet Smith and the Westians.

Questions and Concerns
Dr. Janet Smith has her Ph.D. in classical languages.
As such, we can expect that she is fully aware of the history of her field, the problems with translations, the reasons for which translations might not be made, and - as someone who has for so long laid claim to being a theologian - she is certainly aware that the Latin language is the official language of the Church.

So, several questions arise.
1) If she knows all this, if she knows that many manuals did, indeed, translate everything into English, while others retained the Latin for certain sections, why does she only mention the manuals which did not translate everything? It certainly makes it easier for her to claim, both explicitly and implicitly, that this was done for repressive reasons. But this leads to a bigger problem.

2) Out of all the reasons given above, why does she pick the least favorable interpretation for why the authors and/or the Church might have refrained from translating from the native tongue of the Church into a foreign language? As noted above, she isn't giving the Church anything close to the benefit of the doubt. Quite the reverse. Why?

3) When questioned on this point, and given the opportunity to explain the alternate reasons, why does she pointedly refrain from doing so? Indeed, she mentions one reason "Yes, priests were “expected” to know Latin and thus they could have kept all of the manuals in Latin and not translated them at all." But she mentions it only to double-down on the idea that the motive was repressive.

Very few people read old books, books that date from the time when these manuals were written, so very few people would know of or think of the points given above. One would think a scholar interested in the truth would have fairly pointed out the other possible reasons, so as to assuage the concerns of a modern audience that knows little of the history of her discipline. Instead, she left most other reasons unmentioned and thereby left her audience in the dark as to what possible reasons the authors and the Church might have had apart from repression.

4) Dr. Smith claims that many priests of her acquaintance had certain impressions of what was appropriate to discuss in reference to sex. Perhaps this is true. But we should recall that when she has defended other points of Westian theology in other contexts, she has made similar claims and has never actually substantiated them.

For instance, in defense of anal sex foreplay, she stated, " few seem to know that there is a tradition of approval of such behavior as foreplay to intercourse." Though she has been asked on numerous occasions to substantiate this claim in both private and public forums, she has always failed to do so.

In a second instance, in defense of the idea that the Easter candle is a phallic symbol, she is reported to have said, "she was surprised to learn that liturgists and theologians “from the early days of the Church” have understood the Easter Candle “just as West does.” And again, though she has been asked on numerous occasions to substantiate this claim in both private and public forums, she has always failed to do so. In fact, one of her supports, a Father Loya, insisted no such proof was necessary.

So, how much should weight should we give Dr. Smith's testimony in this instance? It is not unreasonable to request to see the evidence she claims she has, yet she never actually provides any of the evidence she claims to have. And the man she defends is apparently unable to respond at all.

5) On a related point of refusal, why does Sacred Heart Seminary, the seminary where she is employed, refuse to entertain the Holy Father's plea for generosity towards the Extraordinary Form? Sacred Heart Seminary not only does not offer its seminarians training in the Extraordinary Form, it doesn't even offer that form of the Mass on its campus. Seminarians who want to assist at such a Mass have to travel off campus to do so on their own dime. On the other hand, several of the Sacred Heart seminary employees are associated with the "charismatic" Mother of God cult in which Chris West grew up.

6) Is there any connection between the obvious distaste for Latin shown by Dr. Smith, the obvious distaste for traditional liturgy shown by her employer, the obvious distaste for evidence shown by promoters of the Westian version of TOB, the obvious cult-like character of the charismatic Mother of God community which influences both Chris West and Sacred Heart Seminary, and our current discussion? Or is this all simply (un)happy coincidence?

Ultimately, however, there is a deeper foundational question to raise.

Dr. Janet Smith's charge is resonant of something else, something we've heard before in the history of the Church...

In the past, who was it that said "Latin is repressive"?

If we cast our minds back, there was grumbling about the Scriptures being in Latin vs. the common tongue...

There was once a movement that found the ancient Mass a burden, a travesty...
There was once a movement that ended in discontinuity and rupture instead of continuity and real reform.... Hmmmm.....

In her constant content-less defenses of Westianism, in her railing against the repressive Latin language and the repression of "yesterday's" Church, Dr. Janet Smith is beginning to sound disturbingly like someone... can anyone think who it might be???

Dr. Smith demanded evidence be given to show that Westians support a hermeneutic of rupture with the past, a hermeneutic of discontinuity. In the past, Dr. Smith was a lion in defense of Humanae Vitae and the ancient traditions of the Church regarding contraception and abortion.

Does Dr. Janet Smith's current situation and her public defense of Chris West inspire us to have confidence in her current attitude towards the Church's ancient traditions?

There are only two possibilities here:
A) Dr. Janet Smith really did not consider any of these other possible reasons for why Latin was used in the manuals, that is, she really thinks "yesterday's Church" (her words) is, or was, repressive,
B) She really did consider these other possibilities, but decided to silently suppress them in order to make her defense of West stronger.

In either case, a disinterested observer might remark on the way in which exposure to Westianism has substantially altered the way even a former defender of Catholic Faith now thinks about the Church.


Kevin said...

For the most part outstanding work here Steve. I think you do "the cause" a far greater service when you use the mocking tone sparingly. Even if they deserve no such concession, give it to em anyway, and let them burn by their own words.

A few things, one half-serious, another serious.

As far as Sacred Heart Major Seminary and the EF, I'm not sure how I'd feel if some of the priests and others had that form of mass there, as one who lives 25 minutes from that seminary and is familiar with its history. :) That being said, it wouldn't hurt, as we have two pretty well known traditionalist/favorable to traditionalist parishes in the area. You have Assumption Grotto (the former home of Fr. Hardon and which offers the EF daily, albeit a low mass most the time) and St. Josaphat (, which is my stomping grounds. one of the altar servers is even preparing to enter the semminary there. (actually two of them now that I think of it!) Would be great to give them formal training there, instead of having to seek it after their ordination.

As far as the moral theology manuals, I'd only like to note a few things. In the preface to Slater's manual, Fr. Slater says:

Here, however, we must ask the reader to bear in mind that manuals of moral theology are technical works intended to help the confessor and the parish priest in the discharge of their duties. They are as technical as the textbooks of the lawyer and the doctor. They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology. They are necessary for the Catholic priest to enable him to administer the sacrament of Penance and to fulfil his other duties ; they are intended to serve this purpose, and they should not be censured for not being what they were never intended to be. Ascetical and mystical literature which treats of the higher spiritual life is very abundant in the Catholic Church, and it should be consulted by those who desire to know the lofty ideals of life which the Catholic Church places before her children and encourages them to practise. Moral theology proposes to itself the humbler but still necessary task of defining what is right and what wrong in all the practical relations of the Christian life. This all, but more especially priests, should know.

In short, to say that this work was meant to obscure the truth from the faithful, is to completely misread the intent of the text. This wasn't something meant for the average Catholic. It treats, in a very technical manner, specifically what is right and wrong, not what prudence dictates. This work is meant almost entirely for the parish priest of that time period (who as you note was extremely well versed in latin).

Interestingly enough, one need not know Latin to get an idea of what they are talking about in those passages. One of the headings in latin is "De Sodomia" and another is "De Bestialitate." Wonder what that means? My first reaction: they actually talk about this kind of stuff in theology manuals?

Personally, I'm rather glad I don't have to read an in-depth treatment on these two issues. It's something I could VERY easily do without. Go ahead, call me a prude!

dcs said...

Personally, I'm rather glad I don't have to read an in-depth treatment on these two issues. It's something I could VERY easily do without. Go ahead, call me a prude!

Exactly -- but it is the sort of thing that confessors need to know. It does lead one to question why a writer would think it necessary to even discuss acts such as these in a work intended for a popular audience.

Kevin said...

My addition at CSC to the question:

Personally, I need a shower after writing this. If I never again have to talk about the topic mentioned, I can die a happy man.

Kevin said...

Thanks for the plug Steve. My ego says I might have actually done some original research and fact checking on this one, since almost everyone seems to have bought Dr. Smith's testimony hook line and sinker, without bother to fact check.

What's interesting is this fact-checking really only took a few hours. In a near 7,000 word essay, did she not have time to fact check?

She also could have read the parts of the theology manual in English, where there is talk about if there was an intent at "venereal pleasure" and the situations under which impurity was committed, and what kind of sin it was. I'll spare people the details. Suffice to say, since I am not going to become a priest, I have no desire to look at this manual again. I almost want the time I spent fact-checking this stuff back.

As Dr. Smith provides the link to it, interested readers can pursue it.

Kevin Tierney

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The problem is Westians are such inveterate liars.

They'll lie about things you would never think anyone would lie about.

I've had people double-check expressions and sentiments that it never, in a thousand years, would have occurred to me to question, and in EVERY case, the Westian has mis-represented the facts.

It really does continually amaze me.

Kevin said...

I think in the end I don't view them "liars." Lying involves intent.

The only intent they have is defending their hero. So zealous in this intent, they overlook anything resembling basic norms of scholarship, charity, etc.

I don't view them the liar. I view them the overzealous defender who does more damage with their "defenses" than a liar could ever do.

Maybe less morally culpable, but even more irresponsible.

I do agree however with your last point. This really is par for the course with this crowd. Dawn Eden's thesis could engage in the worst of conspiracy-mongering, and be worse than they could possibly imagine, and it would still go unanswered because they lack the discipline to interact with it.

Of course, Dawn Eden's thesis is about 95% correct, so they have an even steeper hill to climb in their lack of prudence.

Ben said...


What are your impressions of Evelyn Vitz's latest article on "God and the Sexes"?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I almost never read Inside Catholic. It keeps re-running old articles, and a lot of the old articles are stupid wrong. Anything by Sandra Miesel, for instance, is automatically suspect. She's a lousy historian, but Inside Catholic loves her...

Brendan said...

As I blast through these last few posts and their comments to catch up, I notice a common theme, that you seem to blame Westian influence for nearly every error and misunderstanding demonstrated by any commenter on this subject.

A lot of this stuff seems like things people can come up with on their own by excessively contemplating the words "Theology of the Body" in solitude.

There is a lot of error going around these days. Are people spouting errors because of what West says to them, or are those already inclined to error easily influenced by him?

I think the former is a tough case to make, and I wonder how constructive it is to try. Isn't there a logical fallacy along those lines?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, it's like Origenism.
We're not really sure Origen even taught some of the things that are now called that. Same with Priscillianism, etc.

Since West was the one that pioneered most of the major errors, and since he has been instrumental in making TOB supporters feel morally superior to everyone else ("only the very pure should read my work, only the very pure understand what I've written"), I'd say it's fair to call it all Westian.