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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Catholic Blizzards

For over 25 years (1950-1976), Josef Pieper was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Munster. As professor emeritus, he continued to lecture at the university for another 20 years past that. For over 60 years, he taught Plato and Thomistic philosophy and theology. He was awarded the Balzan Prize in philosophy, and the Ehrenring. His 1966 classic, The Four Cardinal Virtues, was actually a compilation of earlier essays written in the 1950s. This book is so thorough, clear and concise that it is considered a standard text in both undergraduate and graduate theology and philosophy programs.

Why do I mention Pieper? Because Josef Pieper described Chris West's teachings as Manichean long before Chris West was ever born.

I have documented elsewhere how both John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas both directly contradict Chris West's cult teachings and pseudo-Catholic theology. But, rather than acknowledging that he is wrong, Chris continues to mis-represent both John Paul II and Thomas, insisting that the clear words of the Pope and the Angelic Doctor do not mean what they say.

For instance, although both Pope John Paul II and the Angelic Doctor describe continence as a virtue, West insists it is not. In order to make his case, he studiously avoids the passages in which both men specifically name continence a virtue, instead pointing his acolytes towards passages which have little or nothing to do with the virtue at all.

West insists that sex is the means by which everything is spiritualized, and he further insists that there can be no real virtue without this spiritualization. Josef Pieper was aware of this tendency in Catholic thought, and he had very specific things to say about it:

In The Four Cardinal Virtues, Pieper devotes an entire section to a discussion of the two forms of chastity. In it, he differentiates between chastity as temperentia and chastity as continentia.

As we already know, and Pieper explains, the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation is chastity (temperentia). In temperentia, the sensual appetite is in the habit of directing itself towards the good. In contrast, the unperfected virtue of chastity (continentia) is "not yet a natural inclination of being, neither has as yet grown firm roots in the existential core of man. This second mode of chastity is not the perfected virtue of temperance and moderation, but a strenuous control... the first is less perfect than the second, because by the former, the directing power of reason has been able to mold only the conscious will, but not yet the sensual urge, whereas by the latter will and urge are both stamped with 'rational order'(Summa Theologica II, II 155, 4 ad3)."

Pieper goes on to note that unchastity through mere lack of control is actually less pernicious than unchastity through temperentia. The merely uncontrolled can be recalled to order and repentance is quick, whereas the solidified disposition that is temperentia is hard to change and represents real malice. According to Pieper, who is summarizing Aquinas, "One who is merely uncontrolled is not unchaste, even though he acts unchastely." (italics in original, cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 7, 9, 1151a).

Now, if that were all Pieper had to say, I wouldn't bother to make this post. While that alone would be a direct attack on West's idea that continence is not a virtue, the fact that West
(a) is wrong on this point and
(b) refuses to discuss any of the erroneous positions he holds with anyone capable of refuting him
is not exactly news.

But there is more.
Josef Pieper isn't done.
The whole discussion of how the two forms of chastity get distorted just ticks Pieper off.
He has a soapbox, and he climbs on it just a few pages later.
This is page 167 of the 1966 edition of his work:
"Unlike all other virtues, it has always been the strange fate of the virtue of temperance and moderation, especially in its aspect of chastity, not to be valued and practiced or scorned and ridiculed more or less at its face value, but to be overestimated and overvalued in a very specific sense. This is something altogether unique. There have, of course, always been theoretical discussions about the hierarchy of the virtues, and one or the other has been shifted to a higher rank. But the stubborn and really quite fanatical preference given to temperentia, especially to chastity, which runs through the whole history of Christian doctrine as a more or less hidden undercurrent or counter current, has a very special aspect. No one, at any rate, has attached to justice or prudence or to any of the three theological virtues such an emphatic and evidently not simply factual, but emotionally charged evaluation.
Of course, there would not be the slightest objection against such an evaluation per se - for strictly speaking, virtues as such cannot be overrated. But here we are speaking of an evaluation and overevalutation based on a false premise; of an evaluation, therefore, which implies a misunderstanding of what is supposedly valued so highly. And against this we must object strongly.
In the province of temperentia as we have said before, it is man's attitude toward creation which is decided, and most incisively. And the 'wrong premise' upon which rest the overevaluation and erroneous values given to temperentia in general and chastity in particular amounts to this, namely, the explicit or implied opinion that the sensual reality of the whole of creation, and above all the nonspiritual element in man himself, is actually evil. To sum up: the 'wrong premise' is an explicit, or more often, an implicit, even unconscious and unintended, Manichaeism."
Although Pieper is directing his anger towards people like Tertullian, it is clear from the passage that if we were to give him Chris West's assertion that mere continence is not a virtue, he would undoubtedly send West to join Tertullian.

After all, West has clearly demonstrated a "stubborn and really quite fanatical preference given to temperentia."

Pieper goes on in this section to explain in greater detail why West is so wrong to do this (p. 168).
Nearly every word can be applied to our good friend, Chris:
"[The erroneous idea concerning] The specifically human task, or better still, the specifically Christian task, would consist in rising above this entire 'lower' sphere and mounting by ascetic practice [for West, we rise above this lower sphere through sex, but sensuality and perverse asceticism are really two sides of the same coin. Indeed, Pieper follows Aquinas example in discussing fasting and sensuous touch in adjoining sections.], to a purely spiritual way of life. Not only do fasting, vigils and sexual continence [or in West's case, sex, sex, and sex] take on a very special importance from this basic approach, but they move necessarily into the center of attention of the man striving for perfection. This evaluation, however shares and indeed intensifies the errors of its original; and despite all outward similarity, it has as little to do with the Christian evaluation of those three things [or that one thing] as the heresies of the Manichees, the Montanists, and the Cathari have to do with the Catholic dogma that proclaims that created reality is good in all its spheres, and is not subject to the arbitrariness of human evaluation; indeed, it is the basis and the point of departure of all evaluations as well as of all realization of value. " (cf. II, II, 130, 1, cf also II, II, 133, 1, Car. 1 - plus a quote from Thomas which indicates this attitude is a sin. Emphasis added)
Now, in order to quiet the West cultists ahead of time, if you read the rest of the section on chastity and unchastity, it's pretty clear that Pieper is no prude. He footnotes Malachi about there being something divine being in human seed, and points out that Thomas forbids a man from fasting to the extent that it interferes with his virility (yes, he even provides the necessary Thomistic footnotes).

Josef Pieper was teaching TOB long before JP II wrote a word, and he did it better, in the sense that he's a lot easier to read (and a lot tougher to distort). In fact, it would be absurd to believe that John Paul II would have been unfamiliar with, or uninfluenced by, one of the leading Thomists in Europe, a man who was teaching just a few hundred miles from Krakow.

So, we can now add to the long list of unanswered problems with the Chris West cult, the problem of Manicheanism masquerading as Catholic Faith.

West, of course, will respond as he always has - with silence.

When the original charges were leveled against him by his own teachers, he remained quiet while directing his shills to argue that this was a discussion more suited to the journals.

Months later, when he finally held a public interview on Al Kresta, his only response to his critics was to say that only ivory-tower academics who publish in journals had a problem with his teachings.

Likewise, his shills began by insisting that his former teachers' did not adequately substantiate their charges against West.

Yet, when they were asked to substantiate their own assertions that West's teachings were grounded in the ancient teaching of the Church, his supporters suddenly... disappeared.

Chris West has very few cards, but he plays them skillfully. Thousands of Catholics have been talked into sending him millions of dollars to promote a quasi-Catholic Faith, while West and his acolytes reap the monetary rewards.

He's the Al Gore of Catholic theology.
How long will it be before the blizzard hits?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Shut Up, He Explained

Years ago, pro-aborts came up with an ingenious argument that makes them look like saints while forcing their critics into silence:

"I don't believe in forcing my opinions on others."

It's the pro-abort version of, "I would like to nominate myself for the Humblest Person of the Year Award."

If the individual spouting the line didn't believe in forcing his opinions on others, then why am I being lectured about how to treat others? Why is he forcing his opinion on me?

The line is nothing but a gilded claim to victim status and one-upmanship combined into one concise phrase. "I don't want to listen to you. I'm so much holier and better than you. I have higher standards. Would you just shut up?" If the speaker were honest, he would say this instead.

Unfortunately, it is less concise, and the speaker would look like a pompous ass if he did.
So, from a strategic standpoint, the pro-abort argument is really much more satisfying.

It's a real shame when Catholics get involved in similar lines of reasoning. I've already pointed out Catholics like Mark Shea who are partial to this argument, and I've noted that it is also a favorite of the defenders of Chris West.

That's sad.
But it's really disappointing when a Catholic bishop engages in it.

Take, for instance, John Allen's applause when Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas used essentially this argument to defend his style of episcopal leadership:

"We need to be self-critical and realize that no one of us has the only approach to Catholicism," Farrell said. (His address was published in Origins in August). "Honest debate, not confrontation -- true dialogue where we seek to understand the other, not facile condemnation -- should be the overarching way we move forward."

"The word 'heretic' has been reserved for precious few people in our Catholic tradition," Farrell said, rejecting what he called "verbal fratricide" and a tendency to become "smug, dismissive and righteous" about the Catholic intellectual tradition.

"No theologian, or professor or pope, has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic," Farrell said.

Now, how a bishop chooses to lead a diocese is his own business. I am not qualified to tell him that he's right or wrong, although I do have the canonical right to offer an opinion on what it looks like to the man in the pew. Indeed, I even have a duty to do so.

But, if I am to take Bishop Farrell at his word, isn't it incumbent on me to help him engage in a little self-criticism? Then let's!

First, I don't remember seeing his sentiment laid out in any Magisterial document. Not one. Certainly we see Scripture say that we should always be prepared to give a defense of the Faith, but always in gentleness and reverence. There are LOTS of Magisterial documents that put forth that sentiment.

But that's not what Bishop Farrell says. He doesn't say that we should be gentle and reverent when defending the Faith or living it out. He says "No one of us has the only approach to Catholicism."

Now, pardon me Bishop, but what the heck does THAT mean? Does it mean that many different orthodox spiritualities are available to the orthodox Catholic: Franciscan vs. Dominican vs. Carmelite vs.... well, you get the picture? If so, then who would argue with that? It's a strawman to say that anyone would.

Does he mean to say that, given several options on how to proceed in specific situations, there is often room for differences in prudential judgement? Again, who argues against this proposition? I don't think I've ever met anyone who did.

He wants "honest debate not confrontation."

Is he engaged in honest debate by setting up straw men?

And, leaving the straw aside for the moment, isn't THAT a prudential decision? Who determines what is "honest dialogue" versus "confrontation"? I've been engaged in honest dialogue with other people which third parties thought were confrontations - both of us had to set the mistaken party straight and point out that we were just having a strenuous discussion.

I've been engaged in dialogues with other people that were the very picture of decorum but were not at all honest, and then been congratulated on how well everyone in the situation had handled it.

But leave THAT aside and let's just look at confrontation. What, exactly, is wrong with confrontation? Confrontation has a long history in the Catholic Faith, and no one familiar with her history would deny this.

The Crusades were built around very pointed confrontation, as was every military engagement with the Muslims. Who would you rather be? St. Louis, King of France, on Crusade against the Muslim, or Cardinal Richelieu, the man who made common cause with Muslims against other Catholics in order to advance the interests of France?

I will note only that the ecumenism Richelieu brought to the Catholic-Muslim engagement did not make him a candidate for sainthood, while St. Louis' armed confrontation against the Muslims did not detract from his.

Think of the numerous synods and ecumenical councils of the Church in which bishops confronted laymen, priests and bishops (mostly priests and bishops, btw), condemning them to exile, imprisonment and the burning of all their works. The bishops who condemned the heretics sure thought they had the answer to how to live the Catholic life, and they sure thought the persons they condemned as exiled heresiarchs did not.

Even the famously even-tempered Aquinas got fed up with his opponents when they tried to distort the Faith and his defenses. He's a doctor of the Church. And let's not even get started on whether every martyr of the Church was involved in dialogue or confrontation.

Indeed, if we went far enough back, we could even use the open, honest debate techniques that Jesus and His prophet, John the Baptist, modeled for us: "Blind guides! Blind hypocrites! You den of vipers! Who told YOU you could escape the coming destruction! Fools! You make your proselytes TWICE the sons of perdition that YOU are!"

Or would Bishop Farrell find John, Jesus and Paul distasteful? Did they engage in outmoded and condemned confrontation? Sadly, John the Baptist would not gain many modern bishops' approval. Heck, I've heard one Midwestern bishop tell a public audience that he wouldn't want St. Paul in his diocese - too confrontational.

But by ignoring these and many more examples that could be brought forward, aren't the good bishops being "smug, dismissive and righteous" about the Catholic tradition?

If "[n]o theologian, or professor or pope, has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic," (odd how he left bishops out of the list) then why should I pay any attention to Bishop Farrell's opinion on the matter? As he himself admits, he's likely to be wrong in his opinion.

If no one has the answer, then he doesn't have the answer.
If he doesn't have the answer, and doesn't have any confidence that an answer can be reached, then why talk with him at all?
If he's right, he's useless.
If he's wrong, he should be ignored.
So what is his point again?

The point of dialogue is to reach a conclusion from which a judgement can be made. It is not just to natter on endlessly. If I wanted endless, mindless chatter, I would turn on the television. Or read Richard McBrien.

So why would anyone say anything so mind-numbingly vapid as our good bishop did in this instance?

From a standard of basic logic, I don't know.
Don't ask me - talk to someone else.
I have no answer, nor any confidence that a reasonable answer can be provided.

But, if we throw basic logic aside and realize that he was just going for style points, the answer is a lot more clear. The good bishop prefers semantic fratricide, which is oh-so-much-better than verbal fratricide.... Or.... something.....

Now, as I say, he has the right to say that. He is bishop, after all. But even if he has the right to say it, I don't have to like the victim-saint combo that he gilds himself with as he does it. No one has all the right prudential answers... except him? Please. If you were Pope, I would at least consider the possibility before dismissing it as a violation of the Faith. As it is...

The great irony of the thing is this: John Allen, the man who applauds Bishop Ferrell's double-speak, emphasized the importance of striking a balance. How did Allen do this? Well, by personally condemning "Taliban Catholicism."

Sigh.

Now, Allen protests that such Catholics are present on the left and the right. What he doesn't do is demonstrate why confrontation is a problem. Everyone assumes, as if it is a commonly agreed idea, that confrontation is not good, condemnation is not good. And they will confront and condemn anyone who says otherwise. Got that?

We all like to judge others (heck, that's what this column is about, ain't it?) and we all like to think that we're the ones on the high ground.

As George C. Scott said in "Patton" - "Hell, yes, I'm a prima donna. I admit it! The thing I don't like about Monty (British General Montgomery) is that he's a prima donna and he WON'T admit it!"

I've always admired that attitude.
I prefer Patton's confrontation of the truth to a "dialogue" over mindless piffle.