Bicameral Minds on Perelandra

JMJ

Julian Jaynes’ epic 1976 work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind argues that the human mind had a major evolutionary change as recently as 3,000 years ago: that the left and right brains used to talk to each other and that this conversation could be perceived as an external voice, as the voice of God. This stoped about 1,000 Before the Christian Era. Jaynes suggests this is the real origin of all religion – the human brain talking to itself. He further posits that the evolutionary opening-up of this conversation (so that it became more unified) resulted in our modern mind – the way our “internal conversation” is all “internal”. Except in cases of certain mental illnesses, we don’t think of or experience the various voices in our head as anything but our own consciousness. The change 3,000 years ago left us hungering for that directive voice in our head. This is a very cursory view of the theory, but the book is worth a read: it explores everything from Homer to the Hebrew Prophets and modern experiments. Perelandra, CS Lewis’ meditation on man, woman, and the fall, presents a different idea of this bicameral conversation in a prelapsarian culture on Venus. A man and a woman are situated by God (Whom Lewis named Maleldil) on a planetary Eden. A tempter and a defender are sent from Earth to mix things up. Ransom, the protector, encounters the Eve of Venus or the Lady, as she is called in the book, just in time to begin the battle with evil. The story plays out in a different way from our own Eden story. There’s much else to meditate on and there’s spoilers below this paragraph: if you’ve not read it you should – you may want to pass this post by. That said, though, we’re going to focus on the bicameral conversation and implications for our human, earthly faith.


As Ransom begins to interact with her he finds the Lady strange and somewhat childlike, even silly. Yet she grows wiser, even as he watches! She seems to be constantly growing more mature. She is somehow plugged into the Holy Spirit in an active, two-way conversation. At times this conversation is very present, pulling her full attention away from whatever is before her. At other times the conversation is somehow under the surface, but it’s always available to her awareness but never intrusive. When Ransom says something about Earth or our history – forgetting that the Lady has never been to Earth – suddenly she understands. “Maleldil is telling me…” she says when he asks her how she knows. Maleldil tells her about space travel and Mars. Other things, which are deemed less important, Maleldil does not share with her even when she asks.

The Lady of Perelandra is fully engaged in what Jaynes would call a Bicameral Conversation- except it’s actually God she’s talking to. It can be somewhat frustrating for the reader: there’s no plot device that this ongoing conversation cannot trigger. Deus ex machina except it’s actually Deus himself, not a machine. You keep waiting for her to stop talking to Maleldil and to become an active part of the book. It’s as if there’s someone outside of the sphere of reality that is interfering with what could otherwise be an excellent book about good and evil, women and men. One keeps expecting her to pull out of the conversation or perhaps to grow up. Maybe later she will mature and God will let her stand on her own? But by the end of the book – when the evil has been destroyed and she has not fallen as our first parents did – the conversation is still going. She has become infinitely wiser and yet God still whispers in her ear.

Even reading the book several times, this conversation with someone offstage constantly annoyed this writer. Why was this character – and her husband as well – so immature, even at the end of the book when they were infinitely wiser? By “immature” here what is indicated is there’s a sense where the characters in this constant conversation with Maleldil have a sort of crutch in the mind of the reader: can she (later they) not make decisions on their own? Are they condemned to be children forever? Even when they are sitting on their thrones triumphant, Lord and Lady of their own world, Maleldil is whispering in their ears about what should be done next, about what choices can be made, about how to live. Even when the “good guy” makes choices he seems to be able to do so on his own without little whispers in his ear.

For our first session of class this semester, studying the Old Testament with Wendy Biale, we were asked to read the opening parts of God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP. In discussing Eve Barthélemy notes that “it seems to me to be neither at the moment when Eve began to doubt, nor when she committed the act, but when she left herself open to the fascination of the doubt, when she entertained the doubt. It was precisely then that she became responsible; at the moment when she began to dwell pleasurably on the eventuality, on that doubt which touched on the motive of the divine command, when she let her mind play with what the serpent suggested. It was not the fact of having heard, it was not the fact of having acted, it was the fact of having lent her ear willingly, of having reflected and dwelt on the possibility, of having as it were forgotten in that moment all her daily experience of God’s dealing with their lives, of God’s dealing with creation, and having preferred instead the most unlikely eventuality, which was at the same time the most terrifying: that she might be sport of God… There we have that fragile second when there is indeed still real liberty of choice and then, an instant later when there is liberty no longer. Although nothing has been done, one has toyed with and welcome the idea that it might possibly be done. And in this toying, the decisive element takes the form of a sort of crazy attraction to what is worst.”

What Eve did was to push God away for a moment to think on her own to make up her own mind. She knew what the command was but, having embellished it on her own above and beyond God’s command to not-eat (we shouldn’t even touch it, she added) Eve takes the place of God in her own mind, “wait, maybe I have this wrong”. Sin occurs exactly in that moment where we say, “Everyone hush! (Including you, God…) Let me think for a moment.” In that moment of silence we seem to automatically drift to the worst possible reading.

Even in that moment of Eve thinking on her own – or attempting to – God was still there for the Word can never be silent, but Eve, having made the choice to pull out of the conversation, kept going. The end result was that her tuning device, if you will, could no longer pick up that station and neither can any of her children. Even for us, with the restorative grace of Baptism and continual fortification of the Sacraments, the channel is always just-slightly-enough out of tune. We pick up part of the conversation with care, and none with ease. And now our psychologists posit that the ability to do so, at all, is a sign of devolution at least if not outright mental illness.

So, for the modern or post-modern reading Lewis’ story now, the Lady seems forever childish precisely because we have no way of imagining what that ongoing conversation would be like. We may, for moments, tune in: hands held up in silent prayer and bliss before the exposed Eucharist, the joyful awe of the conception of our children, the peaceful bliss of Viaticum, but it seems painful to sustain, like a holiday that has gone on too long and we only want to get back to regular work just for the sheer normalcy of it all.

Is it possible to sustain it longer? Can we offer to God our on-going conversation? We are not sinless like Eve or the Lady of Perelandra. We are off a different sort, now, but maybe. We have different offerings: stumbles, pricks in the flesh, weak joys, half-baked ideas, spiritual blog posts generated in off moments in parking lots. We might be able to offer these to God as a sort of firstfruits to see if they can be blessed. The normal process is to suddenly cry out for help as we sink beneath the waves, but Peter first said, “If it’s you, call me to come to you…” We might be able to sustain the action more and more each time, with practice. Pray for strength, make the essay with grace, fail and try again. Eventually, it may be possible to pray for the enter tire morning commute. As the Catechism points out, “praying” is the relationship itself. It’s not the particular words we use or the rites, it’s the relationship. It’s not something you can do sometimes. When one is married, one is married always. The only reason to pretend otherwise (even in the house, first thing in the morning) is to prepare for adultery. You’ve already done it in your heart at that point.

As with other relationships, this one starts out small. We cannot sustain it: even though we are designed for it, we are not strong enough. By grace we can be brought forward, able to hold on longer. After a while we may be able to sustain a portion of a holy hour or a walk in the park aware of being In the Presence.

Jaynes seems to be right in that our mind used to, at one point, be better tuned to this conversation. It may even be the Left and Right brains as he theorizes. It follows that having severed the connection in Eden millennia ago, the whole physiological and psychological process would continue to break down. Even in evolution it is true, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” It is possible to imagine that 3000 years ago something else broke.

But by grace, we can begin to repair the instrument.

At the end of Perelandra the Lady and her Lord, having triumphed over the temptation, are enthroned and ruling over Creation is a way that humans have not been able to do since our First Parents fell. As a result, everything is disordered – even the creation itself groans under the weight of our initial misstep. On Perelandra the human beings became as gods in their own right. We only do so by grace and, mostly, after death. We have literally no experience of what this would be like. As this writer noted his frustration with the childishness of the Perelandran Lady, so he must also note his sadness that he cannot be so childlike. As this writer finds her on-going conversation with God to be a sort of crutch, so he can only limp along, on hobbled feet, sad that his pride will not let him have such a crutch. Yet it is so in hope: for filled with grace it is possible that healing can come. One day, Maleldil may be telling me.

It was precisely in her willingness to keep listening to the conversation that the Lady of Perelandra was able to avoid what was, indeed, the only pitfall: trying to stand on her own, apart from the Ground of Being that is God himself. He is not a crutch so much as the very thing we stand on at all, where the Word is the act of standing, and the Holy Spirit is the power to stand. We would not be without beingness Himself. We pretend otherwise at our own peril.

Sonnet XVI: Harrow

JMJ

Alone by Abraham he watching stands
And turns to John the Cousin as they smile
Isaiah grins at Moses laughing while
Judith and Esther wait in garland bands

Now righteous pagans rise to hear the trial
Lao tzu has joined him and Gautama too
The final stanzas of hells songs are through
And yawning gapes the maw of death most vile

As light breaks open hades darkened rue
And angels chaining demons part the throng
Comes Jesus here to one for whom he’s long
Been grieving. Joseph, Daddy, chaste and true

And riven hell releases hist’ry’s clans
As Son and Abba weep ore claspéd hands

Solar Wind

JMJ

EACH STAR HAS A field of energy that is going both outward and inward. The outward energy we call a “wind” because it is unseen and “blowing” outward from the star: it is the light, itself, actually. If you can see the star you are “in” the wind from that star. Our star, Sol, being closest we are in this wind the most, of course. There are eddies and cross-currents, and shadows, if you will. It would be possible to “sail” on this wind. In fact there are designs for such ships: they are as beautiful and graceful as sailing ships on our seas. As much as there is outward, there is also the inward energy which we call gravity. The mass of the star literally curves space and pulls things towards it. Again: if you can see the star’s light, the gravity is also present. Sol’s gravity is closest to us and affects us the most, but all objects have gravity so the gravity from our nearest neighbor, Luna, has a heavier pull on us. Gravity – although it holds everything together – is a weak force and it is made weaker by distance. Light and wind go much further.

Every once in a while a star’s gravity might “catch” a passerby, even millions of miles away and that object begins a long journey inward, towards the star. If the item is small it may – eventually – just get pulled into the star and consumed in the fire. If the item is a bit larger and moving fast enough, its velocity and trajectory may take it around the star and shoot it back out into space, only to slow down later and come back for the same trip. This might take millions of years to complete, but the same process will repeat. As it comes in, pulled by gravity, the solar wind will push off bits and pieces. The object will, over much time, get smaller and smaller. Eventually it will not be able to escape the star again – and it will get pulled into the fire. Else, it may – somewhere out in space – just disconnect from the gravity, get pushed away in the wind, and never come back. If the item is frozen, covered in some gas or liquid, it may melt at high speed, throwing off a tail of reflected light and so, instead of an asteroid, we have a comet. These things may pass us, here on Earth, as we go on our own way and we see them and smile, gaze in awe, or make a wish. We, too, are held in place by gravity against the solar winds, our home’s size, trajectory, and speed keeping us just where we need to be to live.

Now, let us consider the comet and the star, as a sign of the soul’s journey to God.

For this image, though, God would be the only star in all the universe. Yes, we have other things that we think are stars, but they are not really stars at all. As the comet gets closer in love, the tail is all that is superfluous blown away – think of confession, the struggle for virtues, the acts of self-sacrifice, the withering of the ego. Each time the comet circles closer, losing its speed and trajectory, and the orbit grows smaller. The away and return gets shorter. In the end, all refuse jettisoned, it falls into the fires of eternal love.

And even for far-distant things, the choice is only to ride the gravity in or to let the solar winds blow one into distant eternities away. Coming closer means the fires get hotter, the winds stronger. If the soul holds on to anything here, she will be blown further away. She must let it all go, let it all go, let it all go behind as she falls closer and closer to the star. And she is a she, passive, drawn forward, as the star is a he, the active drawing forth. With God, the entire cosmos is she, passive before the one active mover of all.

There is a further realization, for God is everywhere present, filling all things. There is not “distance” from God: there is no center. There is no place towards which the gravity draws or from which the winds blow. That a soul is not flooded with fear at the light, or blown apart by the wind, that a soul is not burned instantly, and still must move forward to see more is, itself, an act of grace. God has hidden himself that he may be found. He woos us, but we must allow ourselves to be wooed.  God’s action of withdrawal is the opening for us to follow. His hiddenness calls us to find him. His fading light in the distance becomes the dawn of our faith and that faith becomes the light for others. “Just as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation than merely to contemplate.” (Summa Theologiae, II-II Q. 188, A. 6)

We live and move and have our being in the star, yet the darkness, too, is real: as the comet moves forward, the refuse burns away and the light is more revealed. God is love. And we are nought but loved, even in the fire that cleanses us. And the refuse, itself, becomes our glory for we leave a beautiful passing.

Consider What You Say

JMJ

From the letter of Blessed Humbert of Romans On Regular Observance (Opera de Vita Regulari). This is the alternative Second Reading for the Office of Readings on the Memorial of Bl Mannes, the brother of St Dominic (18 August). This is from the Daily Office propers of the Order of Preachers.

A brother should never pass over in silence what needs to be said, nor say what should not be spoken. When a brother intends to speak, let him first consider his words in his heart that he may express honorably, moderately, truthfully and kindly what it is he wishes to say. For the tongue is deceitful, puffed up, inflamed with duplicity, and hateful to God and humankind.

Dearly beloved, consider carefully what you say, to whom, when or where, how or how much, and certainly why you say it. Otherwise, if the proper circumstances are lacking, your speech may give rise to a bad conscience in your own heart or to scandal in the heart of your hearer. You should aim for three things in your speech – gesture, voice, and meaning. Let your gestures be controlled, your voice well-modulated, your meaning always true.

Do not do battle with words, nor worry about gaining victory in disputes. Always avoid words which are damaging to the speaker or to the listener. One should keep away from speech which is not a credit to the one who speaks, or to the one who listens, or to the one about whom a person speaks.

Consider also the time for speaking, because at times one should keep silent and at other times something should be said. There is never a time when evil should be uttered; sometimes even good things should not be mentioned. When another has begun to speak, we should be silent, lest we appear to interrupt what the person has to say. When we sense that our audience is not prepared for what we have to say, we should refrain from speech. At times we should keep silence to avoid loquaciousness or because we have not yet formulated in a suitable manner what we wish to say, or even because the words that we have decided to you are no longer appropriate to the conversation.

Let the elderly speak of the wisdom of reflection, the young of a readiness for work, the wise of the mystery of the Scriptures, the simple of examples of good works, those concerned with business of the needs of the active life, those living quietly of the sweetness of the contemplative life, prelates of the management of temporal and spiritual goods, subjects of obeying commands.

When we wish to speak for our own building up, let us choose how we can bring others to Virtue, and by what teaching. When we speak for the building up of others, let us turn to those things that we hope to correct in ourselves through our exhortation. Furthermore, let our teaching tend toward this goal: to urge the timid to constancy, the proud to fear, the bold to reflection, the lukewarm to fervor, the boisterous to silence, the speechless to a word of exhortation, the impatient to gentleness, the careless to vigilance, the cruel to forbearance, the hasty and demanding to restraint.

In addition take care that when a brother speaks, he not move about inappropriately, nor destroy the charm of his speech by glancing about or making faces.

May you avoid every word that is bitter, proud, disparaging, flattering, vicious, sworn by oaths, superfluous, or careless. As you ought not speak ill of those who are absent, so you should not laugh at those who are present. Do not jest with those who are senseless, nor envy the learned.

Keep silent about trivialities; speak about what will bear fruit. In your conversation do not keep your heart on your tongue, but rather check your tongue with your heart. Surely when you come to speak, you can offer a few words that are intelligible. Love quiet reflection; flee the business of the world. Through silence the heart is quieted, pain is avoided, peace is maintained, and the mind is raised more quickly to contemplation. The more you withdraw from the noise of business, the closer will God be to you.

Almah Parthenos

JMJ

IN ISAIAH 7:14 the Spirit of the Lord speaking through the Prophet says, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (AV) and people bicker a lot about the word “virgin” there: the Hebrew – according to the Masoretic text is עַלְמָ֗ה almah which means only a young girl. The Greek, however, is παρθένος parthenos which means rather a lot more than just young girl. In fact parthenos means so much more than almah that there is a story about this word choice:

In the middle of the 3rd Century Before the Christian Era, Ptolemy II asked for a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, tradition says the project was given to 70 wise elders who, in prayer and meditation, sought to render a translation that could be seen as spirit-breathed and trustworthy. This translation is called the Septuagint, often noted as the LXX for the 70 translators. As one elder was translating Isaiah, he tried to render the word almah as νεᾶνις neanis meaning only a young girl (as in other passages in the scriptures), but the Holy Spirit told him to write parthenos. The man objected but God insisted – and promised him he was to see the fulfillment of this prophecy with his own eyes. This man, the legend says, was Simeon who was blessed to hold in his own hands the Messiah as a baby. Your host digresses, but only a little bit: the story makes it clear even earlier Christians saw there was a crucial difference between almah and parthenos.

As this scripture comes into Latin, Roman culture, it gets rendered virgo which actually means less than the Greek and the Hebrew. By way of exploring these differences, there may also be something to learn about current issues in the Church and something about ourselves in relation to God and each other.

Before we go any further though let the reader understand clearly: none of this is to be read as commentary on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Your host believes, together with Holy Church, that the Mother of God was alma, parthenos, and virgo before and after giving birth to the Second Person of the Trinity. The best description of the All-Holy Theotokos uses all three of these words in their fullest cultural meanings. It’s the cultural meanings that are the focus. To reiterate, we are exploring these words in order to have a better context for discussing current issues in the Church.

The Latin word, virgo, can mean a young woman or girl, but it specifically refers to not-having sex and, even more specifically, to the membrane called the hymen. If this is intact, the woman is a virgo. There is a word for “young girl” in Latin puella, but culturally it’s missing the context of virgo. As I noted, the Latin word actually means much less than either alma or parthenos. It’s this word that comes into English as “Virgin” and so, too, it means much less for us. When we discuss sexual issues in the Church we often get hung up on virgo.

Alma is used a few times in the Hebrew scriptures. In almost all cases it can mean only a young girl without implying anything about their personal history. Culturally such a young woman may not yet have been married but at a time when they were given in marriage rather young (by our eyes) it is more a chronological term dealing with age. Even in the important passage in Isaiah, the woman in question is only being used as sort of a time-keeper. The Prophet is saying that she will have a child and before the child grows up all the predictions will come to pass (meaning they are not far in the future). The woman will still be a young woman at that time, actually, still a neanis, a youth. Perhaps, though, she has stopped being parthenos. We are not told. She may be virgo. We are not told.

The important word is παρθένος parthenos. At the time of the Ptolemy II parthenos was an honorific applied to several Greek goddesses: Artemis and Hera, although Athena is the best known example. Her temple in Athens included a statue called Athena Parthenos and this statue was also copied in several places. Parthenos is the adjective. The noun becomes the name of the Temple: the Parthenon. Please note that all three of these goddesses had extant stories of their sexual activities. They would not be virgins as we, today, understand that word in either a secular or religious context. The goddeses are not virgo. Parthenos carries a different cultural meaning.

Other persons in the Septuagint are called parthenos: one example is Rebecca, the woman who was to become the wife of Issac and the mother of Israel (Jacob). While it is outside of the scope of the present essay, fruitful meditation could arise on the connection of the Biblical title parthenos to the Mother of Israel and the Mother of God. The title itself is also applied to certain classes of people through the Old and New Testaments. It’s usually rendered as virgin(s) in English and Latin, implying no-sex but, again, culturally I think it means rather a bit more, even in the 1st Century of the Christian Era. Its meaning in the 1st century becomes our meaning today but we have forgotten it.

When you look up παρθένος parthenos in Strong’s Greek (the standard Greek reference for Biblical Scholars, augmented on the net by several other resources) we are come to word number 3933.
Usage: a maiden, virgin; extended to men who have not known women.
properly, a virgin; a woman who has never had sexual relations; a female (virgin), beyond puberty but not yet married; (figuratively) believers when they are pure (chaste), i.e. faithful to Christ their heavenly Bridegroom (2 Cor 11:2; Rev 14:4).
Word Origin: of uncertain origin.
Yet, as I’ve already noted, the several Goddesses to whom this title was originally applied were not “women who have never had sexual relations” and two, at least, were married.

Digging into the word further we need to go back to the temple mentioned earlier, the Parthenon. Whence that title for the Temple? We need to go to Liddell & Scott which is a rather more secular source for words outside of the Bible. Here we find the root word, παρθέν parthen which means “maidens’ apartments in a house” and was used of the apartments for the priestesses in the western end of the temple. So that is kind of like saying “a rector lives in a rectory”. Which came first, the house or the occupant? In the case of the clergyman, the office of rector was first, of course. But digging deeper into parthenos it seems the word was used for both men and women, always implying unmarried, but not always implying sexlessness, and not always implying virgo. What it does carry is implication of a sexuality being set apart and, in the case of women in Ancient Greece, this is important. They are set apart for a divine purpose – not for their father’s use in the way of the time. This is why Athena gets called parthenos – and the other goddeses: even though they are not virgo they struggle against all the male deities that want to own or control their sexual identities. They are enclosed in their own apartments, as it were. Having set their sexual selves aside for divine purposes, assuming they continue in that, they stay parthenos even after no longer being virgo, and even into old age. By the time it gets used in the LXX parthenos is culturally tied to those apartments in the greek Temple and to the patroness of Athens. Just as now we do not use “rector” without the Christian echos so, too, the LXX used parthenos. And this is where the meaning for the Mother of God and the Mother of Israel becomes important: regardless of their status as virgo, their sexuality, their sexual being, there sexual identity was consecrated; that is, set apart and dedicated to God’s purposes.

This is where this word, parthenos, should be important for the Church.

There are earlier essays in this blog on the difference between being a bachelor and being celibate. Essentially the difference is between a job and a vocation: the former is what one does, the latter is what one is. Celibate, here, means parthenos: having one’s sexual identity so consecrated to God by self-choice, self-gift (to God, that is) that any use outside of God’s plan is inconcievable, pardon the pun. It’s a placing of this part (whole) of one’s life at God’s disposition and trusting in him to maintain his plans and purposes.

It is possible to see clerical life in the teachings of the Church as sort of perpetual bachelorhood. One can be a virtuous bachelor, like Charles in Brideshead Revisited, or one can be unvirtuous. In Courage to be Chaste, Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR, recognizes that there’s a type of person who just stopped having sex because they can’t anymore. By way of examples, this can happen because they feel they are too old, or because they don’t want to take risks reaching out, or because they fear rejection. Whatever the reason they simply stop having sex and then (because of sloth, fear, or habit) they just don’t anymore. Father Benedict finds this to be of concern: he recognizes that they’re following the rules, they may even have chosen to follow the rules after a time, but in the end, they’re only not-having sex. They are not celibate. They have not give all to God at this moment. St Jane Frances de Chantal notes, “Give God your unconditional consent and… What happens is that love seeks out the most intimate and secret place of your soul, as with a sharp sword, and cuts you off even from your own self.” (From: The memoirs of the secretary of St Jane Frances de Chantal, used in the Office of Readings for her Memorial.)

In this light we can see that sometimes, even something that is not sex-having could be a sin against this status as parthenos if it means placing one’s sexual identity (or even seeming to place one’s sexual identity) before others as an offering, thus recanting, at least for a moment, on one’s vows. We refrain from being cut off even from our own self. There are many reasons one might do this: feeling lonely, of course, or feeling awkward. One knows that one can’t have sex, but I can at least pretend I might, you know. That way I can enjoy this conversation, or initiate this flirty moment on the street, or even install a hookup app on my phone: I do not intend to use it of course, but you know… just to look. And just to look as if I might use it if I wanted to. Even while still not-having sex, this participation in the glamour of sin (even while not going all the way) is not parthenos. And, in the throes of passion, it’s possible this is setting us up for a fall that’s even worse.

It’s important to see that this is not only an issue for clergy who up hookup apps on their phone, however. Since the Mother of God is called to parthenos so are we all called to this: we give our entire self over to God, we consecrate our entire self to him. This means that even our sexual identity is his as well. We are cut off even from our ideas of “who we are” and “what we feel” in that all of it is given to God, holding nothing back. In marriage this means refraining from lust and that the gift of self is given to God through giving to our spouse and, in this way, to our children. In all other states of life, we are called to refrain from lust and offer the Gift of Self as God has commanded us in the moment. We live in a way set apart from the world, in a way that marks us as God’s own. Like those in Athens, we have our dwelling place in the courts of the house of Our God, the True and Living God.

Sanctify Time

JMJ

MY FIRST INTRODUCTION to the Divine Office was at a very “low” Episcopal parish which did Morning Prayer three Sundays a month. For the longest time I didn’t think of it as anything other than a liturgical version of the “Hymn Sandwich” common in other Protestant communities. This was true, but not in the way I imagined: the reverse was true. Those others (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians) had taken the Anglican service and de-liturgized it to their own ends. The Anglican practice was intended for twice-daily use every day – not just Sundays. In the Church of England, the vicar is obligated to offer both Morning and Evening Prayer as public services every day. This is not an obligation for American Episcopal clergy, but it is still common practice; and so it was at a very “high” Episcopal Parish, the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Time Square, where I first experienced the Daily Office as a daily service and also one intimately connected to the Eucharist: both services were followed by a Eucharist each day. The Episcopal Daily Office Lectionary (at least in the 1928 and 1979 Books of Common Prayer) parallels the Eucharistic Lectionary. The daily and weekly prayers (Collects) are the same. Eucharist and Office are connected in ways that only become apparent as they are both prayed together. When I left ECUSA in 2002 I brought with me all my love for the Daily Office. Everything I found and loved in the Episcopal tradition was only amplified as I moved closer to the Catholic Church. For a while, I even ran an unofficial daily office website for members of the Orthodox Church who used the Western Rite. Now, as a lay member of the Dominican family, the Office is not a part of my daily prayer but the heart of it.

Let me explain the names first. Office, Daily Office, Divine Office, and “the hours” can all be used interchangeably. “Office” comes from two Latin words, opus meaning work and facere meaning “to do”. The Daily Office is a doing, a task. St Benedict calls it the work of God. Chapter 19 of the Rule of St Benedict reads:

We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that “the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place” (Prov. 15:3). But we should believe this especially without any doubt when we are assisting at the Work of God. To that end let us be mindful always of the Prophet’s words, “Serve the Lord in fear” (Ps. 2:11) and again “Sing praises wisely” (Ps. 46[47]:8) and “In the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to You” (Ps. 13[14]7:1). Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in sight of the Godhead and of His Angels, and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.

We will come back to that last sentence, but see how it invites us to take the Psalms and sing them in such a way that our mind enters into “harmony” with our singing and then change our lives (our conduct).

Nota Bene: There is an Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic form of the Daily Office, but while much of what I’m about to say is true of that form from a theological point of view, the experience that office for the laity in the parish is very different. The public celebration of Matins or Vespers in the liturgical East is often edited for time and even many monastic communities pare it down quite a bit. So what follows is mostly for the Western Folks.

The Prayer of Christ

The Daily Office, in the use of psalms and readings, continues the Jewish tradition of scripture meditation on a daily cycle. In one form or another, this same piety would have been shared with Jesus and his Apostles. However, that’s not how this is the prayer of Christ.

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (GILoTH) highlights a number of ways in which this Prayer of Christ is realized: by virtue of the Incarnation, the Son’s eternal praise of the Father has become human. “Christ’s heart the praise of God assumes a human sound in words of adoration, expiation, and intercession, presented to the Father by the Head of the new humanity, the Mediator between God and his people, in the name of all and for the good of all.” As the Body of Christ in the world, the Church gives her voice in the continuation of this praise.

The Prayer of the Church

The Daily Office is the Prayer of the Church. Clerics are obligated to various parts of it (Priests and transitional Deacons to the whole office, permanent Deacons to whatever their Bishop directs). Consecrated religious communities in their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd orders are likewise committed to the daily recitation of the Office. Various devotional societies also use the office and the church counsels it for all the laity. Joining in this prayer plugs in you with everyone. Emotionally, this gives me joy in knowing I say the same prayer as XYZ persons with whom I connect on Twitter – but have never met. I know that laypeople, Fr John on Catholic Stuff You Should Know, and even the Pope are all praying the same texts I am praying. When the office points me towards a verse in 1 John for meditation, Catholics all over the world are meditating on that same text. This alone is powerful.

Let’s double down on this though: it’s more than an emotional connection. It’s spiritual warfare. Hear the promise Jesus gives us in Matthew (18:19), “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” (AV) The prayers we all say “touching any thing” are very powerful indeed. The intercessions and psalms each day contribute to the building up of the church and the world as the whole church, together, intercedes before God in the heart of Christ. The Kingdom of God on earth is manifesting through our prayer by its effects in our hearts and in the world.

Praying the Psalms

This is the heart of the Work of God. Yet, this part of the Office can be the most confusing to folks in our culture, not least because we are literate. Reading is seen as a utility rather than a practice – and certainly not a spiritual practice! For the early monastics, though, even through the 1700s in the west (and more recently in other parts of the world) literacy was not a given. Men coming to the communities would be taught to read if needed by their work, but they were taught the Psalms by heart through singing in the community. The melodies joined with the text, the whole thing wrapping around the heart in a great vestment of praise and intercession.

The oddity we feel arises from the idea that “text” is not praying. We think of text as only for conveying content: teaching, proclaiming. We tend to think of words on the page as only tools intended to do something else. Our culture tends to be very literal both inside and outside the church, literal and utilitarian. If do not do something with these words then I’m only reading them. Reading, though, is a type of meditation and so a type of prayer. Joseph Campbell – certainly no Christian writer! – notes that any action with text (including underlining passages as we read) can be meditation. So also the Psalms.

Today it feels odd just to read the same Psalm every day at the opening of the Office (Psalm 95) but there are stories of Saints who had memorized the entire Psalter and could recite their daily Psalms without any help. St Benedict even required the daily Bible verses in the Office (other than the Psalms) to be short and easy to memorize. Everything was intended to come in little chunks easy to digest. These made them easy to pray as well. Yes: maybe today you are not “feeling” the need to say the text of a certain Psalm. But someone, somewhere, is. If one of us is in need we are all in need in the Body of Christ. We all pray together for each other. Later, though, as these texts work themselves into your memory, if you need the Psalm it will be there for you, leaping instantly to your mind becoming your own prayer.

As with the Psalms, so with the other parts of the Office – the Canticles, the Bible readings, and even the longer texts in the Office of Readings. These are not “just” things to read, but a great bulwark of mental prayer and strength for the daily battle for sanctity.

We must not let our mere literacy (a mere ability to read) deny us this great spiritual gift! We pray the Psalms over and over daily and as we begin to comprehend them, to fill our mind and heart with them, we become conformed to them. The text changes us. We incarnate the truth that the law of prayer is the law of our belief.

Offering the Day and Ourselves

It’s not just a tedium, but rather it become the leaven in our lives. If we see it as only an obligation or, worse, only yet another obligation, it cuts into our lives, into our “me time”. Well, it’s supposed to. You can read the entire day’s cycle in about 1 hour. It’s not much time for God, actually! And the more you do it the more it will be that quality “me time” you’re craving. It will grow to be the heart of your day – even spread out over little bits, here and there.

In these ways – the prayer of the church, meditating on scripture, conforming ourselves to the texts – the Daily Office becomes in us what it is intended to be in the Church: an ongoing Eucharist (thanksgiving) made of breaking open the hours and pouring out ourselves to God. We offer the day, hour by hour, to God the Father at the hands of Christ, reaching out through our prayers united in the Spirit. The Mass in our lives (daily or weekly) becomes the Mass of our lives.

They are our brothers

There is a two-year cycle of Patristic Readings for the Office of Readings. It is not yet in the Liturgy of the Hours, but you can use it in the Universalis app, for example. The post below is the Patristic reading from the Monday of the 16th Week in Year 1.

JMJ

From a discourse of St Augustine on Psalm 32

Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the church are our brothers We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father.

The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who do not believe in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and common fraud, and this against your brothers.

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognising our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realise that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.

To be Normal Again

JMJ

YOU ARE ALL Arresting love and I cannot turn away from your light. The closer I get the more all other loves are revealed to be either actually you or not worthy of my attention at all. And the light burns my eyes. Certainly the burning is only the darkness falling away, yes, I know. Certainly the healing is more like scabs falling off to reveal a healed human beneath. But there is, increasingly, moments of regret where it would be so much easier just to be normal again.

Normal for us, though, does not mean what you mean.

Your normal is perfection, your normal is love, your normal is light and eternity.

Our normal is twilight, and shrouds, and going to brunch on Sundays with friends instead of Mass. Our normal is workouts at the gym and worrying about taxes, shopping at Ingles and having beers on Friday night. Our normal wakes up to sex or a new partner or fighting over politics as easily as looking at art or watching the latest MCU with Popcorn for the price of feeding the poor a dozen lunches.

And we don’t really care.

Your normal calls us to be what we were always intended to be, our true selves, our seed grown to full maturity. Your normal calls us to be what our bodies long to be from within the very quarks that make the atoms of our DNA. We long to be your sons and daughters, the men and women you wanted from all eternity. Our normal calls us to follow our bliss by doing what we want. So instead of our longing, our ends, our proper work, we get roller coasters of fun, adrenaline, hormones, death.

Your normal actually is our bliss, what we are ordered to. Your normal reveals our ideas of normal to be disorder. And we refuse to see it – literally turn our eyes away by force because to see our true bliss to follow our true bliss which is only you is to drop everything and run towards your with all our hearts, all our loves, all our writing…

Yet everything else can be so fun.

And your normal cuts one off from everything, eventually: because pecan pies, burgers, sex clubs, cuddly kittens, hot days in the park, even friends, are all distractions from you. All these loves are either actually you or not worthy of our attention at all. And all our lives is sorting out where you are – and are not. And letting go of both because we need to get to YOU. The source of all love, of all light, of all joy, of all normal.

So we back away.

Because your normal is so high above what we have come to enjoy.

A craving for a bit of respite is revealed as sloth: a desire to hide, only for a moment, from your normal. To be able to pretend that here for now, you who are everywhere present and filling all things, all times, all eternity, are not here, not filling my eyes. I can only hide for a moment and be alone. Yet you are here too. And I cannot unsee that, I cannot unknow that. I can only be your normal now because anything else is not normal at all.

And all our normals fall away until only you are there. And we cannot run or hide. You seduce us – but we have to let ourselves, I must let myself be seduced. And having been so ravished, anything else is just harlotry.

The flesh pots of Egypt were savory.

Ravish me again.

An Integralism of Liberation

Wherein we discuss Aquinas, Ignatius, freedom, a real integralism, and truth.

JMJ

YOU MAY REMEMBER The parable of the foolish (rich) man, which came up in the readings recently in the US:

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
– Luke 12:15-120 AV

Your host has been studying up on Liberation Theology. Certainly, this is because of other reading: having just spent a year reading the Catechism, Church History, Fundamental Theology, and Philosophy, one’s brain tends to get fired up and a summer program was needed. Additionally, several events in the US and in the Levant have caused one to be triggered. Also, in the middle of Covidness there was a debate in Catholic Social Media around the question, Can one be a socialist and a Catholic? The great range of responses to this (each insisting they were the one, right answer) precipitated research. Then, finally, a new job which daily puts one in touch with those who are most rejected in our own city has sent this writer searching. For intercessors on this journey, Blessed Stanley Rother, the Servant of God Dorothy Day, and the Orthodox Saint Maria of Paris all presented themselves. There have been numerous podcasts as well: The Liberation Theology Podcast, Tradistae, and The Josias to name a few. Please note that these come from all across the political spectrum. I’m trying to figure it out.

All Catholic social teaching begins with the doctrine that God intended all of creation for all people. It promptly moves to the idea that if you’re not sharing – if you hoard things up in barns like in the parable – you’re on the wrong path. And you’re going to die anyway. If we stand up and say “everything is amazing I’m going to build new barns…” then we’re in the wrong place. It seems entirely damning to say the value (or increased value) of this physical thing is more important than the justice due others. As we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we may – at different times – find recourse to the laws of the land. Changing the systems (as needed) to fit our faith is Catholic Integralism – subjecting the state to the Church’s teaching on social and political matters. It matters not if that subjection is perceived as right, left, or centrist. Although often seen as a “right wing” op, Liberation Theology is also a species of Catholic Integralism, as the latter is properly understood. So how can we build a state around the ideas of liberation? How can we ensure the universal destination of goods and to what extent should the state be involved in that process?

We begin with the Church herself. On 6 August 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued an Instruction on Certain Aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation. Sent out of the signature of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, it’s a very clear rejection of some of the tools used by my sources. It carries the Church’s Magisterium’s full authority, so we are obligated to follow it as faithful Catholics. In that light, it is important to note that the first third of the document essentially affirms the orthodoxy of many (if not most) of the tenets of Liberation Theology citing Church councils, both ecumenical and regional, as well as previous magisterial documents. Peppered through the rest of the document are additional statements of strong support. The items rejected though, are the tools of Marxist and materialist analysis, and what the document rightly calls a “partisan conception of the truth.”

Here, from Chapter X:

1. The partisan conception of truth, which can be seen in the revolutionary ‘praxis’ of the class, corroborates this position. Theologians who do not share the theses of the “theology of liberation”, the hierarchy, and especially the Roman Magisterium are thus discredited in advance as belonging to the class of the oppressors. Their theology is a theology of class. Arguments and teachings thus do not have to be examined in themselves since they are only reflections of class interests. Thus, the instruction of others is decreed to be, in principle, false.
2. Here is where the global and all-embracing character of the theology of liberation appears. As a result, it must be criticized not just on the basis of this or that affirmation, but on the basis of its classist viewpoint, which it has adopted ‘a priori’, and which has come to function in it as a determining principle.

Your host believes this to be the core objection – even stronger than the rejection of Marxism, per se. The “partisan conception of truth” posits first (in the case of Latin America) that the poor are “good guys” and the rich are “bad guys”. Going further, it seems to say the rich can’t be saved as they are rich with an added implication that the poor are already holy exactly because they are poor. As the document notes, the arguments of the rich, as a class, are rejected because they are rich. Truth does not matter at all: rich people can’t speak the truth here.

As liberation theology moves outside of Latin America, a partisan idea of “poor” gets replaced by an even more partisan idea of “oppressed”. Anyone who self-classifies as “oppressed” becomes “good guys”. So, as the document points out, there are now divergent “theologies of liberation”, each one liberating a group of people from oppression at the expense of others who are classified as “oppressors” in a way they (the oppressors) cannot escape. Unlike poverty which can possibly be addressed by redistributive economies mere “oppression” needs to be defined in opposition to the “Oppressor”. The Oppressed may often have the same social position and power as the Oppressors. They may even be of the same economic class. For example: can a theology of liberation be applied to the “oppressed” middle-class women of American Suburbia? Are same-sex families which, statistically, tend to be of higher incomes and higher education (double income/no kids), have a theology of liberation, properly understood? Are they “poor” in the Church’s sense of a preferential option for the poor? In these cases, there seems to be a desire to “liberation” something without ever questioning if the liberation, itself, is moral. In fact, the question of “morality” is, for some, just more oppression, but that’s where we need to start.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Liberation theology is often seen as the province of Jesuits and every Jesuit is formed using the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius so we shall start there, with what is known as the First Principle and Foundation of the entire Ignatian tradition.

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.

A stroll around the net will reveal many ways in which this text has been paraphrased to mean any number of things in these post-Christian days, but at the root, it all begins here: Man is created to praise and serve God with the end goal of becoming a great saint. Anything that furthers that goal is to be embraced. Anything that hinders that goal is to be rejected. Here, then, is the first principle of liberation: the removal of all things in our life that prevent us from praising and serving God. Although many paraphrase Ignatius to say something to the contrary, it would be clear that sin cannot be tolerated here. Anything contrary to God’s revealed plan cannot be classified as “liberation theology”. Additionally, as we know, things contrary to God’s will become, in themselves, oppression – a way to avoid becoming a saint. Repeated sin becomes a mental habit of sin – an addiction. We are entrapped by our own actions.

(Thanks to Elle Ornido for pointing out this video.)

Many “theologies of liberation from oppression” start by saying “this thing we thought was a sin is not a sin” and add “language of sin is – itself – oppression.” These are not theologies, then, properly understood, since they begin with rejecting revealed truth. They are, then, ideologies. These ideologies rob the church of the language of salvation. In a religion based on “the world” truthful language describes reality. To use untrue language (“this is not a sin”) is to describe illusion, to lie. These ideologies only enslave us further to our sins. So, for example, sexual sin: there cannot be a theology of liberation that starts with the approval of disordered passions. To be truly liberating we must begin with Truth (that is, Jesus).

Conclusion: A Theology of Real Liberation

Let us return, then, to the Universal Destination of Goods and discuss what real liberation might mean.

Those who say the laws of the state must hinder us from sin are correct. But sin is not only a matter of sexual morality, divorce, and adult magazines and movies, etc. If our laws are not just, if they hinder the universal destination of goods, if they destroy the earth, they are equally immoral. They are equally damning to those who willingly participate in that system. Slavery, human trafficking, unjust housing policies, business practices that shift the pollution overseas, or the real cost of products onto the shoulders of underpaid labor are all equally damning. A political process that does not address all of these – and more – is not liberating. Further, unless the state liberates all peoples – the oppressed and the oppressor – it is not liberation at all. It’s not, therefore, integralism. It’s just another form of modern government. The laws which create usurious debt, which prevent just housing, which grant the rights of persons (divine icons) to fictitious entities like businesses and political organizations are all opposed to the Catholic Church’s anthropology and natural law. An integralist state must oppose these as firmly as it must oppose divorce, abortion, and other expressions of sexuality contrary to God’s law.

But first, the Church must make clear how all of these are liberation and how all of these negative are, themselves, real oppression as certainly as is economic oppression. The Church’s choice (and each Catholic’s in the Church) must be to become saints – to be saved. After that, each choice will be obvious for each person: a rich man may have different choices available than a poor child. A white person may have different options than a person of color. But there is no “preferential option for the [fill in the blank]”. There is only the preferential option for the poor. We must all become poor to enter the kingdom. But while there are systemic sins in our present structures, a real integralism must liberate both the “Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, the male and female;” it must liberate all as “one in Christ Jesus” or it will not liberate anyone. We must tear down all our barns and ensure that the laws of the integralist state ensure the universal destination of all the goods (physical and spiritual) of God’s creation.

The Church must make clear that our first question is not a paraphased version of Ignatius, but rather his exact text, how can we set up for each person “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul?” Once we have done that – and only when we have done that – will we be on our way to salvation.

Whose Side Are You On?

JMJ

YOU HAVE TO ADMIT THAT life seems to be polarizing right now: socially, politically, and religiously. Everyone needs to be on a side and you’d better be on the right side as well. Generally, of course, the right side is my side. We are seeing this in all areas: if you don’t agree with me, then you must not only be wrong but you must be filled with hate for me. Anyone so wrong must be hateful.

This is not only a secular issue, for we see it in other religions and in the Church. It’s something I’ve seen for most of my life in every religious tradition in which I’ve participated. People tend not to hold together, but rather spin apart. The more “religious” people get, the more fractious they get. It’s practically a joke among protestants. Well, two jokes actually. Both of those jokes could be told about political parties or social groups and, in some cases, friends or relationships. They run like this in the religious form:

When the man was found on the deserted island, his rescuers found he had built a house and two churches. They asked why. “Well,” he said. “That’s the church I go to. That’s the church I used to go to.”

Many people think the first [denomination name] was [founder name]. In fact the first [denomination]s are mentioned in Genesis. Abram said to Lot, “You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”

It’s a bit of a commonplace to note this about the Anglicans of my youth: lawsuits filed against departing parishes, bishops denied entry to their churches, parishes split over questions of morality and polity, etc. Even before the present moment, there were the liturgy wars and the prayerbook wars. Yet, even before that, there are other bodies which pealed away from the “Anglican mainstream” to become their own things: the Methodists and the Reformed Episcopal Church for two. In these latter days, the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Catholic Church also split away. Fleeing Anglicans and their divisiveness, I was certainly seeking stability, but I was too quick to believe the writings of some converts to Orthodoxy who said all these problems were solved in the Eastern Church. Everything was calm, cool, and kosher in the East as compared to everything in the West where things are falling apart and heretical.

This mythology was false: in the Eastern Churches, as in the West, the person next to you in the liturgy may not believe all the things the Church teaches, may be just as much a liberal, modern American as in Anglicanism. Short of the Parousia, this will always be so. God promised us the True Church, but not a pure church. No matter where you think the True Church is (and I believe her to be only in communion with the Roman Pontiff) you will always find some who are better or worse at being there. The root of the faith is always in your heart and that’s where you need to work on it. It is impossible to work on – or to judge – the faith in the heart of another person.

So, Rome.

The divisiveness of America is here too. There are those who view the movement from Pope John XXIII through Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, to Pope Francis as one of differing political regimes: some good, some bad. They view the popes of their lifetime through a lens of modern politics resulting in a hermeneutic of rupture: things change from one Pope to another. We sometimes get a Pope who does good things – and sometimes a Pope who does bad things. It is we who get to decide if the Pope is good or bad, based on our political and cultural feelings. What makes a Pope “good” is that he does things I like.

This attitude has increased in the current century to where it’s possible to create a personal ecclesial bubble: Catholics who agree (or disagree) in exactly the same way I do are “the Church” and those who disagree (or agree) in other ways are being divisive. So one must pick: is one a Pope Francis man or is one a Benedict XVI guy? Is one a trad or a modernist? Novus Ordo or TLM? Ad Orientem or Versus Populum? Are you on my side or are you wrong?

This all came to mind with the reporting of the recent meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the discussion of the teaching document on the Eucharist. The whole vote was around the question of should we draft a teaching document? Given that nearly 70% of people who say they are Catholic do not believe what the Church teaches on this topic, it seems we need more than just one teaching document. The media (both secular and some Catholic outlets of all flavors) made out that the document was to be about abortion and our Catholic president. However the document hasn’t even yet been drafted. Additionally, the USCCB has no power to tell bishops what to do or to deny (in itself) communion to anyone. So, stories about the non-existent document and the idea that it could be “enforced” are horribly distorted. The reactions to this non-existent document were like the reactions of children to monsters in the dark: silly, and would be cute except they keep the adults from getting a good night’s sleep.

And the whole thing drove us into further divisions.

Sed contra, there is a hermeneutic of continuity or, one might say, a hermeneutic of charity through which we can view the last 60 years as well, a way in which we might understand what the Church teaches about herself: the Holy Spirit guides the Church and she gets the men she needs to lead her in the way she should go. The Popes have all been on the same mission and are doing the same thing in communion with the Holy Spirit as the Vicar of Christ on earth: furthering the Kingdom of God.

A Hermeneutic of Charity claims that there is a spiritual unity in the Church, of Love in Christ. Thereby we may see the Holy Spirit guiding the mystical bride of Christ through the stormy weather of the world via the Magisterium and the faithfulness of the People of God. It’s seems very clear that this reality is contrary to the political opinions of many folks inside the church and outside the church, on social media and in traditional media. The narrative of good-versus-bad inside the Church means the Church is no longer who she says she is. She can thus be ignored as she does what I dislike. I need only follow Popes I like: everyone else is an infiltration of some outside evil. Please note that “everyone else” will change if my political alliances change. The pure Church is only where I say it is. I am now the Pope.

Love forbids this though.

The scriptures and the saints counsel us to believe sin, judgement, and hell can only be assumed in the first person: I am a sinner, under judgement, and will be condemned to Hell in God’s righteousness unless I am saved by his mercy. All others – especially strangers and enemies – should be viewed in love, should be blessed, should be welcomed as angels, and should be treated as living icons (the very presence of) God. That means they are not destroying the Church, but rather I who am in danger of departure. They are not heretics, but rather I whom am at risk of damnation (if not already under it). Anyone who is a them in this picture must be treated with more, not less, love.

Our Hermeneutic of Charity must go further, though, lest it become yet another ideology, another way to create an “us versus them” narrative in the Church.

To this point, here is one of the stories of the desert fathers:

There was a saint in Egypt who dwelt in a desert place. Far away from him there was a Manichean who was a priest (at least what they call a priest). Once, when this man was going to visit one of his confederates, night overtook him in the place where the orthodox saint was living. He was in great distress, fearing to go to him to sleep there, for he knew that he was known as a Manichean, and he was afraid he would not be received. However, finding himself compelled to do so, he knocked; and the old man opened the door to him, recognized him, received him joyfully, constrained him to pray, and after having given him refreshment, he made him sleep. Thinking this over during the night, the Manichean said, “How is it that he is without any suspicions about me? Truly, this man is of God.” And he threw himself at his feet, saying, “Henceforth, I am orthodox,” and he stayed with him.

Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward

Using the hermeneutic of charity even those not using that hermeneutic are assumed to be more-faithful followers of Christ than I am. It is impossible to love too much, if it is true love. It is impossible to be too hospitable if it is Christ we are welcoming.

So when we look at a “them” in the Church, the first question must not be “why are they on the wrong side?” but rather “Why am I on a side?” Even if it is a matter of morality and I can look at my own life and see that I am in keeping with the Church’s teaching, how can I judge someone? The very same measure I use to judge others is the one with which I will be judged. I know how imperfect a Catholic I am. It’s actually very easy to imagine you to be better at it than I.

It may be a bit late in our division to point this out. We are not at risk of destroying the Church: the Church can’t be destroyed. They can’t kill her – no matter who they are. Even we cannot kill her. She is the very body of Christ, the living and visible presence of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth: society, morals, politics, and culture are judged by her – not the other way around. If someone begins with a political assumption and then compares the Church to that assumption, they are living an ideology rather than a theology.