R v. Cupich

Prior to becoming a bishop, Blase Cupich served as rector of Canton, OH’s Pontifical Josephinum. Concern has been bruited in Traditional Catholic circles (e.g. this from Angelqueen, and also and this) over a particularly noxious wreckovation of the Josephinum’s chapel that dates to Cupich’s tenure and is therefore attributed to him. This is something worth talking about, because if it is true that the “naive and ignorant modernist ideologue[]” responsible for the wreckovation has just been appointed Archbishop of Chicago merits scrutiny, that would deepen the sense of alarm over Cupich’s appointment. (The quoted text is from this piece by Father Dwight Longenecker, who coyly avoids mentioning what strikes me as the most serious part of the saga, to wit, +Cupich’s involvement vel non.)

If it’s true. Alas, the facts are quite muddy. Cupich was appointed Rector of the Josephinum “in 1989.” But when exactly in 1989? It matters because we learn from this contemporary article that the wreckovation had “begun” (when?) by February 1989, at which time the Josephinum’s rector was still Monsignor Dennis Sheehan. It is quite difficult, then, to even speculate (let alone to say with confidence) just how much damage had already been done by the time that Cupich replaced the “naive and ignorant modernist ideologue[]” who presumably approved the plan, Msgr. Sheehan.

On the other hand, even if he was handed a fait accompli, Cupich failed to fix the damage in his remaining years at the Josephinum, a task that is significant enough that it is not yet complete, yet not so herculean that his successors have been unable to even think it. That is enough to make him an accomplice after the fact, even though it seems a lesser sin than that of Sheehan, seemingly the real villain of the piece. I should think that that would disqualify Cupich from any appointment more prestigious than dog-catcher, myself, but if we are going to fault Francis for appointing a man with such a track-record to Chicago, are we going to fault our beloved Pope-Emeritus, his holiness Benedict XVI, for appointing the same man with the same record to Spokane? Are we going to fault Pope John Paul II, for appointing the same man with the same record to Rapid City?

In any event, we need to be careful to get the facts straight, and the facts do not support the inference that Cupich is himself the principal in this crime.

The Eleventh Hour

Musicam novam præsento. This is an original song that was substantially written in about an hour on Armistice Day. It grew out of a search for a sound for another song that’s in the pipeline; that sound ended up being a Farfisa organ and a Solina string machine layered together and slathered in reverb, and these chords were irresistible. Inspiration is a rare and fleeting thing for me, and I found the chords and the sound evocative of not only an abstract feeling, but also (presumably because of the day) the particular foci and feelings that one associates with Armistice Day: War, death, horror, outrage. And so I ended up with not only some music, but also some doggerel. As it happens, I had been listening to U2’s Bad and Pink Floyd’s inspiring new album The Endless River, which, with their indifference to the usual restraints of songwriting formats, encouraged me to just leave well alone: Here are four chords, a feeling, and some words—go with it. (Subsequently, the words were beaten into shape with help from my wife.)

Let’s talk about tracking. I double-tracked a twelve-string acoustic and a Les Paul into a Vox; there’s also a single-tracked acoustic. I DI’d one track of Ibanez RG and then layered two copies of it using different sounds (both Alain Poulin plugins: LeXTAC, and HyBrit on the MCJ channel), panned left and right. 1 The solo is a Strat into the Molot compressor and an Ignite powertrain; the bass is a five-string P with a Phase 90 in the picked sections. (Gee… Where does that sound come from?) And there are obviously a lot of keyboard layers; the only one that I’ll mention specifically is Roberson Audio’s Prophet 5 clone Prophanity, which is a lot of fun and provides some Vangelis-esque curlicues.

Let’s talk about the mix. Going into post, I had just over a hundred tracks, which were winnowed down by consolidation, elimination, and comping to 62 tracks (including busses and returns). 2 I have two go-to mix EQs (VOS’ BootEQmkII and Sonimus’ SonEQ), and a handful of go-to mix compressors (Minimal Systems’ Punch, an 1176-style comp, VOS’ ThrillseekerLA, an LA 2A -style comp, and Modern Plugins’ Apophis as a mix buss compressor); they remained the workhorses here, but I also used, for the first time,  the Modern Plugins Deathcore (a silly name, but in essence a poor-man’s EL8) on the kick drum and bass guitar, and Sonimus’ Britson console emulation. Tape emulation came from Jeroen Breebaart’s Ferox on a few tracks and VOS’ Ferric on the rest; at this point, I have largely abandoned all delays other than the Classic Delay and VOS’ NastyDLA, which do everything that I want. N.b.: Britson, Airwalker, and Punch are the only commercial plugins involved here, and of those, only Britson is truly irreplaceable: While I love Airwalker and Punch, 3 neither does anything for which free substitutes aren’t available. (The Classic Reverb and Modern Seventh Sign will do the job.) 

A word about reverb. 4 I have taken a different tack with this piece; in all my recent efforts, I have used a single reverb send, with the idea in mind to place all the instruments in a common space. Here, though, I shook things up a little by using three different spaces, conceived as “close,” “mid-distance,” and “backdrop,” ending up with VOS’ EpicVerb on the “backdrop” send, Minimal Systems’ Airwalker on the “mid-distance” send,” and a different EpicVerb setting on the “close” send. (Up until the very last minute, the latter used an IR from a Lexicon 480L, but while I liked the sound, it just wasn’t gelling in the mix.) The notion is that in addition to placement across the stereo spectrum by panning, we want to be able to push sounds forward or backward spatially, which is something that I haven’t really played with before.

Final thought. There are a few issues that I notice and will fix if this piece gets used in an album project; the guitars ended up even lower in the mix than I had intended, and there are some ducking issues with the Farfisa/Solina layer, but overall I think this sounds pretty good and I’m happy with it. The vocals are somewhat pitchy and reedy, which is just a limit of my gifts, as I’ve discussed before, but I enjoy the guitar solo, I really love the “Homeland” altro melody, and I liked being able to use those voices as part of a soundscape that is evocative, I hope, of my feelings about that senseless slaughter. And I do also think that it adds some value to have a piece that is brutally-critical of the peculiarities of the Great War (“in rank and in file, and in mud and gas and in trenches they fell, to bayonets and barbed wire, and shrapnel and stupid generals, and artillery and shell”) while being free from the taint of a broader anti-war sentiment. 


  1. Cf. Mesa Engineering, Interview with John Petrucci, c. 1995, http://www.mesaboogie.com/US/Artists/Assets/interview.html (last visited 12/1/2014) (“[t]he last album we did, Awake, I used two tracks of the Rectifier, then two tracks of a Mark IIC … and then[,] live[,] I try to emulate that, not by using all the different amps, but just by different effects and stuff like that. At one point I was using four different amps through the Amp Switcher, two Tri’s a Mark IIC and a Rectifier … It was a cool sound, there was a definite cool combination of all these different things going on at the same time”).
  2. Tracks can multiply quickly; for example, the guitar solo was originally improvised whole, but I then learned it and tracked four more takes of it with differing articulations to preserve options going into the mix. So suddenly you have five tracks of nearly-identical lead guitar, which shrink to one mono stem for the mix. The distorted guitars sprawled over four tracks which were then panned and bounced to one stereo stem for the mix.
  3. I am less enthusiastic about Minimal Systems’ Stereo Buss Compressor, which I find a little too “pumpy.”
  4. Cf. Mike Senior, Use Reverb Like A Pro: Part 2, Sound-on-Sound Magazine, Aug. 2008, http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug08/articles/reverbpart2_0808.htm (last visited 12/1/2014).

The glorious dead

Poppy image

The Great War began a century ago this year; it finally ground to its ignoble end 96 years ago today, the guns falling silent at the  eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Upon its altar had been sacrificed, we are told, 9,911,000 soldiers; “the generals sat,” as Roger Waters would later observe, “and the lines on the map flew from side to side.” What was gained? What might those brave men (and, indeed, women, for one dares not count the civilian toll) have accomplished?

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis. Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a poppy; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.  In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, o Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, o Lord God most holy, o Lord most mighty, o holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death. Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, o God most mighty, o holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; in whom whosoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally; who also hath taught us, by his holy Apostle Saint Paul, not to be sorry, as men without hope, for them that sleep in him: We meekly beseech thee, o Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that, at the general Resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight; and receive that blessing, which thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world: Grant this, we beseech thee, 0 merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.

The Baptist Faith and Message, and Ephesians 5

Editor’s note: The premier benefit of working for a college is the opportunity to take classes. This semester, I am taking a theology class, and to the extent that my written submissions are deemed canonical and pertinent to Motu Proprio, excerpts will appear here under the TH200 tag after submission and grading. Formal errors both accidental and deliberate—such as the mandated use of “MLA style”—will be corrected, but in most cases the substance will be presented intact. On that note, this post represents something of a “director’s cut”: My first draft ran too long, and so a lot of material had to be first moved into footnotes and then cut entirely. Here, the essay is presented as originally-conceived.

This assignment arises from the 1999 Baptist General Convention of Texas’ rejection of a 1998 amendment to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message. But before we get into the details, there is an immediate problem: Some familiarity is presupposed with the Faith and Message, the Southern Baptist Convention, and their relationship to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It is therefore with those matters that we must begin. Continued reading >

Who is Jesus, and what did he do?

Jesus the Christ is God made man: He “is God, because He is the only Son of God, having the same Divine nature as His Father ,” and man “because He is the son of the Blessed Virgin Mary and has a body and soul like ours.” 1

In the very beginning, St. John tells us, there was the Logos—and the Logos was with God and was God. He was begotten, not made: The father brought forth “His interior word by communicating to Him His own being, His own substance, which passes over to the Word and places Him in full possession of the very nature that is proper to the Father.” 2 In the fullness of time, this same Logos was incarnate and dwelled among us. 3 He “was conceived and made man by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary”: While “retaining His Divine nature, [He] took to Himself a human nature, that is, a body and soul like ours.” 4 In this great dogma and mystery of our faith, naturally dubbed the incarnation, “the properties of each nature and substance were preserved in their totality, and came together to form one person. Humility was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt that we had incurred, an inviolable nature was united to a nature that can suffer.” 5 For this reason, Jesus is “[n]ot the supposed Son of God, but true; not adopted, but His own, because never was He alien from the Father because of the human nature which He assumed. … By nature Son to the mother according to humanity, however true Son to the Father in both natures.” 6

That an almighty God could do this is doubted by no one—when the dogma is doubted, the crux and source of that doubt always boils down to this: “But why would he?”

God had created mankind after his own image and likeness, 7 but man was destroyed by the fall, which left us “desperate and undone.” 8 “The devil jumped for joy when he seduced [Adam] and cast him down to death,” 9 for the enemy knew full well that by this victory, man—not just Adam but his progeny—“immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and … incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death … [and] captivity under [the devil’s] power….” 10 The result of what history and theology have given the “hard and bitter” 11 label original sin is that “[o]n account of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, come into the world deprived of sanctifying grace and inherit his punishment, as we would have inherited his gifts had he been obedient to God.” 12 “[W]e are not corrupted by acquired wickedness, but bring an innate corruption from the very womb” that is antecedent to any personal sin of our own but no less fatal. 13

This catastrophe was to the great dismay of God, who is love and loves us. He desperately wanted to reconcile us to Himself, to reclaim us from death’s dominion. 14 Yet having sinned and fallen from His glory, 15 we were entirely unable to redeem ourselves, for “it is out of all question for a sinner to make satisfaction for the least of all his sins. 16 What he offers as the ground of pardon needs itself to be pardoned.” 17 Here, then, is the problem, in the classic formulation of St. Anselm:

God does nothing by necessity, since he is not compelled or restrained in anything … [y]et we may say, although the whole work which God does for man is of grace, that it is necessary for God, on account of his unchangeable goodness, to complete the work which he has begun. But this cannot be effected, except the price paid to God for the sin of man be something greater than all the universe besides God. Moreover, it is necessary that he who can give God anything of his own which is more valuable than all things in the possession of God, must be greater than all else but God himself. Therefore none but God can make this satisfaction. But none but a man ought to do this, other wise man does not make the satisfaction. If it be necessary, therefore, as it appears, that the heavenly kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it. 18

So, what is needed is something impossible: A person both God and man. To do so, it was necessary that God must “clothe Himself with human nature”; it “is not sufficient that a human nature merely lay aside its natural imperfections and be endowed with a likeness of the divine nature. The nature must cease to possess itself, to be its own, to belong to itself.” 19 In the incarnation, one of the most inescapably-supernatural parts of Christian belief, 20 God did precisely this, supplying the Logos made flesh as this God-man. If Adam’s sin divided them, God resolved, He “would send His only son as Reedeemer.” 21

And having assumed the flesh, Jesus “surrendered it to death for all humanity, and offered it to the father. He presented it to the father as an act of pure love for humanity, so that by all dying in him the law concerning the corruption of humanity might be abolished….” 22 In the old testament cultus, “[t]he High Priest was an instrument of the Atonement ritual. Jesus Christ is both High Priest and victim offered as a sacrifice” 23; His atoning sacrifice is “the fulfillment of the old testament cultus.24 As the Epistle to the Hebrews explains:

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves [as in the old testament cultus,] but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption … so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. … [W]e have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … [Christ having] offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” 25

Thus, “[i]n the cross of Jesus, what the animal sacrifices” of the old testament cultus “had sought in vain to achieve actually occurred: atonement was made for the world. The ‘Lamb of God’ took upon himself the sins of the world and wiped them away. God’s relationship to the world, formerly distorted by sin, was now renewed. Reconciliation had been accomplished.” 26

And that is the “significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the Christian faith.” [Editor’s note: One of the sub-questions posed for this assignment.] To be sure, “[i]n the course of His public ministry Jesus Christ gave us an example of great virtue, preached the message of salvation, proved the truth of His message through miracles and prophecies, and established the Church with its sacrifice and sacraments for the salvation of men until the end of time.” 27 Of course He is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 28 But it is, paradoxically, his death that is the outstanding element of his life. “Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or woo, or help him to save himself; but to save him,” 29 says B.B. Warfield; says Horatius Bonar, “[t]he very essence of Christ’s deliverance is the substitution of Himself for us, His life for ours. He did not come to risk His life; He came to die!” 30 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,” writes St. Paul: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” 31 The gospel, the “good news of Christ Jesus,” reduced so a single sentence, is this: Although we had separated ourselves from God, He nevertheless so loved us that he sent to atone for our sin His only son, Jesus the Christ, of necessity true God and true man, who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice in order that by his wounds, those who confess and follow him may be restored to the company of heaven. 32 R.A. Torrey astutely observes that

[i]f it had not been for the love of God, the Father, looking down upon me in my lost condition, yes, anticipating my fall and ruin, and sending His only begotten Son to make full atonement for my sin, I should have been a lost man today. If it had not been for the love of the eternal Word of God, coming down into this world in obedience to the Father’s commandment and laying down His life as an atoning sacrifice for my sin on the cross of Calvary, I should have been a lost man today. 33

Amen. Me too.

In the fall, man “withdrew his allegiance to God, [and] was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation,” becoming “an exile from the kingdom of God.” 34 But in Jesus the Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” 35 We “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” 36 God’s work has been done; amen, amen, can we say that His Logos has not gone forth from His mouth only to return to Him void, but has accomplished that which He pleased, 37 “deliver[ing] us from the domain of darkness and transferr[ing] us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 38.

This assignment asked us to consider: “Who is Jesus? What were the outstanding elements of his life? Why was Jesus killed? And what is the significance of Jesus death and resurrection for the Christian faith?” The reflections above have answered all of these, but we might turn to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent declaration on Jesus for a pithy summation on which to close:

The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and he alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father. The Word, which was in the beginning with God is the same as he who became flesh. In Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form. He is the only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father, his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption… In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, on earth and in the heavens, making peace by the blood of his Cross. … As an innocent lamb he merited life for us by his blood which he freely shed. In him God reconciled us to himself and to one another, freeing us from the bondage of the devil and of sin, so that each one of us could say with the apostle: the Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me. 39




  1. The Baltimore Catechism, qq.79-81 (1885), available at http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism (last visited Oct. 29, 2014) (hereinafter “BC”).
  2. Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity 87 (Vollert, trns., 1946).
  3. Jn 1:14.
  4. BC 85-86.
  5. St. Leo the Great, quoted in Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader 267 (2d ed. 2001).
  6. Henry Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma 125 (Deferarri, trns. 1957) (emphases added). He is, therefore, true God and true Son of God, Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 127 (1954), having assumed not only a body but a rational soul, id., at 141, one person having two natures, one divine and one human, united hypostatically in one person, id., at 144, a human will “in harmony with and in free subordination to, the Divine will. Id., at 148.
  7. Gen 1:27.
  8. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 251 (Beveridge, trns., 1559), available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes (last visited Oct. 31, 2014); accord Catechism of the Council of Trent 37 (Donovan, trns. 1833) (noting “the ruin brought on man by his fall from that most happy state in which God had placed our first parents”).
  9. St. Augustine of Hippo, quoted in McGrath, supra note 5, at 338.
  10. Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent 22 (Waterworth, ed. 1848) (5th Sess., 1546); accord Calvin, supra note 7, at 214.
  11. Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity 123 (Heimann, trns. 1977).
  12. BC 57; accord Rom 5:12; Longer Catechism of St. Philaret, q.168 (1830) (“[b]ecause all have come of Adam since his infection by sin, and all sin themselves. As from an infected source there naturally flows an infected stream, so from a father infected with sin, and consequently mortal, there naturally proceeds a posterity infected like him with sin, and like him mortal”), available at http://www.pravoslavieto.com/docs/eng/Orthodox_Catechism_of_Philaret.htm (last visited Oct. 31, 2014).
  13. Calvin, at 214 (emphases added); see BC 63 et seq.; Rom 6:23.
  14. Cf. 2 Pet 3:9.
  15. Rom 3:23.
  16. Ott, supra note 6, at 178.
  17. 2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology 485 (1871), available at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology2.ii.html (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  18. St. Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo cc.5-6 (1098) (responses omitted), available at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/anselm-curdeus.asp (last visited Oct. 27, 2014).
  19. Scheeben, supra note 2, at 317.
  20. Cf. id..
  21. Premm, supra note 11, at 126-27; accord St. Athanasius, On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2805.htm (last visited Nov. 4, 2014) (“For whereas man sinned, and is fallen, and by his fall all things are in confusion: death prevailed from Adam to Moses, the earth was cursed, Hades was opened, Paradise shut, Heaven offended, man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised, while the devil was exulting against us—then God, in His loving-kindness, not willing man made in His own image to perish, said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’  But while all held their peace, the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’ And then it was that, saying ‘Go,’ He ‘delivered’ to Him man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. … He bore the indignation [of God] which [hitherto] lay upon us” (citations deleted)). It should be remarked that “This adds up to a staggering notion: The incomprehensibly-mighty creator of a universe that is incomprehensibly large resolved to die at the hands of His creations in order to repair our relationship with Him. What wondrous, incomprehensible love is this!” Simon J. Dodd, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pp.22-33, May 31, 2013, http://simondodd.org/docs/Simon%20Dodd,%20The%20Holy%20Sacrifice%20of%20the%20Mass%20-%20final.pdf (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  22. St. Athanasius, quoted in McGrath, supra note 5, at 331; accord Phil 2:8; cf. Novatian, Treatise concerning the Trinity, http://newadvent.org/fathers/0511.htm (“blood flowed forth from His hands and feet, and from His very side, so that He might be proved to be a sharer in our body by dying according to the laws of our dissolution”) (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  23. Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky, Jesus Christ, Our High Priest, July 11, 2004, http://oca.org/reflections/berzonsky/jesus-christ-our-high-priest (last visited Oct. 30, 2014).
  24. Dodd, supra note 21, p.23. This is not, of course, to deny that there were human, worldly reasons for the actions of those human actors through whose agency the crucifixion took place, but rather to stress their relative unimportance. Those who killed Jesus may have been motivated by political and religious fear, but while these impulses may have been a convenient mask behind which God hid his purpose, they were not the reason for the crucifixion. Cf. Acts 2:23; CCC ¶ 599. Surely it did not occur to the high priest, Caiphas, that he provided the prophetic bridge between these two realities when he said, both with eternal truth and transient venality, that “it is better … that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Jn 11:50.
  25. Heb 9:11-15, 10:10 et seq.; accord Catechism of Trent, supra note 8, at 109 (“The manner too, in which God, in the fullness of His paternal clemency resolved to cancel the sins of the world must powerfully move the faithful to contemplate the greatness of this blessing. It was His will that our offences should be expiated by the blood of His Only­begotten Son; that His Son should voluntarily assume the imputability of our sins, and suffer a most cruel death, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty. ¶ When, therefore, we reflect that we were not redeemed with corruptible things, as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled, we are naturally led to conclude that we could have received no gift more salutary than this power of forgiving sins, which proclaims the ineffable Providence of God and the excess of His love towards us.”).
  26. 2 Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth 230 (2011).
  27. BC 89c.
  28. Is 9:6; see also Catechism of Trent, supra note 8, at 41 (He “was the great Prophet and Teacher, from whom we have learned the will of God and by whom the world has been taught the knowledge of the heavenly Father”).
  29. B.B. Warfield, The Theology of John Calvin (1909), available at https://web.archive.org/web/20040225070911/http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwcalvin2.htm (last visited Nov. 4, 2011).
  30. Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Peace 60 (1870).
  31. 1 Cor 15:3 (emphasis added).
  32. Cf. Rom 5:8; Eph 2:5; 1 Jn 4:10; Jn 3:16; Lk 19:10; Is 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24.
  33. Torrey, The Personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit in 1 The Fundamentals 55, 59 (Dixon & Torrey, eds. 1917).
  34. Calvin, supra note 7, at 233.
  35. Eph 1:7.
  36. Eph 2:13.
  37. Is 55:11.
  38. Col 1:13-14.
  39. Decl. Dominus Iesus, no. 10 (CDF, 2000), available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2014) (internal quotation marks and parenthetical citations deleted).

Back to fundamentals

The undersigned, ministers and laymen of the Presbyterian Church, appeal to all our churches, ministers, church officers, and church courts to unite in action and defense of the fundamentals of our commuon faith.

In view of the deep unreset in the religious thought of the day, we believe pronounced and persistent emphasis should be placed on the integrity and authority of the Bible as the word of God, the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his vicarious atonement on the cross–the only way of salvation—and his resurrection.

We believe these doctrines should be preached from our pulpits, and that the sessions of our churches should insist that this be done.

We suggest, furthermore, when a church is seeking a minister to be its pastor that it shall not call any man save one who unreservedly and heartily accepts the great fundamentals herein enumerated and taught by our standards.

We have been led to express this belief and to offer these suggestions under the deep conviction that only on such a basis can the Church succeed in its mission, and the Gospel of Christ be propagated to his glory and according to his own will.

May we not urge you to unite with us in prayer that all our churches, ministers, and officers may feel the supreme importance of this appeal?

Signed by Rev. Maitland Alexander, Moderator of the General Assembly, and 80 leading ministers and 118 elders throughout the United States. The Presbyterian, April 21 1915


Further adventures in the foothills of sedevacantism

Elsewhere, it is objected: “Sitting in Rome does not make a man a pope. I am not changing my beliefs because some heretic wearing a costume declares that the faith handed down from the apostles is no longer valid and must be replaced by something new.”

The proposition that there is no validly-elected incumbent of the Bishopric of Rome defines and unifies sedevacantists, although they disagree among themselves on why and for how long it has been vacant, and what that vacancy portends. This low buy-in makes it attractive to discontented Catholics, and when popes say and do stupid things—especially popes elected in anomalous and dubious circumstances—it can’t help but chum the waters for sedevacantism, to which my general response might be summarized as “walk away from the light.” I doubt that my interlocutor in that conversation considered himself a sedevacantist, any more than did my interlocutor in the conversation that is reported in The Foothills of Sedevacantism, 1 but the upshot of the reasoning in both cases leads there.

When I have encountered sedevacantists of late, my response has typically proceeded in three parts that may be worth rehearsing here. 

The first part is to establish my “creds”: I yield to no one in my hostility toward Francis, I tell them, whom I regard as a stupid, dangerous, misguided, undisciplined, arrogant, gabby oaf, very possibly a heretic, a mediocre prelate from the worst place of the worst era, 2 plunged suddenly into a job in which he is in way over his head. Don’t like him; don’t trust him; have gone so far as to strip him of the courtesy-style “pope.” 3 I have dismissed him metaphorically as “the erstwhile Tom Marvolo Card. Riddle.” He is a bad pope. No one, and I do mean no one, can accuse me of defending the Catholic imperative of adherence to the Bishop of Rome on the basis that I just like Pope Francis and want to clear away opposition to him.

The second part is fundamentally a due-process argument. Some of you have heard me make this kind of argument before. I agree that “sitting in Rome does not make a man a pope.” What makes a man pope is that he be the duly-elected successor of St. Peter, chosen by the duly-appointed Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church insofar as that is currently the duly-assigned method by which the Church chooses her pope. Whether any of us like it or not, Francis is the duly-elected pope. The only basis for even calling that into question—let alone deciding that his election was void—is the extraordinary circumstance of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. If that act was invalid, and if we set aside concerns to be treated in a few moments, Francis would seem to be an unwitting antipope, and any allegiance to him might seem void insofar as he would not then be the duly-elected incumbent of the See of Rome. But no one has produced anything that demonstrates the invalidity of Benedict’s resignation. Speculation about death threats—a dime a dozen for such high-profile officials—will not do it. Nor will speculation on formal problems with his resignation. 4 Heartbroken bewilderment is understandable but insufficient.

The third part is a jurisdiction problem, and it’s here that sedevacantism really founders. The gravamen of this point is that we don’t get to sit in judgment of a pope’s orthodoxy and declare his election void if we are displeased. I agree with my interlocutor that any normal Catholic may listen and discern that a given statement is heresy. With apologies to Potter Stewart, we do know it when we hear it. 5 But that capacity does not empower or authorize us to divest a prelate of his office, any more than a trial jury’s capacity to find facts empowers it to pronounce a sentence, and it’s that lack of jurisdiction that holes sedevacantism below the waterline.

It may help to provide a concrete example to serve as a needle about which to turn this yarn. Pope Paul IV’s 1559 bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio provides that

if ever at any time it shall appear that any Bishop, even if he be acting as an Archbishop, Patriarch or Primate; or any Cardinal of the aforesaid Roman Church, or, as has already been mentioned, any legate, or even the Roman Pontiff, prior to his promotion or his elevation as Cardinal or Roman Pontiff, has deviated from the Catholic Faith or fallen into some heresy: the promotion or elevation … shall be null, void and worthless.

From this the sedevacantist reasons that a pope who has arguably lapsed into heresy (or, presumably, can be argued to have lapsed into heresy at any point in his life) is no longer pope ipso iure. What is defective in this argument is its assumption that such a provision must be self-executing . But there is a canonical presumption against self-execution, 6 and in a matter so delicate and precarious as the validity vel non of a man’s possession of the See of Rome, it seems to me that we should insist on a clear statement rule. Cum Ex Apostolatus does not meet this standard. If the Holy See wishes to plunge the Church into the chaos that would ensue from such a rule, “it must speak more clearly than it has,” making its intention unmistakably-clear in the language of the law. 7

To be sure, it’s possible that the sedevacantists are right that a heretical pope in fact loses his office, just as does a heretical bishop. But in the case of the heretical bishop, there is a competent forum superior to the bishop who has jurisdiction and may therefore authoritatively adjudge the question and depose the bishop. But in the case of a heretical pope, there is, in his lifetime, no competent forum superior to him who can authoritatively judge the question and depose him. 8 A subsequent pope could do so; Pope Pius XIII, after his election, might turn around and say that Francis I was an antipope, that he invalidated his office as of such and such a date, and that all his acts are therefore void. But we may not. We don’t have the authority. (Nor does a council, by the way, for if a council could depose a pope, the implication would be that a council is a hierarchically-superior forum to the pope, which is the heresy of conciliarism into which the Council of Basel lapsed in 1439.)

The bottom line is that it isn’t even vaguely clear that Francis, odious though he may be, is an antipope, and even if it was, we don’t have the authority to make that call. Do not let yourself be driven into error by horror at the sight of a pope leading others into error! Do not flee the storm into the fire!


  1. 4 MPA __ (2014), http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1311
  2. For useful commentary on these points, see Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, Pondering Francis, Fr. Z’s Blog (olim WDTPRS), Sept. 27, 2014, http://wdtprs.com/blog/2014/09/pondering-francis (last visited Sept. 29, 2014); Rev. Christopher Smith, Mutual Enrichment and the Coexistence of Varying Models of Liturgy in the Church, The Chant Cafe, Sept. 25, 2014, http://www.chantcafe.com/2014/09/mutual-enrichment-and-coexistence-of.html (last visited Sept. 29, 2014).
  3. Simon Dodd, Terminology note: Pope, 4 MPA __, http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1272.
  4. For example, a text circulating on Facebook and elsewhere (e.g. http://www.suscipedomine.com/forum/index.php?topic=4700.0 (last visited Sept. 27, 2014)), attributed to”J. Alberto Villasana,” argues that there is a deliberate syntax error in Benedict’s resignation which invalidates the resignation:

    “At the core of the resignation it reads: ‘Declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare’ (‘I declare to resign the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter, which has been entrusted to me by the hands of the cardinals on April 19, 2005.’) This sentence is totally unintelligible, containing a grammatical error, as ‘commissum’, which depends on ‘ministerio’, is the object of the verb ‘renuntiare’, so it should be in dative, according to it—that is, it should say ‘commisso’.

    “Now, in canon law, all legal writing containing a fault of Latin is null. Already Pope St. Gregory VII (cf. Registrum 1.33) declared null a privilege accorded to a monastery by his predecessor Alexander II, ‘due to corruption in the Latin’.”

    I would like to see a reliable authority for the asserted canonical principle that “all legal writing containing a fault of Latin is null”—a principle central to the argument—that predates and is independent of Benedict’s resignation. But even with that principle granted, it’s an awfully thin reed on which to rest so weighty a question. If Pope Pius XIII declares that Benedict’s resignation was void for that reason, I’ll be the very first to buy that argument as a rationale, but I’m chary to today buy it as an argument, for the obvious reason that sedevacantism (or sede-wasn’t-vacant-ism) and schism are too weighty a pair of matters to get into without the most clear and convincing evidence.

  5. Cf. Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964) (Stewart, J., concurring).
  6. See Simon Dodd, “That is what you call a bishop who’s not afraid to bishop,” 4 MPA __, __ n.2 (2014), available at http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1385
  7. McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 360 (1987); cf. Atascadero State Hospital v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 242 (1985).
  8. See 1917 CIC 1556 (“Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur”); 1983 CIC 1404 (same); cf. Encyc. Magnae nobis, no. 9 (Benedict XIV, 1748) (“The Roman Pontiff is above canon law, but any bishop is inferior to that law and consequently cannot modify it”). It’s vitalto cite the Pio-Benedictine Code in discussions with sedevacantists because on their premises, the 1983 code was not validly-promulgated.

Religion and wellness

Editor’s note: The premier benefit of working for a college is the opportunity to take classes. This semester, I am taking a theology class, and to the extent that my written submissions are deemed canonical and pertinent to Motu Proprio, excerpts will appear here under the TH200 tag after submission and grading. Formal errors both accidental and deliberate—such as the mandated use of “MLA style”—will be corrected, but the substance will be presented intact.

Religion, we are told, promotes good health. Frank Newport’s God is Alive and Well argues that carefully-controlled professionally-performed polls demonstrate that “very religious” people are happier and more healthful than non-religious people. In response, we are asked to consider this notion and whether it “seem[s] convincing … that religious faith would contribute to a person’s overall wellbeing,” including their psychological and emotional health. I will suggest that there are several reasons to be skeptical of the proposition in the abstract, and of Newport’s thesis in particular.

We will first consider the question at a more abstract level, and then circle back to Newport.


One can certainly propose a nexus between health and religion. Many of the commandments of the Law turn out to be remarkably prescient where health is concerned, especially health in extreme conditions. Provisions such as Leviticus 15:4-12 anticipate modern virology and bacteriology by millennia and helped keep the Israelites alive, especially in the long march through Sinai. 1 In support of the proposition that a Christian ought to seek physical health, one could cite St. Paul’s admonition that “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…. For you were purchased at great price. Therefore glorify and bear God in your bodies.” 2 The supplied Living Healthier video observes that substance abuse instigates or exacerbates many health difficulties 3; religion can be a major spur to heal addiction, 4 and, indeed, to avoid addiction-forming behaviors in the first place. 5 There are plenty of scriptural scraps from which to make a collage.

But it doesn’t follow that because these things could prompt good health that they will produce healthy believers. They may be unknown, ignored, or interpreted in ways that deprive them of practical existence. For example, one could read the verse from 1st Corinthians to enjoin tattoos (graffiti on the temple wall, it might seem), and yet many Christians happily conform themselves to the spirit of the current age by getting tattoos, 6 presumably having read that passage as posing no obstacle. And while virtue can be a spur to physical health, so too may vice: Sin, whether directly (vanity) or indirectly (lust) may produce the same result.

Let us turn briefly to psychological health. Our Savior bade the apostles peace: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” 7 At every Mass, this same peace is proclaimed to us through the successors of the apostles and their assistants, the priests: “Pax domini sit semper vobiscum.” And yet, that which Watchman Nee called the “ordinary christian life” is hardly one of peace; to the contrary, the Christian is at war with the world and with himself. 

He is at war with the world because the Enemy is enthroned as the prince of this world. 8 Our purpose, as I have suggested before, is to conduct a rescue mission; we are not commanded simply to announce the gospel, but to disciple the world, that is, to proselytize the world. 9 We are marines sent to free the hostages taken by the Enemy: “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death.” 10 Christians are “born for combat,” 11 and John Henry Newman captured the smoke of battle nicely when he preached:

“Oh, what a dreadful state, to have our desires one way, and our knowledge and conscience another; to have our life, our breath and food, upon the earth, and our eyes upon Him who died once and now liveth; to look upon Him who once was pierced, yet not to rise with Him and live with Him; to feel that a holy life is our only happiness, yet to have no heart to pursue it; to be certain that the wages of sin is death, yet to practise sin; to confess that the Angels alone are perfectly happy, for they do God’s will perfectly, yet to prepare ourselves for nothing else but the company of devils; to acknowledge that Christ is our only hope, yet deliberately to let that hope go! O miserable state! miserable they, if any there are who now hear me, who are thus circumstanced!” 12

So-called “battle fatigue” is bound to set in at some point, and when we are not in fight, then at least flight, for the same enemy “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking souls to devour.” 13

More importantly, the Christian is at war with himself. In the beginning, all that God created was good, but the Fall corrupted man; there is no good within us, and even for the Christian, everything that is good within us is Christ acting in us. 14 Like St. Paul, we must constantly struggle to resist what the technical vocabulary of Catholic theology has called “concupicense,” and Father Robert Barron has helpfully suggested that we might instead call our addiction to sin. To be saved from death is not, alas, to be saved from a life in which our hearts are unruly, fainthearted, and weak. 15

The tension between the peace promised by Christ and the struggle prompted by it is nettlesome. One resolution might be to suggest that what was meant was the notion that through Jesus we make our peace with God; we may obtain peace in the hereafter, even though it brings war in this world. 16 But there are serious difficulties with that interpretation, and, happily, we need not resolve them here. Rather, I raise the point merely to suggest that the tension’s existence and lack of obvious resolution must, surely, impose emotional and psychological stresses on the believer from which the unbeliever is entirely free.

Finally, we should not leave this section without remarking on the question’s presupposition of our immediate context in time and space. Perhaps the martyrs went to the grave in unshakeable psychological serenity, but Christianity was certainly not good for their physical wellbeing. To confess Christ in the first and second centuries was to risk not merely whipping and execution, but unspeakable tortures—crucifixion, drowning, burning, dismemberment, application of red-hot metal plates, breaking of teeth, being gradually submerged in boiling oil or pitch, or being placed in nets before enraged animals, for example. 17 These horrors were so ghastly that even some of those tasked with carrying them out were converted by the willingness of their victims to suffer for their faith, whence we say that the blood of martyrs becomes the seeds of the Church. 18 And, alas, the age of martyrs is not over. To say nothing of regimes such as China, North Korea and Iran, it will suffice to note that in the last few months alone, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has visited a terror on Christians that would make a Roman emperor blush:

[M]ilitants have been ‘systematically beheading’ Christian children in Mosul. According to the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, ISIS terrorists cut a five-year-old boy in half, and another witness said ISIS tore a woman in two after tying her to two vehicles. Other reports say ISIS has buried women and children alive….” 19

In sum, it seems quite precarious and context-specific to make a claim for religion’s health benefits, at least in the abstract. With these things in mind, let us now turn back to Newport’s specific claims.


Newport argues that very-religious Americans are healthier than their non-religious counterparts, and that they tend to exhibit more of the behaviors that lead to (or are at least consistent with) good health. 20 He and his colleagues conducted a study of 676,000 participants. Participants scored their health in several categories, and were divided by the researchers into three religious categories: “Very religious” people, who reported attending Church “at least every week or almost every week” and who said religion is an important part of their daily lives, “non-religious” people, who seldom attend services and who said religion is not an important part of their daily lives, and “moderately religious” people, i.e. everyone else. 21

I confess a sense of overwhelming doubt about these classifications, but I will stipulate them for present purposes, because that is not the principal problem with Newport’s thesis. What he wants readers to focus on is the headline difference between the very- and the non-religious. “The average score on the wellbeing index for Americans who are very religious … [and] those who are non-religious” has a “3.9-point difference, which is highly statistically-significant.” 22 The very-religious are also less likely to have been diagnosed with depression or to be worried or to experience stress than those who are non-religious. 23

But Newport is playing Three-card Monte with us: The numbers on which he invites the reader to focus are correct, but his thesis would be derailed by what he doesn’t encourage readers to notice. If religion correlates positively to health, we would expect its correlation to be linear. Newport makes precisely this claim, saying that “highly-religious Americans have higher wellbeing and are healthier than those who are less religious.” 24 According to this thesis, lots of religion is great, and no religion is bad; it must follow that more religion should be better, and less should be worse. That is not, however, what the data show. In virtually every example that Newport provides, it is the moderately-religious who are the worst-off. While the very-religious American has 3.9 points on the non-religious American in the wellbeing index, she has 5.5 points on the moderately-religious American. 25 The very-religious have the lowest incidence of depression at 15.1%, which is much lower than the non-religious at 17.4—but the moderately-religious come in dead last at 20.5%. 26 Of the six sub-indices of general wellbeing, the very-religious lead the pack, but the non-religious leads the moderately-religious in four, and ties for a fifth. 27 Of the sub-indices for the experience of negative emotions, the very religious does best, but the non-religious person is doing better than the moderately-religious in four out of four. 28 That result that is incomprehensible to Newport’s thesis, which, as I have said, necessarily implies a linearity that is defeated by his own data.

Newport insists that the data has been controlled for other factors, 29 but the lack of linearity makes his thesis untenable. I would hesitate to guess what is actually driving the numbers; my suspicion is that Newport is right that “something about being religious, or becoming more religious, helps people have higher wellbeing,” 30 and that that something may well be “active participation in a religious community provides individuals with friends, fellow-worshippers, social networks, and social support.” 31 Nevertheless, when the only tool one has is a ruler, there is a temptation to treat every problem as if it were a straight line, and it may well be that the real fire under the kettle eludes quantitative study. 32

* * *

Newport says that “[t]he conclusion that religion is related to wellbeing gains more support the more scientists look into it. Positive relationships between religiosity and subjective wellbeing and health have been very well-documented.” 33 To the contrary, it would seem that his own figures debunk the correlation.


  1. See, e.g., Lorna Daniels Nichols, Big Picture of the Bible: New Testament 147 (2009); cf. Frank Newport, God is Alive and Well 63-64 (2012).
  2. 1 Cor 6:19-20.
  3. Living Healthier. http://searchcenter.intelecomonline.net/playClipDirect.aspx?id=CA0143672862737384C4E8116F34B9ECDF61B966E86EA249227E5F8C80973CF900A0D58392AB1B3DB0F3CEB05491D8BD. [Editor's note: The assignment's rubric directed that we incorporate at least one reference to this video.]
  4. See, e.g., Religiosity and Addiction Rehab, AlcoholRehab.com, Sept. 26, 2012, http://alcoholrehab.com/addiction-recovery/religiosity-and-addiction-rehab (last visited Oct. 11, 2014).
  5. See Newport, supra note 1, at 55, 61, 65.
  6. Cf. Robin Schumacher, Is Getting a Tattoo a Sin?, The Christian Post, Oct. 21, 2012, http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/is-getting-a-tattoo-a-sin-12619.
  7. Jn 14:27.
  8. See How is Satan ‘god of this world’?” GotQuestions.org, http://www.gotquestions.org/Satan-god-world.html.
  9. See Simon Dodd, Evangelization is a rescue mission, 2 MPA 138 (2012); Encyc. Rerum novarum, no. 21, __ Acta Sanctæ Sedis __, __ (Leo XIII, 1891).
  10. James 5:19; cf. Col 1:11-13.
  11. Encyc. Sapientiae Christianae, no. 14, __ Acta Sanctæ Sedis __, __ (Leo XIII, 1890).
  12. John Henry Newman, Sermon 13: Love of religion, a new nature, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume7/sermon13.html; contra Newport, at 62.
  13. 1 Pet 5:8.
  14. See Rom 7:18; Gal 2:20.
  15. 1 Thess 5:14.
  16. Cf. Mt 10:35; Lk 12:53.
  17. Philip Moxom, From Jerusalem to Nicea: The Church in the First Three Centuries 192-93, 195-96, 198, 204 (1895). Ridley Scott’s movie Gladiator would have us remember Marcus Aurelius as a good emperor, but he persecuted the Church of God as though he were the Enemy incarnate. See, e.g., Albert Newman, Manual of Church History 156 ff (1899).
  18. Id., at 188, 199. Two recent movies, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness have scenes that offer interesting reflections on the limits of violence as a tool capable of moving a person, and so also with the early persecutions: “At last … the fire of persecution burned itself out. The brute force and raging fanaticism [of the pagan authorities] … could accomplish nothing against the silent endurance of the Christians.” Id., at 214-15.
  19. Anti-jihad ads coming to N.Y. buses: ‘It’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism’, Examiner.com. Sept. 21, 2014, http://www.examiner.com/article/anti-jihad-ads-coming-to-n-y-buses-it-s-not-islamophobia-it-s-islamorealism.
  20. Newport, supra note 1, at 47.
  21. Id., at 49-50.
  22. Id., at 50-51.
  23. Id., at 52-53.
  24. Id., at 57.
  25. Id., at 50-51.
  26. Id., at 52.
  27. Id., at 51.
  28. Id., at 53
  29. See id., at 51, 56.
  30. Id., at 60 (emphasis added).
  31. Id., at 62.
  32. The rise and fall of Empirical Legal Studies demonstrate the use and limits of data-driven analyses: It was useful for phenomena that can be studied through numbers, but the temptation was always to manipulate and improperly-reduce any phenomenon one wished to study such that it was bent into a shape that could be so-studied. See, e.g., Lori Ringhand, Judicial Activism: An Empirical Examination of Voting Behavior on the Rehnquist Natural Court, 24 Const. Comment. 43 (2007).
  33. Newport, at 54.

Who’s afraid of Fundamentalism?

Elsewhere, Raymond Cardinal Burke is faulted for representing the “fundamentalist” wing of the Catholic Church, a wing to which, by implication, I was also supposed to belong. We have been conditioned to fear the “fundamentalist” boogeyman; its mere invocation is supposed to be a thought-terminating cliche, for no one, surely, would risk being associated with so benighted a notion. 1 But let us take the charge seriously and meet it head-on.

The media has transformed the word “fundamentalism” into a synonym for “religious extremism,” but it originally had (and here in “flyover country” retains) real content. A.C. Dixon’s The Fundamentals, 2 the book whence the movement that would first be called Fundamentalists and later Evangelicals took its name, could be characterized as having an almost tridentine character: It sought to synthesize a pan-protestant orthodoxy in the face of various theological challenges, especially “liberal protestantism” and the historical-critical methodology that fueled it, Mormonism, a resurgent “Romanism,” and so on. It sought to do this by clarifying those core or “fundamental” beliefs that are believed by all Christians, and placing the emphasis on these rather than on the minutiae that might divide them. Confessedly, that may be (and often was) inverted into a proposition that sounds divisive in the abstract: “All Christians must believe these things.” But let us briefly take one concrete example to dispel our fears: The virgin birth. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the greatest of the liberal baptist preachers, said that it

is one point of view that the virgin birth is to be accepted as historical fact; it actually happened; there was no other way for a personality like the Master to come into this world except by a special biological miracle. That is one point of view, and many are the gracious and beautiful souls who hold it. But side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact. 3  

Against this, Fundamentalism insisted that Christians must believe the former. But so, too, does the Catholic Church; that Jesus was born of Mary ever-virgin was the common confession of orthodoxy time out of mind, 4 and it is de fide dogma. 5 On that point, Fundamentalism stood for orthodoxy against heresy. This is the boogeyman?

In its content, then, Fundamentalism is a conservative (or, arguably, reactionary) flavor of protestantism that asserts the truth of the reformed faith against various theological innovations and errors that were introduced in the 19th Century. While there is a great deal of truth and enduring  value in The Fundamentals and its progeny, when we take it as a whole and focus on its content, the notion of a “Catholic Fundamentalism” would be a contradiction in terms.

But in its attitude and concerns, or even what we could sum up as its “mood,” 6 there is perhaps something more general, which can be seen if we slightly boost the level of generality. Fundamentalism saw that the antecedent faith of the protestant churches was under attack from a modernist and liberal ideology that was mounting a hostile takeover of its parishes and precincts, converting them to a corrupted and ersatz faith that was antithetical to that antecedent faith. It sought to man the barricades (in which sense it is militant in its attitude), to reaffirm the traditional beliefs that the reformers were attacking (in which sense it is orthodox in its belief), to defend and preserve what is left of the antediluvian Church (in which sense it is conservative), and to reclaim lost ground (in which sense it is reactionary).

In this context, because much of this sounds familiar, we might be able to speak meaningfully of a “Catholic fundamentalism.” Some of the same forces that besieged protestantism in the early Twentieth Century later besieged the Catholic Church, and similarly mounted a hostile takeover of the Roman Rite after the Second Vatican Council. The character and texture of the attack looks somewhat different because of the structural differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, but the same dynamic is at play. Many different groups in the Church have realized this, and have likewise sought (with varying emphases) to man the barricades, to reaffirm the traditional beliefs, to defend and preserve what is left of the antediluvian Church, and to reclaim lost ground. Maybe there are some cross-connections here.

The difficulty, however, is that the various groups of Catholics opposed to the modernist project have little in common with and little patience for one another (there is little understanding and no love between EWTN and the Remnant, for example), which makes it a little artificial to apply any kind of group label to them. “Orthodox Catholics” is about the best one can do. And “fundamentalism” would seem a particularly-inapt candidate to replace that label, because Fundamentalism, ex vi termini, is characterized not by that which it has in common with orthodox Catholics (i.e. its opponents), but by the peculiar character of its response. The fundamentalists met their opponents by figuring out a way to bridge the differences among orthodox protestants (if you will) with what they had in common. We can’t even agree on a common vocabulary! 7 

The unforgivable sin of Fundamentalism, by which it stood convicted before the sophisticated world, was that it proposed to take religion seriously qua religion. It insisted that scripture really was scripture, not just literature; it insisted that faith really was faith, not just a social program; above all, it refused to belittle our ancestors, their faith, their salvation, and their scripture. 8 While there was much that was wrong about it, there is more that is admirable in it than the world wants us to suspect. We should not, therefore, shrink for fear of the very word. But with the considerations discussed above in mind, the notion of a “Catholic fundamentalism,” while appealing, seems misplaced.


  1. Cf. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Values in a Time of Upheaval 11 (McNeil, trns., 2006):

    Politicians of all parties take it for granted today that they must promise changes …, far-reaching reforms are demanded and promised all the more insistently. … The world is experienced as hard to bear. It must become better. And it seems that the task of politics is to bring this about. So since the general consensus is that the essential task of politics is to improve the world, indeed to usher in a new world, it is easy to understand why the word “conservative” has become disreputable and why scarcely anyone views lightly the prospect of being called conservative, for it appears that what we must do is not perserve the status quo but overcome it.

  2. Conveniently online at http://web.archive.org/web/20030101082327/http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6528/fundcont.htm, but reprints are available and Amazon has a Kindle edition.
  3. Shall the Fundamentalists Win? http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5070 (last visited Oct. 2, 2014).
  4. Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma  13, 20, 91, 113, 144, 201-2, 214, 255-56, 282, 290, 344, 429, 462, 708, 735, 993, 1472 (Deferarri, trns. 1957).
  5. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma 203-05 (1954).
  6. Thomas O’Meara, Fundamentalism: A Catholic Perspective 5 (1990).
  7. Cf. Simon Dodd, Conservatives, traditionalists, and Traditional Catholics, 4 MPA __ (2014), available at simondodd.org/blog/?p=1356.
  8. Compare J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God 48 (1958) (“The Spirit has been active in the Church from the first, doing the work He was sent to do—guiding God’s people into an understanding of revealed truth. The history of the Church’s labor to understand the Bible forms a commentary on the Bible which we cannot despise or ignore without dishonoring the Holy Ghost. To treat the principle of biblical authority as a prohibition against reading and learning from the book of Church history is not an evangelical, but an Anabaptist mistake…. Tradition may not be so lightly dismissed”) with G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy 85 (1909) (“Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”).

Just to be “on the record”:

Because Motu Proprio is not written with an assumption of realtime consumption, it has not seemed necessary to write anything like this piece from Chris Ferrara, which I join in forma specifica: http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/1078-the-rise-of-bergoglianism.