And the Roots of Priestly Fidelity
(Note: The following includes some repetition of basic ontological principles discussed in Article 1, The War against Being. This seems necessary considering the nature and importance of the subject.)
Many things have been proposed in recent years as solutions to the crisis in the priesthood: strict requirements concerning orthodoxy and obedience to Church teachings and discipline; immediate cleansing of the priesthood and seminaries of all those with homosexual “orientation”; a greater demand for spiritual formation and life of prayer; strict systems of accountability for bishops, heads of seminaries and religious orders; zero-tolerance, etc. Many of these things are certainly good, and integral to any true reform; but do they reach to the roots of the problem? Almost any honest historical analysis of Catholic life and practice over the past several hundred years reveals a picture of increasing and even accelerating adaptation of Catholic beliefs and practices to the secular world in all its various aspects and institutions: economics, politics, education, recreation. It is as though some incredibly virulent yeast had entered into the very heart of Catholic faith and life which has, slowly at first, but with accelerating vehemence and corrosive capabilities, finally erupted into the raging epidemic we now have with us.
The first question I think we need to ask is: how can any of these people – priests who prey upon young men or boys; bishops who have culpably obscured and even fostered this evil by transferring such priests; religious and superiors of religious who have done the same: the various educational establishments and media which have fostered this agenda; seminarians who proudly claim the “orientation” of being- homosexual; even Vatican officials who may have conveniently turned their back or actively covered over this evil – indeed, how can any of these people claim to love God? It is simply and wholly impossible; and so we may say that beneath all these other causes and solutions we encounter a terrible twisting and perversion of what true love of God is all about.
Yet even with this statement we should realize that we have not quite penetrated to the depths of this betrayal. We speak of “true” love simply because there are also many false loves. Love is an act of the will; and, as St. Thomas teaches us, the will tends towards that which is grasped or known by the intellect as good (Summa Ia,82). Therefore if the intellect is skewed in those principles of philosophy and metaphysics which are fundamental to a true perception of reality then it becomes increasingly difficult for the will to function in an orderly and virtuous manner, or to love God Who is Truth and requires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. It is my profound conviction that this is precisely what has happened over approximately the past 500 years.
If we survey almost 2,000 years of Catholic faith we can, quite literally and at different times, find every single truth of the faith being ridiculed and heretically denied. The same is, of course, true today. In fact we might accurately say that at this moment of history all the truths of Christ are under attack as at no time before. However, something happened approximately 500 years ago which I believe is uniquely and demonically dreadful in the history of western philosophical, metaphysical, and religious speculation: men, in ever increasing numbers, began to deny the very notion of substantial being itself. This denial of being is, of course, nothing new. It exists in omnipresent form in eastern religions, and it enjoyed success among some of the Greeks. It has thrived wherever Satan achieves his greatest triumphs, for there is certainly no greater evil than to deny not only the very Being of God but that also of man. Within such a Black Hole lies all heresy and all abomination – this only logical, for all evil is, in itself, non-being. This thing, as I have said, was not new to the world; but it was new – and totally antithetical – to Christian thinking and spirituality. And yet, as we shall see, it was given admission.
I further believe that the great sign of contradiction to this false metaphysics is the Catholic dogma of Transubstantiation; and that it is around this dogma that all the forces of Heaven and Hell are now arrayed in battle –a kind of intellectual Armageddon. A discussion of this doctrine and its implications would therefore seem indispensable to our gaining an understanding of what has gone wrong in the whole intellectual world, and consequently in the moral order. Further, we are not just here talking of the intellectual life of seminaries, but of false ideas, concepts, ambiences and attitudes which have penetrated to the very core of our cultures, and therefore to the very beginnings of the educational process.
Let us first be clear as to the absolute necessity of belief in Transubstantiation. The Council of Trent (Session XIII, can 11) declares the following:
“If anyone saith that, in the sacred and holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation; let him be anathema.”
I am convinced that it has become quite common even among priests who consider themselves orthodox to believe that one does not have to embrace the Church’s teaching on Transubstantiation in order to believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. Such persons, reared in the ambience and under the all-encompassing umbrella of secular science, cannot interiorly reconcile the findings of analytical science (physics, chemistry, etc.) with the Church’s dogma. Simply stated, they find no rational evidence for the existence of “substance” as distinct from “accidents” (“species” in the words of Trent), but rather conclude that all reality and knowledge of realities is reducible to the effects of atomic or subatomic particles and energies upon the senses and ultimately upon the brain. This rebellion of science against the Church is nothing new. Recent research has unearthed a document in the Vatican Galileo archives which clearly reveals Galileo’s own rejection of this dogma and his belief in just this sort of “atomism.” As I said above, this battle has been lining up for the past 500 years.
We must therefore be quite clear as to the absolute necessity for a Catholic to believe not only in the Real Presence but also in the doctrine of Transubstantiation in order to be a Catholic. It is common for those who wish to deny this necessity to focus on the word “aptly” in the above canon, and to claim that although the philosophical explanation expressed by the word “transubstantiation” may be apt, it is not necessary and not integral to the dogma of the Real Presence itself. This argument, however, is a very poor subterfuge. It is obvious from the definition that the philosophical concepts of substance and species (accidents) are absolutely essential and integral to the definition, and that there can be no Catholic belief in the Real Presence without the reality to which these concepts and their distinction actually refer. The “aptness” in fact refers to the word “transubstantiation.” There is, of course, no better word since it quite literally means what the definition says. Pope Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei is emphatic in teaching that the word should always remain. We could theoretically call it any name in the dictionary, but it would still have to be defined as trans-substantiation. No one should want to play this game except as a means of obfuscation, and in that case we have every right to suspect a deep loss of Catholic faith.
Having said all this by way of introduction, we may now state our foundational prerequisite for reform and renewal of the priesthood:the liberation of the entire educational process from the tyranny of false analytical science. In regard to the physical sciences, there is one truth which must be “seen” and understood above all others: the analytical physical sciences are absolutely incapable of apprehending the substantial form of anything; and in denying the existence of substantial forms, they are incapable of logically affirming the existences of any substances whatsoever.
As stated earlier, Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics recognizes 10 categories of being: one of substance and 9 accidents (species). The primary category with which any of the physical sciences deals is the category of quantity. If something does not have extension, or cannot be measured in some way (at least theoretically or potentially) then, according to these sciences, it is not real and cannot possess being. When applied to the analytical physical sciences, the logical extension of such a position is both inexorable and devastating to our normal perception of reality. What we “see” with our eyes is always only an appearance masking the deeper “realities” of ever-increasing complexities of smaller “quantities” of matter and energy. As I pointed out in Article 1, physical science can offer no explanation why two atoms of hydrogen united with one of oxygen should “appear” as something we call water, and this is true of all substances in relation to physical analysis. The Catholic position, therefore, is that unless one admits the existence of a category called “substance” distinct from all the other 9 categories, and in which the other categories have their roots, then it becomes nonsense to speak of the reality of things at all (whether they be atoms, trees, or persons); and further, unless one also postulates a “substantial form” (undetectable with any physical measurements) determining the essential nature and unity of any perceptible thing, then not only the physical sciences, but also ordinary experience, become either impossible or totally illusory.
All knowledge of real things is therefore rooted in the intuitive grasp of the intellect of ontological being. And since the being of any thing is not reducible to physical analysis and structure ( although such physicality and structure are an integral part of physical things), then the ultimate source of the unity and nature of any thing lies in the mysterious creative Intellect and Will of God, in Whom all things “live, and move, and have their being.” The Old Testament is absolutely emphatic on this point:
“Nothing may be taken away, nor added, neither is it possible to find out the glorious works of God: When a man hath done, then shall he begin: And when he leaveth off, he shall be at a loss.” (Ecclus 28:5-6).
“And I understood that man can find no reason of all those works of God that are done under the sun: and the more he shall labor to seek, so much the less shall he find: yea, though the wise man shall say, that he knoweth it, he shall not be able to find it.” (Eccl 8:17).
“For the works of the Highest only are wonderful, and his works are glorious, secret, and hidden.” (Ecclus 11:4).
Certainly the last thing any secular scientist would admit is that the being or nature of any thing is secret and hidden in the mysterious Intellect and Will of God.
When a priest (or any person) acquiesces to the reductive position of the modern scientific mentality which reduces all substantive reality to quantification, something uniquely destructive happens at the core of his perception of reality. There comes to be in that soul a denial (conscious or not) that every act of knowing some “thing” is at the same time an immediate contact of the mind with the presence of God. This has immense consequences for his spiritual life, and especially his life of prayer. In article 1, I also quoted from Joret’s La Contemplation Mystique, and it will very well serve our purpose here to do so again:
“Let us not forget that the human intelligence is intuitive by nature and predisposition. Owing to its substantial union with matter, it can only acquire knowledge by starting from sense- perceptible realities and by the help of phantasms [ideas or representations of sense data in the intellect]. But apart from this necessity, our intelligence is intuitive. Its first act is an intuition, the intuition of ‘Being’, or more concretely, ‘of a thing that is’….
Thus, then, every man is intuitive, and nobody, except abnormal individuals, is deprived of the rudimentary intuitions of ‘Being’….It is owing to this faculty that man is capable of being raised to mystical contemplation. It is to this intuitive function of the human intelligence that the gifts of [of the Holy Spirit] of Intelligence, Knowledge and Wisdom link themselves to strengthen it.”
The “virus” of reductive science, when firmly established in the intelligence, is bound to affect the ability of the priest to believe in the presence of God, to be receptive to the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to be disposed to the practice of contemplative prayer. Most fundamentally, it makes it virtually impossible for him to assent interiorly to the doctrine of Transubstantiation, which is the only means by which Christ can be truly present in the Eucharist. And since the Eucharist, and the contemplative prayer which is always meant to accompany both the offering of Mass and the whole life of the priest, are by necessity the very heart of the whole priesthood, then this infection by secular science, and the erroneous philosophy which accompanies it, is bound to open the soul of the priest to all the wiles of Satan and the world of sin.
The priest should therefore be trained deeply in that Thomistic philosophy and metaphysics which will instill a profound under-standing of the intellectual foundations for these truths. Pope Paul VI, however, makes it quite clear that such intellectual training is not at all necessary, especially for the layman, in order to understand these truths of the basic concepts of substance, accidents, etc. with which we are here concerned:
“For these formulas, like the others which the Church uses to propose the dogmas of faith, express concepts which are not tied to a certain form of human culture, nor to a specific phase of human culture, nor to one or other theological school. No, these formulas present that part of reality which necessary and universal experience permits the human mind to grasp and to manifest with apt and exact terms taken either from common or polished language. For this reason, these formulas are adapted to men of all times and all places.” (Mysterium Fidei).
In other words, the scholastic metaphysical training of the priest is not to be seen as some sort of intellectual development superimposed upon reality, but the systematic intellectual exposition of reality as established by God and enshrined in normal reliable human perception.
It should be obvious that what we have spoken of as the hubris of science is actually an attack upon the very notion of “being” itself, which in the final analysis is an assault upon the God Who defines Himself as “I Am.” The priest’s whole life is dedicated to the proclamation of this Being, and especially upon making this Being present through the miracle of Transubstantiation. As we have noted, the degree to which the priest’s mind has become infected with the heresy of analytical science is necessarily reflected in his service of God and in his offering of this the greatest of Mysteries. It also, however, has an effect on his own moral integrity. As we have seen, what we have called analytical science leads to deeper ignorance – to corruption and perversion of the intellect. It also leads to perversion of the will and the whole moral life:
“For great is the power of God alone, and he is honoured by the humble.
Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious.
For it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes those things that are hid.In unnecessary matters be not over curious, and in many of his works thou shalt not be inquisitive. For many things are shewn to thee above the understanding of men. And the suspicion of them hath deceived man, and hath detained their minds in vanity.” (Ecclus 3:21-26).
Vanity is, of course, a perversion of the will (which St. Thomas calls the intellective appetency). Holy scripture is here telling us that the attempt analytically to penetrate the depths of created things is in itself an act of hubris, denying the humility and honor which is proper towards God; and this act, in turn, detains the mind in a state of “suspicion” (lack of faith or belief in the reality, truth and reliability of normal human perception of created things), which consequently detains the mind (heart) in vanity and perversion of the moral faculties. It is precisely this substitution of the pursuit of false human wisdom for the worship of God as Creator which is at the root of homosexuality and all the other iniquities of the human condition (Ro 1:19-32). In light of the present crisis in the priesthood, it would be well to mention here the surprising degree to which St. Paul in the first chapter of Romans focuses on homosexuality as seemingly the premier sin reflecting this rejection of God as Creator. We will discuss this more at the end of this chapter.
To the secular scientist, on the other hand, the Catholic teaching concerning substance and accidents represents a fiercely unwanted divine invasion into his world of scientific supremacy and autonomy. There is no other religion which has solemnly defined a doctrine which infallibly establishes the substantial nature of self-subsistent things, by its very nature un-analyzable by physical science, and owing its substantial character to the omnipresent creating, sustaining Will and Intellect of God. And the one place that this infallible teaching is non-retractably incarnated is in the Church’s definition of Transubstantiation. It is quite true that in its general prostration towards the world in the past 35 years the Church has spoken little of this dogma (although it is part of the New Catechism, # 1376; and it is also nominally affirmed in the Pope’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia). This will have to change; either God or Satan will force the confrontation.
Further, we must admit that the industrial, technological, and communications revolutions have been the direct fruit of these analytical sciences. Their overwhelming effect has been to smother men in the appetites, passions, pleasures, distractions, and outright perversions of the world, while tending to make of God, at best, an afterthought or comfortable appendage. It is as though God placed a test at the very heart of all creation. In both Old and New Testaments God requires that we place our minds and hearts overwhelmingly in service and love of Him, and in pursuit of His Wisdom. In order to do so we are required by the Gospel to live in poverty of spirit and holy simplicity: to keep the things (including knowledge) of this world at a minimum in order that our minds and hearts might be free to seek the face of God. It is a test of where we shall place the treasure of our God-given hearts. God works most effectively through holy simplicity and poverty. Satan, on the other hand, is master of all that world of human achievements which somehow are a fruition of man’s forgetfulness or outright rejection of God. I would invite the reader to seriously study the biographies of famous scientists, the history of the industrial and technological revolutions, the effects of TV and other media on culture, and finally, the current massive effect of the Internet on our society. If out of this extensive history and human experience and evidence we do not conclude that there is something inherently built into such human enterprises which is the natural terrain of Hell and its work, and that we are obligated by the Gospel to choose means of living and a methodology of evangelization which is deeply counter to this Hell-bent culture, then I would suggest that there is little hope for either the priesthood or the Church of the future.
The reader should not conclude from all this that science is intrinsically evil. For one thing, our analysis here has only dealt with what I have called “analytical science” – those scientific efforts in such fields as chemistry and physics which pretend to a deeper penetration into reality through quantitative analysis. The Church has, after all, many times reiterated that there can be no conflict between religious faith or revelation, and true science. The problem is that such sciences as physics and chemistry are virtually never practiced as a true science. In denying the metaphysical substantial nature of things, their findings are of necessity incomplete, reductive, and ultimately self-contradictory and absurd.
Any proscriptions against the practice of such science (whether coming from the scriptures or elsewhere) should not be interpreted as meaning that such activities are intrinsically evil. Rather they represent a near-occasion to that sin of hubris by which man is always prone to seek a knowledge and power (and such knowledge definitely does carry worldly power in its train) which makes man forgetful of God and enamored of himself. This is why the Beatitudes, which are the very heart of the New Law, prescribe simplicity of life, and the simplicity of intention which seeks God above all things. The punishment which is built into violation of this simplicity is a descent into that ignorance which culminates in a denial of the very existence of real being itself, whether it be of God or man. This is the final fruit of that tree under which man and woman first sought knowledge which would make them like Gods – the worship of non-being, which also happens to be the scholastic definition of evil.
In order to survive and be effective in the mission of the Gospel to convert the world, both the Church and the individual priest (as well as all Catholics) must show forth the immutable Being of God. This is the difference between true evangelization and all those modern forms of evangelization which, in order to further ecumenical activity and dialogue, actually obscure the fullness of Catholic truth. True evangelization trusts in the Being of God and the light of truth which radiates from that Being and His revelation. It also trusts in the power of this light upon the human soul, created in the image of God, with the law of God written on its heart. What we have seen in the Church in recent years is not just a retreat, but a deep capitulation of Catholic intellectual life to those philosophies (such as phenomenology) which obscure this Being and its light. We have become ashamed of truth because it is too rigid and uncompromising; ashamed of Catholic morality because it is unmerciful; ashamed of the Church itself because it is too triumphalistic in claiming to be the one true Church sent by God; ashamed of God Himself for being immutable instead of some sort of process of self-realization or self-actualization. Out of this soil of shame we have grown a whole new language of betrayal: “dialogue”, “ecumenism”, “aggiornamento”, “updating”, “being Church”. Of course, none of these terms are intrinsically evil, but in practice they have all largely amounted to the same thing: a dilution of the fullness of the “hard” Catholic truths, and an attempt to accomplish the mission of Christ by engaging in a dialectical process and conversation with the world and with positive evil. What is not realized, however, is that Satan is the master of the dialectic; for the dialectic is a philosophy which substitutes process and change for substantial being and truth, and ultimately the becoming of man for the Being of God.
Much of this, of course, has been done in quest of a false mercy. Many priests, for instance, are silent on the subject of contraception because it would seem uncharitable to demand that certain families be open to having more children. But even those priests who are courageous enough in this area would never dare go against the secular culture in other domains. What priest dares to delineate the Church’s clear condemnation of any Catholic parents allowing their children to attend public or “neutral” schools (Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors, #48; Pius XI, Christian Education of Youth)? Who has recently heard a sermon clearly teaching the Church’s doctrine concerning every nation’s obligation to embrace the Kingship of Christ, and the consequent demands this makes upon all nations to submit to the spiritual and moral authority of the Pope? And finally (but certainly not exhaustively), we can hardly imagine a priest on the Fourth of July explaining to his congregation that the Declaration of Independence’s claim of “government of the people and by the people” runs directly contrary to the social teachings of Popes Leo XIII, St. Pius X, and Pius XI, and is a direct insult to God and to God-given authority.
All of these teachings, of course, have to do with Who God is, and with His obvious and total dominion over all things human. The proclamation and defense of such teachings should come as natural to a Catholic priest as does breathing. The very fact that, on the contrary, such teachings might sound bizarre or reckless is a profound witness as to the extent to which we have retreated from God Who is the Supreme Being.
In Jesus’ discourse concerning the end times in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we come upon a wonderfully puzzling verse: “Where¬soever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together” (Mt 24:28 – this is the Douay-Rheims translation; in the New American the word “eagles” is mistakenly translated “vultures”). Saints Jerome, Hilary, Gregory, and also Origen all saw this as a description of the saints gathered around the Body of Christ in His Passion at the end of time (St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea). I would like to suggest that this passage might also denote all those priests who are intellectually gathered around and faithful to the dogma of Transubstantiation as the only means by which they are united to, and effect, the re-presentation of this same Passion in Holy Mass. The eagles gather, however, not just in faithfulness, but in the same (in kind, but not degree) intensity of love as that with which He has loved us. Just as our shame was the source of our betrayal, so our love will be the source of a new heroism; for God will not withhold His grace from such a love.
Heroism it must be; for no one should doubt that to be gathered with the eagles is to declare war on the world: the world of secular science, secular education, secular government, secular finance and economics, and a host of others. In this battle the priest must realize above all things that he dwells, as does no other man, in the earthly home of all Love and Being. The priest, with the words which effect Transubstantiation, holds in his hands all being, all love, all truth, the refutation of all heresy, skepticism, doubt, fear, and loneliness: Considering this, priestly infidelity should be the rarest thing on earth.
Finally, we should consider that there is nothing which more shows forth this struggle of which we have been speaking than does the current conflict over homosexuality in the priesthood. St. Peter Damian writes the following concerning this sin:
“Truly, this vice is never to be compared with any other vice because it surpasses the enormity of all vices. Indeed this vice is the death of bodies, the destruction of souls. It pollutes the flesh; it extinguishes the light of the mind. It evicts the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart; it introduces the devil who incites to lust. It casts into error; it completely removes the truth from the mind that has been deceived …. It opens hell; it closes the door to heaven…. It separates the soul from God to join it with devils. This most pestilential queen of the sodomists makes the followers of her tyrannical laws filthy to men and hateful to God. She commands to join in evil wars against God, to carry the mili¬tary burden of a most evil spirit.” (Book of Gomorrah, XVI).
Saint Peter Damian makes of homosexuality among priests a sin of such unsurpassed evil as to constitute a war against the very Being of God Himself. God created man in His own image, “to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them…. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” (Gen 1:27, 2:24). The sin of homosexuality, therefore, by which men and women “have changed the natural use into that which is against nature” (Ro 1:27), constitutes war not only against the nature of man and woman but also against the very image of God. It is, in other words, the premier sin in the flesh against Being itself. God does not create homosexuals, any more than He creates murderers or rapists. Whether due to the cumulative effects of original sin, to upbringing, or to actual sin, homosexual “orientation” is in itself disordered and neither innate or natural to anyone. There is therefore no such thing as a licit celibate homosexual vocation to the priesthood.
A recent article in Newsweek suggested that up to 50% of all seminarians in this country are homosexual. Even if there are only half that number, such an occurrence is not an accident of history. It is simply preposterous any longer to assert that this is not part of an organized plan and conspiracy to destroy the Church. I would suggest that anyone who has trouble with this assertion read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on Freemasonry, and then begin a serious study of the history and aims of secret societies.
To return to faith in the Supreme Being of God is, at the same time, to come face to face with the real existence of Satan and of evil. Modern psychology, as the mistress of the analytical physical sciences, destroys this absolute distinction and embraces a continuum between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and untruth. It is this gray fog which has nearly destroyed Catholicism in this country and many others. To rediscover God as Supreme Being is, on the other hand, to recover the fortitude which is integral to true Catholicism and the Church Militant. In simple language, it restores the ability to discern evil and the guts to fight it. We do not now have a healthy priesthood or Church; the enemy is within; and the faithful priest or seminarian if he is to remain true to his God must do what few in the past have had the courage to do: wage war within the very Fraternity of Christ.
Authored by James Larson: © 2008