The Blood is the Life, Part I
by Bernard Brandt
I have noted that a great number of people have in turn noted that not all is well with the Roman Catholic Church. Some of those, who are that Church’s enemy, are rejoicing over what they term to be proof of its schism, heresy, or apostasy. Others, like me, are sorrowing over its sickness, as one would over the illness of one’s mother, and would wish that there were some way that it might be cured of its woes. Yet others sorrow, but have come to the conclusion that there is no cure, that the disease is fatal, and that the only thing to do is to seek refuge in a Church which still lives.
Because I believe that the RC Church is still a part of, if not the whole of, Christ’s Church on earth, and because I believe that our Lord Christ has promised that the gates of Hell (i.e., sin, error, and death) will not prevail against that Church, I must therefore do what I can to assist that Church, both for Her and my own sake. And so, I offer the following meditation, in the hope that those who read it will consider what I have to say, to accept it to the extent that it is true, and to correct me to the extent that it is false.
In tracking the course of any disease, of the body, of the body politic, or of the Church Militant, one must first examine and clearly state what the symptoms are. In this case, it is a wasting disease, but in an odd way. The numbers of the Catholic laity seem to be growing, along with the general world population. But the numbers of church buildings and monasteries, and the numbers of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops, religious, and monastics have declined precipitously. Likewise, in the liturgical worship of that Church, it appears to have largely abandoned the rich treasury of the chant, language, and liturgical literature of the past, together with the artistic and musical treasures of the past.
This last could perhaps be borne, if those treasures had been replaced by other treasures. But no, what we have instead is some of the most insipid and sentimental hymnography and art that humans have had to endure.
A number of people have observed these two crises, the hierarchical and the liturgical, and have suggested a causal connection between the two. Some have suggested that the declining numbers of the clerisy, of those many who have attempted to think as the Church does, or as the Apostle Paul had recommended, ‘to acquire that same mind which is Christ’s’, are because of the poor liturgies which we have suffered through for the last half century. There has been little to no liturgical formation of the faithful for all that time, or rather, a formation which is more proper for the Roman (or American) Circuses than that of the Church of Christ.
Some have also gone so far as to suggest that recent Popes have erred badly, or that the recent Vatican Council was in error, and that the deformations of hierarchy and liturgy which happened afterwards were the result of those errors.
I must first point out that this argument is perilously close to, if not identical with, the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or the logical error of assuming that because one thing happened in proximity in time to another, that therefore the second thing occurred because of the first thing. If one wishes to go into further detail, and to state clearly the alleged errors of the Popes or the Council, and to demonstrate the causal connection between those errors and the Church’s decline, then I will be happy to hear that argument. But simply to assume that because there are two temporal events in sequence that there must therefore be a causal connection between the two, is itself an error, and one of the most elemental and rankest sorts of error.
I must also point out another error, which any number of soi-disant Roman Catholics are making, is in saying that the Popes or the Council are in error, and yet the speaker remains a loyal and obedient Roman Catholic. To say that is, quite simply, to talk rot. The tradition of that Church, together with that of the most recent Council, and the current Canon Law, is that professing Roman Catholics have a duty to learn the faith as well as they can, and to consent to the three fonts of that faith, which are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, or the teaching authority of that Church, which includes the teachings of ALL of the Councils, and ALL of the Pontiffs. If one wishes to say that the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church is in error, then by all means, become Orthodox, and retain the fullness of the faith, or apostatize, and be d-, er, fare as well as you can. But to attempt to say that one is a Roman Catholic who believes that the Magisterium is not infallible, is to believe in kosher bacon, or military intelligence.
But I digress. I shall therefore return to my analysis of the symptoms of disease in the Roman Catholic Church, and a diagnosis of their cause. Most who have attempted to deal with this issue have offered the suggestion that the root of the illness is the liturgical abuses of the past fifty years. I would suggest instead that the rot runs far deeper than that. I have spent a great number of years studying the texts of the liturgical reforms from 1963 to 1978, and I have noted that the reforms offered by Popes Paul VI, Bl. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, and the Second Vatican Council, themselves appear to be both sound and reasonable. It is when their wisdom is filtered through the kidneys of the collective concilia, periti, and bishops, priests and deacons, that the mischief ensues.
I would suggest, therefore, that we change the focus here, and examine more closely the role that the hierarchy of deacons, priests, and bishops hold in the Body of Christ. I suspect that to the extent that we think of it at all, we think of the clergy as the brains of the operation. But recent experience, if I might say so as charitably as I can, would indicate otherwise. I would therefore suggest that we instead examine Dionysius the Areopagite’s Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, in order to get a better idea of their function in the Body of Christ.
If one were to do so, one would find that Dionysius has made very clear that the purpose of the hierarchy of the Church is to give the means of theosis or divinization to the body of Christ. The deacons are to do this by being the ones who bring alms to the poor and needy; the priests are to do this by serving the Divine Mysteries to the faithful; and the bishops are to do this by leading the priests and deacons in those mysteries, and by the preaching of the Gospels and the teaching of the faith.
By that standard, then, I would suggest that the role that the clergy play in the Body of Christ is that of the circulatory, hematological, and immunological systems of the Body. In short, the hierarchy plays the part of the life’s blood of the Body of Christ, which give life to all of the body. Most important in that function would be the bishops, who, in the words of the Divine Liturgy, “rightly divide and define the faith”, helping thus to know what is of the Body and what is not, which is the function of the immune system of a body.
Finally, I would suggest that the current crisis or disease in the Church is fundamentally an immune deficiency disease. I will discuss this further in the next part of this essay, which may be found here.