The Blood is the Life: An essay regarding a diagnosis of the ills currently plaguing the Roman Catholic Church
by Bernard Brandt
Many of us have noted that not all is well with the Roman Catholic Church. Some are rejoicing over its supposed schism, heresy, or apostasy. Others of us sorrow over its sickness, as one would the illness of one’s mother. We wish there were some way it could be cured. Still others sorrow, but conclude that there is no cure: the only thing left now is to abandon ship, leave the impending shipwreck, and seek refuge in a Church which still lives, wherever that might be found.
Since I for my part believe that the Church of my youth both can and should be cured, I offer the following meditation. I would ask that those who read it consider what I have to say, accept it to the extent that it is true, and correct it where it is false.
The first step in the treatment of any disease, be it of the body, the body politic, or even that part of the Body of Christ which is the Church Militant, is to examine and state the symptoms of that disease. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, it would appear to be suffering from a wasting disease, but in an odd way. While the numbers of the Catholic laity appear to be growing, the numbers of churches and monasteries, and the numbers of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops, religious, and monastics have declined dramatically. Another ominous symptom is that the Catholic Church has largely abandoned the rich treasury of the chant, language, and liturgical literature, as well as the artistic and musical treasures of the past. A third, even more ominous symptom, is that the Church has not replaced old treasures with new ones, but has left its worship in a state of insipid mediocrity.
The next step in the treatment of any disease is to determine its cause or causes. A number of people have observed these two sets of symptoms, the hierarchical and the liturgical, and have suggested a link between the two. They suggest that defects in liturgical worship have led to the decline in numbers of the clergy. Others have suggested that the Second Vatican Council has been in error, or that Popes or hierarchies of bishops after that Council have been in error, and that these errors are the cause of the decline of the clergy or of our liturgical worship.
I believe that these people are committing the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc: the erroneous belief that because one thing happened after another, that there is a causal connection between the two. In the absence of a showing of a causal connexion between the Council and the current crisis, I for one remain unconvinced. And to date, most people who have made the assertion have failed to prove that connexion.
I must also point out another error, which any number of so-called Roman Catholics are making: to say 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, military intelligence, or other self-contradictory statements.
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 do this by bringing alms to the poor and needy; the priests do this by serving the Divine Mysteries to the faithful; and the bishops 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.
Seen in this light, then, the best description of the crisis of the Church is that the deacons do not seem to be serving effectively, the priests do not work effectively in blessing the people of God, and the bishops do not seem to be teaching the faith effectively. The present crisis is therefore one in which the Body of Christ, or at least that part of it now on earth, is suffering an immune deficiency syndrome.
In short, it is no exaggeration, but only the terrible truth, to say that the Church has AIDS.
I have noted, in the course of reading many explanations for this phenomenon, and particularly among traditionalists or religious conservatives, a tendency to assume that this interruption of functions has been intentionally caused by a group of evil-doers: free-masons, or liberals, or communists, or even (gasp) academics. I would like to counter this tendency with a maxim of the Emperor Napoleon: “Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence.”
I would therefore suggest, in beginning my alternative explanation, that we compare the present age with other ages, in which the Church has been strong, in terms of the number of clergy, saints, and devout lay people. By that standard, I believe that there were at least three such periods: the time of the Church Fathers, the time of the Schoolmen, and the time of the counter-Reformation. During these periods, there was a great growth in the number of the lay faithful, the number of the saints, and the number of the holy clergy among them.
In examining the differences between those ages, one finds that there are many, particularly in the manner in which the education of the clergy was accomplished: In the Patristic period, it took place in the residences or the cathedrals of the bishops; in the mediaeval period, it happened in the cathedral schools and the early universities; and, after the Council of Trent, it happened in the seminaries, which were so-called because they were thought to be the ‘seedbeds’ of theology and religious vocations.
But there were also several factors which were all present and common to all three ages: 1) a familiarity of the clerisy (that is, the educated faithful, lay and cleric alike) with the literary, scientific, and philosophical thought of the times; 2) a willingness to engage with that thought; and most important, 3) a familiarity with the language and history of Scripture (including a knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic , and Greek), of Tradition (including its languages of Latin, Greek, etc.), and of the Church’s magisterium, which has been expressed in and through the Councils and the teaching of the Popes, and which have been expressed in Latin and Greek.
After the Council of Trent, however, and for several centuries afterwards, several historical factors occurred gradually, but with devastating effect upon the Church: 1) with and after Descartes, philosophical movements developed which diverged from the classical Platonic, Aristotelian, and Thomistic world-views which had shaped the Church; 2) the higher educational systems of Europe and the Americas began to depart from maintaining a common classical literary, historical, and philosophical base of knowledge, gradually replacing that base with the specialization in a great number of ‘scientific’ subjects; and 3) the primary educational systems of those nations shifted from a classical literary training in Latin and Greek grammar, basic logic, and classical rhetoric to training in the grammar of vernacular languages, together with a number of practical ‘subjects’. By the middle of the twentieth century, this process was largely completed in most countries.
Unfortunately for the Church at this time, its leaders failed to take these factors into account, and the allegedly Catholic educational systems of most dioceses tended to follow the example of the lower and higher secular systems of education. While there remained to the Church those educational systems dedicated to the training of seminarians, called the minor seminaries, these too tended to follow the drift toward the standards of secular, rather than religious, education. This tendency was particularly pronounced in North American dioceses.
The results, for at least the last century, were that most candidates to the priesthood were innocent of any knowledge of Latin, other classical, biblical, or traditional languages, ancient or modern philosophy, or Roman Catholic theology. In the main, this was covered up by the educators, who would ‘kick the candidates upstairs’, even unto Rome. At that time, many were the stories of tutors who would signal to the ignorant seminarians when to laugh, when their professors happened to tell a joke in Latin during their lectures.
By the time of the Second Vatican Council, there was a great gulf of knowledge between the Council Fathers, who largely had the linguistic, philosophical, and theological prerequisites necessary to learn and to teach the Roman Catholic faith, and the mass of priests throughout the world, who did not. Further, the Council Fathers, together with their respective periti, were trained in two competing yet potentially complimentary educational systems: 1) the neo-Thomistic, whose exponents included Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange and Etienne Gilson; and 2) the neo-Patristic, whose exponents included Fr. Henri du Lubac, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthazar, and the then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger.
It is in this context that the Second Vatican Council Fathers should be read in their work on the reform of the education and training of priests, Optatam Totius. I contend that the intent of the Council Fathers was to give their priests a humanistic, scientific, philosophical, and theological education, which would enable those priests both to engage with the modern world, and to learn and to teach the Catholic faith to the lay faithful. In the process, those priests would be taught the fruits of both major theological systems of the time: the neo-Thomistic and the neo-Patristic.
It is also my position that, considering the educational deficits and philosophical presuppositions of the majority of the priests of the time, it was also inevitable that the mandated educational reforms of Optatam Totius, and their legislation in the later Code of Canon Law, would be ignored by most later bishops, priests, and deacons.
But in examining Optatam Totius, one should begin by first examining the Second Vatican Council statement on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. In brief, it states that God has revealed Himself and His mind to us, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Apostolic tradition, and in the authentic teaching authority of the Church, which is to be found (for Roman Catholics at least) in the Councils and the consistent teaching of the Fathers and of the Roman Pontiffs. The theology of the church is based upon these three ‘fonts of the Holy Spirit’, and it is the proper office or duty of the clergy, and particularly of bishops to study, to learn, and to teach that theology through a deep understanding of Scripture, Tradition and the Roman Magisterium.
As the late Anna Russell would say, “I’m not making this up, you know.”
But if you have actually studied Scripture, or Patristics, or Church History, you might notice that most Roman deacons, priests, or bishops show a startling lack of knowledge of those, or many other subjects. More to the point, they appear to lack a knowledge even of the languages which would make such a study possible: for Sacred Scripture, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or even the Latin of the Vulgate or the Neo-Vulgate; for Tradition, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin; and for the Magisterium of the Councils or the Pontiffs, Greek and Latin. But even assuming that works in translation would be sufficient to teach these subjects, they show a lack of familiarity with those translated Scriptures, or Church History, or Patristics.
One would think that there must have been a change brought about by the Second Vatican Council, in which there were solemn pronouncements that these subjects are no longer necessary to be taught to bishops, priests, or deacons, in spite of the teachings to the contrary in Dei Verbum. But a reading of the Council Fathers’ statement on the education of priests, Optatam Totius would show rather the opposite: seminarians are, before entry into the seminary, to have the undergraduate education proper to those going on to graduate study in the sciences, medicine, law, or philosophy; they are to be well educated in Latin; they are encouraged to learn the languages of scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium; and this prerequisite knowledge is to be used to develop seminarians in the study of philosophy and theology. And the ends of such studies are to enable priests both to proclaim the Gospels and to engage the modern world.
I have a question to ask of my readers: how many RC priests do you know that have acquired such knowledge? The question, of course, is rhetorical, and the answer, of course is: “hardly any.” It is a commonplace that in an encounter between a RC priest and an evangelical preacher, or a Jehovah’s Witness, or even a Mormon elder of 18, in most cases the priest comes off far worse as regards a knowledge of Holy Scripture. Alas, therefore, most RC priests are ignorant of the basics, let alone a knowledge of philosophy or theology.
It would be one thing if this disparity between the directives of the Council fathers in Optatam Totius, and the reality for the last fifty years, were just an oversight on the part of bishops, priests and seminary teachers. But those directives were repeated in the revision of canon law, completed more than thirty years ago. I would invite my readers to look at the English translation of the Code of Canon law, on the Formation of Clerics (canons 232-293) and more particularly, canon 234, section 2: “Unless in certain cases circumstances indicate otherwise, young men disposed to the priesthood are to be provided with that formation in the humanities and science by which the youth in their own region are prepared to pursue higher studies.”
A reading of canon 249 would also not be amiss: “The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.” Likewise, canon 250 says: “The philosophical and theological studies which are organized in the seminary itself can be pursued either successively or conjointly, in accord with the program of priestly formation. These studies are to encompass at least six full years in such a way that the time dedicated to philosophical disciplines equals two full years and to theological studies four full years.” If one were to examine the entire section of the CCL, I believe that one would find many other derelictions on the part of seminaries.
In short, if one were to compare the directives of Vatican II and modern canon law with the syllabi of most RC seminaries, one would find that those seminaries have been in elaborate formal disobedience with those directives for more than thirty years, in the case of canon law, and more than fifty years, in the case of Optatam Totius.
I believe that one can reasonably conclude therefore that the mis-education of most RC priests has been at the root of the rot in the Church, and through no other cause. How can priests teach the laity Church doctrine, if they do not know it themselves? How can they effectively serve the Divine Liturgy or the other mysteries of the Church, if they have never effectively been taught them? How can they even teach the Gospels, if they do not know them?
There is a saying in Latin: Nemo dat quod non habet: No one can give what they do not have. It is as simple as that.
* * *
This essay has been written to form a diagnosis of the ills of the Church, in the hopes that those wiser and more holy than I might be able to effect a cure, or at the very least, to prevent the damage from becoming worse. I have assumed, perhaps unwisely, that clergy and laity actually wish to effect a cure. But some ignorance is invincible: if people do not wish to be taught, they will refuse any attempts to disabuse them of that ignorance.
I believe that it was Mark Twain, or else a childhood friend whom Twain had known, who anticipated the concept of economic determinism with the quaint phrase, “cornpone opinions”: “You show me where a man gets his cornpone, and I’ll tell you what his opinions are.” I believe that corollary to this is another form of psychological determinism: “You show me what a man’s desires are, and I will tell you what he will be willing to learn, or to teach.”
In the last thirty years there have been some disquieting rumors going around, to the effect that a substantial minority, and even a majority, of priests and bishops in the United States and Western Europe, are homosexual, and may even be actively gay. These rumors range from the estimates in a number of magazine articles, most lately of Vanity Fair, that ‘between 30 to 50 percent of RC priests are gay’; to veiled articles in conservative RC newspapers, all the way to books such as Goodbye, Good Men and The Changing Face of the Priesthood.
It should be obvious that if the local parish priest or bishop frequents the local gay bar, he may perhaps be somewhat reluctant to teach the Catholic and Orthodox faith, which includes, inter alia, the inconvenient truth that his daily or weekly practice is a sin.
Of course, for those obtuse souls among the two or three readers whom I have, for whom ‘anecdotes do not equal data’, and who may have a vested interest in believing that their priests and bishops are holy in their lives and in their thoughts, my news may be unwelcome. “This is just rumor,” the wise will say. “You need to provide us with something a bit more substantial than that.”
All right, then. Here goes:
The Jay Report indicates that five percent of U.S. and European priests have been convicted of sexual abuse of minors. 80 percent of those convicted had molested boys. Now let’s unpack those figures.
By way of comparison, in the United States, as of 2013, there were 300,000 registered child abuse sexual offenders. 99+ percent of whom were male. 80 percent of them involved male on female abuse (or what I would call the “Humbert Humbert” scenario). The remaining 20 percent were of male on male abuse. In other words, only twenty percent of the general population of child abusers abused boys. But eighty percent of Catholic priests involved in child abuse abused males. Right there, I can see some problems for those who would like to say, “Move along; nothing to see here.”
But let’s just unpack those numbers a bit further. If, in 2013, we had 300,000 registered child abuse sexual offenders, and only 20% of them were involved in male on male abuse, then rounding things off, there were around 50,000 male on male child abusers. There was a total U.S. population of 340 million, of which about 170 million were male. If you eliminate those under the age of 15, and those over the age of 60, which appears to be the population of child abusers, you have a total eligible population of perhaps 100 million.
Now, I am a bear of very little brain, and mathematics is among the least of my skills. But if you divide one hundred million by 50,000, you will find that the number of male on male child abusers to the general U.S. population is one twentieth of one percent. By way of comparison, the number of male on male child abusers in the U.S. RC priesthood is five percent, or one hundred times that of the general U.S. population.
Now, how do we explain that?
Well, if I were your average member of the Westboro Baptist Church, I’d probably say that if male homosexuals comprise one percent of the U.S. male population, and if rates of male on male child abuse in the RC priesthood are one hundred times that of the U.S. male population, then the total number of papist gays in the RC priesthood and episcopate must be 100 percent of that population.
I would therefore like to offer an alternative explanation. It will, perhaps, be unpalatable to those who have an uncritical regard for the present RC clergy, but it is the nearest that I can see that covers all of the evidence.
What has happened for at least the last fifty years, and possibly quite longer, has been a concerted effort by active homosexuals to enter into the RC priesthood and episcopate, and to use whatever positions of responsibility that they have to assist other homosexuals to gain entry to that priesthood and episcopate. And, when members of that hidden fraternity have been revealed as active homosexuals, or as male on male paederasts, it has been the policy of other members to conceal that behavior or to transfer them to other parishes. I would estimate this cohort to be from 40 to 50 percent of the total RC presbyterate and episcopate.
I wish that I could say otherwise. But it is consistent with outside estimates by Vanity Fair and other periodicals. It is consistent with the observed practice of any number of priests and bishops who had been caught in transferring paedophile priests. And it is consistent with the testimony of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, whom I consider to be the ‘poster boy’ for this sort of behaviour. I will posit that the only way that a group of paederasts of any sort could have survived as priests in the Roman Catholic Church, and for the length of time reported in The Jay Report, is if there were a much larger cohort of priests and bishops who either sympathized with them, or could be blackmailed by them.
Of course, this would explain why a substantial portion of the RC priesthood and bishoprics appear reluctant to teach Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition. It would also explain why they appear so eager to dismiss other vows besides that of the priesthood, such as the recent Synod on Marriage and the Family.
And finally, I am, of course, awaiting other explanations which fit all of the evidence. But I am not holding my breath whilst I do so
* * *
I would like to examine one more piece of the puzzle, which perhaps explains the causes of the present ignorance of most clergy in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. And that is the current state of academic theology in the Roman Catholic Church.
While anyone who surfs the ‘net or crawls the Web can find their own confirmations, perhaps the best indication of the problems with modern academic theology can be found in an examination of the Douthat affair. For those unfamiliar with the mess, a conservative writer for the New York Times, Ross Douthat, wrote an editorial in which he expressed his opinion that certain bishops and academic theologians were attempting to change fundamental RC doctrine. In response, a large number of RC academic theologians wrote a letter to the Times, objecting to Douthat as having “no professional qualifications”, and suggesting that that august newspaper terminate its relations with Douthat. In turn, Douthat wrote a letter in which, inter alia, he gently suggested that he might nonetheless have the right to opine on matters Catholic.
Personally, I find it marvelous that the list of august theologians could put their names to that letter without blushing, or with a straight face. For from Scripture, as but one example, we know that of Christ’s apostles, only the Apostles Paul and John were “professionally qualified” for their apostolate. And Holy Tradition, as expressed by and in the History of the Church, is replete with examples of saints who were teachers of the Church, and who yet were not “professionally qualified”.
But the strongest indication of these theologians’ ignorance of the Magisterium of the Church, as expressed in Her canon law, comes with an examination of that law on the matters of rights of all Christ’s faithful, and the rights of all of the laity. For example, Canon 212 §3 states: “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”
And, if there were any doubt as to whether the above right and duty were limited to the clergy (which it is not), Canon 228 §2 states: “Lay persons who excel in necessary knowledge, prudence, and integrity are qualified to assist the pastors of the Church as experts and advisors, even in councils according to the norm of law.” Further, Canon 229 §1 goes so far as to say: “Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each in order for them to be able to live according to this doctrine, announce it themselves, defend it if necessary, and take their part in exercising the apostolate.” I find nothing in that law which requires lay men or women to be “professionally qualified”. And I find that this is precisely what Mr. Douthat attempted to accomplish in his columns.
It would, perhaps, be one thing if the reverend doctors listed in their letter were perhaps simply ignorant of canon law. But these, and many other of the rights present in canon law, find their source in the developments in that Magisterium of the Roman pontiffs of the last two centuries, in what has come to be called “Catholic Social Doctrine”. Even if one were to assume (as I most certainly do NOT) that only the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council is to be followed, obeyed, or even understood by most theologians, the rights and duties of the Christian faithful are an integral and fundamental part of that doctrine. And I will remark that those rights and duties are simply a development of the patristic view that, by virtue of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist, all of Christ’s faithful have been given by Him the charisms of prince, of priest, and of prophet.
It will remain for a later part of this extended essay to say what the role of Catholic academic theology should be in the education of the clergy. In the mean time, I must say that while such theology, and such an education, are necessary, they are by no means sufficient.
* * *
Of course, all this raises the following question: Just what is it about modern academic scholarship which has been so corrosive to an intelligent study of the Orthodox and Catholic Faith? I have been pondering this for some time, and at first, I thought that it was the progressive demythologization of Scripture and Tradition by Bultmann and his followers. Over the course of time, however, I came to believe that the replacement of broad and deep erudition by narrow, specialized, and pedantic scholarship explained much of the rot in the modern academic world.
I have recently come to the conclusion, however, that a more fundamental process is taking place in the minds of modern academics, and indeed, in the minds of many people, which undermines both faith, and more generally, any enjoyment in one’s studies or in one’s life. I think that C.S. Lewis explained it the best in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:
… It seemed to me self-evident that one essential property of love, hate, fear, hope, or desire was attention to their object. To cease thinking about or attending to the woman is, so far, to cease loving; to cease thinking about or attending to the dreaded thing is, so far, to cease being afraid. But to attend to your own love or fear is to cease attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope’s object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself. Of course the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity; but they are distinct and incompatible. This was not merely a logical result of Alexander’s analysis, but could be verified in daily and hourly experience. The surest means of disarming an anger or a lust was to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself. The surest way of spoiling a pleasure was to start examining your satisfaction. But if so, it followed that all introspection is in one respect misleading. In introspection we try to look “inside ourselves” and see what is going on. But nearly everything that was going on a moment before is stopped by the very act of our turning to look at it. Unfortunately this does not mean that introspection finds nothing. On the contrary, it finds precisely what is left behind by the suspension of all our normal activities; and what is left behind is mainly mental images and physical sensations. The great error is to mistake this mere sediment or track or by-product for the activities themselves. That is how men may come to believe that thought is only unspoken words, or the appreciation of poetry only a collection of mental pictures, when these in reality are what the thought of the appreciation, when interrupted, leave behind — like the swell at sea, working after the wind has dropped. Not, of course, that these activities, before we stopped them by introspection, were unconscious. We do not love, fear, or think without knowing it. Instead of the twofold division into Conscious and Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated.
This discovery flashed a new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say “This is it,” had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed.
To continue Lewis’ thought, I would have to admit that this is not to say that contemplation is in itself a bad thing. Analysis, or the breaking of a subject of study into its component parts, is a useful thing, but only if it permits a better synthesis, or a better enjoyment of a thing studied. I can think of nothing more corrosive to a hearty faith, or indeed, the proper enjoyment of any object of study or of love, than the constant analysis or finding fault with that beloved thing or person. Or as Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, said: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
And I believe that that was what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council sought to preserve in proposing Optatam Totius: wisdom. Anyone who reads that document through the lens of erudition must be struck by the parallels between it and, say, Books II through VII of Plato’s Republic, or Pico della Mirandola’s On the Dignity of Man, or John Milton’s Of Education, to give but three examples. I believe that what the Council Fathers wanted was to raise up priests who would be philosopher-kings and sages of the Faith. But what the modern academic world has given the Church instead, at best, might uncharitably but accurately be called ‘philosophy students’.
But I would not wish to leave my gentle readers (all three or four of them), on such a dismal note. I believe that the beginning of a change in priestly education is still possible and necessary, if we are to find a way out of the present crisis.
* * *
And so, to conclude, the only way that the current Roman Catholic Church can be healed is through a reform of its educational system. Of course, knowing what we do of most RC bishops these days, the probabilities of that are obese. In short: fat chance. And for much the same reason, the chances of modern academic seminaries accomplishing that task are equally as fat.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate would decide to reopen its Theological School of Halki as an online school, transcribing and recording all of its library resources and its lectures and making them available online. The Patriarchate of Rome would follow suit, and would make available the resources of the Vatican Library and the several seminaries in the Vatican. Lectures would be primarily in Greek and in Latin, but elaborate internet resources would be made available to teach those languages, as well as the languages of Scripture (i.e., Hebrew and Aramaic) as well as the other languages of Holy Tradition (e.g., Syriac and Coptic). Both Patriarchates would commission the Khan Academy and similar groups to provide YouTube lectures and structure for the teaching of an underlying scientific and humanistic education. All of these resources would be made available to anyone with access to the Internet.
And, of course, the probabilities of that happening are roughly equal to a snowball’s of retaining its icy structural integrity in Hades.
So, I would like to offer this slightly More Modest Proposal
It would start with a number of scholars working, either independently or together, in providing texts (like those of textkit), collections of treatises (like Migne’s Patrilogia Latine et Graece) or Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) in providing YouTube lectures in Liturgical Theology and Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. As you can see, this part of the proposal is already in play, and the tendency is growing.
My proposal would be for other scholars to begin to put the pieces together, to organize their studies for the purpose of gaining, not a narrow specialization, but a broad and deep erudition, and to make the results of those studies available online for the benefit of others. It is my hope, as seen in any number of weblogs, such as this, this, this and this, that that process is also in play, and is growing.
My proposal would be complete when a group of these scholars decided to organize this whole mess, and to develop what that renegade thinker, Mencius Moldbug, has called the Antiversity: an alternative to that corrupt cathedra pestilentiarum, that chair of pestilences, which is the modern university system. While there may be still some colleges (those of Oxford and Cambridge come immediately to mind) which have not succumbed to rule by administration, and to the service of political correctitude, I fear that they are at present beleaguered exceptions to the general rule.
And, an Orthodox and Catholic laity who was educated on that basis might actually be able to produce the educated clergy which could fulfill the requirements of the Vatican II document, Optatam Totius.
This would, of course, require a great deal of time, effort, and thought. But it would certainly beat the ignorant, tawdry, and foolish mess which we are currently in. For as we can see, that so-called system, and that mess, is in the process of a messy, violent, and ugly death. And it threatens to take the rest of us with it.
For we need an educational system which actually teaches us the knowledge, the skills, and the understanding which we in turn need, in order to live in these changing days. We need a philosophy which involves the love and the pursuit of wisdom. And we need a theology which is informed by Scripture, by Tradition, and by the living teaching authority of the Church, and which finds its fulfillment in true worship.
For this last understanding, I am indebted to His Eminence, Metropolitan Jonah, and to his earlier life as Mr. James Paffhausen. Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to learn from him when he was teaching a course in Liturgical Theology at Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles. And much later, I have been fortunate enough to audit his online course in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology.
From that latter course, I have been able to take away the following insights: that Orthodox theology is a mystical theology; that fundamental to that theology is a deep understanding of Holy Scripture, which can only begin through its memorization; that the true interpretation of that Scripture can only come from the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, which finds its expression and fulfillment in the consensus of the Church Fathers; and the dogmatic theology of the Orthodox Church is expressed in that Scripture, that Tradition, and that teaching authority, which in turn finds its expression in the Councils and the Synods of that Church.
And from these insights, I have come to the following conclusions: that if there is to be any dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics, it must begin from our common patrimony of Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of those two Churches, which finds agreement in the Seven Ecumenical Councils. I am sorry to have to say that most Catholics are woefully ignorant of that common patrimony. It is time that we disabuse ourselves of that ignorance. I now pledge myself to that task.