Sins of the Flesh

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Vade, et Iam Amplius Noli Peccare

Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

To conclude, I feel wounded in my heart as a bishop in witnessing such incomprehension of the Church’s definitive teaching on the part of my brother priests.

I cannot allow myself to imagine as the cause of such confusion anything but the insufficiency of the formation of my confreres. And insofar as I am responsible for the discipline of the sacraments in the whole Latin Church, I am bound in conscience to recall that Christ has reestablished the Creator’s original plan of a monogamous, indissoluble marriage ordered to the good of the spouses, as also to the generation and education of children. He has also elevated marriage between baptized persons to the rank of a sacrament, signifying God’s covenant with his people, just like the Eucharist.

In spite of this, there also exists a marriage that the Church calls “legitimate.” The sacred dimension of this “natural” dimension makes it an element awaiting the sacrament, on the condition that it respect heterosexuality and the parity of the two spouses when it comes to their specific rights and duties, and that the consent not exclude monogamy, indissolubility, permanence, and openness to life.

Conversely, the Church stigmatizes the deformations introduced into human love: homosexuality, polygamy, chauvinism, free love, divorce, contraception, etc. In any case, it never condemns persons. But it does not leave them in their sin. Like its Master, it has the courage and the charity to say to them: go and from now on sin no more.

The Church does not only welcome with mercy, respect, and delicacy. It firmly invites to conversion. As its follower, I promote mercy for sinners – which all of us are – but also firmness toward sins incompatible with the love for God that is professed with sacramental communion. What is this if not the imitation of the attitude of the Son of God who addresses the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more” (Jn 8:11)?

Robert Cardinal Sarah, L’Homme Nouveau, 21 November 2015.

Complete Immunity in Sin

Francis, Bishop of Rome.
Francis, Bishop of Rome.

It is not only one Church which is in peril, nor yet two or three which have fallen under this terrible storm. The mischief of this heresy spreads almost from the borders of Illyricum to the Thebaid. Its bad seeds were first sown by the infamous Arius; they then took deep root through the labours of many who vigorously cultivated the impiety between his time and ours. Now they have produced their deadly fruit. The doctrines of true religion are overthrown. The laws of the Church are in confusion. The ambition of men, who have no fear of God, rushes into high posts, and exalted office is now publicly known as the prize of impiety. The result is, that the worse a man blasphemes, the fitter the people think him to be a bishop. Clerical dignity is a thing of the past. There is a complete lack of men shepherding the Lord’s flock with knowledge. Ambitious men are constantly throwing away the provision for the poor on their own enjoyment and the distribution of gifts. There is no precise knowledge of canons. There is complete immunity in sinning; for when men have been placed in office by the favour of men, they are obliged to return the favour by continually showing indulgence to offenders. Just judgment is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart’s desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint. Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement. And now the very vindication of orthodoxy is looked upon in some quarters as an opportunity for mutual attack; and men conceal their private ill-will and pretend that their hostility is all for the sake of the truth. Others, afraid of being convicted of disgraceful crimes, madden the people into fratricidal quarrels, that their own doings may be unnoticed in the general distress. Hence the war admits of no truce, for the doers of ill deeds are afraid of a peace, as being likely to lift the veil from their secret infamy. All the while unbelievers laugh; men of weak faith are shaken; faith is uncertain; souls are drenched in ignorance, because adulterators of the word imitate the truth. The mouths of true believers are dumb, while every blasphemous tongue wags free; holy things are trodden under foot; the better laity shun the churches as schools of impiety; and lift their hands in the deserts with sighs and tears to their Lord in heaven. Even you must have heard what is going on in most of our cities, how our people with wives and children and even our old men stream out before the walls, and offer their prayers in the open air, putting up with all the inconvenience of the weather with great patience, and waiting for help from the Lord.

St. Basil of Cæsarea, Epistle 92.

Non Est Quidquam Medii inter Vitam et Mortem!

Pope John Paul II poses with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Munich in 1979.
Pope John Paul II poses with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of Munich in 1979.

Hic contingimus nucleum doctrinae translaticiae Ecclesiae, saepe et acriter in recenti Synodo assertae, quae non solum confirmavit, quod a Concilio Tridentino decretum est de exsistentia et natura peccatorum mortalium et venialium, sed etiam memoravit peccatum mortale esse peccatum, cuius obiectum est materia gravis et, insuper, quod plena conscientia et deliberato con sensu admittitur. Addatur oportet — quemadmodum factum est in Synodo — quaedam peccata, quod ad eorum materiam attinet, esse intrinsecus gravia et mortalia. Sunt enim actus, qui per se ipsos et in se ipsis, extra adiuncta, propter obiectum suum semper sunt graviter illiciti. Hi actus, si sufficienti cum conscientia ac libertate ponuntur, semper gravem inferunt culpam.

Haec doctrina, in Decalogo et praedicatione Veteris Testamenti innixa, in Apostolorum kerygmate resumpta, propria antiquissimae institutionis Ecclesiae, quae usque adhuc repetit eam, experientia hominum cuiusvis aetatis plane comprobata. Homo enim affatim novit experiundo se in via fidei et iustitiae, quae ipsum ad cognitionem amoremque Dei perducat in hac vita et ad perfectam cum eo coniunctionem in aeternitate, ibi consistere posse et inde aberrare, sed simul viam Dei non dimittere: tunc peccatum veniale habetur, quod tamen ita non licet attenuari ut sit per se quiddam neglegendum vel « peccatum parvi ponderis ».

Homo tamen etiam scit, tristi experientia edoctus, se conscio liberoque actu voluntatis suae, mutato itinere, in partem Dei voluntati contrariam posse abire et sic digredi ab eo (aversio a Deo id appellatur), communionem cum eo, in amore fundatam, respuendo, a principio vitae, quod est ille, se amovendo et sic mortem eligendo.

Cum tota Ecclesiae traditione peccatum mortale eum dicimus actum, quo homo lib ere scienterque repudiat Deum, eius legem, foedus caritatis, a Deo sibi propositum, praeoptans se ad se ipsum, ad aliquid divinae voluntati contrarium convertere (id conversio ad creaturam vocatur). Quod quidem fieri potest modo directo atque formali, veluti per peccata idololatriae, apostasiae, atheismi; aut aequali, ut cum mandatis divinis in materia gravi non obtemperatur. Homo sentit eo quod Deo non oboediat, coniunctionem cum principio suo vitali disrumpi: est peccatum mortale, actus, quo Deus graviter offenditur quique in ipsum hominem ad extremum convertitur obscura quad am potentique vi destructiva.

In Synodi Coetu tripertita distinctio peccatorum est proposita ita ut aec in tria genera essent dividenda: in peccata venialia, gravia, mortalia. Quae tripertita divisio ostendere possit in peccatis gravibus quandam haberi gradationem. Attamen verum exstat distinctionem essentialem certamque esse inter peccatum, quod deleat caritatem, et peccatum, quod vitam supernaturalem non auferat: non est quidquam medii inter vitam et mortem.

Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Adhortatio Apostolica Reconciliatio et pænitentia, no. 17.


God of Our Race, Give Audience

The Prophet Daniel by Niccolò Alunno (Walters Art Museum).
The Prophet Daniel by Niccolò Alunno (Walters Art Museum).

Prayed I then to the Lord my God, and made confession of my sins, in these words following: Mercy, mercy, Lord God, the great, the terrible; to those who love thee, so gracious, with those who keep thy commandments, troth keeping still! Sinned we have, and wronged thee, rebelled we have, and forsaken thee, turned our backs on decree and award of thine, nor heeded thy servants, the prophets, that spoke to us in thy name, to king and prince and the common folk that gendered us. Fault with thee is none; ours, Lord, to blush for the wrong-doing that has offended thee, men of Juda, citizens of Jerusalem, Israel near at hand, Israel banished far away, in what plight thou seest! Blush we, king and prince of ours, fathers of ours that did the wrong; be it thine, O Lord our God, to have mercy and to forgive. So far we have strayed from thee, so deaf to the divine voice, when the prophets that served thee bade us follow thy law! A whole people that would transgress thy command, turn a deaf ear to thy calls! What wonder if it fell on us, drop by drop, the avenging curse God’s servant Moses wrote of? Our sins had deserved it, and if yonder unexampled punishment befell Jerusalem, it was but a threat fulfilled; warning we had of it, we and the princes that governed us. No misfortune overtook us, but the law of Moses had foretold it; and yet, O Lord our God, appease thy anger we would not, nor leave our sinning, nor bethink ourselves, how well thy word thou keenest; what wonder if bane, not blessing, the divine regard brought us? Be our punishment what it will, not ours to find fault with the God we have disobeyed.

Thou art the Lord our God, whose constraining power rescued thy people from the land of Egypt, who hast won thyself glory, too, in this our day; we, Lord, have been sinners, we have shewn ourselves unworthy of all thy faithful dealings with us. But wilt thou let thy indignant anger fall on Jerusalem, on that holy mountain of thine? Too long, for our sins and the sins of our fathers before us, all our neighbours have held Jerusalem, and us thy people, in contempt. God of our race, give audience at last to the prayer, the plea thy servant brings before thee; for thy own honour, restore the sanctuary, that now lies forlorn, to the smile of thy favour. My God, give ear and listen to us; open thy eyes, and see how desolate is this city of ours, that claims to be thy own. No merits of ours, nothing but thy great love emboldens us to lay our prayers at thy feet. Thy hearing, Lord, and thy pardon; thy heed, Lord, and thy aid! For thy own honour, my God, deny thyself no longer to the city, the people that is called thy own!

— Daniel ix. 4-19.

I Would Not Speak Falsehood

View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, 'fort on the [River] Add'), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, ‘fort on the [River] Add’), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
On a time that Columcille was in Alba, he sent holy Baithin on certain errands to Aedan son of Gabhran. Aedan inquired of him who that man was, to wit, Columcille, of the which the folk of the Western World gave such great report.

“He is a good man,” saith Baithin, “for he hath not broken his virginity, and he hath done naught, small or great, in vain-glory, and never hath he spoken falsehood.” Then Aedan bethought him how he might confute that. And he brought Columcille to him. And he let seat his own daughter Coinchenn in a chair in the presence of Columcille, and she with royal robes upon her.

“Beautiful is the maiden,” saith Aedan.
“She is in sooth,” saith Columcille.
“Were it pleasing to thee to lie with her?” saith Aedan.
“It were pleasing,” saith Columcille.

“Hearest thou him of whom it hath been said that never hath he broken his virginity, and he saying he were fain to be lying with a maiden!” saith Aedan.

“I would not speak falsehood,” saith Columcille. “And know thou, O Aedan, there is none in the world that is without the desire to sin. Natheless he that leaveth that desire, for God’s sake, shall be crowned in the Kingdom of God. And wit thou well, I would not lie with the damsel for the lordship of the world, albeit for the lust of the fleshly body that is about me, it is indeed my desire.”

If now Columcille had said at that time that he had no wish to lie with the damsel, Aedan had laid that against him as a lie, according to the word he had himself spoken, to wit, that save the human body of Jesu Christ, there hath none put on flesh that doth not have desire toward sin.

— Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
XVII. More of the Labors of Columcille in Iona, 241;
compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Reality Upturned into Perversity

Crucifix by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Santa Maria del Santo Spirito di Firenze, Florence.
Crucifix by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Santa Maria del Santo Spirito di Firenze, Florence.

We have heard so much in the past year about the mercy of God, as if the mercy of God does not depend on the justice of God. Without justice there is no mercy. The mission of the Church is not primarily to proclaim the mercy of God. The mission of the Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The mercy of God is surely seen and exemplified once and for all in the Cross of Jesus Christ. There is no greater symbol of God’s mercy and love. Those silly “resurrected Christs” that are placed on a cross over an altar in some Catholic churches are a product of sentimentality and denial of the justice of God. And yet when one looks at the Cross one sees there the terrible, horrible, judgment of God on this world of sin, that God would have to have his Son die in this way: what does that say about this world, about you and me? The obvious answer is quite negative. But you see, the deepest answer to that question is Love, there is the answer. But not the cheap love the world would have us believe in, love defined as what I want to do, love defined apart from the laws of God, love defined so as to upturn reality into perversity, a false love that is doomed to hell, as Dante saw, as Christ told us, as St. Paul wrote, that is doomed to death, for it is the opposite of Love.

— From homily on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, 2013,
Fr. Richard G. Cipolla,
Saint Mary’s Norwalk, Connecticut.

(h/t to Rorate Cæli)

Redeemed by Blood

Garden of Eden (between circa 1571 and circa 1591), Jacob de Backer; oil on oak panel; Height: 30.5 in. Width: 42.3 in.; Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium.
Garden of Eden (between circa 1571 and circa 1591), Jacob de Backer; oil on oak panel; Height: 30.5 in. Width: 42.3 in.; Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium.

In the Beginning, the Lord shaped the heaven and the earth in his Christ, Who is the beginning of all things, that is, in his Son; and after creating the elements of the whole universe, taking a frail clod he formed man after His own image and likeness, and breathed upon his face the breath of life and he was made into a living soul. And while he slept a rib was taken from him and the woman, Eve, was created. There is no doubt that this first man Adam before he sinned typified the Redeemer. For as the Redeemer slept in the stupor of suffering and caused water and blood to issue from His side, He brought into existence the virgin and unspotted Church, redeemed by blood, purified by water, having no spot or wrinkle, that is, washed with water to avoid a spot, stretched on the Cross to avoid a wrinkle. These first human beings, who were living happily amid the pleasant scenes of Paradise, were tempted by the craft of the serpent. They transgressed the divine precepts and were cast out from the abode of angels and condemned to the labours of the world.

History of the Franks, Book I, St. Gregory of Tours.

Adomnán Obtained This Law of God

After fourteen years Adomnán obtained this Law of God, and this is the cause. On Pentecost Eve, a holy angel of the Lord came to him, and again at Pentecost after a year, and seized a staff, and struck his side and said to him, “Go forth into Ireland, and make a law in it that women be not in any manner killed by men, through slaughter or any other death, either by poison, or in water, or in fire, or by any other beast, or in a pit, or by dogs, but that they shall die in their lawful bed. Thou shalt establish a law in Ireland and Britain for the sake of the mother of each one, because a mother has borne each one, and for the sake of Mary mother of Jesus Christ, through whom all are. Mary besought her Son on behalf of Adomnán about this Law. For whoever slays a woman shall be condemned to a twofold punishment: that is, his right hand and his left foot shall be cut off before death, and then he shall die, and his kindred shall pay seven full cumals and one-seventh part of the penance. If, instead of life and amputation, a fine has been imposed, the penance is fourteen years, and fourteen cumals shall be paid. But if a host has done it, every fifth man up to three hundred shall be condemned to that punishment; if few, they shall be divided into three parts. The first part of them shall be put to death by lot, hand and foot having been first cut off; the second part shall pay fourteen full cumals; the third shall be cast into exile beyond the sea, under the rule of a hard regimen; for the sin is great when any slays the mother and sister of Christ’s mother and the mother of Christ, and her who carries a spindle and who clothes every one. But he who from this day forward shall put a woman to death and does not do penance according to the Law, shall not only perish in eternity, and be cursed for God and Adomnán, but all shall be cursed that have heard it and do not curse him, and do not chastise him according to the judgement of this Law.”

— Cáin Adamnáin, xxxiii.

Flee from Cruel Lands

Girolamo Savonarola.

The reason why I entered into a religious order is this: first, the great misery of the world, the wickedness of men, the rapes, the adulteries, the thefts, the pride, the idolatry, the vile curses, for the world has come to such a state that one can no longer find anyone who does good; so much so that many times every day I would sing this verse with tears in my eyes: Alas, flee from cruel lands, flee from the shores of the greedy. I did this because I could not stand the great wickedness of the blind people of Italy, especially when I saw that virtue had been completely cast down and vice raised up.

— Girolamo Savonarola in a letter to his father (25 April 1475).