Blog Template Theology of the Body: April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Nuptial Ecclesiology of Bernard of Clairvaux

“Yet there is one who truthfully and unhesitatingly can glory in this praise. She is the Church, whose fulness is a never-ceasing fount of intoxicating joy, perpetually fragrant. For what she lacks in one member, she possesses in another according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Eph 4:7) and the plan of the Spirit who distributes to each one just as he chooses (1 Cor 12:11)… although none of us will dare arrogate for his own soul the title of bride of the Lord, nevertheless we are members of the Church which rightly boasts of this title and of the reality which it signifies, and hence may justifiably assume a share in her honor. For what all of us simultaneously possess in a full and perfect manner, that each one of us undoubtedly possesses by participation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your kindness in uniting us to the Church you so dearly love, not merely that we may be endowed with the gift of faith, but that like brides we may be one with you in an embrace that is sweet, chaste, and eternal, beholding with unveiled faces that glory which is yours in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.”

Conclusion of Sermon 12, Sermons on the Song of Songs

Monday, April 27, 2009

Martyrs of the English Schism

Blesseds Thomas Green, Robert Salt, and Walter Pierson were Carthusian priests and religious who refused to join the ranks of their co-religious in taking Henry VIII’s infamous anti-papal Act of Supremacy in 1537. In the weeks following their refusal to apostasize, the brothers who had remained faithful to the pope were brought to a London prison, where they were chained in a standing position in their cells and left to starve to death. The three consecrated men died together in June, 1537.

Half a century later, the persecution of Catholics was still going strong in Protestant England. Blessed Francis Ingleby, an Oxford student who was ordained in France in his early twenties, bravely returned to England to serve his fellow English Catholics who were being persecuted under Henry’s heir, Elizabeth I. Father Ingleby was arrested for the exercise of his Catholic ministry in 1586 and was tried in a sham trial where the records show that he was not permitted to utter a single sentence in self-defense. Following his refusal to recant his allegiance to the Pope, Father Ingleby was sentenced to death by being drawn and quartered in June of 1586.

Saint Margaret Clitherow was an English housewife who suffered martyrdom while pregnant by peine forte et dure for her hospitality to Father Ingleby and other English Catholic priests. Her story has recently been celebrated in the new film entitled The Pearl of York, which has been picking up many glowing awards and reviews.

A Catholic contemporary of these English martyrs commented on their trials as follows: “the English authorities… cannot abide that the people should hear us speak any word… in defense or manifestation of our Catholic cause.” (qtd Magnificat entry Tuesday, June 3, 2008, p 60)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looking Forward to "Angels and Demons"?

Concerning the new film which is due out next month, Dan Brown says in his book by the same name that the Illuminati were ‘hunted ruthlessly by the Catholic Church.’ In the film’s trailer, Tom Hanks, who plays the protagonist Robert Langdon, says ‘The Catholic Church ordered a brutal massacre to silence them forever.’ Director Ron Howard concurs: ‘The Illuminati were formed in the 1600s. They were artists and scientists like Galileo and Bernini, whose progressive ideas threatened the Vatican.’

Who were these so-called humanists, scientist, and artists? Were the Iluminati really the liberators of human reason and freedom, who pioneered against the restrictions of an oppressive Catholic regime? One of the figures of the epoch which Ron Howard's new film purports to celebrate was the quasi-scientist Giordano Bruno, who was executed under the reign of the Inquisitor St. Robert Bellarmine. As we consider roles such as Bruno's in post medieval Europe, it is important to note that the proposals of the so-called revolutionaries were not only dogmatic in their own right and authoritarian, in the way that defies charity; they were also profoundly anti-Christian. There is a even a striking glimpse into the whole truth of the story when we recall that, as with all of the prisoners condemned by the state to death for their crimes against the church, Cardinal Bellarmine stayed with his prisoner the night before his death, in an act of filial solidarity.

I visited the site of Giordano Bruno’s death in Campo de’Fiori in Rome as a student in college. It was a hot summer; the market booths which rim the square were steaming in the sun, offering farmer’s rustic produce on worn wooden shelves. Good Catholics were bartering their wares behind them; their saints’ medallions clanged against the iron poles of their haphazard storefronts. In the middle of the Campo, a massive bronze sculpture of Giordano Bruno stands at the site of his death, cowl down, brooding over the busy market, having been erected by the followers of Vittorio Emmanuel in a time when it was crucial to undermine Papal authority over divided Italy, whether in sculptures or in spirit. On February 17, 1600, the martyr Bruno was condemned to be burned for heresy by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, now one of the grim models of heroic virtue who broods from a saint’s medallion, clanging against a pole in Bruno’s marketplace.

Most modern texts proclaim Bruno to be a great hero of free scientific thought who boldly confronted the Church's out-dated, anti-scientific dogma with a vision of cosmic reality, of which reluctant dogma Bellarmine was the acclaimed champion. The truth is, of course, more complex. History presents to us the stories of the judge aligned with an institution of faith, poised against the dangerous entrepreneur of science and imagination; history surprises us with their similarities. Both were dogmatic believers: while Bellarmine ascribed to the doctrine of the Christian Church, Bruno espoused a neo-Platonic synthesis of magic and the eastern theories of hermetism. The Inquisitor Robert Bellarmine may be the prototype of ecclesiastical censure of free thought in defense of dogma, but he had known his own share of censure; and we cannot help but find dogma even within the free and scientific enterprise of Bruno. Both men are now praised in their respective traditions for virtue and courage. Yet regardless of the viewer’s perspective, the historical facts are clear: there certainly is dogma on either side of the conversation. In the words of Bellarmine’s biographer Peter Godman, the roles of the (dogmatic) faithful and the (dogmatic) heretic are reversible; “on the plane of (dogmatic) ideas, the judge and the victim can be seen as doubles.”

Similarities Between the Faithful Bellarmine and the Heretic Bruno

Scholars such as Peter Godman refer to a passage in Iordani Bruni Nolani, in which it is the heretic Bruno who assumes the role of the judge of ignorant people, a self- styled arbiter of truth and “a bearer of light to a world inhabited by the erring and the blind.” In this passage, Bruno describes himself as a presiding over a divinely ordained tribunal, which “bears an unsettling resemblance to the Holy Office served by his own judge, Robert Bellarmine.” Clearly, such a perspective is impossible to reconcile with Bruno’s perceived role as a champion of free thought; although Bellarmine and Bruno held positions which were radically irreconcilable in their respective positions as “arbiters of truth,” the inquisitor and the heretic spoke the same language. As Godman writes:

While (Bellarmine) believed that the legitimacy of his mission was sanctioned by the traditions of the church… Bruno justified his on grounds which were intellectual and individual… They both spoke a religious language, whose truth- claims were absolute and uncompromising.

The lives of the two men followed striking parallels. Both were highly educated in the classical and scholastic traditions; the same lines from Aristotle and Aquinas probably rang in their ears throughout the long course of their respective careers. Both had responded to their Christian faith with finality, both taking holy orders at a young age, both exhibiting remarkable talent in their vocations, both intimately encountering the mystery and mysticism of the Christian tradition. In their respective orders, both were known for aggressively entering the religious controversies of the day, and both were known to speak their own minds with courage and candor in matters of faith.

Godman adds that, in terms of dogma, Bellarmine and Bruno were “intellectual doubles.” Both worked within the intellectual climate of the sixteenth century, wherein prior efforts for literary elegance had given place to a desire to accumulate as much material as possible, to embrace the whole field of human knowledge, and then to incorporate it into theology. Both men sought to define coherent systems of belief in order to reform their mutual Christian faith: Bellarmine’s mission was to establish systematically and comprehensively the uniformity and unity of Catholic doctrine; Bruno’s mission was to establish the supernatural unity of the cosmos, propelled by his sense of mission as a kind of Renaissance Messiah, who would open the mind of the Church to the infinity of the universe. Both men deliberately propagated belief in their work: Bellarmine published small and accessible tracts for ready propagation of his ideas across Reformation-wracked Europe, while Bruno himself traversed Europe looking for disciples in the manner of a cult leader.

Bruno’s Dogma

The "faith" of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) can be defined with reference to three categories: the ingenious freethinker believed in an infinite universe, an omnipresent world- soul, and the religious principles of hermetic religion.

Bruno’s metaphysical vision began with the premise of an infinite universe, in which he sought to re-unify terrestrial physics with the celestial, and to open the door to the idea of infinite human possibility. By combining religious and scientific orthodoxy with the ancient knowledge found in Platonism, oriental pantheism, and the apocryphal Hermes Trismegistus, Bruno assimilated a mystical synthesis in the form of a total cosmology. From this Gnostic cosmology Bruno derived a new concept of divinity as present in humanity and in the earth, such that humanity is caught up with God in an endless, infinite cycle of divine being and becoming, in which the matter of both the physical and the spiritual is identical, and in which physical reality is only illusion.

Bruno believed that a “continuity of influences”, the world-soul, joined the physical world, the celestial world, and the divine world in an hermetic embrace of erotic love. Rejecting the notion of ontologically separated spheres in the universe, Bruno believed that the rational human soul stood with the world-soul at the center of the hierarchy of being, to serve as a link between the corporeal world and the spiritual world, thus producing an internal and perfect unity between the cosmos and human experience.

Bruno believed that the world- soul descended from the spiritual world and gave life to the physical world, in a symbiosis through which the two worlds constantly transformed themselves into one another. From this idea of supernatural linkage, Bruno derived his infamous emphasis on magic, supernatural memory, and the role of erotic love in the perpetuation of the universe:

It seemed possible that man, endowed with a rational soul and a mediating spirit, could link himself to that privileged cosmic point on the boundary between the worlds, to grasp the archetypal forms, the generative models of every sensible reality.

Bruno also extended his concept of the universal soul to individuals, arguing that the infinite human soul originates in God and is thus immortal. Accordingly, he believed that human bodies are simply formed and re-formed again from the same matter, and that death is "nothing else than division and reunion.” Thus the human soul could return to earth in a new body after death and could even move on to inhabit an infinite number of worlds besides earth:

I have held and hold souls to be immortal...Speaking as a Catholic, [I say] they do not pass from body to body, but go to Paradise, Purgatory or Hell. But I have reasoned deeply, and, speaking as a philosopher, since the soul is not found without body and yet is not body, it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body to body.

Bruno’s new vision of the cosmos requires a change in humanity’s relationship to divinity. In the infinite universe, a relationship of reciprocal, shared necessity existed between God and man in the unity of the universe. Bruno believed that all things in the universe are connected; thus matter is itself divine, and the connection between matter and spiritual generates conceptual divinity. Furthermore, if all things between God and man might be mediated by the soul, all forms of Christology are rendered unnecessary; union with divine is possible here and now, without further mediation.

The theological conclusions of Bruno’s thought include the idea that divinity coincides with the world itself, as a divine substance which manifests itself from time to time in various modes: “If the material infinity of the corporeal were lacking, the spiritual infinity of the divine would also be absent; divinity is established as that which is all in all and in everything.”

Thus, we find Bruno acting as a sixteenth century expositor of the very old (and rather worn) heresies which Athanasius and Augustine had countered long before him. As a scientist, however, Bruno’s proposals show little promise. Biographer Dorothy Singer notes that “one wonders whether the use which Bruno made of Copernicanism might have raised in the inquisitorial mind the idea that there might be something else behind his heliocentric cosmology.” Singer goes on to state that Copernicanism was merely a symbol of Bruno’s novel religion, a means for return to the natural religion of the hermetic Egyptians within a western framework.

Professor Richard Pogge agrees that Bruno simply did not share Copernicus' scientific world view:

Much of (Bruno’s) work was theological in nature, and constituted a passionate frontal assault on the philosophical basis of the Church's spiritual teachings, especially on the nature of human salvation and on the primacy of the soul (or in modern terms, he opposed the Church's emphasis on spiritualism with an unapologetic and all-encompassing materialism). Copernicanism, where it entered at all, was supporting material, and not the central thesis. This suggests that the Church's complaint with Bruno was theological not astronomical. It was mysticism and philosophy that brought Bruno to his vision of innumerable worlds. Much of his work had little to do with astronomy. Indeed, Bruno was not an astronomer and demonstrated a very poor grasp of the subject in what he did write. What many popular accounts seem to miss is that the Church did not formally condemnation Copernicanism until well after Bruno's death. If Copernicanism were really the grounds upon which Bruno was executed as a heretic in 1600, it would have been explicitly proscribed at that time.

It thus appears that Bruno’s personal cosmology informed his espousal of Copernicus, and not the other way around. Frances Yates agrees that “Bruno’s philosophy cannot be separated from his religion;” and Singer notes that if mere belief in the movement of the earth was the point for which Bruno was condemned, his case even in this respect was in no way the same as that of Galileo, whose “views were based on genuine mathematics and mechanics” and “who lived in a different mental world from Giordano Bruno”, a world in which the scientist reached his conclusions on genuinely scientific grounds, apart from the influence of mysticism and Hermetic spirituality. Singer’s explicit conclusion is that Bruno’s philosophy cannot be separated from his religion:

It was his religion, the religion of the world, which he saw in the expanded form of the infinite universe… in innumerable worlds there lay the opportunity for an expanded gnosis, a new revelation of the divinity. Thus the legend that Bruno was prosecuted as a philosophical thinker and for his daring views on innumerable worlds and the movement of the earth can no longer stand. Completely involved as he was in his Hermetism, he could not conceive of a philosophy of nature (or number) without infusing divine meanings. He is thus really the last person in the world to take a representative of a philosophy divorced from divinity.

Bruno’s religious proposals, operating under the guise of quasi-science, were thus properly deemed to be heretical to the historical confessions of the Christian faith. In other words, Bruno presumed to advance a dogma which ran contrary to all that Christ had revealed about Himself.

Unlike Bruno, the Inquisitor Bellarmine has been called a free thinker who formed his world view around his personal faith, often at the expense of allegiance to convention. He had discovered early in his career as a theologian that veracity might be arrived at through inclusive mercy and tolerance of ideas. As a young student at Louvain, he had aggressively questioned the strict Augustinian theology concerning the total corruption of the human will and the selective mercy of God in choosing humanity by means of election. When dealing with spiritual development, he pays little attention to specifically Catholic prescriptions such as pilgrimages or indulgences; rather he urges for ascetic morality for transcendence and salvation, in this way appealing more to classical Stoic philosophy than to the particularized teachings of the Church Fathers. With some resemblance to Bruno’s belief in a “continuity of influences” which joined the physical, the celestial, and the divine in an hermetic embrace of erotic love, the sum of Bellarmine’s work has also been described as a “contemplation for obtaining Love.” Bellarmine also added an adventurous nuance to the system of divine approach in his spiritual writings, such as might have raised orthodox eyebrows, in that he promoted an image of the world shot through with God’s essence and attributes, as opposed to its merely resting under His transcendent distance:

Bellarmine’s God is not to be pictured out there without also being thought of as everywhere and especially within; he allows the reader to see that the Creator is at once infinitely above his creatures and yet utterly penetrates all the dimensions of created reality.

Even as a member of the Congregation of the Index which censured all heretical material, Bellarmine was a champion for expansive thought, requiring that exclusions of a work be decided with academic integrity; in this regard, he was frequently known to express opinions entirely independent from the more restrictive will of the Congregation. Bellarmine was a liberal scholar. One of his colleagues was known to say that he deferred to Bellarmine’s opinion because he knew everything about the heretical authors about whom he wrote daily. Bellarmine was renown for his studies in logic and philosophy, and the ability to organize his materials for effective use in the art of dispuatio.

In sum, although he was known as the “hammer of the heresies,” Bellarmine’s censorship is claimed to have been characterized by equitable restraint and humanism in an intellectual climate of denigration and savagery towards the dissidents: “implacable in exposing errors when he detected them, he was scrupulous in avoiding personal attacks on their authors.” Believing that the imposition of subjective and arbitrary opinions had led to a regress of correction, Bellarmine attempted to guide the Congregation in the direction of reason and responsibility, allowing for equivocation where shades of grey might be admitted as to a point of faith, and for the mere prescription of textual corrections where corrections were deemed necessary. Ambiguity was to be tolerated until further clarity had been decided upon through debate and consensus. Godman concludes that

"(Bellarmine’s) work is not the product of a closed mind. Doubt is admitted by Bellarmine to an extent uncommon among the Catholic controversialists of his day. Even when writing a genre little given to concession or compromise, he was capable of nuance."

Bellarmine’s concern for historical accuracy and academic integrity often led him to chastise the Congregation for the Index for its “tiresome incompetence”, as in the following words:

I detect much ineptitude in this censor. I am astonished at his acerbity in criticizing points of style which he merely dislikes. This is the way to cause irritation, not to correct error… and if (he) goes on like this, no one will dare to write anything.

On the whole, Bellarmine’s decisions as to the Index tended to be rational and often liberal, allowing for actual defense of questionable writings from time to time, as when he responded to Galileo that if science could in fact prove that the sun did not revolve around the earth, then the Church would have to willingly accept that that particular passage of the Bible should not be understood literally. According to favorable sources, what the merciful Bellarmine attempted was always censorship as rehabilitation.

Like Bruno, Bellarmine was heavily censured during his prolific career. His most famous work, The Controversies, was forbidden under penalty of death in England by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth; Bellarmine was also attacked abroad by James I for demanding a specific oath of loyalty for Catholic subjects to the crown. Bellarmine had been heavily criticized in his native Italy for undermining the authority of the Pope in temporal matters . He had personally angered several popes with his advice to promote an inclusive definition of the relationship between grace and free will, by his criticism of failures to abide by the decrees of Trent, and by his exhortation for stricter charity. Bellarmine had even been exiled from Rome for his outspoken belief. When Pope Sixtus V felt that Bellarmine’s opinions limited papal jurisdiction, Bellarmine’s work was actually included on the current Index of Forbidden Books, and only narrowly escaped permanent censure and prosecution. The Censor himself had been censured and exiled for heresy.

Bellarmine’s Faith and Bruno’s Heresy

The person and work of Bellarmine, the judge of the Inquisition, can be defined by reference to three categories: Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was a faithful Jesuit, an ardent spokesman of the Counter Reformation, and a censor of heretical thought. In alignment with his Jesuit tradition, and the widespread motive of deepening and strengthening Catholic life and dogma throughout the world, he avoided mystical spirituality in favor of practical, common-sense moral action and catechesis. Like Augustine, he attacked magic and the Renaissance tendency towards astrologizing mysticism, and sought instead to eliminate of the veins of pagan residues and superstition within Christianity. Bruno’s theories were no exception.

As a faithful Catholic, Bellarmine defended the authority of the magisterium, the absolute precedent of ecclesiastical tradition, ecclesiastical centralization and papal primacy; scrupulous about the Summa of Aquinas and scholasticism, his mission was to establish the uniformity and unity of Catholic doctrine: “alone among his successors and peers of the (Inquisitorial) congregation, Bellarmine had developed a system.”

It is also significant to note that, contrary to his rigorous avoidance of personal experience, Bellarmine’s great mystical work, The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things, was written in 1614 as a private devotional to stimulate the reader’s imagination towards the holy.

Like Bruno, Bellarmine knew that it was possible to seek divinity in nature. Drawing from Aristotle, Aquinas, and humanist theologians, Bellarmine contemplates the marvels of the created universe in order to arouse wonder for the grand scheme of God which assists the human mind to progress up the chain of being towards contemplation and union with the One. The notion of the Ladder of Ascent echoes the ancient Judeo-Christian concept of God above and humanity below and without, requiring a “climb” upward. Bellarmine’s solution is to approach God through fifteen “steps”, beginning with contemplation of the microcosm within the human self, progressing through the basic elements, then through the heavenlies, and finally, to reach the contemplation of God Himself.

While engaging the imagination through a sensitive use of natural theology, Bellarmine maintained his strict commitment to orthodoxy by clinging to a literal interpretation of Biblical passages and, while describing the revelation of God through nature, never strayed from the implicit division between God and man; God does not so much inhere in nature (as Bruno heretically believed) as nature reflects God and provides analogies for understanding His transcendent character. By His grace through nature, God “carries man up” to Himself: “The sun gives light and heat, but God gives wisdom and charity.” Furthermore, although Bellarmine shows God dwelling in the very creature which descended from Him, the creation mainly serves to remind mankind of its own transience and insufficiency; nature is to be used to reverence and serve God, who dwells apart from it.

Bruno's Downfall

Novelty of doctrine was a significant condition of admission to Bellarmine’s censure, as was content which stood to be “plainly” condemned. Where such criteria were met, judgment was sure. Despite his reputation for equity, Bellarmine’s self-styled tombstone reads “with force I have subdued the brains of the proud.” Thus, when Bruno appeared before the Venetian Inquisition in 1592, declaring that the purely philosophical nature of his work did not implicate ecclesiastical concerns, it might have been that the Inquisitors were willing to listen to such arguments; but Bruno had come to the attention of the Roman Inquisition, which engineered his transfer to Rome for trial in 1593. There Bruno faced Cardinal Robert Bellarmine for the first time; Bellarmine brought matters to a head. He presented Bruno with a list of eight "heretical propositions" taken from his work and required him to renounce them.

The report of the eight heretical propositions has long been lost, so we do not know exactly which connections between theory and heresy were produced by Bellarmine, or on which allegations Bruno was actually convicted of his great heresy.

We do know that the “heretical” points of Bruno’s thought roughly correspond to the following assertions: that the infinity of God requires an infinite universe; that the human soul is not created ex nihilo, but is "generated" from God Himself; that the stars are divine angels; that the earth is animated by a rational over-soul; and that the universe contains numerous worlds. We also know that his promotion of magic, his identification of the Holy Spirit with the animating world-soul, and his belief that Christ was only a superior sort of magician were also significant factors in his conviction.

Furthermore, Singer adds that

"The interrogations very rarely raised philosophical or scientific points and are concerned mainly with theological queries, matters of discipline, his contacts with heretics and heretic countries; it is most certainly true that Bruno was prosecuted for matters of faith."

Perhaps most importantly, the theological conclusions of Bruno’s thought also extended to deny the reality of the incarnation of Christ and the real presence of the Eucharist, and ultimately negated Christianity’s declared need for a healing of the division between nature and divinity: Bruno’s cosmology even implied that Christ preached deceptively when He promised to give to humanity a transformation through which they could “become” sons of God.

Although Bruno staunchly defended his writings as purely philosophical treatments, he could not help but admit several crucial and necessary departures from Christian doctrine within those treatments, namely, concerning the separation and status of the persons of the Trinity, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, and the incarnation of Christ. In this regard, as we can only speculate about the actual charges under which Bruno was condemned, it is helpful to describe the points at which Bruno’s theories corresponded to old and dangerous heresies which the Christian faith had been combating for generations. Bruno’s fundamental threat to doctrine, which stated that the physical reality of Christ’s incarnation was mere illusion, was not new; the issues which his theories raised were those to which the Church had responded by formulating its own statements of doctrine centuries before.

In fact, from time to time, the Catholic Church has claimed that Bruno was actually on trial for Docetism. Docetism had developed in the opinions of Cerinthus, c. 100, a Jewish Gnostic who denied the miraculous in the birth of Jesus, and proposed that the mystical Christ which “descended” on Jesus at baptism was distinct from the human Jesus Himself; Docetists were also prone to ascribe the role of a mere magician to Christ, believing that His miracles had been performed only in appearance and lacked historical reality.

The more pernicious of the accusations involved Bruno’s apparent allegiance to Arianism, which has been called the most troublesome heresy to confront the young Christian faith in its early stages of development. Prior to his fleeing his monastery and commencing his first period of wandering in 1576, Bruno was suspect for defending the fourth-century Arian heresy, a charge which was later addressed and confirmed at his trial. Arius' chief assertions centered on a Gnostic-like insistence that the Spirit who had assumed flesh in the incarnation had an entirely different nature from the divine nature of the true God, in that Jesus lacked omnipotence and eternal existence, having a lesser nature as a sort of demi- god or glorified creature.

These historical heresies would have been easily identifiable as implicit in Bruno’s doctrine of the inherence of divinity in all of nature, without the possibility of differentiation, and without the possibility of divinity or the infinite world soul inhering in only one perfect man. It seems that the scientist was flirting, not with the science of the cosmos, but with faith; he had become a heretic with a doctrine of his own.

Thus can we really look at the work of Bruno and recognize within it a neutral, purely scientific dogma which did not threaten the time-honored precepts of faith?

At this point, perhaps the Inquisition appears to be more of a legitimate contender protecting its own tradition from the “science” of Bruno, and the inimical faith which his science masked; furthermore, perhaps the Inquisition might appear almost reasonable, as an institution of learned men attempting to circumvent Bruno’s presentation of his conjecture as absolute truth. After all, Bruno was not simply asking innocuous questions; he was propagating a hodge-podge of mystical ideas, and had established himself as an arbiter of divine understanding. He was dealing in religious faith. If Pogge is correct, then “there is nothing in his writings that contributed to our knowledge of astronomy in any substantial way, indeed his astronomical writings reveal a poor grasp of the subject on several important points”. As a former member of the clergy, Bruno was certainly subject to the jurisdiction of the church regarding spiritual matters, and, as Godman writes, Bellarmine’s just efforts in Bruno’s trial were directed at identifying the core of doctrinal errors in Bruno’s writings and then explaining them to him, in order to persuade him to abjure; “in this way Bellarmine isolated Bruno’s novationism from his other and less pernicious mistakes in order to convert him.”

From the Catholic perspective, Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira writes that

Since the founding of the Church until our days, Divine Providence has always called illustrious men, who by their knowledge and sanctity have conserved and defended the truths of Catholic Faith against the attacks of heretics. St. Robert Bellarmine understood that one cannot do away with a heresy only by preaching the truth. It is also necessary to attack and smash the error. Using this method he converted heretics, bringing them back into union with the Church. When the Catholic Church canonized him, she approved this method. She said that St. Bellarmine had practiced all the virtues in a heroic degree. Since from the time of Vatican Council II, we have been taught that to attack heresy and heretics is harmful to the union of the churches. According to this conciliar mentality, every work of apostolate should praise and applaud the heretics, and never forthrightly combat their errors. The life of St. Robert Bellarmine proves precisely the opposite.

Works Cited

Iordani Bruni Nolani opera Latine conscripta, eds. F. Tocco and H. Vitelli (reprint Stuttgart, 1962)

John Patrick Donnelly, S.J., introduction, Spiritual Writings, by Robert Bellarmine (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1989)

Peter Godman, The Saint as Censor: Robert Bellarmine Between Inquisition and Index (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000)

Alfonso, Ingegno, introduction, Cause, Principle and Unity, by Giordano Bruno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Richard W. Pogge, “The Folly of Giordano Bruno”, The SETI Online Review League (12 Oct. 1995): n. pag., online, internet, 20 Nov. 2003, available:

Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thoughts (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968)

Spring Break 2010: Venerate the Shroud of Turin

FYI: The Shroud will be on Display in the Cathedral of Turin next year. However, to see it, you must book a reservation, which can be made beginning in December. More information

The booking system for visits to the Shroud, which you can access using this Internet site or by contacting a telephone call centre, will be fully operational as of December 2009.
During the Exposition, an “immediate” booking service will also be made available (for same day visits) at a reception point that will be set up in piazza Castello, near the Cathedral. Maximum attention will be devoted to meeting the needs of the sick, disabled, members of religious orders and diocesan pilgrims.
(For those opportunists among you, now may be a good time to consider taking up that religious vocation.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

One Catholic's Critique of the House Church Movement

The prospect of forming yet another new house "church" to the greater glory of God frequently manifests itself in evangelical Protestantism's ongoing dialogue within itself about what it means to be joined to the one body of Christ; and there is something deeply grievous in the presuppositions which ground the question for those who are more passionate about visible, effective Christian unity than anything else, particularly as the civil structures around us slowly degenerate.

In the firrst place, the House Church movement runs contrary to evangelicalism's own self-identification, because a smattering of disparate Christian communities can make evangelism very difficult; when the Christian community in an area becomes more and more diffuse, where do you send your converts for the ongoing task of discipleship? And how credible can the Christian message seem to unbelievers when it is represented by hundreds of disparate communities who all believe and experience something different?

Secondly, the Scriptures which evangelicals embrace above all else make no qualification about the importance of submitting and conforming to what the Holy Spirit has already done in gathering Christians together in each and every vicinity, rather than trying to create something new in order to meet various personal spiritual needs. When we recall what Jesus presumes in Matthew 18; it's true that He promises to be present in a gathering as small as two or three people, but He also presumes that there is to be an established authority structure in place, of the sort that can enforce discipline for errant members. One might also think of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, where the Father's invitation is for a particular time and place. This mandate makes so much sense in light of the Hebrew Bible's injunctions for the believers to gather to worship in the particular time, place, and manner centered around the Jerusalem Temple, which points to our even more particularized worship of the person Jesus; and as the parable concludes, the Father rejects those who instead go about their own business in other times and places rather than the one He has ordained:

"Then he sent some more servants and said, 'Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.' But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business... and the king was angry." Matthew 22: 4-5: 4

Accordingly, the principle of II Corinthians 9:12-13 holds that the spreading of the Gospel must be accompanied by generosity within- and obedience to- a specific community:

"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else."

Similarly, the principle of I John 2: 18-20 is that the body of believers should absolutely remain together in doctrine and fellowship rather than "going out;" here the apostle presumes that the principle of separation and division (which is traditionally identified NOT as a "revolutionary" principle of revival, but rather as the sin of schism) is a mark of the spirit of antichrist:

"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."

Finally, St. Paul's inspired writings describe a standard of unity in doctrine that seems very difficult to maintain in independent, dissociated house churches. For instance, Paul requires the believers to confess and believe the same thing in I Corinthians 1:10: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind (teaching) and thought;" the same idea is re-iterated in 1 Corinthians 4:17: "For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."

In sum, the Biblical principles of ingathering and mutual submission to all that God has already done in and for the Church, His "Bride," is very different from the popular evangelical vision of dissimulation. Even though separation into multiple house churches may be a currently popular trend, this does not mean that is it is necessarily Biblical. Obviously not every popular trend in our culture brings glory to God.

Bono's De Anima

Wouldn't want anyone to miss Bono, lead singer for U2's op-ed in the NY Times from this weekend. Bono helpfully queries: Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?

It's a fair question, of course--an urgent one, even--but Bono trots out some pretty stale answers. He writes:
I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much fruit for this soul-searching other than some platitudes about social "justice" and "investments," rather than traditional "charity" and "alms." But in emptying "religion" of all but it's most practical aspects, Mr. Bono has effectively eradicated all traces of the transcendent from human life. Of course, there's nothing new in this--it's a view that's been held variously for over two centuries now. But then again, the last two centuries haven't shown us at our best, have they?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Do not be Unbelieving but Believe

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

True God and True Man


My lenten devotional posed a simple question for Easter. Why did Christ not stay in the grave? The simple answer was that God could not die, but in Christ's true dual nature His humanly body and soul could taste death, while His Godly nature would not let that death be permanent. Here in lies a fundamental aspect of our trinitarian God, our faith, and through it, ourselves.

Heretics both ancient and modern, have claimed falsehoods about Christ's nature. The Nestorians said He had two separate and unrelated human and divine natures. The Arians claimed that he was not God at all, but merely and enlightened man or prophet. The Docetists claim that he was solely God with only the appearance of man.

None of these positions can reconcile both the death and resurrection of the Lord. For if He were only man as the Arians claimed, He would still be in the tomb. His death and descent to hell would have been permanent. No mere mortal could escape those bonds. Without the resurrection, as Paul reminds us, our faith is in vain.

Were Christ exclusively God as the Docetists claimed, he could not have died, and therefore we would not have been truly redeemed. God has always possessed dominion and victory over all creation. Jesus's victory over death in this scenario would have represented mere repetition. Without human death and resurrection, man's relationship to death would be no different than at the time of Adam's fall. We could hope that the Father in His benevolence might choose to look at us merely as pardoned criminals. However, we couldn’t trust that he would see us in the light of His chastised, risen, and perfect Son.

Were He of two separate and unbound human and divine natures as claimed by the Nestorians, we would be left with an inconsequential combination of the previous scenarios. His body would have remained in the tomb with his human soul tormented in hell. Only His godly spirit would move through heaven and earth as a vapor. The triumph over Satan, sin, and death would be incomplete, belonging not to man, but exclusively to God who has not need for such a victory.

Created in His image, we can hope to share in His destiny. Outside of Christ, we can expect only death and decay for our body and soul separate from our creator. With Christ and His dual nature within us, we can be confident not only in the ascent of our souls but in the resurrection of the body on the last day.

From the time of the ascension until the second coming, Christ comes to us on the alter in His daily sacrifice instituted at the last supper. Those who think the communion feast is only a remembrance misunderstand the words of eternal life when Jesus taught, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you shall not have life within you.” On a certain level this is understandable because we know that this teaching in hard, and we may wonder who can accept it.

Those believing He is present at the alter only in spirit in or around the bread and wine forget His dual nature. They forget that he died, rose, and will return as true God and true man. They unwittingly echo the sentiments of the Nestorians by thinking that Christ's spirit moves outside of and separate from His human flesh. They fail to understand that when he is found on earth today, it is on the alter also in body and divinity, true flesh and true God.

Were Christ to move among us simply in spirit, it would render needless the third person of the Trinity. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, the blessed advocate to live in our hearts. Doubtlessly the Spirit can sheppard those souls who seek the reconciliation with Jesus only through belief and spirit. We need look no further than the first few days after the resurrection for evidence. Were not the apostles hearts burning as they walked with the mysterious stranger on the way to Emmaus? Yet, as my priest at my childhood parish so often reminded us, they did not recognize in his fullness until the breaking of the bread.

To have Christ truly live with our hearts, we need remember His true nature. From the moment of His conception and incarnation by the power of the Holy Spirit, to His gestation in Mary's womb, at the Nativity, during His growth as a child, throughout His ministry, in His crucifixion, death, decent, resurrection, and in His ascension, He lived in body and spirit as God and man. The tomb is empty today as it will be on the last day when Jesus returns. To find Him today, we need to look for Him in His true nature. We will find Him in body and blood true God and true man in the sacrificial sacrament He commissioned on the night he was betrayed.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ECUSA Priestess: Abortion is a Blessing, and our work is not done

Just before Holy Week, the new dean of Harvard's Episcopal Divinity School (which farms out chaplains to many of the most prestigious boarding schools and Protestant ministry centers on university campuses) led her audience in a chant of "abortion is a blessing, and our work is not done!"... before concluding with these words:

I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing - who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes -- in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You're engaged in holy work.

You can find the full text of her sermon here, where Damian Thompson has provided some typically bang-on commentary:
"Do not, please, make the mistake of assuming that she is an unrepresentative extremist: liberal Anglicans in America are among the most fervent supporters of abortion in the world, outstripping even atheists in their enthusiasm for this gruesome procedure."

Our Anglican/ECUSA brothers and sisters in Christ, who are joined by God's grace to other Christians in the Catholic Church, have long since denounced the Catholic Church's understanding of herself, of the world, and of their own attenuated communion with the Body of Christ. It should thus come as no surprise that some of their most prolific representatives in the most elite arenas are lately making public pronouncements which, frankly, come from the pit of Hell. It should also come as no surprise that the leaders of their common ecclesial communion, including local bishop figures and Rowan Williams himself, have to date uttered no public reprimand on point. As long as Christ's people do not take their part in His Body for the vigilant resistance to which they have been called, the enemy of every soul will continue to pursue and conquer like the roving lion that he is, in spite of the most well-intentioned individual protests.
To my Anglican/ECUSA/Lutheran brothers and sisters in Christ, who remain in full communion with those who make such statements, and to all who offer their support by their tacit assent and solidarity: this is demonic.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Redeemer Lives

Happy Easter!

Mighty Victim from on high
Hell's fierce powers beneath thee lie.
Thou has conquered in the fight,
Thou has brought us life and light.

Now no more can death appal
Now no more the grave enthrall.
Thou has opened Paradise,
And in Thee Thy Saints shall rise.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holy Week

No blogging for me this week.

A time for confession. A time for silence and stillness. A time for waiting for an assured rejoicing. It's the final stretch on the road to the resurrection; it's just a matter of time.

"We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicably hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us. ... not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy... through the waters of baptism and the renewal by His Holy Spirit." Titus 3:3-7

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Medieval Church's Family

Thirteen children; two cardinals; three nuns; the rest are warriors and ladies. Not bad.

(In the detail, you can see the vowed religious sisters wearing the nuptial wedding bands which signify their particular, radical participation in the nuptial Church's present assent to Christ)

The Jouvenel des Ursins Family: Paris, 1445