Dr. William Tighe has a fascinating article on Touchstone—“Calculating Christmas.” Tighe argues that the dating of Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the pagan celebrations of the solstice, Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus. Rather, he states that there was a Jewish belief that a prophet died on the day of his conception that Christians inherited. Tighe shows that Christians in the early centuries tried to figure out the solar calendar date for the crucifixion. In the West, March 25 became the favored date, which then determined the feasts of the Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) and of Christmas nine months later. If Tighe is right, then the tendency to attribute December 25 to the Christians’ appropriating a pagan festive season is poor historical scholarship—like a nineteenth century version of the Discovery Channel.
In September, my brother sent me The New York Times article on Antonio Spadaro’s interview with the pope: “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ with Gays, Abortion and Birth Control” (complete interview here).
My immediate response was, “Whew. Hopefully, now those Franciscan Sisters will stop carrying their ‘God Hates Fags’ signs to mass. That always sets the wrong tone.”
In the weeks that followed, I read many similar reactions. Where are these parishes teeming with heartless rightwingers, condemnatory wagging fingers, and constant moralizing on sexual ethics? In actuality, American papist catechesis—in class and in sermon—tends to hover pretty closely around Christ’s two great commandments.
The leftist hordes do not care about truth or about what the pope says. By habit and principle, they employ all available weapons to achieve their goals, high among which is the destruction of Christianity. I hope that the officials in the Vatican understand this. The last fifty years indicate that they have not yet learnt such lessons, though the signs have been quite clear to keen observers since la Terreur.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who leads Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, spoke to the World Council of Churches last month. You may read the Metropolitan’s address on the W.C.C. site: “The Voice of the Church Must Be Prophetic.” They are words that the W.C.C. delegates need to hear, though perhaps they could not understand the deviation from the typical Gramscian script. Metropolitan Hilarion reminds me here of Fr. Siarhei Hardun’s speech to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. General Assembly, about which I wrote in “My Kind of Ecumenism.” If Orthodox churchmen continue to testify before the heterodox as they should, the wayward may stop inviting them to their gatherings, despite the organizers’ multiculti values. For now, though, let us rejoice while men speak the truth in love.
I receive news compilations that mention the Russian Orthodox Church. In one of the recent batches was a link to an unfortunately approving article in The Advocate regarding a blasphemous calendar that attacks the Church: “Orthodox Calendar Pays Artistic Tribute to LGBT Russians.” It goes without saying that the “Orthodox Calendar” is anything but. The pornographers behind the effort are neither Orthodox nor Russian, and they apparently show no restraint in their propaganda. The “calendar” is another wicked omen of the coming storm.
Happy feast of Saint Nicholas to you new calendarites out there!
A few days ago, Russia Today published a documentary in English about Valaam by British journalist James Brown: “Valaam: Soul journey.” I recommend it. I have posted about Valaam before, but this video will make you want to spend some time at Russia’s famous northern monastery. If it were not so close to the arctic, I could happily live there—a pristine lake, gardens, forests, wildlife, pilgrims, beautiful temples, Russian bells, superb singing—and sanctified chickens! I bet that they have holy goats, too! My ideal place—if it weren’t so cold in the winter. The video also displays contemporary Anglophone expertise in media emotionalism; the treatment of the orphans’ visit to Valaam is quite touching. I wish those kids well.
Note that a few RT news segments interrupt the documentary in the middle (from 12:44 until 15:21). Just skip over those parts (which are news items typically done by disaffected Brits and Americans), and make sure to watch the rest of the video.
As of now, I cannot figure out how to embed the video. Should Russia Today post it on their YouTube channel, or if Mr. Brown makes it available on his MyDocumentaryChannel, I may embed it here.
Update: I found the video in two parts on PressValaam:
Have a good weekend.
I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple—and Advent greetings to everyone.
Proph posted interesting thoughts today on the Orthosphere about conciliarity in the “post-conciliar” (Roman) Church: “Pope Francis and synodality.” His words are worth repeating:
Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.
I suppose that Proph meant by “everyone” those of us of Orthospheran tendencies. I know many folks who think that the contemporary Roman situation is perfectidoo. Regardless, I think that Proph has aptly analyzed the fault of the council and of its implementation. As Proph and the rest of the Orthosphere crowd surely know, this fault is modern man’s common vice—and the root of that fetid tree frequently (and unfortunately) called rationalism. The ancient Greeks were the real rationalists; the shortsighted masters of nature who follow in Bacon’s footsteps deserve another name—perhaps Caecicelsians. The arrogant attitude of “we know better” along with naive reductionism make modern man the proverbial bull in the china shop of civilization. That Christian bishops would be so foolish as to eat its rotten fruit is what puzzles—and troubles.
Proph’s main complaint in the post concerns Pope Francis’ words about conciliarity. I responded to Proph’s dismay:
From the Orthodox perspective, this looks excellent — we’ve been complaining about ultramontanism for a very long time. However, Rome’s practice of superpapism for so long, coupled with the relatively recent lowering of orthodox and orthopractical standards for hierarchs, has resulted in an episcopacy unfit to rule. So, I agree that devolving decisions to national or regional episcopal conferences in the Roman Church is unwise now (though not absolutely), yet I smirk when I think about the Latin intellectual legacy behind subsidiarity in the political realm. Intelligent governing arrangements — except for “Peter,” whom alone among all rulers the Holy Spirit vouchsafes to guide properly.
Seriously, though, if Rome is to return to the ancient collegial way (not quite alien to the Western patrimony if you go back far enough), it must get its house in order. You would not hand over your car keys to an irresponsible teenager — surely the pope shouldn’t hand over (share) Peter’s keys with unready bishops. How, though, are the Latins to raise up bishops fit to be, uh, bishops? Or better yet — to raise up its flock so that the people themselves keep the bishops in line just as the bishops oversee the people (another form of our grating Eastern symphony)?
You see — there are real unintended consequences to clericalism, such as a spiritually emaciated laity, and it shows when the chain of command breaks (e.g. modernity). Ditto for ultramontanism with regard to the episcopacy. It’s a mess.
I wish Pope Francis the best in his attempts to re-evangelize his lost sheep.
Proph responded amicably and with insight:
I was hoping you’d chime in, Joseph. In principle I have no objection to synodality. The Orthodox model seems to work well, for the Orthodox, who have over 1000 years experience with it, a whole network of customs and safeguards built into it, and (I’m given to understand) procedures in place by which a diocesan synod can oust an unruly bishop; but we can’t engineer an equally functional system in the West on the fly in five minutes. It’s hubris to think we can and idiocy to suggest we ought to try. More importantly, though, the Orthodox have a commonly-held and valued tradition to glue them together even in the absence of a central administrative apparatus or figurehead, and it is precisely that tradition which serves as a visible symbol of unity. The equivalent tradition in the West has been deliberately dismantled and it’s not even clear the bishops all share the same faith anymore.
I am also especially alarmed by what can only be described as neo-ultramontanism among some ordinary Catholics (e.g., the Catholic Answers Forum variety), who already regard every episcopal utterance (even the horrid Scalfari interview) as divinely inspired and every prudential governing decision as being a response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I hate to imagine how that dynamic would play out if, in 20 or 30 years, the bishops conferences of two different nations issue competing doctrinal guidelines.
I do not know if Proph is correct (I hope not but fear so), but the question, again, is why??? I have asked dozens and dozens of faithful, learned, intelligent Latins that question, and I am never satisfied by their responses. How many bishops were at the Second Vatical Council? Two thousand? (Wiki check: “up to 2625,” though I am not sure how many were bishops.) In addition to the bishops at the council, consider the thousands of Roman priests, members of religious orders, and laymen in positions of influence in Roman Catholic institutions and circles at the time who got on board that crazy train. How is it that so many of them would so readily transform, in so little time, their ancestral religion? We’re not talking about the hedonists of the West, or Communists, or atheists, or devotees of Comte, or fans of Freud, or Nietzsche junkies. Rather, it was the faithful flock in the pews and their pastors in the pulpit who swallowed the radical redirection of the council and of its implementation. It doesn’t matter if the episcopacy, clergy, and laity failed to apply the council faithfully. They did what they did. Why? How did it happen? Was everyone already a Roger Mahoney or a Simone Campbell in waiting, though hiding until they realized that, hey, everyone wants to throw off that old fuddy duddy relic of Christendom past and get groovy. Was the council like band camp for heretics, where they realized that they were not alone after all—and then the party started? Or did the demons pull off a marvelous stunt after laying the foundation for two centuries? It’s simply bizarre.
Anyway, I don’t know what the pope should do to make the Roman ark more seaworthy in a time of great flooding—or how to navigate it safely toward Orthofriendly waters. I would hate to have that job. Consider that when you next think ill thoughts of the pontiff. What a task the man has!