Monday, October 20, 2014

Pascal and the Casuistry of Jesuits

Francisco Suarez was a 17th century Jesuit who is remembered chiefly for his "casuistry," or tackling moral problems on in a case-by-case basis. As a practical matter, this led to moral laxity, although Suarez himself led an upright life. Indeed, it was said he "purchased Heaven dearly for himself, but gave it away cheaply to others."

The Bear wagers you know Pascal.
Blaise Pascal wrote against the casuistry of Jesuits in his Lettres Provinciales, particularly letter VI, from which the Bear shall quote below. There was hardly any sin which Jesuits might not excuse. Today, the word "casuistry" is only used in a negative connotation, as avoiding guilt through clever argumentation. The reality, though, has never been more alive.

Instead we use terms like "pastoral approach," or "mercy," or "gradualism."

Pascal turned the writings of the Jesuit casuists against them wittily, although in an admittedly polemical fashion. Here is how they introduce a new doctrine into the Church without doing anything officially, as explained by a Jesuit character:
Pay attention now, while I explain our method, and you will observe the progress of a new opinion, from its birth to its maturity. First, the grave doctor who invented it exhibits it to the world, casting it abroad like seed, that it may take root. In this state it is very feeble; it requires time gradually to ripen. This accounts for Diana, who has introduced a great many of these opinions, saying: ‘I advance this opinion; but as it is new, I give it time to come to maturity — relinquo tempori maturandum.’ Thus in a few years it becomes insensibly consolidated; and, after a considerable time, it is sanctioned by the tacit approbation of the Church, according to the grand maxim of Father Bauny, ‘that if an opinion has been advanced by some casuist, and has not been impugned by the Church, it is a sign that she approves of it.’ 
Sound familiar? Recall that Pascal was writing in the 17th century! And what was the goal of the Jesuit casuists? Pascal places into the mouth of his Jesuit character a little speech that rings shockingly true today.
Men have arrived at such a pitch of corruption nowadays that, unable to make them come to us, we must e’en go to them, otherwise they would cast us off altogether; and, what is worse, they would become perfect castaways. It is to retain such characters as these that our casuists have taken under consideration the vices to which people of various conditions are most addicted, with the view of laying down maxims which, while they cannot be said to violate the truth, are so gentle that he must be a very impracticable subject indeed who is not pleased with them. The grand project of our Society, for the good of religion, is never to repulse any one, let him be what he may, and so avoid driving people to despair.
When Pascal tries to interpose the laws of the Church as an objection, his imaginary Jesuit interlocutor is unruffled.
“True,” he replied; “but this shows you do not know another capital maxim of our fathers, ‘that the laws of the Church lose their authority when they have gone into desuetude — cum jam desuetudine abierunt — as Filiutius says. We know the present exigencies of the Church much better than the ancients could do.
Even homosexuality was excused. When Pope Pius V's legislation against homosexual acts among clergy was brought up (without mentioning the sin itself) Pascal was invited to examine the Jesuits' written response. He writes: "I did so that very night; but it is so shockingly bad that I dare not transcribe it."

The Bear has written before of the importance of the concept of "desuetude." Notice how former dogmas are merely silently abandoned when they become inconvenient?

The historical memory is an important thing. As Jeremiah 13:23 reminds us, the leopard does not change its spots.

The Church is merciful to the repentant. How much more merciful could she be than to forgive every sin, no matter how horrible, to those who confess them sincerely?

But we are worse off with our present-day casuists than was the Church in Pascal's day. Today sinners don't want forgiveness. They feel entitled to denial of the sin and themselves to be granted vindication and acceptance. The casuists of our day seem more than happy to comply.

Even Francisco Suarez would probably be scratching his head at that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Unfamiliar Taste of Victory

One of my Army sons called tonight. I could hear the smile in his voice. "I just wanted to say I've been reading your blog. Things went well. I wanted to say that to you. Nothing ever goes right, in elections, or the Church, but it did this time."

Here's a man in his mid-20s, whose first elections when he was paying attention put Barack Obama in the White House. Then Obama was re-elected. His first grown-up papal election brought us Pope Francis. (The Bear will never forget his other Army son calling so we could share the "white smoke moment" when Pope Francis was elected.)

In his experience, the world doesn't get it right very often. He's never had a Ronald Reagan, or a St. John Paul II. When it comes to a leaders, it's always an Obama or a Francis.

The Bear can't seem to stop saying it, but we witnessed something remarkable, even historic. For once, the news made sense. The outcome brought a big smile and the need to share it with another. He's tasted public victory for the first time.

Here is where all the caveats go: Francis is still the Pope; there's another synod coming; the world will continue down the wide road of homomania; there are still Germans, etc.

But not tonight. It's a crisp fall evening and glad tidings are in the air. A glass of Korbinian's Doppelbock and a good briar pipe with a fine English blend call. God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.

10 Things to Know and Share About the Middle Way

Now that Pope Francis has exhorted Catholics to avoid extremism on both sides, the Bear offers a few tips so you can be Catholic enough, without being too Catholic.

  1. Go to Mass every other week.
  2. Drive to Mass on the center line of the street, taking up an equal amount of each lane.
  3. Go to confession seldom, and don't get bogged down in a bunch of scrupulous details. God knows you're trying, no matter what you've done. (Yes, no matter what.)
  4. If you must read the Bible, only pay attention to "nice Jesus."
  5. Hang out with outcasts like prostitutes. (See No. 3)
  6. Do not read St. Corbinian's Bear (extreme traditionalist) or Women Priests (just a tad too progressive). There's always Patheos for good, solid Catholicism. (But not too solid.)
  7. Best not to read at all, except for Pope Francis' homilies. (That's why there are so many of them!)
  8. Rosary? Seriously? Put that time into community organizing.
  9. Never listen to an African. Or a Bear.
  10. Most of all, study Buddha. After all, he's the one who invented The Middle Way.

Can readers contribute any tips of their own?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The False Middle Way Rejects Traditionalism

Beware the liberals on one hand, and the traditionalists on the other. The first would turn stones into bread to be merciful, the other would turn bread into stones to cast at sinners. This was Pope Francis' message at the end of the council.

And who, do you suppose, positioned himself in the middle?

The author of this blog may be a disreputable old Bear, who has never been closer to the Vatican than the Parco Zoo. However, he was somehow licensed by the State of Illinois as a lawyer, and certified among less than 1% of the lawyers in the state to serve as lead counsel in death penalty cases.

In other words, he is a trial lawyer who recognizes a rhetorical technique when he sees one.

Not that there is anything wrong with rhetoric. Good speakers are permitted their "tricks of the trade." Francis' classic three-point homilies are good examples. But there's nothing wrong with pointing them out from the peanut gallery.

Ah, liberals and conservatives. The press is always calling non-liberals conservatives, or, better, arch-conservatives, or hardliners. What politicians or churchmen are identified as "liberal," though? Liberals are just "our sort of folks." They are right-thinking, the way people are supposed to be. There is literally nothing remarkable about liberals.

Cardinal Burke, however, is always a "conservative," or "hardliner." Has the mainstream press ever described Cardinal Kasper or Pope Francis as a "liberal?" Do fish feel wet?

You will hear this theme again from Francis. (Pope Francis almost obsessively repeats a small collection of tropes: walking, smelling, etc.) "Traditionalists" are unimaginative brutes who want to stone sinners. Jesus wouldn't have liked them.

Like the Bear said, he's no churchman. But he does grasp that you cannot make major change to practice without implicating dogma. It's like a game of Jenga. You pull out the ban on communion for divorced and remarried, and value the homosexual orientation. There goes the Real Presence. Uh-oh, now Holy Matrimony is teetering. Oh no! There went scriptural inerrancy! We just lost Papal Infallibility! It's all tumbling down!

Everything is connected to everything else. As a living thing, the Church is properly called the Bride. Those mean old Traditionalists have always stood between the Bride of Christ and those who would make her the Bride of Frankenstein through ignorant or malicious surgery.

So when the Pope tries to put himself right in the middle -- always the most sensible place, no? -- recognize the trick he is playing. Is he walking in the middle, or just talking about the middle? The Catholic center is always and only occupied by the Traditionalists. All proper Catholics are Traditionalists! It is the nature of the the Church to be she who keeps.

The Catholic center is where the sheep are safe from the wolves. Don't be fooled by any wolf who tries to convince you that, no, over here to the left, in the gloomy forest, is the real center. The Catholic center remains, and the path is easy to follow, having been beaten down by centuries of those on the way to salvation.