Monday, October 17, 2011

On the authority of bishops, from St. Ignatius of Antioch


October 17th, Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch
On December 20th, in the Roman Martyrology, we read: “At Rome, the passion of St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr; he was the third after St. Peter the Apostle to rule the Church of Antioch, and in the persecution of Trajan was condemned to the beasts and sent to Rome in fetters. There he was afflicted and tortured by the most cruel torments in the very presence of the Senate. Finally he was cast to the lions and, ground by their teeth, became a sacrifice for Christ.”
 St. Ignatius of Antioch has rightly been called the “Doctor of Unity” – both insofar as he brilliantly set forth the doctrine of the unity of the person of Christ in two natures, and as he defended the unity of the Christian people within the hierarchy of the Church. As the unity of the single person of Christ cannot be properly defended without admitting the diversity of his two natures, so too (we say by analogy) the unity of the Church cannot be maintained without the diversity of hierarchical vocations within the mystical body.
Today, in honor of our saintly Bishop and Martyr, we consider the role of the bishops of the Church – specifically, we do well to call to mind the special relation between the priests and the bishops. [This is particularly important in our days, when many so-called “conservative” priests rebel against the authority of their bishops.]

Let all be subject to the bishop, and he to Christ
St. Ignatius is most well-known for a series of letters which he wrote as he was being led from Antioch to Rome in chains for his martyrdom. These letters are extremely important to our understanding of the development of doctrine in the early Church. The  letters show a very high understanding of the Eucharist both as the very body of our Savior and also as the true sacrifice, of the unity of the person of Christ who is both God and man, of the nature of martyrdom, and of the redemptive value of suffering (among many other points).
In this little article, we propose to consider St. Ignatius’ understanding of the hierarchy of the Church which he so clearly laid out in the three degrees of Holy Order: Bishop, Priest, Deacon.
“See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. […] Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. […] Whatsoever [the bishop] shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 8)
“Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Smyrnaeans; Ch 9)
From these words, we recognize the great emphasis which St. Ignatius places on the authority of the bishop and the obligation of all (including both the laity and the clergy) to be subjected to the bishop. “Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” How strong and direct are our Saint’s words! How wrong are those who reject their bishop’s authority and strive forward in pride to do their own will!
What is worse, many will not hesitate even to publicly criticize the bishop (even some priests will do this from time to time). Such persons put their souls in a state of great peril:
“It is becoming, therefore, that ye also should be obedient to your bishop, and contradict him in nothing; for it is a fearful thing to contradict any such person. For no one does [by such conduct] deceive him that is visible, but does [in reality] seek to mock Him that is invisible, who, however, cannot be mocked by any one. And every such act has respect not to man, but to God.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Magnesians; Ch 3)
“Some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Magnesians; Ch 4)
Who can dare to judge his bishop? Whither comes such authority? No, there is none in the Church who is over the bishop (excepting, of course the Pope), therefore whosoever judges and condemns his bishop judges against Christ and against the Father. To reject the authority of the bishop is to reject the authority of Christ – persons who do such are “not possessed of a good conscience.”
Wherever the bishop is, there is the people of God; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
The bishop and the Church
St. Ignatius by no means intends to imply that the people are to be crushed by the authority of the bishop – not at all! Christ is the head of the Church, but this implies no disadvantage to the Church as being subject to her divine Head; just so, although all in the Church must be subject to the bishops, they suffer no disadvantage by this subjection (indeed, it is a great blessing!).
St. Paul reminds us of the proper relation of the people to the bishops when he corrects the Corinthians for their sectarianism: Let no man therefore glory in men. For all things are yours, whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; for all are yours; And you are Christ's; and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) The subjection which is implied by the authority of the Church’s hierarchy does not in any way diminish the dignity of the Christian faithful; for, as the Holy Father himself is the “servant of the servants of God”, so too the bishop is the servant shepherd of his flock.
The bishop, then, does not exercise his authority for personal gain, but for the benefit of the people. Specifically, it is the hierarchical structuring of the Church which ensures and protects the unity of Christ’s flock. Scarcely had the Protestants rejected the Church’s hierarchy, when they found themselves not only breaking from unity with Christ and his Church, but divided even amongst themselves. Whosoever rejects his bishop will soon be the house divided against itself, he shall not stand long.
Contemplating the unity of the Church which is founded in the diversity of her hierarchy, St. Ignatius is compelled to use metaphorical (and nearly poetic) language:
“Wherefore it is fitting that ye also should run together in accordance with the will of the bishop who by God's appointment rules over you. Which thing ye indeed of yourselves do, being instructed by the Spirit. For your justly-renowned presbytery, being worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Thus, being joined together in concord and harmonious love, of which Jesus Christ is the Captain and Guardian, do ye, man by man, become but one choir; so that, agreeing together in concord, and obtaining a perfect unity with God, ye may indeed be one in harmonious feeling with God the Father, and His beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Ephesians; Ch 4)
How much is at stake in the relation of the bishop and the Church! Indeed, we must all pray daily for our bishops – may the Lord give them wisdom and fortitude to govern the flock which our Savior has entrusted to their care!
What if the bishop is a bad bishop?
Now, I am sure that many are thinking at this point: “Well and good, Father; but what if the bishop is bad? What if he is not a holy man? What if he doesn’t govern his flock well? Are we still obliged to follow him?” I suppose there is a great temptation to predicate obedience on our estimation of our superiors, but then it is no longer true obedience – it is only self-will.
Notice, St. Ignatius does not predicate the hierarchy of the Church on the virtues of the bishop but rather on the will and plan of God.
“It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all [...] let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church [...] he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Trallians; Chs 2-3, 7)
It should be clear: We are never bound to obey our bishop in committing a direct sin (in fact, we are bond to disobey him). However, we ought to consider whether the bishop (whom we judge as a poor bishop) is truly commanding something which is contrary to the divine will or not. Is the command in fact a direct sin, or is there room for diversity of opinion? Perhaps the bishop does not really command a sin, but only commands what is less-good.
For example: If a bishop were to forbid pro-life activity in his diocese, this would seem to many to be a poor decision (and, speaking hypothetically, it would seem so also to me). However, even a command of this magnitude is not clearly directly implying sin – it is no direct sin not to pray in front of an abortion clinic. It is not sinful to cease to be involved in explicit pro-life activity; therefore, if a bishop were to command either priests or lay faithful to avoid such activity (speaking hypothetically and in theory), it would seem that such persons would be obliged to comply – at least, this seems to be what St. Ignatius would say. Now, let us set aside this particular hypothetical example.
Perhaps a bishop is a poor bishop, perhaps he does make poor decisions (and maybe he even sins his failing to guide his flock well) – what good does the disobedience of priest and people bring? If the bishop is a sinner, how does it help for priests and people to sin through disobedience?
Indeed, perhaps some bishops are not as holy as they should be – but how much worse it is when the faithful (or the priests) accuse their bishops publicly, and even to the secular media!
If a bishop fails to guide his flock well, and if he does not repent of this sin, perhaps he will be condemned to hell for all eternity. If those subjected to the bishop (and especially the priests) rebel against their poor bishop who is failing in his duties but who has not commanded any direct sins, and if they do not repent of this sin of disobedience, perhaps they will be condemned to hell for all eternity together with their bishop.
And what good has come then? What use was the venting of frustration against their bishop?
Whenever we think of our bishop, and especially whenever those of us who are priests think of our bishop who is over us, we would do well to say, “My poor bishop!” Yes, my poor bishop – he is “poor” because he must govern over one as rebellious and wretched as myself! If only I might make some small reparation to him by overlooking his little visible faults (they are much less then my own hidden sins), and pray for him every day.
Why do priests and people waste their breath in contradicting and criticizing their bishops? How much greater good (and change) could come if that energy were spent in prayer before the Sacrament! How many bishops would have been converted, if only certain groups of “conservative” priests and laity over the past forty or more years would have prayed with devotion rather than running their lips! [And I challenge the conservatives because I have not much hope left for the liberals, their prayers are of little value so long as they stray from the Faith.]
A word from Pope Benedict XVI
“Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.
“Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.
“As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the ‘Doctor of Unity’: unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in ‘faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred’ (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).
“Ultimately, Ignatius’ realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).” (Wednesday Audience of 14 March 2007)

And the final word goes to our Saint: “Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God. [...] In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished.” (St. Ignatius: Letter to the Trallians, 13)

St. Ignatius, Pray for us!

32 comments:

Toma Blizanac said...

I don't think a bishop would have the authority to forbid pro-life activity of lay Catholics. He could forbid priests to join them or the use of church properties.

I do agree that we should pray for our local bishop, that we should always try to understand what he says in the most positive way and in the spirit of docility. However, if we believe a bishop to be doing something wrong, there is a sensible way of proceeding, first in private conversation with some knowledgeable priest, then addressing the bishop in private, then writing to the Holy See if that is possible and finally publicly rebuking him. This last step should, of course, not be done lightly and we should always examine our motives very carefully.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Toma,
you are correct, a bishop could not forbid pro-life activity of all the people.
He could forbid it insofar as it is Catholic, however. He could say that it is not to be promoted in parishes and he could ask all the priests to give a message at Mass requesting that Catholics do not get involved in pro-life work.
But, of course, he does not have the authority to control every moment of a lay person's life -- so, he could not forbid all pro-life activity in general, only pro-life activity that is presented as "Catholic".

Regarding the public correction of a bishop ... if writing to the Holy See did nothing, then I cannot hardly imagine a case in which it would be appropriate for a priest or lay person to publicly criticize the bishop.
Look at your own hypothetical ... you propose that the lay person has greater authority in judging the situation than even the Pope himself! If the Pope does not correct the bishop, how on earth does a lay person (or even a priest) have the right to do so? Let alone publicly!

Peace and blessings to you. +

Toma Blizanac said...

Maybe I chose the wrong word, but I believe CIC canon 212 §3 says it best:

"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."


So, in the hypothetical case when they disagree with their bishop and after previous steps have been tried, they should "make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful" but always with "reverence toward their pastors".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Toma,
Certainly, you are correct that the laity are not to be in any way suppressed by the bishops.

Still, if a member of the laity (or even a priest) has a dispute with the bishop ... and if the Vatican, and even the Holy Father himself, side with the bishop when the dispute is brought to the Holy See ... then I just don't see how the individual can have any right to publicly rebuke the bishop.

If the Holy See sides with the bishop (as in the hypothetical you proposed), then the individual lay person (or priest) would almost never be justified in making his opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful ... his personal opinion is contrary both to that of the bishop and of the Pope, end of story.

Laura said...

Bless you, dear author!
In fact, the globe boasts of approximately 5100 Bishops (Roman and Eastern combined). Why not invoke the Holy Spirit daily in humble prayer for the Sanctification of their priesthoods!

Anonymous said...

Father, thank you for writing this. It is much needed. I am afraid that the laity have gotten into a bad habit of criticizing, especially the past fifty years. Since when, pray tell, have we al become such experts?

It is a hard habit to break...believe me, I know...but I am working on it.

Obedience and humility. Never have we seen less of them and never have the both of these been more needed in Holy Mother Church.

Veronica

P.S. Welcome back, Father!

Cassandra said...

So what is your take on the words of Thomas Aquina? S.T. II-II, 33, iv. (you had to know this was coming)

Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?

On the contrary, Augustine says in his Rule: "Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger." But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.

I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

Reply to Objection 2. To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: "Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [Vulgate: 'Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.' Cf. 2 Timothy 4:5." It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter's subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, "Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects."

In this terrible day and age when bishops are so remiss in their duties to proclaim the gospel, and the terribly inadequate and confusing statements of the USCCB, does a layman not sin by remaining silent? Has Rome not fiddled while the Church burns?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Cassandra,
If I was the spiritual director of the USCCB, I might have some challenging words to say to the bishops.
However, I am writing for lay Catholics ... and for priests. Therefore, I will comment on what our response ought to be.

You are correct to quote the passage form St. Thomas ... you may have seen my commentary on fraternal correction from about a month ago ... this question from the Summa (and also this particular article) featured prominently in that post.

St. Thomas says that the correction should be "respectful" ... do you think that calling the USCCB's statements "terribly inadequate and confusing" is respectful? Are you a theologian or a pastor yourself? By what authority do you make such definitive and sweeping judgments? You accuse them of grave sin (saying that they are "remiss in their duties to proclaim the gospel") ... this boarders on calumny and is at the very least a sin of detraction on your part -- in such a serious matter, this sin could very easily become mortal; you need to be more careful.

In any case ... you don't stop at judging the bishops of the USA, but you even rebuke the Supreme Pontiff himself ... as you state that Rome is simply fiddling while the Church burns.

Please, come to your senses!
The USCCB has not ordered us to commit any direct sins ... perhaps some documents are not as good as they could be, but "less good" does not equal "objectively sinful" or "contrary to the faith".
Since, the bishops have not objectively and conclusively strayed from the faith -- and since Rome (i.e. the Pope) has not condemned them -- I just don't see how you (or anyone else) are justified in rebuking them in such a manner.
Moreover, you go too far when you claim that those Catholics who do not publicly rebuke their bishops (contrary to the wish of Rome) are sinning by remaining silent.

Prayer, Cassandra, prayer is what we need. +

Vincent said...

This discourse is both enlightening and beneficial. The key words are humility, obedience and charity. Now it is evident why the church around any bishop is called a local church. It is obvious what would result when people insist in publicly criticising and disobeying their bishop: work-outs, pull-outs and of course, division and proliferation of faiths and beliefs. Humility, obedience and charity will help us avoid these pitfalls.

Cassandra said...

Fair enough, Father. So let me address your concerns with some concrete examples. I have not read your commentary on fraternal correction, and I do take very seriously the points raised in this posting as well as your warning about venturing into mortal sin.

First of all, your statement, Are you a theologian or a pastor yourself? By what authority do you make such definitive and sweeping judgments? borders a bit on the fallacious. It undermines the teaching on sensus fidelium by suggesting that without “credentials” a Catholic can have no true sense of the Faith. For the record, however, I do have an M.A. in theology, although I prefer to let my arguments stand on their own merit and not on my “credentials”. Extending your position only a little, anyone who posts anything contrary to your statements as a priest is already guilty of public rebuke, and yet you allow comments to be posted inviting just such comments. Isn’t that encouraging your online sheep into occasions of sin on your part?

So let me start defending my position. I am not expecting you to respond to every statement that follows, only to read them as a whole and ask whether there is not evidence of inadequate and confusing teaching.

Example one. A few years ago the bishops released Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper and Married Love and the Gift of Life Here is an excerpt from an unpublished response of mine detailing their inadequacy:

Happy Are Those, does not address the use of artificial contraception, and news reports state that the bishops explicitly rejected an amendment to correct that. The concurrently released Married Love also dodges the subject. While it does once call contraception "objectively immoral" (p. 4), it does not actually call it sin and certainly doesn't categorize it as a serious matter capable of causing mortal sin. Instead it speaks of doing "harm to the couple's unity" (p.3) and making sex no longer "fully marital" (p.3). I'm confused by this teaching. On behalf of the faithful of the diocese, I am requesting public clarification on the following questions from our bishop who is the "authentic teacher of the faith" in the diocese (CIC 753, 756 §2).

Is the use of artificial contraception a grave matter in which one commits a mortal sin (notwithstanding a mitigating lack of full knowledge)?
Is it a grave mortal sin of omission on the part of bishops and priests who do not
adequately teach the faithful about artificial contraception so that they might have full
knowledge? (an omission alluded to in Married Love p. 4).
Can someone who engages in the use of artificial contraception worthily receive
Holy Communion without first going to confession?
Would the intention to use artificial contraception in the future invalidate the
confession?
Would the failure to confess the use of artificial contraception invalidate an
otherwise valid confession requiring the penitent to re-confess everything?
If the use of artificial contraception is a grave matter, why did the USCCB refuse
to teach on this crucial matter which is linked to abortion (Married Love, p. 8) especially since it found room in the document to list "verbal abuse" as sufficient to make one unworthy?
By failing to teach on this matter (and explicitly refusing to do so), doesn't the
USCCB cause scandal to the faithful who might now be led to believe that the use of
artificial contraception is not a grave matter and does not make one unworthy to receive
Holy Communion?


(continued in next post)

Cassandra said...

(continued from previous post)

Example number two: the Faithful Citizenship document by the USCCB. It is noteworthy that Cardinal Burke has called this document inadequate now that he is in Rome, although oddly he didn’t seem to while in St. Louis, because he said no such thing as a US bishop. Apparently the air is clearer in Rome. Here we run into the situation where the bishops have sold the voice of the Church for a tax deduction. While a careful reading of the document does reveal a full teaching of the Church, it is guilty of obfuscation. In fact some bishops such as Olmsted have found it inadequate enough that they have released their own documents. In my field of software development there is a technique used to prevent reverse-engineering of software called “code obfuscation”. This compiles into the release code confusing and irrelevant commands in order to make it more difficult to determine the actual executing code. Faithful Citizenship uses that same technique. Prior to the 2008 election, I toyed with the idea of publicly asking my bishop if it would objectively be a sin to vote for Obama. If it really was an objective sin, do not our spiritual fathers have the obligation to warn us explicitly of sin? Do not the bishops actually have more information about the candidates than the laity? Is it not an excellent teaching method to take an abstract document like Faithful Citizenship and apply it to the practical example of an election to show the faithful how they should be interpreting it? Is not Faithful Citizenship giving meat to those who are only capable of spiritual milk?

The bishops are now making explicit calls to the faithful to political action in order to object to certain mandates of the Obama administration. Yet the American voter has no ruling power at all once officials are elected. There is only the implied threat that if officials do not respond to voter calls for action, they will not get votes in the next election. The statement that bishops do not get involved in the selection of candidates is actually false. The call to contact elected officials is only an obscured call to oust obstinate officials at a later election. When such grave matters of life are now at stake in our country, do the bishops not sin against the unborn by refusing their duty to speak out prior to elections? A pope once defended his intervention into a quarrel between kingdoms by stating that “where sin is involved, the Church has jurisdiction”. It would be enormously ignorant to deny that sin is not at stake in American elections today.

I have more examples I could give. In fact they are nearly endless. Grave matters of the Faith , and therefore the souls of the faithful, are in danger because of the negligence of the USCCB bishops. I await your response.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Veronica, Vincent, and Laura,
Thank you for the kind words. I'm glad that this article was helpful! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Cassandra,
You are right, I should not have said "are you a theologian?", I should have said, "have you received a Papal mandatum as a theological adviser to the Vatican so as to have the authority to make definitive judgments about the USCCB?"
It's not degrees I am concerned about ... it is the charism of governing the Church which has been entrusted to the bishops. This is why I said, "Are you a pastor?", i.e. "Have you been called by the Holy Spirit to teach, sanctify, and govern?"



Regarding your particular examples ... you have failed to show where the bishops specifically told us to sin. They did not say that contraception was ok, they just failed to mention it.

Perhaps you would have condemned St. Basil and the council of Constantinople which failed to say explicitly that the Holy Spirit is "consubstantial" with the Father and the Son -- even though many heretics were denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and even though many lay faithful were beging the bishops to use the word "consubstantial" for the Holy Spirit in the Creed, St. Basil (and St. Gregory of Nyssa) was set against it and refused to bring up the controversial issue.
St. Gregory Nazienzen wanted "consubstantial" in there, but he was forced to compromise (I guess he is your "Cardinal Burke" ... a good man at heart, but too weak).

Well, did your two extra-long comments (bold words and all) do any good? Did your rant help anyone (did it help the bishops)? Do you think that the USCCB is going to be more likely to "change there ways" by your approach?

Finally, when the bishops say that contraception is "objectively immoral" that is theologically more precise and stronger language than to say "sinful" ... because a sin can be a sin by virtue of the intention, but the bishops specify that the act itself is wrong [i.e. "objectively"] (regardless of any supposedly good intention).
Since you have an MA in theology, I should think you would have recognized this.

Cassandra said...

“"have you received a Papal mandatum” No, but neither does Thomas state that a special mandatum is necessary. Catherine of Sienna (a laywoman) did not have one either when she rebuked the pope to get his butt back to Rome. “I am concerned about …the charism of governing the Church” Again, Thomas insists on no such qualifications, but rather whether the the faith were endangered and the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity The salvation of souls is at stake here and Charity demands the laity speak up.

you have failed to show where the bishops specifically told us to sin. … they just failed to mention it. I don’t have to show a command to sin, I only need to show the Faith is endangered. But if you want a concrete example of where the bishops are commanding Catholics to sin, I will give you one. It concerns Canon 915. Only a few bishops are willing to refuse communion to those in manifest public sin and even then do not fully teach the ordinary and extraordinary ministers of communion on the matter. Have you read (then) Archbishop Burke's canon law treatise on the matter? http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/holycom/denial.htm
"no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it"
"the burden is on the minister of Holy Communion who, by the nature of his responsibility, must prevent anything which profanes the Blessed Sacrament "
"Father Felice Cappello, S.J., ... reminds us that the minister of Holy Communion is held, under pain of mortal sin, to deny the sacraments to the unworthy"


In other words, while a bishop has full authority to control who are the ordinary and extraordinary ministers of communion in his diocese, once the ciborium is passed to the minister, the full responsibility of protecting the sacrament from being profaned on pain of mortal sin rests with the minister. The bishop cannot command that communion be given to those in violation of Canon 915. Period. How many ministers are now being unlawfully commanded to profane the sacrament, Father?

did two extra-long comments (bold words and all) do any good? Did your rant help anyone (did it help the bishops)? …USCCB is going to be more likely to "change there ways"? I used bold words to distinguish italicized text within an italicized excerpt and to better show a break in questions. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. No, I don’t think the USCCB can be helped. They don’t want to be helped. That’s why I don’t write the bishops. However, being concerned with the salvation of souls, I do try to reach individuals who are in danger from lack of clear and vigorous teaching. I also am concerned about people like you who try to misuse teachings of the Fathers to stifle any outcry. It was just that kind of unthinking submission that led parents and secular law officials to participate with the bishops in keeping the sex abuse crisis under wraps so long. They trusted and obeyed their untrustworthy bishops, and look where that led.

A rant ? Really. Funny how you didn’t address my pointing out your creation of occasions of sin (according to your reasoning) by allowing comments on your blog. If you really took seriously your preaching on the matter, you’d disable all comments on the blog.

"objectively immoral" is theologically more precise and stronger language Yes, I figured you’d quibble about that. Sin is a more visceral term better suited for a pastoral document. The laity need milk, not meat. Milk starts with the very basic admonitions against serious sin, stated clearly and vigorously. First save the soul from destruction, then work on a more nuanced catechesis. The bishops have forgotten the word Hell.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Cassandra,
I did not address your point about comments on my blog because I simply did not have the time to read your comments carefully ... I'm sorry, but I am busy saving souls, I don't have time to listen that carefully to rants.
[as I look back and read your argument, I see it is ridiculous and undeserving of a response]

Regarding the commanding of sin ... if the bishops specifically command sin (i.e. if they said specifically that communion must be given to those who are not to receive it), then the bishop cannot be obeyed ... this is clear enough from St. Thomas and the whole tradition.

Finally, you said, "No, I don't think the USCCB can be helped" ... don't you realize how serious of a statement that is? Do you not see that you are despairing of their salvation? You have to stop speaking/writing such things.


I'm glad you are worried about "people like me", I hope it leads you to prayer (i.e. I hope you have not despaired of my salvation as well) ... I'm sorry you think I am trying to stifle outcry ... if you had come to me as a sheep asking for care, then I would have treated you differently (much more gently); instead you came as a wolf (indeed, I say it, you are a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing), detracting against not only the bishops but also against Rome ... since you came as a wolf, I fight you off as a wolf.

Those who are frustrated and need support and encouragement to strive for the truth in the midst of a difficult period in Church history, to such persons as these I am much more generous and gentle.

You came in on the attack, so I rebuff you as a wolf. Come back looking for healing, and I will treat you as a sheep.

Prayer, Cassandra, prayer.
Stop ranting, pray more ... the biggest problem in the Church (at least the biggest problem you can solve) is your own hard heart -- just as the biggest problem I know of is my own hard heart.
Stop trying to reform the Church, reform yourself and then the Church will be reformed.

Goodbye. +

Gretchen said...

I am saddened, but not surprised that Cassandra has been so mistreated here. She has not ranted. She has spoken boldly and with truth. The response to her comments could more truly be considered a rant.

But who am I, only an ignorant, no doubt poorly formed Catholic laywoman.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Gretchen,
It has nothing to do with gender -- I am insulted that you would insinuate such.

Second, neither does it have anything to do with lay vs. cleric -- it was clear from my post that my main criticism is of priests (specifically diocesan priests) who show disrespect to their bishops.


Cassandra did not speak with truth, she committed the sin of detraction ... first against the USCCB and then against the Holy Father himself (saying that Rome twiddles while the Church burns).

Are you sure you want to join her camp? Do you believe that Pope Benedict is woefully neglecting his duties as supreme pastor? Are you suggesting that our Holy Father is well on the way to hell? Because he surely would be, if he was allowing the bishops of the US to command their flocks to commit mortal sins.

I am saddened, but not surprised, that someone like Cassandra would come along and make these comments ... such is the state of the Church these days -- you're not really "conservative" until you rebel against your bishop!

Iowa Mike said...

Just a thought. I wonder what St. Ignatius would think about today's bishops? The divide between bishops seems huge to me and it brings to mind the letter to the angel of the church of Sardis found in the Book of Revelations. This letter severely reproaches the bishop, Rev 3:1-3,22 "And to the angel of the church of Sardis write: These things saith he, that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast the name of being alive: and thou art dead. 2 Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die. For I find not thy works full before my God. 3 Have in mind therefore in what manner thou hast received and heard: and observe, and do penance. If then thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I will come to thee." 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." This seems a clear warning to bishops.

St. Jerome (Lib. IV. comment. in cap. 23 Mt) says of hypocritical bishops of his time "vae vobit miseris, ad quos pharisaeorum vita transierunt". I'm no latin expert but this roughly translates as "Woe to you, the wretched, to whom they passed over the vices of the Pharisees".

I watch as prominent Catholics publicly defy Catholic doctrine e.g. Governor Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi etc. to promote abortion, contraception, homosexual marriage etc. while our bishops remain silent, fail to admonish these public figures and sit back as the scandal spreads.

Not a good thing.

Gretchen said...

Father, I can see that you are frustrated and insulted. I apologize for adding to that. I did, perhaps, express a bit of cynicism.

First, you assumed that I mentioned I was a laywoman as a subtle attack. I did not. It is simply a correct description of my position in the Church. I am not a feminist and never thought you were attacking Cassandra because she is a woman (and she may not be, who knows)!

Second, Cassandra gave numerous examples to support some of her points. Understanding that you are busy with your duties, nevertheless, you did not address them but have focused on her "sin of detraction."

Third, I like to think of myself as in the 'camp' of the Roman Catholic Church and not your camp or Cassandra's camp.

Fourth, living in the Diocese of Rochester in New York (surely you have heard of our situation) there are many suffering Catholics who are tempted to believe that 'Rome fiddles while the Church burns.' That kind of comment has been on many tongues here due to the ongoing destruction of the Catholic faith in our diocese. I personally do not hold to that view now, but I did in the past. Much prayer and a great love for Pope Benedict XVI (when I was confirmed in the Church in 2008 I took the name Benedict as my confirmation name) helped me to see that our little corner of Catholicism, while all important to us, must be seen within the larger picture of the universal Church that our Pope must contend with.

Fifth, the problems within the USCCB, some of the positions that have been taken, the ambiguous teaching statements that have come out, the refusal to consistently apply Church teaching as it pertains to things such as allowing pro-abortion politicians to receive Communion, has chipped away at the authority of our belabored bishops and scattered the faithful.

In essence, the lack of moral authority from which they suffer has been occasioned by their own policies and actions. It will be difficult, but not impossible to regain the high standing that all Catholics surely desire for them.

The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent partially defines the sin of detraction as "the unjust damaging of another's good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer."

Is it your contention that the public discussion here by Cassandra and others of issues that have been widely publicized in the press and online for some time now, is to be considered "unjust damaging of another's good name?"

If I am sinning for simply pointing out what the world already knows, then what hope is there, ever, for an honest dialog between the laity and clergy?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Gretchen,
First, I apologize ... I took the final line of your previous comment (Oct 19, 6:14am) -- "But who am I, only an ignorant, no doubt poorly formed Catholic laywoman." -- as a cynical statement. But, you say that you did not mean it that way, but only as a statement of fact ... indeed, then it was an act of humility.

Second, I am truly edified by your choice of the name Benedict and your love for our Holy Father ... that is really wonderful! :)
Let us pray that the Lord give him wisdom and fortitude ... and many years!

Third, Cassandra failed to show that the bishops are explicitly demanding us to commit sin ... at most they are simply remaining silent in the face of sin and heresy ... St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa also remained silent as to whether the Holy Spirit was consubstantial with the Father and the Son -- I'm just glad that Cassandra wasn't at the Council of Constantinople to condemn them too!

Fourth, the USCCB is in great need of our prayers ... especially, we need to pray that they have the fortitude to stand up for the truth ... let us pray for them every day.
Certainly, it will do no good to abandon the USCCB as "beyond help" (as Cassandra claims) ... God is powerful enough to save even the USCCB! :)


Finally, (and these are my words of encouragement), I want to remind you and others that things are indeed turning around for the better.
It is not at all uncommon for young priests to preach against contraception, and to do so with great boldness and clarity. [I'm a bit of a coward, and even I preach very strongly on the subject]
Likewise, younger priests have begun a great renewal in adoration and in the Rosary ... the family Rosary is considered a must by many of the young clergy.
Moreover, the all the basics of the faith (the knowledge of Christ, the real presence, the authority of the Pope, etc) are accepted by the younger priests.

In other words, things are turning around very fast. Much faster than I expected.
When I first entered theology training in seminary, I was on the fringe because I had a love for the Traditional Mass ... but by the time I was ordained a priest (2 years ago), nearly half of the seminarians were excited about the Extraordinary Form -- things are changing very quickly!

So, especially since things are turning around for the better, now is not the time to abandon hope for our bishops and our priests -- things are not as bad as they were 20 or even 15 years ago ... Pope Benedict (and, from heaven, John Paul II) is doing many good things and having a huge impact on the younger clergy (and, soon enough, on the bishops).
Now would be the worst time to rebel and criticize the bishops ... why burn the bridge just as Christ is finally rebuilding it?

So ... don't be discouraged ... things are looking up ... there is a great renewal at hand ... strong and clear teachings are on there way! And it is all thanks to the prayers of the laity who have remained faithful (in humility and obedience, and also in fortitude and zeal) through the hard years!
[this is my best attempt at being open to honest and clear dialog between the laity and the clergy]

Peace and blessings to you! +

Gretchen said...

Thank you, Father. I do agree that there is a great amount of good happening in the Church, and I attribute that to our Pope and the faith and courage of clergy and lay folks who have held fast.

We do need to keep in mind the big picture, which can be difficult when one is on the ground in the midst of the battle, so to speak.

I will pray for the bishops. I don't do that often enough.

Anonymous said...

I think it is certainly not good for anyone to just lambast the pope, their bishops, nor their priests. However, it does not seem good either to stick your head in the sand and follow blindly. One need not speak up and such, but neither should one chide those who do not wish to just follow blindly.

-Dominic1962
I think of where we would be if not for courageous people who stood up to the hierarchy in these last 50 years. I'm thinking of, for example, Michael Davies and others like him. Then Cardinal Ratzinger even praised his contributions to the liturgical/church debate after his death yet if more liberal prelates had their way, such people would be cast into the outer darkness for their "disobedience".

While one's bishop might not command sin, still, I'd rather not ride along with someone who is peddling furiously towards Niagra Falls. I cannot be all about his program if it is obviously not in line with what Catholicism should be. I can hold my tongue, but I cannot actively support the continued "auto-destruction" perpetuated by the hierarchy.

Of course, I've found a way around this-I go to a traditional parish. It is in completely good standing with the diocese and everything is kosher so we are good there. However, practically nothing diocesan applies to us. They do their thing, we do our thing and everyone is happy. I do not have to put up with all the nonsense that goes on in the usual parishes, I do not have to deal with any of that stuff and when His Excellency comes to visit, he does things the old way, and we certainly appreciate his generosity!

Same with the USCCB, great for them the organization itself has no authority in and of itself. They can issue all the documents and whatnot they want, no one commands us to ditch our Tridentine Catechism or our older papal encyclicals and adopt their stuff. They can do their thing, we can do ours and I'm cool with that.

I guess in this way I think very "Jesuitical". There is plenty of leeway such that one can be both properly obedient yet not a blind follower. All the great work in revisiting the Second Vatican Council, in restoring the traditional Mass, etc. walks this line. Again, where would we be if not for our courageous forebearers who continued to speak the truth in spite of accusations of "disobedience"?

Anonymous said...

Forgive the anonymous comment: Rev. Father, it seems that you are judging quite harshly the lay-women (ridiculous rants?) and at the same time giving a gratuitous stamp of approval to the USCCB, which is - even in modern Canon Law - not an automatic authority, i.e., whose statements bind no one unless a particular bishop decides to make them his own.

One more thing: Rev. Father, you are guilty of several theological anachronisms, which - caveas - is always something the modernists will sling at us Thomists; e.g., St. Basil (obiter dictum, my thesis was on his De Spiritu Sancto) was dealing with an issue that had YET TO BE DEFINED. This makes a great difference. It is much more difficult for one to be "guilty" of neglect in a yet-to-be-defined dogma, if you will. As a student of Thomas and a believer in the Imm. Conc. you should understand the import here.

By the way, this comment comes from a brother with an STL who teaches at a Catholic institution, mandatum oblatum ... so no need to quibble about authority with me.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Forgive the anonymous comment,

Ok, you are correct in that I should not have used the word "ridiculous" ... in truth, there is nothing in the comments which should make anyone laugh -- it is far too serious a matter to give room for laughter, when slander against the bishops and open despair of their salvation (e.g. saying that they are "beyond hope") is common-place.

Further, I never claimed authority for the USCCB -- I only said that each bishop has authority and that we ought not to speak of the bishops together in such disrespectful terms.

In fact, I find it mildly entertaining that the majority of people who criticize the USCCB for not making strong enough statements almost immediately turn around and declare that the USCCB doesn't have the authority to make any such statements in the first place!
You can't have it both ways: Either the USCCB has the authority, and therefore also the duty, to speak declaratively on issues; or the USCCB does not have such authority, and therefore neither does that body have the duty to do so.



Regarding the case of St. Basil ... it is not analogous to the situation with the Immaculate Conception ... St. Basil (and all the other faithful theologians) knew full well that the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son, but he refused to include it in the Creed because he didn't want to upset those who were on the fringe ... at St. Thomas' time, on the other hand, (as you know, I am sure) the dogma wasn't at all clear -- even many who held for the IC, believed that our Lady didn't need to be redeemed (and, hence, fell into an even worse error than did St. Thomas).

Peace. +

Anonymous said...

From "forgive the anonymous comment": Rev. Fr. you obviously are not getting "le jeu" - the homoousion twi patri of THE SON was still being debated, "homoousion [to hagion pneuma]" had never been defined, thus one would not have sinned by ommission by not professing it explicitly - that is the analogy to the IC controversy amongst Thomas and Duns Scotus, obviously admitting the differences in time, place, etc. of the two controversies. My STL is with a specialisation in Patristics, so I insist on this point: as dogmas are defined, there is a greater moral duty to proclaim them from the housetops, b/c such doctrines - as experience shows - have been impugned in the past. That, correlatively, is the problem with the USCCB: as Cassandra poignantly pointed out, they are not proclaiming the most necessary truths, considering our culture, nation, and religious surroundings.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Forgive,
1) one minute you say that the USCCB has no authority ... the next, you say that they are failing in their duty to exercise their authority ... you don't get to have it both ways.

2) The case with the bishops is a matter of pastoral prudence ... St. Basil made a similar prudential judgment in his time -- though, I do readily admit, in other respects the cases are quite different.

3) I simply cannot agree with you that "the most necessary truths" for our time are things like contraception and voting records -- don't get me wrong, people are certainly throwing themselves into hell because of these things, but they are not the most important necessary truths of our time or of any time.
For example: I am far more concerned about the multitude of errors regarding Christ's knowledge which have become so common place that even bishops preach them (and they are taught in even "conservative" seminaries) ... the corruption of Christological doctrine is (to my mind) a much more serious problem than the lack of preaching against contraception -- the one is (to my mind, again) a result of poor prudential/pastoral judgment, the other is a direct proclamation of theological error.

Cunjo said...

But what if a bishop is disobeying the Pope?

It is a case with traditionalism. A number of faithful wants the TLM and the bishop refuses to provide them the space and the priest. The faithful appeal to Ecclesia Dei, ED writes to the bishop and the bishop still forbids the TLM in his diocese.
Then what?


I'm always for prayer for our bishop. That should be in the first place. Then we should try with a private dialogue in the manner of letter or direct conversation, but we should never go in public with our problems with our bishops if there are any.

That is how i think.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Cunjo,
If a bishop separates from the Pope (either through formal schism or heresy or apostasy, etc.), then that bishop no longer had authority and the faithful ought not to follow him.

You are certainly correct in your intuition to write the bishop personally rather than making the matter public.
Yes, let us pray together for all the bishops and (especially) for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI! +

Iowa Mike said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

My comment may be a bit broad for this forum but I think I have a valid point to make. I frequently write to bishops and priests in opposition or support of one issue or another. I always maintain charity but I don't mince words; probably a personal failure. Having said that I want to raise the issue of scandal.

As you are aware one of the nine ways one can be complicit in anothers sin is through silence.

Please help me understand why I shouldn't publicly complain to and about bishops of people like Governor Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius who are manifest in their dissent from Church teaching on abortion, divorce, homosexual marriage, Catholic conscience protections, embryonic stem cell research while publicly declaring that they are faithful and compliant Catholics. In the face of this public obstinate dissent please explain the public silence of their bishops. Please explain why the silence of the bishops is not sinful. Please comment on the scandal this inaction clearly spreads amongst the faithful. Please explain why the 30 page plus USCCB voter's guide 'Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" is so long, so confusing and so ambiguous that most Catholics either don't read it or don't understand it. Please explain why so many who do read it come away believing that other social issues like racism, poverty, etc. rise to the same level as abortion, euthanasia etc. Please help me find the words to explain to my adult children who argue that why silence of the bishops is really tacit approval and a sign that the Church's teachings are more accepting these days. Please explain how their lack of public condemnation advances the gospel?

Finally are we headed for two Catholic Churches in America as now exist in China? In Fr. James Schall's article, "Legal Persecution" http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2011/legal-persectution.html he thinks we might be? In this article he makes the point that one Catholic Church will publicly conform and support government policy even when it conflicts with Church teachings. The other Catholic Church will be an underground church that remains faithful to the Magesterium and the immutable teachings of Christ.

These are the issues of the day. In my opinion the silence of the bishops is creating a schism. I'm hard put not to be critical especially when doctrine is clear, public dissention is clear and the bishops are silent.

God Bless,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Iowa Mike,
My response is that we have a great duty to pray for our bishops.

I do have a question: How is it that so many can, on the one hand, claim that the USCCB (and the US Bishops generally) have little or no authority, but then turn around on the other hand and rebuke the USCCB for not exercising their authority to condemn birth control, etc.

I asked this earlier and no one responded ... I think that this question points to the insincerity of many critics. +

Cunjo said...

I didn't read all comments concerning the USCCB but my opinion is that they have all the authority possible to them as bishops but that they are exercising that authority in a way that is not prudent enough and are making mistakes(it is very possible for them to make mistakes since they are not infallible).

Marko Ivančičević said...

Hm. I wanted to make a small contribution. From ST on Fraternal correction.
"I answer that...Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect.".

So according to st. Thomas a private correction of a prelate is admissable if it is charitable, and if the faith is endangered it can be publically(but also with charity). I would personally refrain from public correction but i do believe it is a posibillity.

As for Cassandra, i don't think she was focused on trying to prove that any bishop wanted us to commit sin, but that in excersising their office they were acting in an imprudent and ambiguous fashion that could endanger faith of many - especially in these times when many of the faithful are affected with modernistic thought and that such excersise of office required a fraternal correction in all charity and gentleness possible.

As we can see, st. Thomas distinguishes between correction in charity(fraternal correction) and the one done as an act of justice, the latter not pretaining to be done by laymen.

Also, for thinking that one is better than his prelate st. Thomas brings up his reply to obj. 3.

I am sorry if i'm opening this discussion anew.

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