The interview that wasn’t, and why it matters anyway

Catholics recently endured the latest scandalizing interview with Pope Francis. Apologists for Francis began to spin, while cooler heads were shaken in weary exasperation; so far so familiar. But this story started to come off the rails when Timothy Card. Dolan destroyed a factual claim that the story put in the pope’s mouth. The interview had Francis recount an event during the conclave that Card. Dolan—like Card. Bergolio a conclavist and thus an eyewitness—said did not happen. The published interview, Dolan was suggesting, coult not reflect what Francis said.

That was astonishing enough. A scandalous interview with the pope; the cardinal archbishop of New York leaping in to rescue the pope’s reputation; whatever next? The Vatican, yet more astonishing, batted away the proffered hand, insisting that no, no, it would rather drown. The interview is “basic[ally] ‘trustworth[y],” spokesmen insisted. With blood in the water, however, the interview found itself under ever-closer scrutiny. Its credibility is now teetering toward collapse with the revelation that “Eugenio Scalfari did not tape his interview with Pope Francis, nor did he take notes, so the text was an after-the-fact reconstruction. Such texts run the risk of either missing some key details or conflating various moments or events recounted during the oral interview….”

What is the upshot? Once again, we have nothing but confusion and doubt. Those who like the interview can emphasize that Francis reviewed the text and, had he been “‘gravely misrepresented,’ he would have said so,” and those who are sounding the alarm about the interview can emphasize that it is “an after-the-fact reconstruction” which does not faithfully reflect the exact words (as it purports) and may “miss[ ] some key details or conflat[e] various moments or events recounted during the oral interview.” And where does any particular point in contention fall between those two extremes? No one can say.

Katrina Fernandez posed an apt question this weekend in her post linked above: “Are we supposed to read Francis’s comments like protestants read their bibles now, through the lenses of their own personal interpretation? It’s exhausting. And confusing.” As Carl Olson said the other day, in our age papal comments “need[ ] to be as precise and clear as possible. Fuzzy language, half-formed concepts, and failure to make important distinctions will eventually result in confusion and frustration. Do they also ‘give ammunition to the enemy’…? I think so….”

This is no way to run a railroad.

In the Black, take 2

Musicam antiquam præsento. Received wisdom has it that you can’t “fix it in the mix”; this is an exercise in doing precisely that. The cover of Marian Call’s In the Black that Heather and I did a while back (see my post here) was tracked in late 2011,  but I was unhappy with the mix. I have subsequently learned a lot, so I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to see whether I could fix it up without doing any additional tracking.

Step one was to get the original tracking out of Cubase. Strictly-speaking, my exports weren’t stems insofar as most of them were in mono with no effects or automation, but in terms of approach, I built “stems” for each mix element—so, for example, where I had previously created a comp “track” across several tracks, the several were boiled down to one and then exported with appropriate silence from 0:00 to the beginning of the clip. This took quite a while, and the result was around thirty quasi-stems that I could import into Reaper.

I was then able to clean up some of the tracking and start fresh with no (or very few) effects. For example, the guide guitar track was audible in the mandolin stem, and a combination of a high-pass filter and some gating eliminated enough of it to make it useable. By contrast, the digital clipping on what had been the main rhythm guitar was unacceptable, and those tracks had to be ditched completely; fortunately, I had tracked several guitars and two of them were tracked at lower levels that were mercifully distortion-free. And then there’s some stuff in the middle: All of the guitars were recorded with a dynamic mic, and while all the EQ in the world won’t make it sound great, it (inter alia) can make it prettier than it was. Several levels of compression of varying levels of transparency also helped reign things in.

So: Can we fix it in the mix, Batman? The answer is a qualified “yes.” I could probably improve this mix (it seems a little toppy, I think), but the purpose of the exercise has been met: Some things can be fixed. Some can’t. This mix is a significant improvement; it is clearer and more detailed. Much of the mud and mush that blanketed the original mix is gone. But not all of it, and there is audible digital clipping in places that was impossible to eliminate; this is the fault of the tracking engineer, who, being too inexperienced to have yet realized that the noise floor in digital recording is so low as to be virtually irrelevant, tracked too hot a signal. The tracking engineer also tolerated excessive noise bleed and performances that were looser than ideal; some of this can be “fixed” (i.e. hidden) in the mix, but most can’t be.

The bottom lnie is that this exercise vividly demonstrates what I had already learned since then: The first duty of the tracking engineer is to get clean takes—with plenty of headroom—of every musical performance that will be in the final mix.

 

Rationalizing Pope Francis

Greg Popcak has an interesting post explaining, essentially, “how I learned to stop worrying and love Pope Francis.” It starts out well but comes off the rails, and I can concisely explain why and how.

Dr. Popcak appears to believe that God directs the selection of the pope, and therefore seeks to interpret events harmoniously with that belief (cf. my post here about “interest capture”). While he presents that belief in softer, hedgier language, the point is clear: “I believe the Holy Spirit has a great deal to do with who sits in the Chair of Peter. I believe that God knows what he is doing in the Church and even if the papal election is a very human process, I believe that God wants to use whomever is elected to teach us … something important about being Catholic at this time in history.”

But the Church does not teach that she cannot err in the selection of individual bishops (even the bishop of Rome), and experience demonstrates beyond cavil that she can. From Judas Iscarriot on down to —– Cardinal —— (fill in a name of your preference from the current batch), there have always been “bishops gone wild.” And this goes even for the pope; how can this be denied given the Western Schism, in which competing stems of conclaves elected competing lines of popes? If “the” conclave always chose God’s man, the Western Schism would have ended almost as soon as it began. How can this be denied given that a distressingly-large fraction of papal history is sordid rather than saintly? The Holy Spirit offers guidance to the conclave. So does Roger Cardinal Mahony. So, too, does Screwtape. Whose voice is heeded is for the Cardinals to decide.

Popcak correctly notes the ground-level effect of papal scandal, and adds some examples from his own practice (under his sub-heading “But…”). But a scandalous pope is in tension with his ex ante commitment to an infallible conclave, as I think we have to call it. (“Infallible” in the sense that if one believes that God uses the pope “to teach us … something important about being Catholic at this time in history,” one must therefore believe that the Conclave will perforce select the man whom God intends to use “to teach us … something important about being Catholic at this time in history.”) How, one would reasonably ask, could scandal be God’s will?

This creates cognitive dissonance, for both propositions cannot easily be true. What one needs is a way out: A way to conclude that while they look scandalous, Francis’ actions serve a greater good. How might this be done? Well, Popcak does it (under the subhead “Convicted“) like this: “Francis is bringing home the lost children, the lapsed and fallen-away.” (That’s my paraphrase, not a direct quote.) Alas, his own experiences show the limits of that idea. What is step one in recovery? The first step is always (and perforce must be) acknowledging, on a conscious level, that you have a problem. If a lapsed Catholic can take shelter under the rubric “I’m much more of a Pope Francis/Nancy Pelosi Catholic” (that one is a direct quote), then they are even less likely to return home, because they think that they are already home. The prodigal son, if he is to be invoked, was at least in a situation in which he knew that he needed to return. Is Francis “bring[ing your] brothers and sisters home,” Greg? You’ve just told us that you have met people whom Francis is helping to feel more comfortable in their pig-pen! It is certainly true that there will be people who start calling themselves Catholics again during this pontificate, and perhaps attending Mass, but they do so because they (incorrectly) perceive Francis to have declared their heretical position to be within the boundary of the Church, that is no gain—indeed, it is, at least in possibilitate, a loss.

But the fine-grained details that run to the contrary are ignored. Naturally; they are inconvenient. Thus, one might say that while many faithful Catholics have rationalized (plausibly vel non) that “Pope Francis is showing” that the “Church’s teachings on love, sex[,] and marriage are[ ] true,” it requires an exercise in wilful denial to pretend that others—the very “prodigals” whom we are supposed to think are being reconciled—see precisely the opposite: That Francis is tipping his hand that the “Church’s teachings on love, sex[,] and marriage aren’t true.” (Just look at how the New York Times and the National Lapsed-Catholic Reporter is lapping up every word.) The denial must be even stronger when one has personally faced people who are visibly becoming even more entrenched in their pig-pen, becoming visibly less likely to say to themselves “I shall return to my father’s house,” as a result of this pontificate. But such details are an obstacle to the rationalization that allows Popcak to account for Francis within his “infallible conclave” paradigm, and while the race isn’t always to the swift nor the fight always to the strong, that’s the way to bet, and in the contest between ex ante commitments and inconvenient facts, one should bet on rationalization every time.

Tape and tradition

This is a post about audio recording and tape that becomes a post about politics, tradition, and the reform of the reform.

Last week, I posted my recording of 74/75; I sent a copy to my parents with the observation that it surprised me that so much of the sound for which I’d been looking was tape, and that it must bemuse folks like Alan Parsons and George Martin that we now spend so much time trying to recapture the sound of equipment against the limitations of which they wrestled. My dad commented that I should perhaps, therefore, have tried to keep hold of his old reel-to-reel machine.

Well, not really, I said. I’m not all that interested in tape, per se, which is expensive and difficult. 74/75 was deliberately (whether successfully or not I can’t say) framed on vintage lines; it was tracked in a few takes with only a few edits, and mixed as nine tracks with the drums bounced to a single track (and it could have been done as eight tracks without violating the spirit of the project by ADT’ing rather than double-tracking the vocal—a Beatles/Martin innovation, I should have thought). For even an eight-track tape studio, however, one would be thousands of dollars into it before recording a second of tracking (the Studer A800, for instance, eats tape at between 7.5 and 30 inches per second) and making the few, simple edits that I made would have taken long mintues if not hours of patient work with razor blades instead of seconds with a mouse click.

So it’s not tape that interests me so much as it is sound—what is that magic extra ingredient in older recordings? Tape is a large part (although not the only part) of the answer. And happily, it seems that everyone else has already figured this out, and has done the work of analyzing exactly what that sound is (“never mind that man behind the curtain! It’s magic, I tell you!”), which means that there are various plugins that approximate the sound. The good ones aren’t free; some of the free ones aren’t bad.

More broadly, I’m interested in the question of which pieces of the past should be reclaimed and carried with us into the future? The sixties and early seventies seem a golden age of recording in hindsight; we got used to the sound of tape, and we forget what a nightware it was to work with and how limiting it really was. We discount how incredibly convenient digital is.

And this shades into an observation that on politics and postconciliar Catholicism: The conservative and the reactionary take similarly-dim views of change, and we both look to the last fifty years of radical change in the Church and society with dismay, but we disagree, I think, on what to do about it. The reactionary mistakes rose-tinted nostalgia for a golden age to which we can and should return, whereas the conservative, it seems to me, knows that this is impossible even if it might be desirable. (We differ among ourselves on whether it would be desirable; I tend to think that the 1950s, for example, might lack the gleam that some perceive if one should have been female, black, Jewish or Catholic, gay, etc., and it would be a serious error to suppose that the Tridentine Mass, for example, was always beautiful.) We know, as Clinton Rossiter put it, that “change is the rule of life among men and societies, but [w]e insist[ ] that it be sure-footed and respectful of the past.” We also recognize that it isn’t just a question of not setting aside any more, that some things were set aside and must be reclaimed now if they are not to fade from memory and experience and thus lose their organic connection to society (and society to them). As we look back at fifty years of change, we are not seeking, as the reactionary does, to turn back the clock, but to instead ask: Which pieces of the past should be reclaimed and carried with us into the future?

On meeting Archbishop Tobin

This week, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrated the Woods’ opening day Mass. How can I explain why it was such a big deal to me to meet Abp. Tobin—why I felt (and, alas, may have acted) like a schoolgirl meeting a pop sensation? It isn’t because he’s an impressive man, although he is that; he has won universal acclaim in an increasing balkanized church.

I have been seeking a way to explain it my wife (who is an evangelical, and is thus pleasantly bemused by such things) and to non-Catholic Christian friends. I tried it this way: Suppose, I said, you were to meet the Apostle St. James. Imagine how it would feel—perhaps he is an impressive man, doubtless he is, but what is more important is that he was commissioned by Our Savior to represent Him to you! Jesus sent him! To you, I said! Well, I said, James in turn commissioned and sent to you Symeon; Symeon, in turn, sent Justus, who sent Zacchæus, who sent Tobias, who sent Benjamin, who sent John, who sent Matthias, who sent Philip, who sent Seneca, who sent Justus, who sent Levi, who sent Ephres, who sent Joseph, and so on. (Eusebius, 4 H. Ecc. 5.) Christ “was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ,” wrote St. Clement at the conclusion of the first century, appointments “made in an orderly way according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits of their labors, having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.” (1 Clem.)

So, I explained, he isn’t just Joe Tobin, a man of his own merits, or even just Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, the duly-appointed shepherd of the geographic portion of the Church in which I am located. No, to stand before him is to stand before bishop Joseph Tobin: who was sent by Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, who was in turn sent by Archbishop Albino Mensa, who was sent by Archbishop Albino Mensa (+1998), who was sent by Bishop Gaudenzio Binaschi (+1968), who was sent by Bishop Giuseppe Castelli (1943), who was sent by Agostino Cardinal Richelmy (+1923), who was sent by Gaetano Cardinal Alimonda (+1891), who was sent by Archbishop Salvatore Magnasco (1892), who was sent by Gustav Cardinal Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (+1896), who was sent by Pope Pius IX (1878), who was sent by Francesco Cardinal Castiglioni (+1830), who was sent by Giuseppe Cardinal Pamphilj (+1816), who was sent by Buenaventura Cardinal Córdoba Espinosa de la Cerda (+1777), who was sent by Archbishop Manuel Quintano Bonifaz (+1774), who was sent by Enrique Cardinal Enríquez (+1756)… And so on, in lineal succession all the way to the eleven, and thence to Christ, and thence to the Father. To stand before Tobin, then, is to stand before a successor of the apostles in the most literal sense imaginable; for this reason, the Second Vatican Council reminds us: “bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.” And who meets them… The apostolic succession is not some abstract principle or intellectual construct, but of the most tangible character imaginable.

Yes, of course, men are but men, and there have been unworthy men consecrated as bishops. But that is beside the point. The Tractarian John William Bowden explains this point beautifully in a passage that I quoted recently:

“Since the Apostolic age [twenty] centuries have rolled away … and, blessed be God, the Church is with us still. Amid all the political storms and vicissitudes, amid all the religious errors and corruptions which have chequered, during that long period, the world’s eventful history, a regular unbroken succession has preserved among us ministers of God, whose authority to confer the gifts of His Spirit is derived originally from the laying on of the hands of the Apostles themselves. Many intermediate possessors of that authority have, it is true, intervened between them and these, their hallowed predecessors, but the gifts of God are without repentance; the same Spirit rules over the Church now who presided at the consecration of St. Paul, and the eighteen centuries that are past can have had no power to invalidate the promise of our God. Nor, even though we may admit that many of those who formed the connecting links of this holy chain were themselves unworthy of the high charge reposed in them, can this furnish us with any solid ground for doubting or denying their power to exercise that legitimate authority with which they were duly invested, of transmitting the sacred gift to worthier followers.
. . . .
“The unworthiness of man, then, cannot prevent the goodness of God from flowing in those channels in which He has destined it to flow; and the Christian congregations of the present day, who sit at the feet of ministers duly ordained, have the same reason for reverencing in them the successors of the Apostles, as the primitive Churches of Ephesus and of Crete had for honouring in Timothy and in Titus the Apostolical authority of him who had appointed them.
. . . .
“Wonderful indeed is the providence of God, which has so long preserved the unbroken line, and thus ordained that our Bishops should, even at this distance of time, stand before their flocks as the authorized successors of the Apostles.” (Tr.5.)

Toward the end of my conversion process—the clincher, really—I had an experience with Tobin’s predecessor, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein. (I regret that I never had the chance to Buechlein this, but I did tell Tobin and found a certain sense of relief in that.) I had done a lot of book learning and absorbed on an intellectual level all this business about apostolic succession. But it didn’t really sink in, I didn’t internalize it, until I was at a conference a few years ago at which Abp. Buechlein gave the benediction. He walks in, unassuming as can be, up to the podium and looks around with that wan smile on his face—we didn’t yet know it, but he was pretty sick by then—and it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m standing in front of a successor of the apostles! And it wasn’t something abstract or intellectual, it suddenly became viscerally real and personal. It was a sudden moment of realization that this wasn’t abstract theory, but rather was something that I judged to be true, and which had enormous consequences for what I had to do next in my “walk,” as my wife would phrase it. I had another moment like that yesterday, receiving communion from Tobin—there are moments in life when all this stuff that we talk about in abstract, intellectual ways suddenly obtain the concrete, pinpoint focus of a laser beam and become incredibly, uncomfortably real.

74-75

Musicam novam præsento. Years ago, “the Connells” were a one-hit wonder with 74-75; I have no idea what it’s about, but I loved the song. I’ve been evaluating Reaper as a new DAW, and I wanted to try recording a piece that used a single track of guitar rather than layers and a piece with a more vintage sound. 74-75 popped into my head.

So here it is; I think it sounds pretty good. My concept was that each channel—not just the buss—ought to be fed through tape emulation. To that end, the string section was fed through Modern Plugins‘ Modern Analoguer, and the drums, bass, guitars, and vocals were fed into Jeroen Breetbaart’s Ferox.

In terms of VSTi, the drums are Addictive Drums, fed into Modern Plugins’ 1176N clone, the Seventh Sign, and thence to Ferox; the strings are two violins from DSK strings and two cellos from Soundkey Cellofan. The bass and electric guitar were recorded through a Fender Greta that I’ve taken to using as a tube preamp; the mic, too, is powered by a Bellari tube preamp.

Lastly, the mastering chain: Modern Plugins’ SSL G384 clone, the Apophis, set on Mix Buss 2, VoS’ Thrillseeker set to the LA Sweet Spot, and VoS’ Ferric—another tape emulation—set to Final 2.

I’m pretty happy with how this worked out. Here’s the channel list:

1. Drums (bounced down)
2. Bass
3. Main guitar (widened with Voxengo’s StereoTouch)
4. 12-string guitar
5. Electric guitar
6. String section (bounced down)
7. Vocal (this and next two tracks each compressed with Digital Fishphones’ Blockfish)
8. Vocal double-track
9. Baritone vocal

Cruz’s eligibility

Over at SF, I have a post on the Presidential eligibility (vel non) of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

In re removal of Rev. Iwanowski

The New Jersey press reports that Father Thomas Iwanowski, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, is being removed and transferred by the Archdiocese after he allowed another priest to live temporarily in the rectory. The other priest, Monsignor Robert Chabak, was accused a decade ago of an incident of abuse that allegedly took place in the 1970s. Since the abuse scandal, radars are set to a hair trigger with regard to anything involving abuse or the suggestion of it, and not inappropriately-so, cf. The Finn Indictment, 1 MPA 51 (2012). Moreover, I am sure that Archbishop Myers has better information than I do, and so I must be careful to keep my remarks conditional. Nevertheless, it’s not clear to me that Fr. Iwanowski’s error merited removal.

The story reported by NJ.com is that from sometime after October 28, 2012 until February 2013, a period of roughly three months, Iwanowski permitted Msgr. Chabak to stay at the rectory because the house in which he had been living had been rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Sandy. Like many others, Chabak had become a refugee, cf. CCC ¶ 2447. Chabak, for his part, had been accused of having committed abuse in the 1970s—accused. Unnamed officials concluded in 2004 that there was credible evidence, but he was never “convicted,” figuratively or literally; not every allegation is true, not everything that is plausible is credible, and not everything that is credible is factual.

Nevertheless, even the accusation can be a source of scandal, and Iwanowski wisely sought the opinion of the archdiocese before hosting Chabak. This is important: Iwanowski did not act alone. He sought permission from the Archdiocese, which agreed to the arrangement “out of a sense of compassion.”

And now the Archdiocese is punishing Iwanowski for doing something to which it assented only months ago. Worse yet, they are not only cutting off Iwanowski at the knees, but also his successor, insofar as the appearance is that they removed him at the behest of a malcontent layman. I have no brief to defend a priest who permits Mass to be accompanied by “a live band of drums and … guitar,” but to fault Iwanowski’s compassion would seem churlish if he had done it without the archdiocese’s permission; it would seem unjust if the archdiocese gave permission. From priest to patsy.

Episcopal authority and the abuse crisis

The bishop of Kansas City, his excellency Bp. Robert Finn, is a favorite and frequent target of dissenters; his conviction provides a focal point and a face for the abuse crisis, even though he’s something of a patsy, as I’ve noted before. See The Finn Indictment, 1 MPA 51 (2012). Elsewhere, it was suggested that Finn’s failure to act destroys his governing authority. “In the early church,” it was argued, “authority came from the laity, who elected their bishops,” and a bishop who loses the confidence of the laity thus loses his authority. Such a bishop may “retain[ ] the legal powers, but his authority is gone.”

I understand the distinction between “authority” and “power,” but it founders. It would be well-taken if we were speaking about political office: Richard Nixon, for example, retained all the legal powers of the Presidency until his resignation, even as his moral authority evanesced. The temptation to make the same distinction in an ecclesiastical context is natural: The egregious Bernard Card. Law, for example, might be said to have lost his “moral authority.” But if “moral authority” means something like “that effervescent charisma of leadership that comes from human reputation,” Cardinals Law and Mahony never had it, and Bp. Finn does not depend on it. The “moral authority” of a bishop rises from the same spring as his core “legal authority.” (“Core” insofar as exercise of faculties in a particular diocese comes from human authority, to wit the Holy See.) Vatican II teaches:

“Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, … and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. … Bishops, therefore, … presid[e] in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing. And just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles’ office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. Therefore, this Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ. … The laity should … promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church.” (LG18, 20, 37; cf. LG6, 14.)

So the bishop’s moral authority arises not from the man but from his place in the episcopal line, and whom he represents—that is why the miter matters, for example. See Authoritative teaching, liturgy, and authority, 3 MPA __, __ (2013) (“The miter is the symbol of the bishop’s authority; it is a reminder that we are not listening to this man because he is learned or holy or likable or because we agree with him”).

It was never true, incidentally, that in the early church, “authority came from the laity, who elected their bishops.” It is true that in some stages of the church, bishops were chosen by “election” of cathedral chapters and other ecclesiastical bodies; it may be true, although I don’t know one way or the other, that some such elections included laymen. But that practice can safely be taken to be an aberrational response to circumstances, not (as it is too often presented) as a model. See The Selection of Bishops, 3 MPA __ (2013). It was a situation that arose during period in which the Church could not be ruled as she once was and now can be again, a state that was lost by expansion and regained through technology. In scripture, however, we glimpse a straightforward model that comports with common sense and sounds familiar enough when translated into the modern ecclesiastical argot: The episcopal college chooses its own successors, and the Church appoints bishops and priests to particular dioceses and parishes. Cf. Acts 1:15-26, 14:23; Titus 1:5. (Unsurprisingly, this is also the model we see in First Clement.)

So Finn retains the full authority of a bishop, and it isn’t hard to see why that must be so. If episcopal authority could be compromised by failure or personal sin, the church would have lapsed centuries ago; where is the threshold? They say that hard cases make bad law, but sometimes easy cases make even worse law, because easy cases can obscure the subtleties of a rule’s application to muddier facts. The graveness of the sin and the proximity to the act are clear enough in the Finn/Ratigan case. But what about a case in which the sin of the priest is less clear? What about a case in which it took place in a suffragan diocese and, the suffragan being paid up with the right (i.e. left) people, the metropolitan is accused of not doing enough? What about a case in which the bishop is simply accused of the last, worst resort of those with an ax to grind, the “he didn’t do enough” canard? What we get is a mushy, inherently-manipulable standard that will always be susceptible to use in covering those who wish to disobey a given bishop.

The last word on the point may safely be given to John William Bowden’s Tract for the Times #5:

Since the Apostolic age [twenty] centuries have rolled away … and, blessed be God, the Church is with us still. Amid all the political storms and vicissitudes, amid all the religious errors and corruptions which have chequered, during that long period, the world’s eventful history, a regular unbroken succession has preserved among us ministers of God, whose authority to confer the gifts of His Spirit is derived originally from the laying on of the hands of the Apostles themselves. Many intermediate possessors of that authority have, it is true, intervened between them and these, their hallowed predecessors, but the gifts of God are without repentance; the same Spirit rules over the Church now who presided at the consecration of St. Paul, and the eighteen centuries that are past can have had no power to invalidate the promise of our God. Nor, even though we may admit that many of those who formed the connecting links of this holy chain were themselves unworthy of the high charge reposed in them, can this furnish us with any solid ground for doubting or denying their power to exercise that legitimate authority with which they were duly invested, of transmitting the sacred gift to worthier followers.
. . . .
The unworthiness of man, then, cannot prevent the goodness of God from flowing in those channels in which He has destined it to flow; and the Christian congregations of the present day, who sit at the feet of ministers duly ordained, have the same reason for reverencing in them the successors of the Apostles, as the primitive Churches of Ephesus and of Crete had for honouring in Timothy and in Titus the Apostolical authority of him who had appointed them.
. . . .
Wonderful indeed is the providence of God, which has so long preserved the unbroken line, and thus ordained that our Bishops should, even at this distance of time, stand before their flocks as the authorized successors of the Apostles.

Authoritative teaching, liturgy, and authority

Elsewhere, it was suggested to me that authority “seems to be a major element of Catholic belief” for me, as does liturgy. I gave a lengthy explanation of my views on authority in The Catholic proposition, 2 MPA 77 (2012), but some additional remarks will not hurt.

I.

Authority, in the sense of the sources of authoritative teaching, is not simply a major element of Catholicism—it is the element. It is the decisive question between various Christian groups, the hinge upon which the entire matter turns. 1 After I became a Christian, it became immediately apparent that one cannot simply declare oneself a Christian and stop there, because there are myriad groups that style themselves as Christians, and most of them have mutually-exclusive things to say about what it means to be a Christian. One of them must be right. The rest must, perforce, be wrong. (Not wrong about everything, of course!) So which one is right?

As I tried to figure it out, perhaps the most useful thing that I read was a book by the evangelical theologian J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God. The decisive question that a Christian must answer, says Packer, is this: Where may we look for answers? What is authoritative in the Christian faith? There are a few candidates, he says. There’s the Catholic/Orthodox answer, and there’s sola scriptura. (He does identify a third, the approach of liberal protestantism, but since Packer wrote, that approach has lapsed into bankrupcy.) He concludes that the Catholic answer is wrong, and I respect that. Over the next couple of years, however, I was forced to conclude that sola scriptura is untenable. Packer’s conclusion was wrong. But he had asked the right question, and one of these days I must send him a letter thanking him for his perspicacity and prescience in asking precisely the right question. If scripture is the sole authority to which a Christian may turn, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches are the tools of the Enemy and we must flee from them as fast and as far as our legs will carry us. If, however, the Catholic Church’s assertions about her authority are true, if those claims are correct, then we must be in full communion with her.

Why do I say that? Well, because the Catholic Church—or, more precisely, the so-called “hierarchy” thereof, which we generally call “the Church” for short—claims to teach with authority. 2 She explicitly claims to be the repository of Sacred Tradition and the custodian and authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture. 3 She claims the right to govern the Christian community. If she has not received that authority by Christ she does not have it; accordingly, her pretense to it and actual exercise of it would be an affront to God that has lead millions of souls to their ruin. If our protestant brethren were correct that the sole rule of faith is scripture, and scripture alone, interpreted by itself, then the Church is the best trick that Satan ever played: The vast majority of Christians who have ever lived have been led wildly astray by an instrument that must, perforce, be infernal.

Accordingly, every person who becomes a Christian has a simple and straightforward choice to make. They must confront the Catholic Church and decide whether she really is what she claims to be, to the best of their judgment, knowing that their salvation may well depend on their answer. 4 If  you conclude that she is not: Run. Run fast and far. If you conclude that she is: Come closer. 5

There is no room, none whatsoever, for mushiness on this. There is no principled middle ground. Nor is there a way to avoid the question: Unless you received the faith from Christ personally, studying at his feet during his public ministry on Earth, you are entirely dependent upon the answer to the question of authority: For those of us who live between the ascension and the second coming, there is absolutely no way for us to know Jesus without answering the question of authority. Where can we learn the faith? Where do we find Jesus? How does He supply answers to our questions? Do we find Him and our answers solely in the Bible, as our protestant brethren insist? Or do we hear Him through the bishops, as the Church now insists, as Vatican II insisted, 6, as the Church has always taught, as our Orthodox brethren agree, and as Christ Himself tells us in scripture? 7 To what source may we turn for authoritative guidance on the faith? Does the Bible alone have authority? Or does the Church? Every Christian who lives between the ascension and the second coming must face and decide, with honesty, candor, and awed fear, the question of authority, and if you have not  answered that question consciously, I must suggest to you that you have answered it subconsciously and thus, perforce, inadequately.

II.

Now, let me say a couple of words about the liturgy. I have said that we cannot fix—we will fail to fix—the Church if we do not first fix the liturgy. Ecclesiam non poterimus reparare nisi liturgiam primo reparamus. If we get the liturgy wrong, we get everything wrong. If we don’t understand our relationship to God in the setting of our purest, most direct and intimate encounter with him, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian lives, 8, how can we expect get anything right? And if we structure the externals of the liturgy in ways that do not reflect the ontological realities of what is happening in the Mass, how can we claim with a straight face that we understand those realities and that relationship?

And how, come to think of it, can we seriously profess surprise that our children do not absorb those truths? One of the wonderful things about children is that they have a sensitive bullspit alarm. When they hear a person say how the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary and makes Christ really, truly, substantially present, and yet they see a manner of celebration that reflects anything but that conviction, they might not say anything, but they do internalize it. They conclude that you’re full of it.

I’ve asked this question of “liturgists” and “liturgical musicians”: If the second coming was happening next Sunday, right here, in this church, at 9am, and you were in charge of the music, tell me honestly: Are you really going to have a half-hearted guitar strumming some treacly David Haas song? Please! This is the king of kings! Our Lord and Savior! Are you really going to tell me that you’re going to greet him with the insipid, vacuous dribblings of Dan Schutte? Or are you going to break out the Palestrina and get the choir up to speed as fast as humanly possible? We all know the answer to that one. Well, guess what: Next Sunday, right here, in this church, at 9am, Jesus will be present—really. Truly. Physically. And how you would propose to greet him will tell us everything about whether you actually believe that or not.

So the way that we treat the Mass speaks volumes about what we believe about the Mass, and what we believe about the Mass screams what we believe about God. THAT is why the liturgy is so important. The enemies of the liturgy must be defeated because they are in fact, through their liturgical views, telling us that they are enemies of the faith, and we cannot let the faith be held hostage by those whose actions—no matter what they claim with their lips—confess that they do not share that faith.

III.

I should also say something about the context in which all this arose: Authority in the sense of governing. I had expressed some dissatisfaction at the choice of Pope Francis to not wear his miter during his inaugural homily. The miter is the symbol of the bishop’s authority; it is a reminder that we are not listening to this man because he is learned or holy or likeable or because we agree with him, or any of the myriad reasons that one might choose to attend, say, a TED talk. We listen to him because of the office that he holds and the ministry that is discharged through him. He exercises a ministry that is contingent on no earthly power; he holds a warrant that defies and defeats all earthly powers. And for that reason, the symbols of that office should not be omitted, because we must not lose sight of the fact that we are not listening to Jorge Bergoglio, but to Christ speaking through Peter speaking through Francis. This is not a question of fashion; the miter isn’t simply a hat. The symbols of office matter because while these men may be good witnesses or not based on something in themselves, they are bishops by grace of God, not the assent of the faithful.

Oh, nonsense, it was asserted in response: True power comes from service. 9

No, it does not. Ecclesiastical authority comes from the divine constitution of the Church; none other. If a man should come up to you on the street and say “your book is wrong, you must recant,” you are not obliged to listen to a word he says. If he should be the retired Cardinal Archbishop of where-have-you, you are nevertheless under no obligation to listen to him, because titles, even ecclesiastical titles, confer no authority whatsoever. If his eminence famously spent his entire priesthood as the most famous do-gooder in the world, if he has stored up great treasure in heaven having done fantastic works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, perhaps you will listen to him because you are personally impressed with him, but you are nevertheless under no obligation to listen to him, because works, even mighty works, confer no authority whatsoever. But if that man instead turns out to be your bishop, or the bishop of Rome, or a duly-designated representative of the duly-designated relevant dicastery of the Roman Curia, then you are under an obligation to listen to him, not because he is important as a man, or because he is impressive as a man, or a single thing that qualifies him as a man, but because you are a sheep and the office he holds has made him your a shepherd. 10

Oh, well, it was rejoined, but Jesus did not distinguish His mission by his clothing. Jesus did not need to “distinguish His mission by his clothing or accouterments of office” because he is God! 11 He had the sovereign’s plenary authority to order relationships and people in any way he saw fit. But by what authority does a mere man claim such authority over any other man against the latter’s consent, constructive or actual? Only by the authority of the sovereign, God, who has constituted the Church as a society governed by the bishops.

Accordingly, men exercise ecclesiastical authority over other men only insofar as they are the duly-appointed holders of an office possessing such authority that has been duly-constituted by the Church, or belongs directly to her divine constitution. The duly-elected successor of Peter, as the universal pastor of the Church, has authority over the universal Church because the petrine office belongs directly to the divine constitution of the Church, and a duly-appointed bishop has authority over his diocese because the Church has duly ordained that the world be divided into discrete geographical areas with each shepherded by a duly-appointed bishop, and has constituted dioceses as a juridical expression of that ecclesiological judgment.
That is why Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit (for example) has no authority whatsoever over me, though he may well be a very learned and holy man for all I know, and yet Archbishop Tobin of Indianapolis does. I like Archbishop Tobin, moreover, but the day that he ceases to be the Archbishop of Indianapolis, I will no longer be subject to his authority, because in a different post, he will have no duly-constituted authority over me. By the same token, had I lived in Los Angeles during the odious Cardinal Mahony’s tenure, Mahony would have had authority over me even though he be a mindless tool of the devil, and yet any number of holy and learned successors of the apostles would not, even though they are surely more worthy than Mahony. Ecclesiastical authority is in no way dependent on the man—is is a function of the position he holds and the grace of the Holy Spirit given to him in his consecration to the episcopate, in which he receives the fullness of the sacrament of Orders. 12

Notes:

  1. Cf. “Why I am a Catholic” in a few brushstrokes, 2 MPA 1 (2012).
  2. Cf. Lk 4:32.
  3. E.g. Dei verbum, no. 10 (2d Vat. Co., 1962).
  4. “We can believe what we choose,” John Henry Card. Newman said, and “we are answerable for what we choose to believe.” Quoted in Edward Short, Newman and His Contemporaries 135 (2011)
  5. I must acknowledge that some of the best Christians I know are not Catholics. They have considered the question and, to the best of their judgment, before God and man, they conclude that the Catholic Church is not what she says she is. And I respect that. Still others are trying to figure it out; they have made a tentative decision (you have to make at least a provisional decision on any big, life-affecting question while you figure out the answer), and they’re actively working toward an answer. And I respect that, too. I can respect almost any position that is the product of a coherent and reasonable thought process, even if I disagree with it. It is somewhat harder to respect the position that many take, which is to completely ignore the question while tacitly (i.e. practically) answering it and wishing that the whole problem would go away, even as it knaws through their soul and riddles their faith with cracks and deformities, creating doubt, dissent, and scandal. Cf. MP: Revealed preference and the peril of interest capture, 1 MPA 7, 9 (2012). Small wonder that many of those who refuse to face this question directly remain nominally Catholic yet can’t quite bring themselves to believe what Catholics believe and do what Catholics do! It seems to me that one cannot have a firm foundation as a Catholic until one has first decided whether the Church to which they profess membership is or is not who she says she is, and what consequences follow from that belief .
  6. See Lumen gentium, no. 20, 57 AAS 5, __ (2d Vat. Co. 1964).
  7. See Lk 10:16.
  8. LG11, 57 AAS, at __.
  9. For the record, that is a corrupted reference to Francis’ inaugural homily, in which the Holy Father told us, albeit miterless: “Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.”
  10. Cf. MP: Episcopal competence and the public policy nexus, 2 MPA __ (2012); MP:  Catholic social teaching and public policy: Presuppositions, institutional settlement, and the competency of bishops, 1 MPA 151 (2012).
  11. See, e.g., Phil 2:6.
  12. CCC ¶ 1557.