Wednesday, December 17, 2003

On the "Red Herring of Communion in the Hand" Essay:

I have received a few emails about this essay in recent months -one of which was posted back around summertime or so. (I cannot recall offhand when so readers will have to search the archives for it.) Among the others were two rather nasty emails which I decided to not air here. But recently a more irenic critical email of that piece was sent to myself and also "Matt1618" which this entry will interact with. The other writer's words are in black font.


Dear Shawn & Matt,


Though I am not a so-called ultra-traditionalist , I do partake in the traditional movement within the Church and attend the Tridentine Liturgy under the indult.

This is of course fine and commendable.

I would just like to offer a few simple words on your essay The Red Herring of Communion in the Hand...


Though it may be true that some in the early Church did receive communion in the hand, these were limited to deacons and other ordained until the rise of Arianism.

This is not true at all XXXXXXX. I will deal with this statement in a moment.

The Arian heretics received the Eucharist in hand because they did not believe Jesus was God; thus the Eucharist was breadalone. They wanted to use it as propaganda to further their lies.

The latter may well be true. However, even assuming that it is (and I am inclined to agree with you) the only problem with your assertion is that the ante-Nicene Fathers themselves as I noted in that essay --as well as post-Nicene Fathers-- directly confute the prior assertion of yours.{1} You are engaging in an error of anachronism by retrojecting second millennium customs into the early Church. To put it bluntly, no scholar worth their salt today would take these assertions of yours seriously.

Certainly some in this modern era have pushed for similar agenda.


Perhaps others are just more lax in certain acts and want to be a little more fuzzy and inclusive.

It is also possible that others had reasonable motives for this even if you do not agree with them.

Though I am certainly not of that mindset, it is not heretical.

This admission is welcome on your part -and not only because of whom you avoid implicating by taking this stance.

However, the ones who want to push the agenda as the Eucharist being bread alone, like the Protestants and those who are of the Indifferintist and the Modern Liberalist heresies, do promote communion in the hand for a reason.

Some people do this because of what you previously noted -of this I do not doubt. However, there are others who simply wanted to see the ancient method restored. I know of many people who promote this usage who are orthodox and who receive with due reverence. I do not agree with their promotion of it; however, they are not heterodox for doing so.

Often they will not even mention the traditional method of communion on the tongue.

There is nothing "traditional" about communion on the tongue. Nor is there anything "traditional" about communion in the hand. If any practice was to be constituted as "traditional" it would not be the one that you promote. And without a shadow of doubt do I say this XXXXXXX. This is despite the fact that my personal opinions on the matter very much mirror yours.

For my opinions are not what constitute the facts of Church history and the customs of the early Church. And a good scholar who seeks to rise above the polemical nature of confessional scholarship (with its propensity to play up what benefits "the agenda" and play down or ambiguize that which does not) is hardly going to lend credence to such assertions as you make. They do not cohere with what Church history tells us actually happened. Whether you like this or not it is reality and the sooner it is faced up to, the better it will be for everyone.

Thus, young Catholics never know the traditional method.

I agree that many Catholics do not know of the reception by tongue method. (And indeed they should.) However, the best way to demonstrate it is to receive that way yourself and evangelize by action. That is what I do and Matt does so also to my knowledge. Matt notes his reason for this in the essay and it is also my reason. (Hence he uses the expression "our" to refer to both him and me.)

However, this notion that there is a "traditional" method is rather misleading because the custom you refer to was only a one thousand year old custom in its universal application. (Spanning from roughly the tenth century to the twentieth century.) Prior to that time, modes of reception varied often from dioceses to dioceses.

The emphasis on uniformity in worship, devotions, theological formulations, and disciplines was a novelty of the Counter-reformation period. (The intention was in large part to defend the usages then current against the objections of the Protestants.) In doing this, there were at times assertions of a broad nature which did not square with what the historical record tells us. Whether this was intentional or not is of course something I cannot say -presumably most who engaged in this kind of polemic had good intentions.

It is also possible that they may have informed themselves on history from confessional scholarship which defended the Catholic usages which itself was unaware of what the actual record of history tells us.{2} Nonetheless, the maxim of the end not justifying the means comes into play here.

This is why your attempt to claim this is immemorial attests to the fact that you are buying into confessional propaganda out of (undoubtedly) an honest desire to see the Eucharist given its due dignity. However, the means you use to support this end are what is problematical. And again, I reiterate: the end can never justify the means.

As well, I notice that you take many of your sources out of context.

Of course I notice that you note no examples of this when you make the accusation. And anyone can make this kind of claim. But usually when challenged to support such assertions -as I always do-{3} is when people either retreat or attempt to retrench their accusations to avoid apologizing for them when they are out of line.

The fact that a few references to this early practice (referring to the ones in the citation from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article) are offhand comments does not help of course. However, the Catholic Encyclopedia is generally a reliable guide so it constitutes one of my sources.{4} That fact aside, I challenge you to point to *two* sources of mine which you claim are absent proper context. (Since I was the one who did the section on patristics for that essay.) I am not by saying this insinuating that there are any such sources absent proper context of course; however I used six citations in the patristics section{5} and you said that "most" of them are absent context.

With six such citations,{6} a reference to "most" by any reasonable usage of the term is four. But I already know you cannot do this so I am going to be lenient in this request and will only ask that you provide two. I do not believe in light of what you have stated that this request is at all unreasonable.

Some are ambiguous and do not serve the purpose of the essay.

There is only one reference that can possibly be termed ambiguous in any respect and that is the one to Tertullian from the first quote courtesy of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on The Real Presence. (That quote itself explicitly denotes it is a paraphrase.) The reference to St. Cyprian's De Lapsi in the same citation is quite clear and I have contemplated inserting it into the essay for some time.{7} However, in light of the others from Basil the Great, the Synod of Trullo, and St. John Damascus --all which I have verified the authenticity of by the way-- it seems to me that those who are not interested in the truth will not listen no matter what is said or how much evidence is brought forward. So for that reason, adding to the essay you refer to would not be a reasonable usage of my time and resources.

Among the six sources I referenced in that section, there are three which are particularly valuable. The first one is from St. John Damascus and is perhaps the most important one of the bunch because (i) it was made in the mid eighth century (ii) it is from a four book compendium titled "The Orthodox Faith", and (iii) this compendium has long been recognized as the systematic theological source par excellence in the eastern tradition.{8} Second perhaps is the one from St. Basil who acknowledged the longstanding custom of receiving in the hand during times of persecution. Third is the Trullo synod which encapsulated the oft-cited reference from St. Cyril of Jerusalem in its disciplinary canons.{9}

Others are directed toward those who have Holy Orders.

Of course precisely who received Holy Orders was a controvered subject until the second millennium so your statement here is rather anachronistic.{10} But yes some of them referred to deacons taking the Eucharist to the sick who could not attend divine liturgy. If you look carefully, that was part of one quote which referred to Tertullian and St. Cyprian viz pre-Constantine pre-Arian practice. The reference to pre-Arian St. Justin and Arian contemporary Eusebius about the deacons was simply part of the same quote. I left it together precisely so no one would make the accusation that you have made about parsing single sentences absent proper context.

As well, it is misleading to suggest that every practice of the early Church ought to be imitated.

Now you are going from claiming that "[t]hough it may be true that some in the early Church did receive communion in the hand, these were limited to deacons and other ordained until the rise of Arianism" to claiming tacitly that the practice of reception by hand in the early Church was perhaps of wider import than you previously enunciated. Which is it XXXXXXX??? Also, where did either Matt or myself make the assertion that the practice should be promoted??? I am wondering if you actually read the essay in full or if you just scanned it. I have discovered with at least 95% of my critics that they do not actually read what I write but they scan it and read into what is written things which are not said. Can you show me where either Matt or myself promoted this practice??? I happen to know for a fact that you cannot so kindly do not make that inference.

Even St. Paul chastises certain early communities for their practices.

Which is fine but in the context of this statement is irrelevant. You have gone from claiming that Matt and I misrepresented early Church teaching to tacitly admitting that we got it right but should nonetheless not be promoting certain early customs. (As if we were even doing that to begin with.) You cannot have it both ways so I ask you to please stick to only one story and do not straddle the fence.

A good traditionalist would never accept a practice that only existed for a few early years and then died out. They follow tradition -- stuff of generations.

Of course communion in the hand was a practice of nearly a thousand years usage. It was acknowledged by the Fathers and Doctors as the ancient manner of reception. It was also ratified by authoritative councils as the ancient manner of reception as well.{11} So this idea that it is a practice that only existed for a few early years and then died out is rather laughable. That description would apply to something such as the agape but not to this method of reception -whatever one happens to think of it.

Nonetheless, the laity did not receive communion in the hand until the Arian heresy, to be resurrected under the Modern Liberalist heresy of our time.

The first part of your statement is a prevarication XXXXXXX. And again, no scholar who wants to be taken seriously would espouse such nonsense today. Such tactics may have been fashionable during the period of Counter-reformation polemic -and indeed they were- but I have no use for such disingenuousness. We have nothing to fear from history and in this case it does not support what you are promoting as you promote it.{12} I noted this tendency among those who call themselves "traditionalists" in the essay you refer to in the following words:

The controversy on communion in the hand started in Europe in the 1960’s and was actually practiced by dissidents before the practice was made licit by the Holy See. From this standpoint the 'traditionalist' has a point as far as objecting to the way in which this practice came about in recent times but of course they do not wish to proceed along that track which would indeed be a credible approach for them to take. No, the 'traditionalist’ chooses instead to construct a fictitious past with regards to communion in the hand as their means of fighting what they see as a great evil of our time. It stems again from the common ignorance of Church history and the 'traditionalist' feeling that the uniformity of worship, policy, devotions, etc. that prevailed after the Council of Trent was somehow the norm for Church history. In reality, the history of the Church in almost all of the realms where the 'traditionalist' gripes about was not as neat and tidy as they would like it to be.

I go on from there to note several examples but that is beside the point. Your email whether you realize it or not is precisely on script with what I noted above about "construct[ing] a fictitious past with regards to communion in the hand." I must admit that your approach is one I have not seen much of -mainly claiming that communion in the hand was a fourth century novelty for the non-ordained. But Church history does not support this fiction of yours one iota. And I challenge you to sustain it with reputable sources which do not engage in confessional scholarship methods. Otherwise, kindly retract the assertion.

In the early days of Communist China, the communist would cut off the thumb and the pointer finger of the priest -- the two fingers that were given special blessing -- so that they could no longer hold the Blessed Sacrament.

As the thumb and forefinger are the two most commonly used to hold anything in the fingers, they are the logical ones to amputate if you want to prevent people from holding things carefully in their fingers. This is common sense not merely some "conspiracy" against the fingers of the priest. (Though there may have been some of that as well.)

Only the holiest of the holy could touch Christ.

Again I reiterate: you are engaging in errors of anachronism. Church history does not countenance this assertion of yours (that only the clergy were allowed to touch the Eucharist with their hands) one iota. The Fathers and Doctors do not countenance it. Indeed they explicitly confute it in many spots. Only with the second millennium is your position on solid footing and trying to elevate medieval scruples -however noble they may be- to the level of "tradition" is dishonest. Kindly cease doing it please if you want to come across as credible in this discussion.

Today, many places allow communion in the hand because of special dispensation of the Church. This is not because there is genuine need for reception in the hand, but rather, heretics disobeyed Rome under the mentality of, "Disobey now and Rome will catch up." Catch up they did!

Finally you begin arguing on solid footing. To again quote my words from early in the essay:

The controversy on communion in the hand started in Europe in the 1960’s and was actually practiced by dissidents before the practice was made licit by the Holy See. From this standpoint the 'traditionalist' has a point as far as objecting to the way in which this practice came about in recent times.

Stay in this track and you can make a credible and persuasive case for your position.

However, I will not say Rome made either poor or proper decisions in this matter. Heretics could have lead mass rebellion from the Church if Rome did not give way. I disagree, however, I am not one to judge.

This is very commendable on your part. The mark of a true Catholic is a generous loyalty to ecclesiastical authority. Your comments above indicate that you are a man of good will. I trust therefore that your errors on Church history as noted in this response will be rectified in future correspondence.

It should be noted, though, that many places, such as the Philippines, have discontinued the practice of communion in the hand because it has lead to a falling of the faith and to gross Eucharistic abuses.

I am afraid that a lot of this is post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning XXXXXXX. The reason for lack of faith is poor catechizing plain and simple. (And I stated that bluntly in the essay you wrote about.) If you want to pin it on anything else, you have the duty to demonstrate this and not merely assert it.

Now that the heretics are controllable, it is time to lift the dispensation and return to the practice of old -- the practice of respect for Christ in the Eucharist. It is the next necessary step in battling the Modern Liberal heresy as it was for battling the Arian heresy.

Again, the "practice of old" if we really want to be technical is communion in the hand. And your return to arguing by anachronistic error will not win you points with anyone who knows Church history viz this and other matters.

May Christ always keep Holy Mother Church!

+ St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us! +

Well, at the very least we can end on a note of agreement. To your last statements I say "amen" and "amen" again.



{1} To give some examples, Tertullian and St. Cyprian who both witnessed to the tradition of the African Church in the second and third centuries. Likewise, St. Ambrose who was a late fourth century Father noted the same thing as did St. Basil the Great in his ninety-third epistle. Furthermore, the Trullo synod recognized the ancient practice in its canons and St. John Damascus in his multivolume magnum opus "The Orthodox Faith" enunciates this unmistakably. And these are not the only examples which can be brought forward.

{2} The Counter-reformation prevarication of the "unchanging Church" runs deep in self-styled "traditionalist" circles.

{3} Because modesty aside for a moment, I doubt you can find one single web writer who takes greater efforts to make his sources easy to verify. And I can do this precisely because I do not take them from context. If only those of opposing points of view were similarly forthcoming with their use of sources but I digress.

{4} Particularly with the stuff written contra "traditionalism" because the 1913 date is free from the accusation of being "post-conciliar." This is the same reason I have frequent recourse to works such as my 1941 Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary which as of 1941 had gone through ten editions. (And possesses a 1930 Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.) Even taking on the "traditionalists" on their own turf they cannot succeed in sustaining their opinions from authoritative sources.

{5} My last citation was a reference to the last words of St. Thomas Aquinas. And that text was verbatim except for a bit ellipsed out which did not detract from the context of the statement in the slightest. My reason for putting it in there was to effectively trump any attempts by so-called "traditionalists" to pit St. Thomas against Pope Paul VI. And for the true Traditionalists out there, it does just that.

{6} Of the six citations, the first one referred to Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Justin Martyr, St. Ambrose, and Eusebius of Caesaria. (With the one from Tertullian a paraphrase.) I used it to avoid having to overlengthen this essay with the exact quotes themselves from these sources. Nonetheless, all of them cohere with the thesis of this essay in some form or another.

The one from St. Ambrose about people carrying the Eucharist with themselves on long journeys to use as viaticum in the event of danger of death is a more indirect reference. The ones from Eusebius and St. Justin were included because excising them would have appeared to convert the quote into a prooftext absent proper context. If there is one thing I do not do in my writings it is prooftext. (Nor for that matter does Matt.) And as a result our writings tend to be longer than those of most who write essays on these kinds of subjects.)

{7} When one, who himself was defiled, dared with the rest to receive secretly a part of the sacrifice celebrated by the priest; he could not eat nor handle the holy of the Lord, but found in his hands when opened that he had a cinder.

The above passage is what the Catholic Encyclopedia article refers to. There is also another one in the same article which reads as follows:

The wounds of the dying are covered over, and the deadly blow that is planted in the deep and secret entrails is concealed by a dissimulated suffering. Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord, although the sacred Scripture stands in their way, and cries, saying, "Every one that is clean shall eat of the flesh; and whatever soul eateth of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord's, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people." Also, the apostle testifies, and says, "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and of the table of devils." He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and froward, and denounces them, saying, "Whosoever eateth the bread or drinketh the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."

All these warnings being scorned and contemned,--before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offence of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord." [St. Cyprian: De Lapsi §15-16 (ante-258 AD)]

Obviously the sin of the mouth is reception of communion. However, the "much greater" sin of the hand "than when they denied their Lord" is the touching of the host with the hand before putting it in the mouth. If you question this interpretation then show how it does not cohere with the admission of St. Basil the Great that "[i]t is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves" (Epistle 93 circa 378 AD). I remind you that St. Cyprian lived during the time of persecution -indeed he died as a martyr fifty five years before anyone had ever heard of Arianism. Of course if this passage is still "ambiguous" to you, then the later sentence from Basil's Letter amply clarifies it:

[E]ven in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand.

The same description is given in the reasonably well-known reference from St. Cyril of Jerusalem which the Synod of Trullo (692) encapsulated in its canons as the ancient discipline. This is significant because the inclusion of this in the canons was part of an anti-Latin polemic against the West accusing them of controverting this custom by not receiving in this way. St. John Damascus as I noted earlier also attested explicitly to this practice. In short, your thesis of "no one prior to the Arian crisis receiving in the hand except clergy" goes up in smoke like a Churchill from my humidor.

{8} St. Thomas Aquinas himself references it authoritatively on some key points of argument in the Summa Theologiae.

{9} The assertion that this citation is a forgery is accepted uncritically by those who crusade against communion in the hand. I am unaware of any credible scholars who take this view so the burden of proof on the matter is yours to demonstrate, not merely to make the assertion. (If you are so inclined to do this.)

{10} And yes, I can demonstrate this point and have done so in other writings. (See my treatise A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism' for details.)

{11} The synod of Trullo -though intended to be an ecumenical council was not accepted as such by Rome. Nonetheless, its canons formed the basis of eastern canon law and Gratian accepted the text into his compendium of canon laws which -while not magisterial- was nonetheless highly influential. And even today to my knowledge the canon law of the Catholic Church for the Eastern Churches has a foundation in some of the decisions of that ancient synod.

{12} Pope Paul VI in the Instruction Memoriale Domini (issued to retain the practice you endorse) even admitted to this when he noted the following:

It is quite true that ancient usage at times allowed the faithful to receive this divine food in the hand and to put it into their own mouth. It is also true that in the earliest years they could take the blessed sacrament away with them from the place of worship, principally in order that they might use it as viaticum in case they had to face danger for the sake of professing their faith.

This was the custom particularly during the years of persecution which (I remind you) all preceded the Arian crisis. Maybe if you will not accept it from Matt and myself you will accept it from the Holy Father who only countenances what we noted in that essay.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Essay Release:
(On the Intricacies of Dialogue)

Though the final template has not been posted yet -which includes site links, etc to the sections of Matt's site where the piece will be located- the commentary on dialogue is completed. And though it will be officially released tonight, I wanted to give the readers an advance notice of its availability.{1} The piece can be read here. Hopefully it can contribute to some extent in helping understand the meaning of "dialogue" as the Church views the term. (And also help us all in aiming for the ideal that the concept involves.)


{1} This writer would be remiss in not acknowledging a debt of gratitude to SecretAgentMan for his valuable criticism of a key part of the original draft. I may post some of that correspondence to Rerum Novarum later on as a textbook example of dialogue on the subject of dialogue if you will.

[Update: I resent another template with more adjustments to Matt about five minutes ago. The way to know if the adjusted template is up yet is by looking at the introduction after the opening quote from Jean Guitton. If it is more than three sentences long, it is the adjusted template you are looking at. If this is not the case, then Matt has yet to put the new template up. Sorry for the confusion on this matter in the interim. - ISM (12/16/03 5:35 pm)]


More on the Death Penalty:
(Dialogue with Greg Mockeridge)

This is a continuation of sorts from the threads located HERE and HERE. -ISM]

Greg's words will be in black font and his sources footnotes in black font italics. My words will be in regular font. Greg's footnotes will be at the bottom of the page with mine except in black font. As I have not tried a dual footnote format before, this may not work as well in reality as it does in the abstract; nonetheless it must be tried.


Hi Greg:

You must have been reading my mind. I was going to ask you why you haven't posted my piece on Justice Scalia and Evangelium Vitae.

I posted it the other day. (I thought I sent you the link to it.) Fortunately you are a regular reader and through my tendencies towards inculcation were able to find it.

Since we are on the subject of capital punishment, I thought I would take the opportunity to muse further on it. I am planning to give a talk on Catholic teaching and the death penalty to the young adult group I belong to sometime in the near future...

Since this has impelled me to research the issue of capital punishment further, I could make better arguments to buttress my case if I were to rewrite that piece today.

Well, in six months or so, if you want to build on that editorial in another Guest Editorial, I will of course post it. In the meantime, you can use this thread as a source for that piece should you like.

The doctrinal aspect, properly distinguished from the prudential judgements, of Evangelium Vitae's statements on capital punishment is, in my opinion less a development than it is a restatement of what the Church has always taught regarding the just use of the death penalty.

I think it also involves the element of binding and loosing as well. But in light of what I noted on the Roman Catechism earlier -and which you noted in your guest editorial- JP II's position seems to be a more consistent application of the doctrinal principle outlined in the Roman Catechism. However, even if my analysis here is erroneous viz the consistency of the doctrinal principle -and it is not by the way- the fact that the Pope utilized his authority to bind a prism for viewing the situation on capital punishment with some new facets to it is something that cannot be escaped from.

But then again, developments in doctrine are, in large part, restatements where the core principle contained therein is further clarified to address the questions that arise from the situation of a given age.

Indeed. Remember though, the Mishna -though codified in the second century it preceded the time of Christ- was very anti death penalty usage in reality (as opposed to the abstract). And Our Lord Himself shied away from calling for it in cases where the Law interpreted in a rigorous manner would have called for it.

And of course the idea that the Christians before Constantine were big time supporters of the death penalty (as per the claims of Scalia and Buchanan) is ludicrous to the extreme since this would have been suicidal on their part. But I expect such ahistorical outlooks from people who have frequent recourse to the "2000 years of Church history" moniker.{1}

The doctrinal imperative in Evangelium Vitae, i.e that the defense of society (which includes not only physical self-defense, but also protecting the public order and vindication of the moral order) must require it, is summed up when the pope cites #2267 of the First Edition (aka the French Edition) of the CCC in EV #56.{1}

The clear implications of this principle in previous Church teaching are unmistakable. According to the Roman Catechism, the just use of capital punishment is an act of "paramount obedience" to the Fifth Commandment. It goes on to state that the end of this Commandment is the "preservation and security of human life" and that civil authorities "naturally tend to this end" by giving "security to life by repressing outrage and violence." (emphasis added) From this we must conclude that its just use is limited by what is necessary to satisfy the requirements of such obedience, meaning if the State is able to achieve that end by way of non lethal means it is morally bound to do so.

Yes, I actually got my cue to refer to the Roman Catechism in these kinds of debates years ago after reading Evangelium Vitae for myself. I was struck by how well JP II's interpretation cohered with the literal sense of the text of the catechism. But even if it did not, the catechism is not magisterial whereas an apostolic letter (in this case in the form of an encyclical) is.

One of the most common statements from Aquinas often cited by those who either oppose John Paul II's teaching in EV or who have difficulty with it is the following from Summa Theologiae:

Therefore, if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on the account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since "a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6) (II, II, q. 64, ad. 2).

The operative word in this quote from St. Thomas is " if a man be dangerous and infectious to a community...." Again, if we are to take this statement as our guide, reason would demand that we conclude that if the danger posed by such criminals can be alleviated without recourse to the death penalty, it must not execute. So, doctrinally speaking, John Paul II is right on the mark. {2}

In my experience over the years, he has always been.{2}

Now comes the question of determining that "if." As I state in the Justice Scalia piece, this rests with the prudential judgment of the state and is not within the authoritative domain of the Church. Unfortunately, Justice Scalia isn't the only one who makes the mistake of including this in JP II's teaching. Dr. Robert George, jurisprudence professor at Princeton University does as well. (In case you are not familiar with Dr. George, he is an orthodox Catholic who is one of the best constitutional scholars in the country. His article "Lincoln on Judicial Despotism" is a must read for anyone serious about understanding how judical activism is so unconstitutional. Being at Princeton makes him a real jewel in the rough.)

That is an excellent article.{3} As far as my own stances go, I am sure you have figured out that I am a supporter of states' rights. With regards to Dr. George, if he has done as you claim then it is quite regrettable indeed.

It seems to me that Dr. Charles Rice of Notre Dame Law School does too.

Whatever the case with Dr. Rice, he does recognize that the teaching of Pope John Paul II requires submission. He does not in my view have all of the particulars down but he nonetheless recognizes the essence of the subject. I hope that Dr. George at the very least is in the same boat as Dr. Rice is.

While neither Drs. Rice or George publicly state that EV is out of synch with Catholic tradition as Scalia does, they both err by confusing the doctrinal teaching with a prudential opinion.

Well, in their defense encyclicals are often a mixed bag. Much as Dr. Rice or Dr. George would not encourage students of theirs to dogmatically defend opinions of theirs on constitutional subjects without taking into account the knowledge of those with higher education in their field (such as Drs. Rice and George for example) they need to consider themselves just as much students of theology as their students are to constitutional law.

Therefore, they should seek the advice of a theologian on these matters. Someone such as Cardinal Avery Dulles would be worth listening to. Of the group that has weighed in on this issue (Scalia, Rice, George, Dulles) the most credible by far is Cardinal Dulles. And I say this despite personally not agreeing with Dulles' take either. (Or at least not in all of its parameters.)

Normally Dulles and I are of a like mind on subjects -as I tend to discover after I have formed an opinion on a subject and then read his views on it. However, on this issue there are some divergences -at least if the above article encapsulates the whole of His Eminence's position. (Which it of course did not do.) Nonetheless, even taking the latter into consideration, my view still diverges a little bit from Cardinal Dulles' admittedly.

You would think that all three of these men being legal professionals, they would be the first to know that determining the efficacy of penal systems is not within the domain of moral theology per se, but that of jurisprudence and law enforcement. Hence, it is the State that is the competent authority to make that call, not the Church, although they must do so within the moral parameters set by the Church.

I have learned over the course of my lifetime that just because someone has expertise in one area does not mean that it translates into other areas. Or to put it more bluntly: education does not determine one's ability to utilize the tools of reason and logic. Granted it can help in developing these faculties if someone already possesses an adequate usage of them. However, it cannot give them to someone if they do not already have them in at least embryonic form.

For there are a lot of well educated morons out there -not that Dr. George, Dr. Rice, or Justice Scalia are morons of course.{4} But even intelligent men such as them can get into the habit of thinking in certain patterns that do not allow for them to view something from other vantage points.

Although I intend to restrict my talk to moral/doctrinal aspects of capital punishment, I do want to be able to interact with some of the prudential questions that are sure to come up, seeing as how these get talked about a lot in the media and the fact I will touch upon how we are to understand the pope's statement about modern penal systems being able to protect society without recourse to the death penalty.

I also have a great deal of curiosity in regards to this particular question. The more I look at the arguments for and against the necessity of the death penalty, the less I am willing to embrace the pope's opinion, at least not in toto anyway.

The pope's personal opinion is not required for grasping Greg. (In the sense of being the template for rendering religious submission on the teaching.) What is required though are the doctrinal principles behind a limited usage of the death penalty -if its usage is advocated at all. The pope's opinion on the frequency of the usage are no more binding than his opinion that the Didache is "the oldest non-Scriptural Christian writing." (Something he mentions in the same encyclical earlier on if memory serves.) Whether it is or not is a matter of scholarly debate.

With regards to personal opinions, they are not the deciding factor as the pope himself noted after stating his opinion then following it up with a qualifying term such as "nonetheless." The principle being bound is what follows that word or its equivalent within the text. As this is so often misunderstood, I will reiterate it with emphasis:

All that requires submission is the principle enunciated in the Catechism about bloodless means being the required recourse whenever it suffices to remove the individual in question from being a continued menace to society.

Obviously this is a principle which will have a different application depending on the nation and the circumstances. To my knowledge the other First World nations no longer enforce the DP so America in this regard stands alone. Not that we are necessarily wrong for that but whenever one takes a stance different from everyone else, it is appropriate to reflect on the reasons why.

As I noted earlier, the pope's teaching has forced me to do an about-face on the matter. Despite this though, I can think of a few categories of people who could legitimately circumvent the rubric of mandatory non-bloodless means. Those people are the ones convicted of (i) treason or (ii) sedition. I also feel that (iii) serial murderers, (iv) drug dealers who target children, and (v) pornographers who target children. In my opinion, all of these deserve the death penalty. And at the same time, with these five categories, you would still have the "rare if ever" situation present that should govern the application of the pope's teaching on restricting the use of the death penalty in society.

Pornographers or drug dealers being likely in this day and age of receiving parole at some point are not about to cease their businesses -indeed they can often run them from prison. And as the damage they do to society is so broad that it is difficult to accurately quantify, life terms are not adequate in their cases in my opinion.{5}

Having noted that, I do not see how these advocacies are at all at variance with the doctrine enunciated in Evangelium Vitae. None of this is for reasons of retribution. Instead it is for the protection of society against certain sorts who are in almost all cases not reformable. And as a percentage of the criminal population, we are looking at probably less than 5% of all criminals -arguably less than 2%. Hence, even under the rubric of "rare" this directly is applicable.{6}

One of the things I find frustrating is that he doesn't elaborate as to why he thinks it is unnecessary. He just makes rather sweeping statements like it is "cruel and unncessary." This is, in my estimation, of no real help and only serves to further fuel the media spin machine.

First rule of thumb I have is to not take anything the media says about anything without several grains of salt. McElhinney's Media Dictum essentially states that the media's propensity for error is in direct proportion to the intricacies of the problem present. Hence, the more complex the variables, the less the media can be trusted to be reliable.

[Therefore] rather than worry about how the media will spin the story, it is more important to inculcate in people a healthy skepticism towards the media viz (i) their ability to accurately report on complex subject matter and (ii) their ability to be fair and balanced in their reporting. The fewer people who uncritically accept what the media says about anything the less we have to worry about what the media says about anything.

The way his 1999 remarks in St. Louis were spun by the American media is one example.

See my previous comments.

Although many on the pro-death penalty side do not normally cite necessity as the main objective and they appeal to irrelavant issues such as the grief of victims' families and so on, their arguments for necessity are far more cogent than those of the anti-death penalty side against.

In many respects this is true. However, it is also possible to walk a line of balance that is in line with the doctrinal principles enunciated by Evangelium Vitae. And that is what we Catholics need to strive to do -however it infringes on our inclinations. Religious submission of mind and will is not a minor bagatelle.

From what I have been able to surmise thus far, the arguments put forward by such anti-death penalty groups like the ACLU, Amnesty International, and The Death Penalty Information Center are not only not persuasive, some of them border on being downright fraudulent. In typical liberal fashion, they also play the race card and they misrepresent the so-called innocence studies. {3}

Coupling this with my previous experience with anti-death penalty activists, I believe that they are, by and large, intellectually dishonest.

Well, there is no amount of dishonesty by partisans on either side. It is real easy to make the death penalty some kind of "cure-all" when in reality it is not only not one but it is much easier to fall subject to abuse than those who do not advocate its usage.{7} The idea that there is a necessary dichotomy between the teaching of Evangelium Vitae and a prudent usage of the death penalty in modern society needs to be quashed.

Unfortunately, much of the NCCB literature on the death penalty that I have read leans heavily upon the arguments put forth by the above named groups. Needless to say, this is not helpful in engendering a fruitful dialogue with pro-death penalty types, whether inside or outside the Church. Quite frankly, I think the American bishops, as a body, have acted more like anti-death penalty crusaders than as teachers of the faith on this issue.

Agreed. Too many of them border on the idea that the death penalty itself is "immoral" rather than the application of the death penalty often being immoral. This is a distinction with a difference and not a small one at that.

I think this problem is further compounded when you consider that is most likely that the pope gets most of his information about whether or not the conditions of the U.S. penal systems would enable an all out abolition from the U.S. bishops. This is one of several areas I believe the pope is ill-served by American bishops.

Again we agree.

In my piece on Justice Scalia, I also pointed out that not only do those Catholics who work in the areas of jurisprudence and law enforcement have a duty to make their professional views, whatever they may be, known to Church authorities and Church authorities have a like duty to listen. On this note, it seems to me that the arguments put forth by pro-death penalty folks are not given a sufficient hearing by Church authorities, even from within the Vatican.

If you modify your statement to read "it seems to me that the arguments put forth by those advocating a prudent usage of the death penalty in limited cases are not given a sufficient hearing by Church authorities, even from within the Vatican" then again I would concur with you.

As for me personally, I am neither pro or anti death penalty at this point. I believe what the Church teaches about the just use of capital punishment: defense of society, which includes physical safety, protection of the public order, and vindication of the moral order.

If that means, in practice, an abolition of it, so be it. If it means the reduction in the number of executions (at an average of about only 75 a year in the U.S., you really can't reduce it much more without abolishing it), so be it. And even if it means executing more criminals, so be it. In present day America, I believe the reality lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Hopefully my example outlines that we agree on this. I have had to seriously rethink my entire approach to this subject in recent years in light of Evangelium Vitae. I trust that I have done so in full congruity with the whole of the Tradition and also the actual teaching of His Holiness in Evangelium Vitae where he quite clearly develops the Church's teaching on this matter.

I believe that civil governments should strive to create penal systems that are able to, both in theory and practice, make the death penalty unnecessary.


I'm afraid, however, that will be impossible in a secular world that increasingly views the rule of law more as an expression of the collective will of the people (or elites in black robes, as is becoming more and more the case in the U.S.), without priority regard to moral imperatives.

Again I agree. The solution as I see it for matters of life, as well as production and faculties{8} is again the necessity of advocating a consistent principle of action or else we will lose everything as a nation.

For a sequel to this thread, please go HERE. -ISM


{1} The number of examples from history where this moniker can be legitimately utilized is not what many people of a confessional mindset tend to believe. With regards to the death penalty, obviously the early Christians recognized its legitimacy. However, the idea that they promoted it as Scalia and Buchanan would assert is laughable.

For a group that is viewed as an enemy to the state -or as treasonous as the early Christians were viewed in most periods before Constantine- does not give voice to the legitimacy of the death penalty to execute traitors. This is so obviously self-evident that I am surprised that intelligent people like Buchanan and Scalia miss it. (But then again, polemicists on a particular issue tend to wear blinders and not look at what they do not want to so maybe this should not surprise.)

{1} It is worth noting that in CCC 2267, it says that "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means..." (emphasis added) But when Evangelium Vitae cites the Catechism, it uses the word "must" instead of "should."

{2} It may not always be apparent but my study has always vindicated his position over mine in doctrinal matters where there is a disagreement. Obviously I in those cases submit my will and intellect to his judgment when he speaks in his capacity as Supreme Pontiff.

{2} I think it is foolish polemics to use the teaching of Aquinas against JPII's doctrinal teaching when you consider that Karol Wojtyla is one of the world's most highly trained Thomists, particularly in the area of moral theology.

{3} Readers can view the article that Greg refers to HERE.

{3} The claims that the death penalty is used with disproportinate severity against blacks is, according to Boston Globe journalist Jeff Jacoby, " the Abominable Snowman: ugly, alarming, widely believed in, and nonexistent." If statistics are any indication, a more persuasive argument can be made that it is actually used disproportionately against whites when you consider the fact that half the homicides in this country are committed by blacks.

Citing the Justice Department article Capital Punishment 2001, Jacoby points out, "During 2001, 68 men and three women were executed: 48 whites, 17 blacks, and 1 American Indian." He goes on to state that, "Whites even get executed *faster* than blacks. The average elapsed time from sentence to execution for white inmates put to death was 11 years, 2 months. For blacks, it was 13 years, 10 months--2 1/2 years longer" (

In regard to the widely disseminated claims of innocent people being wrongly convicted, those who use these claims fail to make the necessary distinction between legal innocence and factual innocence. In fact, only with a small percentage of those released were there any reasonable doubt of guilt. These studies are also used by anti-death penalty types to "prove" how badly death penalty cases are ajudicated in the U.S., when in fact they prove the opposite.

{4} Far from it, I have a great respect for all three of them -particularly Scalia.

{5} As long as we have juries out there like south central LA or courts like the Ninth Jerket Court of Schlemiels Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals anyway.

{6} And the pope recognizing as just the US's war against Al Queda shows that my application of the same principles to certain narrowly targeted classes of vile criminals is hardly an unreasonable interpretation of the "when there are no other ways to protect society" clause.

The Pope recognized that Al Queda types have to be killed or captured to be removed from their status as a menace. Well, I submit that serial killers of the body (murderers), those who corrupt the young (drug dealers who target children and pornographers who film or promote child porn), and those who undermine the security of a nation (traitors and seditionists) likewise qualify under this rubric for the same reasons.

{7} Those in particular who use the "2000 years of Catholic Tradition" argument (ala Patrick Buchanan and Justice Scalia) are deserving of a serious rebuke for this prevarication.

{8} Life, faculties, production--in other words, individuality, liberty, property -- this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place. [Claude Frederic Bastiat: From The Law (c. 1850)]

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Democratic Candidates on Saddam's Capture:
(Plus commentary from your humble servant)

What is noted here is from Yahoo News on the capture.

Howard Dean's words were not included but he is without doubt the biggest loser of the group after this situation.{1} Between a growing economy, a new and significant success in the war situation, and the fact that there are some groups filing a lawsuit to have Dean's Vermont records unsealed,{2} he will probably not win New Hampshire nearly as handily as it appeared he would even last week. Remember, there is 44 more days until that primary and even a month is a long time in politics. But enough on Dean for now.

Did any of the readers notice Richard Gephardt trying to claim that he "had been supportive of the war all along"??? His support -to the extent that there was one- was miniscule at best. He voted for the war like many as a kind of "hedge bet" but was for some time remarkably wishy washy on the matter. But now he has to backtrack. He went from voting for the war to carping on Bush in all of the particulars. Now that Hussein has been captured, Gephardt is saying "I supported this effort in Iraq without regard for the political consequences because it was the right thing to do. I still feel that way now and today is a major step toward stabilizing Iraq and building a new democracy." But of course those who know Gephardt know that he flip flops with the best of them with his only saving grace of sorts is that he is smoother at it than Kerry or Dean are.

At bottom of course is the problem for Gephardt's supporters that cannot be avoided and it is this: Richie is damaged goods. And this announcement of the capture of Saddam Hussein is simply another missle striking the side of the Geptanic below the waterline. But enough on him for now.

Moving onto John Kerry, he has claimed that everything President Bush has done has been inept which of course was worth many chuckles before has received the serious blow of US forces capturing the Ace of Spades.{3} He has attempted to spin it into a "we must launch a major effort to gain international support and win the peace" speal but in light of comments at his last debate sounds rather hollow. Besides, Drudge fact checked Kerry a while back and exposed his hypocrisy. So he is only fooling those who are either ignorant, deluded, or both. Ane speaking of ignorant and deluded, that brings us to retired General Wesley Clark.

General Clark has been very ambiguous -though his statement that "I hope this will see a diminishing in the violence against American soldiers in Iraq" of course is one that no one will disagree with. But of course Clark has his own skeletons and is a flip flop artist extraordinare himself. {4}

The only one smelling like a rose is Senator Lieberman who stated this morning "praise the Lord. ... This is a day of glory for the American military, American intelligence, and it's a day of triumph and joy for anybody in the world who cares about freedom and human rights and peace." And I have to say it: he is the only Democratic party candidate whom I can hear say something like this and actually believe him.

Am I suddenly morphing into a member of the "Lieberman fan club" you ask??? Nah, I am not likely to break my pattern of not voting for Democrats (outside of primaries of course).{5} However, Bush had better not sit on his laurels and expect me to vote for him again because I have already noted that he is not making me happy in many areas. And that will not change by attempting to woo me with goodies from the federal treasury -as anyone who is familiar with my support of the economic philosophies of Claude Frederic Bastiat should be well aware of.


{1} For those who thought about emailing me to say "no Shawn, the biggest loser is John Edwards", We at Rerum Novarum do not intend to talk about the candidates who have at best a smidgens better chance of winning the nomination than your humble servant does of winning the lottery. (And considering that the latter does not buy lottery tickets, those odds are pretty non-existent methinks.) That means that all discussion in this area will be on Dean, Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt, and Clark as no one else is anything but comic relief in this race. For those who think that the entire group of Democrats is comic relief, well with one exception (Joe Lieberman) I can concur with you there.

{2} The question that this commentator has about this little factoid is this: what is Dean trying to hide???

{3} Apparently whatever use the UN can be in this endeavour we did not "need" then to capture Hussein pace Kerry's dictum that we "need the UN" to have any success at all in Iraq.

{4} Perhaps no candidate has flip-flopped more on Iraq than retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas, the newest entry to the race. When he announced his candidacy on Sept. 17, he said he would have voted for the war resolution had he been in the Senate. Two days later, he switched positions, saying he would have voted against the resolution. [Washington Times (September 30, 2003)]

This kind of waffling -a 48 hour complete reversal of position- is worthy of The Abomination of Desolation Bill Clinton himself.

{5} However, if I was to vote for a Democratic candidate for president, it would be Senator Lieberman. And my reasons if this were to happen would be because (i) he is fiscally conservative-possibly more so than George W. Bush (ii) he is strong on national security (iii) he is a supporter of finishing what was started viz the war and (iv) I sense that he is a substantially honest man whose errors on key moral issues are in good faith -unlike his contemporaries. (I am aware he flip flopped a bit when running as VP but all VP's have to avoid contradicting the positions of person running ahead of them on the ticket so these are venial matters at best.)

But Senator Lieberman, should you read this yourself or should one of my readers email it to you, allow one reasonably astute voter who actually thinks your chances of winning the presidency are to be taken seriously if you can win the nomination (which means winning key primaries after placing at least top three in New Hampshire and Iowa of course) to provide a good course of action for you to consider.

Everyone except you who is running for the Democrats is a wacko loon who will with all likelihood go the way of McGovern or Mondale. You though are not so polarizing. Further still, you have the possibility of tapping into a strong core of conservative Democrats which could swing the nomination as well as the election to you. A lot of us who are predominantly "conservative" are not happy with President Bush in many areas. Many of these sorts are people you could get votes from as well as draw from disenfranchised pro-morality Libertarians as well as Independent voters. However, this would involve an about-face on your part that would be labeled as "flip flopping" by the liberal press. But of course the liberal press can get stuffed because what is important here is campaigning on core principles of the silent majority not political prostitution to the least common denominator.

If you want votes from people like me -former Republicans and current Independents, you should vow to repent of certain positions you have taken in the past and pledge to take the correct position on them in the future regardless of political disadvantage that they may bring. As it stands now, my vote is Bush's to lose and if he loses it, there are Independant and Libertarian candidates to consider before looking to the Democrats. But of course if you do as I noted above -and make it clear and beyond doubt that you are retracting said past errors- I will promise you my vote right now. But only if you do what is noted above.

Labels: , , , , ,

Points to Ponder:
(On "Weapons of Mass Destruction")

Finding and getting rid of such weapons in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and South Africa took 18 to 30 months, even though those governments all actively cooperated with the U.N. It is fanciful that similar results could be achieved in Iraq in a few weeks.

Not finding the weapons in a fixed timeframe does not mean they never existed. British and Spanish governments have been looking for weapons caches of Basque and Irish terrorist groups for 35 years and have found little. But everyone knows those groups have arms.

On the other hand, the Philippine government still finds weapons caches left by the Japanese over half a century ago.[Amir Taheri (c. June 20, 2003)]


"See I Told You So" Dept.
(Musings of your humble servant at Rerum Novarum)

In light of Saddam Hussein's capture, I want to reiterate something I said not even a week ago viz the presidential campaigns and Howard Dean's huge lead in New Hampshire.

If the reader recalls, I stated that [a] year before a presidential election is an eternity in politics. With the capture of Saddam Hussein, the tables turn completely now and President Bush is in the drivers' seat. If I was President Bush, I would allow for plea bargaining here - not only for my own political future but also for the future of less instability in the Middle East. Here would be the terms:

--Life in prison with no possibility of parole in exchange for the locations of all weapons of mass destruction.

Recognizing that a simple information for evading the death penalty is not sufficient, attached to this offer would be the stipulation that at least 75% of the information that Saddam Hussein gives had better result in locating said weapons. Recognizing that 100% is not realistic and 50% is not good enough. Plus the incentive of anything over 75% would result in various "bonuses" applicable to his confinement strictures.

Such "bonuses" if you will would be that anything over 75% can contribute to making his prison living conditions somewhat more humane. (Say 80% would earn an extra hour outside the prison cell every day, 85% would earn an extra two or three cups of water to drink a day, etc.) But of course if 75% of the leads did not pan, then the plea bargain would be off and he would stand trial in Iraq among a jury of his peers. Or I suppose an idea of my late father for people like this could be used.

My dad's idea of justice with murderers was simple: the person gets put into a room and into that room is placed the families of the victims with baseball bats. The difference between us perhaps is that I read Evangelium Vitae and he did not. Because prior to informing myself of that encyclical's teaching, I too was a "kill them all and let God sort them out" kind of guy. But as I have pointed out elsewhere on this weblog -and as Greg Mockeridge astutely noted in his recent Guest Editorial on Justice Scalia and Evangelium Vitae- this position is not "traditional teaching" but instead is an example of arrested development.{1}

Of course I doubt Greg would view Saddam as not one of the exceptions to the rule viz EV. I know I do not certainly. But at this point it must be asked if killing Saddam would actually garner more than sparing him would. I cannot see how it would; nonetheless those who disagree can certainly feel free to email me on the matter.


{1} In the case of my father, he had a vision problem that made reading a struggle. So the idea of reading a seventy-five page encyclical letter was out of the question. However, those who do not have such situations who are capable of informing themselves on the matter cannot claim the same "exemption" of sorts as my father could. This is particularly since the only source he got this from was his son and there is a rule of nature that fathers do not traditionally take what their sons have to say without several grains of salt. (Plus I believe he did not see the judicial system as being sufficient to protect against repeat murderers and other such people.)

Labels: , ,