Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Two Requests

Would someone be kind enough to tell me the list of titles in the 12-volume Pohle-Preuss Dogmatic Theology series?

Is Joe Maurrier out there? Could you email me?

Monday, December 27, 2004

After Reading the Jefferson Bible, The President Issues a ____mas Message

The following is the text of what can, with a large act of imagination, be called the President's Christmas Message. Inasmuch as there are still people who think Junior represents, not just a barely-acceptable, marginally-lesser-of-many-evils, Christian choice for the White House, but who actually think he's an ideal Christian choice for high office, I add my comments here. Junior's words are in black. Mine in blue.

* * *

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On this Christmas day, as families across the nation gather in our homes to celebrate something, we're not sure what it is, but it must be a very nice something, Laura and I extend to all Americans our best wishes for the holidays like Kwanzaa, the pagan hallucinatory fantasy concocted by a convicted felon which, Junior says, "strengthens the ties that bind communities across America and around the world." Can't say that about _____ianity, though. Rove would have fits!. We hope this Christmas is a time of joy and peace for each of you who are celebrating something, a Christmasy kind of something that isn't exactly Kwanzaa, although it must be very nice nonetheless, and we hope it offers you a chance for rest and reflection as you look forward to the new year ahead.

The Christmas season fills our hearts with gratitude to something or someone, we're not sure what it is, but it must be a very nice something or someone for the many blessings in our lives. You know, a "blessing" means an approval given by someone. Just thought I'd mention that, since Junior won't. And with those blessings comes a responsibility To whom? To what? Something very, very nice, I guess. to reach out to others. Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty, others fight cruel addictions, or cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one.

Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to our fellow citizens, It seems to me that Christ commands us to observe the duties we have to our fellow men; suggesting that a thing called "Christmastime" merely "reminds" us about duties which extend to those bound by a polity is, well, a fascist co-opting of religious imagery. But then I'm an awful cynic. that we are called By who? By what? The Blue Heron Spirit? Minerva? Or just something very, very nice? to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves. From what little I know, the commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, according to the will of the God who is love incarnate -- ____sus ____ist. It is not a command to hold a Kantian swap-meet of imaginary categorical imperatives. But then why offend the Kantians? This is Kwanzaa, after all, the time of the Nguno Saba, whose principles emphasize unity." By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair, one heart and one soul at a time.

During the holidays, we also keep in our thoughts and prayers the men and women of our Armed Forces, especially those far from home, separated from family and friends by the call of duty and forced to rummage through land-fills for the equipment my Administration is too cheap or too stupid to provide. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, these skilled and courageous Americans are fighting the enemies of freedom and protecting our country from danger until the day when I can, with the barest minimum of acceptable face-saving, un-ass Iraq and thank something nice, something very nice, that the consequences of our idiotic invasion of Iraq will be borne later, when Hillary is delivering the Kwanzaa Message. By bringing liberty to the oppressed, by which I mean the liberty of Christians to get the hell out before Iraq's reincarnation of the Weimar Republic collapses in an Islamofascist explosion our troops are helping to win the war on terror, and they are defending the freedom and security of us all. They and their families are making many sacrifices for our nation, and for that, all Americans are deeply grateful. I am deeply grateful. I just wish those guys had a commander in chief who wasn't a grandstanding jackass ("Mission Accomplished," George?) and whose geopolitical savvy didn't amount to a blind faith that, by the miraculous ex opere effect of one (that's "one," as in "the only, with no more to follow") election, a hundred million madrassa-heads will turn their backs on the hope of seventy-two virgins and eternal life in favor of reading People magazine and playing Grand-Theft Auto sixteen hours a day.

The times we live in have brought many challenges to our country. And at such times, the story of Christmas brings special comfort and confidence. Because the story of Christmas is really the story of America. See above reference "awful cynic." For 2000 years, Christmas has proclaimed a message of hope: the patient hope of men and women across centuries who listened to the words of prophets and lived in joyful expectation, the hope of Mary who welcomed God's plan with great faith, and the hope of Wise Men who set out on a long journey, guided only by a promise traced in the stars. A prophecy, a plan, and a promise of . . . . of . . . . . ummm . . . well, uh, errr . . . . . something nice, very nice, really really nice. Like Nguno Saba . . . . Hey! Wasn't Muhammad a prophet? Didn't he talk about Issa? Maybe this Christmas thing is religious, after all!

Christmas reminds us that the grandest purposes of God can be found in the humblest places, Really? Why? I mean, did something happen in a humble place that was part of God's grandest purposes? I bet it was something nice, something very, very nice indeed. Whatever it was. and it gives us hope that all the love and gifts that come to us in this life are the signs and symbols of an even greater love and gift that came on a holy night. Holy night? Which holy night? The Lailat al Miraj, when the Prophet traveled miraculously from Mecca to Jerusalem? Or the Lailat al Qadr, when the holy Koran was first revealed to the Prophet? Gosh, could you imagine if we had a President who spoke of Islam that way?
Ramadan commemorates the revelation of God's word in the holy Koran to the prophet Mohammed – a word that is read and recited with special attention and reverence during this season.
Gee, I guess we do have a President who speaks of Islam that way -- the above is from Junior's 2003 Eid Al-Fitr Greeting. I've got no problems with a Christian president addressing Muslims as though their religion were true, provided he does so in a way that doesn't oblige him or the rest of us to speak as though it were. What I don't understand is why Junior thinks he can speak of Islam in that way when he's issuing a Ramadan message, but feels himself above mentioning ____sus in a Christmas message. It's probably the same reason the Republican Party can be so pro-life as to give us Arlen Specter for the Senate, and then for Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "Poor, uneducated, and easily led." The (alleged) slur gets more apt with every election victory handed to Republicans by ____ians.

Thank you for listening, and Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to you, George. Merry JESUSChristmas! Because Christmas commemorates the revelation of God's word in the person of Jesus Christ – the Word who is adored and worshiped with special attention and reverence during this season. At least it is among the poor, uneducated, and easily-led people who put you in the White House. If you can't say the name of their God, why not just stick with Kwanzaa?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

My Favorite Christmas Reading

The twenty-fifth day of December.
In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
in the sixth age of the world,
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ
the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary,
being made flesh.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2004

My Favorite Christmas Picture


Jean-Leon Gerome, The Age of Augustus the Birth of Christ

I'd tell you why I like it so, but I think it's more fun to let you figure out how it relates to Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Back to the Future

Been reading some Catholic writings with regard to the end of history lately. Here are two interesting pieces. The first is from Bishop Christianos Agreda, who lived in the 12th Century:
"In the 20th century France's union with England will prove to be her utter destruction: for there will be great shedding of blood by the people of the kingdom. There will be wars and fury that will last a long time; whole provinces shall be emptied of their inhabitants, and kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion; many strongholds and noble houses shall be destroyed and their cities and towns shall be forsaken of their inhabitants; in divers places the ground shall be left untilled, and there shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again, for France shall be desolate and her leader destroyed. There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers for the right hand of the world shall fear the left, and the north shall prevail over the south."
This sounds a lot like France in the 20th Century, particularly World War I and World War II, a period of global conflict spanning some 31 years. ("There will be wars and fury that will last a long time.") Certainly the ground near the trenches and no-man's land was left untilled. That same period saw the destruction of the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs, and the Romanovs; political upheavals and turmoil rent the continent. ("kingdoms shall be thrown into confusion . . . There shall be great mutations and changes of kings and rulers . . . "). "[T]here shall be great slaughters of the upper class; their sun shall be darkened and never shine again. . . ." France alone lost some 1.3 million men in World War I, many of them from the upper-classes. Western civilization, the ward of those classes, threw itself into a mire of self-loathing evidenced by this poem of Ezra Pound: "There died a myriad / And of the best, among them / For an old bitch gone in the teeth / For a botched civilization . . . ." Afterwards, the right and left hands of the earth feared one another (West vs. East?), "and the north shall prevail over the south." With respect to the world, this suggests the north/south hemispherical economic divide and, with particular regard to France, it's interesting that the traitorous Vichy regime, defeated by the Allies and Free French, was in the south of the country.

Even more interesting is this writing of St. Nilus (d. 430), a student of Chrysostom:
"After the year 1900, toward the middle of the 20th century, the people of that time will become unrecognisable. When the time for the Advent of the Antichrist approaches, peoples minds will grow cloudy from carnal passions, and dishonour and lawlessness will grow stronger. Then the world will become unrecognisable. Peoples appearances will change, and it will be impossible to distinguish men from women due to there shamelessness in dress and style of hair. These people will be cruel and will be like wild animals because of the temptations of the Antichrist. There will be no respect for parents or elders, love will disappear, and Christian pastors, bishops, and priests will become vain men, completely failing to distinguish the right hand way from the left. At that time the morals and traditions of Christians and the Church will change. People will abandon modesty, and dissipation will reign. Falsehood and greed will attain great proportions, and woe to those who pile up treasures. Lust, adultery, homosexuality, secret deeds and murder will rule in society."
Fair enough, perhaps, although it could stand fairly well as a description of life in some European and Byzantine courts over the (next? past?) thousand years. But St. Nilus adds a few details that can raise your hair, such as how at the advent of the Antichrist "men will . . . fly through the air like birds and descend to the bottom of the sea like fish." Moreover, the devil will also "give depraved wisdom to an unhappy man so that he will discover a way by which one man can carry on a conversation with another from one end of the earth to the other." (So no, don't call your mom and warn her about this). And when, the Saint tells us, we have achieved all this, "these unhappy people spend their lives in comfort without knowing, poor souls, that it is deceit of the Antichrist."

Having a different (unrecognizable?) cultural/historical perspective means I quarrel a bit with St. Nilus' apparent identification of evil as technology, but you can't argue with the wisdom of his judgment that the Antichrist will "so complete science with vanity that it will go off the right path and lead people to lose faith in the existence of God in three hypostases (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)." Science leading people to lose faith in the existence of God? Been there, done that. And completing science with vanity sounds right up the genetic-playboy's alley -- for isn't the most alluring promise of genetic engineering the creation of beautiful people, immortal sexual playmates, unconquerable soldiers, children whose gifts would make any parent's heart burst with pride? Of course it is, don't let all those crocodile-tears about diabetic kids and cleft-palates fool you. Big Pharma, Harvard, and the Bush Administration aren't interested in genetic research because it may alleviate suffering in countries whose GDP couldn't pay for a single X-Box; they're interested because there's a market for people who can fork out $50,000.00 for treatments guaranteed to give them blond, blue-eyed children (playmates/soldiers/future taxpayers) with IQs in the high three-digit range while simultaneously lowering health-care costs by culling the herd over the long term. There's a greater vanity at work here -- asserting man's desires to determine his own nature, and it is the antithesis of humility. St. Nilus, pray for us.

Friday, December 17, 2004

An Old Acquaintance Renewed

I recently had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with my favorite Canadian and Libertarian! His name -- roll trumpets and drums, please --- is Pierre Lemieux who lives some distance north of Montreal with, as he says, "my guns, my chainsaw, and my computer." We once had a very entertaining and enlightening debate about the health effects of smoking.


"Cigarettes won't kill you," I said. "If it were otherwise, the United States's infallible fascist government would have said so on the warning labels it requires on cigarette packages." I took a triumphant drag on my Winston, satisfied that I had proved my case beyond question.

"Idiot!," replied Professor Lemieux, the thick and tangy smoke of a Gauloise wreathing his head. "Of course cigarettes will kill you! You see, our fascist government's infalliblity is far less fallible than your fascist government's infallibility, and since our government requires labels that warn of imminent death, it is indisputable that cigarettes will cause it!"

That set me back on my heels a bit. Now insecure, I puffed a few times on my Winston to restore confidence in my manhood (after all, doesn't Michael Douglas smoke Winstons in Wall Street?) before trying to bluff him. Eyebrow cocked, I sallied forth: "Are you sure?"

"Certainly!" Professor Lemieux exclaimed, his excited gestures scattering ash around the designated smoking zone. "Have we not nationalized more industries than you? Do we not already have hate-crimes legislation? Aren't our taxes more confiscatory than yours? Can you deny that the revulsion our elites have for Western civilization makes it seem, by comparison, as though your elites are jingoistic troglodytes? In fact, don't our elites regularly call your elites jingoistic troglodytes? My God, man, you can own assault rifles in the United States! No, we're light-years ahead of you when it comes to realizing Mussolini's dreams and, therefore, our government is far more infallible than yours!"

Well call me politically-incorrect if you must, but I wasn't about to let some Canadian claim his country was better than the good ‘ol USA at anything, even if that thing is the destruction of human dignity. I pondered some possible replies while savoring that good Virginia tobacco . . . . hmmmm, more babies aborted? Heck, the per capita death toll is probably the same, so that's a no-go, gotta put this guy away in one burst, Powell Doctrine and all that . . . . Lifetime Network? A 24/7 television channel dedicated to exposing the angst of feminists and the evil of the men who betray and persecute them? Crap, I haven't seen Canadian television unless you count John Candy, and Lemieux's looking pretty smug over there, better not chance it . . . . suddenly a last burst of nicotine fired the essential synapse. EUREKA!

"But, Pierre, your warning labels say that cigarettes cause imminent death, and you're smoking one now. You're not dead. So your labels are wrong." I grinned my best predatory American grin, the one that says "I Brake for Strip Miners," and puffed out a good cloud of smoke. Smells like victory, I thought to myself.

"Irrelevant," he replied, as though he were impatiently trying to explain why you have to put the parachute on before you jump out of the plane.

"Irrelevant?" I asked, astounded once again.

"Naturally! In a totalitarian state death and life are matters of law, not biological fact. Go and google "Lysenko" and "biology" if you don't believe me. If the state chooses to declare me legally dead, and regulate my life at the same time, that is its affair and isn't to be hampered by some Winston smoker pretending he knows that 2+2=4, when in fact it's whatever the state says it is."

"Huh?" I had that sinking feeling, knowing I was about to repeat the old story of the naive, blustery American shot down in flames by sophisticated Euro-logic.

"Quite. You'll understand after you've been to the reeducation camp."


That's why I spend hours, now, making sure I only buy cigarette packs with labels that warn about adverse health consequences to pregnant women. I'm not jingoistic enough to ignore the possibility that Canada's right. Maybe its government is more infallible than ours! So I'm not taking any chances.

You can find Pierre's delightful and informative website here.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Thoughts on Natural Law

Thanks to the folks who've emailed me asking why I haven't been blogging. Lots of stuff going on the home front, too boring to recount but too demanding to ignore, is one reason. Another was that during all the stuff going on, I felt compelled to blog, that the blog was demanding my attention, that I simply had to keep up or I'd "lose out" on something. The blog was getting uppity. It was time to put it in its place. I've heard it, whimpering in the night, cowed and beaten, for some days now. I have won this round, and so I hope to return to my scribbling over the Christmas holidays.

In the meantime, I couldn't help but notice what I think is a vindication of my position in a running argument with some fellow Catholics about natural law. For those new to the subject, the "natural law" can be pictured as an "over-law," holding a similar position with respect to human laws as Christ, the King of Kings, occupies with respect to human authorities:
[W]e observe . . . in all those who govern . . . that the plan of government is derived by secondary governors from the governor in chief; thus the plan of what is to be done in a state flows from the king's command to his inferior administrators: and again in things of art the plan of whatever is to be done by art flows from the chief craftsman to the under-crafts-men, who work with their hands. Since then the eternal law is the plan of government in the Chief Governor, all the plans of government in the inferior governors must be derived from the eternal law. But these plans of inferior governors are all other laws besides the eternal law. Therefore all laws, in so far as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law. Hence Augustine says that "in temporal law there is nothing just and lawful, but what man has drawn from the eternal law."
St. Thomas, Summa, I(II), q. 93, a. 3
My argument, which has lasted for a couple of years in conversation, correspondence (email and otherwise) and, I must admit, in my own head, is with people who think that the "natural law" can be usefully applied without reference or recourse to the revealed truths of Catholicism.

They believe that the proof and tenets of "natural law" depend primarily on the observation of creation which, established by God and therefore knowable by man, is capable of informing us about our natures and the proper order of society. At first blush this seems well and good: "Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason." Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 36 (quoting Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Canons, Art. 2, ¶ 1). But when their position is explored, one soon enough finds it subjected to an astonishing myopia that compresses the natural law into an Enlightenment-style materialism. That is not what these individuals intend, but it is where they end up. By taking, as they do, reason and observable creation as the sole framework in which the existence and content of natural law can be achieved, they hope to "rescue" natural law by making it acceptable to modern secularists. This is supposedly accomplished in two ways; first, by assuring secularists that any meta-law adopted by society will not embody "theocratic dogmas" and second, by assuring men of different faiths that their religions will not be contradicted by an order based on a legal tradition that is (the contribution of classical culture notwithstanding) Christian in its provenance. This second argument, by the way, also pleases secularists, since it jibes nicely with modern conceits about what "freedom of religion" and "separation of church and state" are supposed to mean. Having grounded our meta-law on nothing save empiricism and "reason," it is thought that we will restore a true natural-law tradition to our civilization with all the benefits that law offers mankind.

I wrote an essay once about the natural law which took the opposing point of view, arguing that without revealed truths "natural law" is simply a shibboleth. I almost regret writing that essay, since it gave occasion for unfavorable review of what is a very fine book featuring the thoughts of far more distinguished scholars and lawyers than myself. The National Review found the book blurb-worthy, and the blurb adequately summarizes the complaints about my essay and one or two others which took a similar position:
[The book] assembles 13 essays asking whether law ever has a deeper basis than the mere consent of the governed. The essayists agree that it does: that-in a tradition dating back to ancient Greece-there is a natural law "written on our hearts." A number of contributors discuss the problem in a religious context, but John Jenkins, in his essay on Aquinas, makes the important point that in natural law "the goodness and value of things human . . . are not explicitly dependent" on a particular faith.
-- Michael Potemra, "Shelf Life," National Review, April 3, 2000.
The prima facie reasonableness in Mr. Potemra's relieved comment can be quickly dispelled by asking if the goodness and value of walking onto an Israeli bus with a bomb strapped to your chest is explicitly dependent on a particular faith. Of course it is. Any successful fedayeen would tell you just that -- if he were allowed to return from Hell, that is. And while we may agree with Mr. Potemra that the "goodness and value" of heterosexual marriage doesn't "explicitly depend" on believing in Presbyterianism or Islam, Judaism or Catholicism, we must admit that saying so and nothing more in a discussion of natural law evades the subject altogether.

Scholars may parse the issue all they like, but one may affirm the goodness of heterosexual marriage without explicit reference to a particular faith only by subscribing to one of two positions. We may affirm it because we believe that our "particular faith" is the true one, but that shards and remnants of truth also exist in other faiths as well and it does no immediate harm to allow others to act in conformity with God's will even though they do not fully grasp everything He requires. We may also affirm it if we believe in a gauzy syncretism that locates super-human truth wherever human religions happen to display some acceptable level of mutual agreement, or because we believe in some separate, "revelation-free" way of objectively knowing truth about the human condition. In other words, we can affirm the goodness of heterosexual marriage either because we have particular faiths, or because we have a general faith that is superior to all particular faiths. The issue is not whether the laws will serve faith. The issue was, is, and shall always be: Which faith will the laws serve?"

Attempts to locate the natural law without reference to a "particular faith" will always reduce themselves to a simple apologia for fascism. If we accept that the state will make laws about the goodness and value of human actions according to a faith superior to all particular faiths, we accept the state as the supreme arbiter of good and evil. What is the individual in such a state? What is God? God is the State, and the individual a simple manifestation of God's will:
[T]he Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity . . . Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual. And if liberty is to be the attribute of living men . . . then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State -- a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values -- interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.
-- Benito Mussolini, Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions (New York: Howard Fertig, 1935).
One reviewer of my essay expressed dismay that I left doubt whether natural law could ever "leave the Catholic farm." Indeed. I was not raised on a farm, but I know you can't get milk without a cow. Without "particular faiths," there can be no such thing as natural law. There can only be popular opinion and, ultimately, death. One of the "dogmas" that the modern perspective on natural law jettisons is the dogma of the Fall, the dogma which reminds us that we are not -- even when using our reason -- our best selves: "human nature . . . is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶ 405. "Particular faiths" put Mussolini's dream out of reach because they prevent the State from dictating the terms of its own legitimacy, its own "faith." Particular faiths hold the State to account, and place limits on its power: It is no accident that constitutional governments appeared in societies with "particular faiths." Without that, there is only the mob, howling for peace, justice and -- eventually -- the death of Christ.

Vatican I taught us all that God can be known by reason from created things. It did not teach us that everything about Him -- including His plans for us in this life -- can be so known, and it certainly didn't tell us that revelation is an obstacle to the use of our reason. Yes, we can know God from reason and creation. And if we use our reason rightly, and observe creation accurately, we will accept Jesus Christ as His divine Son, the Bible as His holy words, and the Roman Catholic Church as His Body with the triple mission to teach, to rule, and to sanctify. That is my particular faith, and it provokes great revulsion. Let's examine, for a moment, the reasons for this fear, this disgust, which supposedly-civilized men experience at the thought of a society organized by Catholic dogma.

A state authentically based on a Catholic view of natural law will subscribe to the principles explained by Dignitatis Humanae, and will accept its citizens' disputing questions of law and public policy from religious motives. It will also accept that some, many, or a few of its citizens will view some, many, or a few of its laws as illegitimate departures from the divine will. It will take care to justify itself, as to these matters, on theologies which permit men to observe even "unjust" laws and keep the civil peace without violating their consciences. It will force as few as possible to violate the dictates of their religious sensibilities, and it will humbly but respectfully oblige them to observe others' rights to enjoy the benefits of those laws. But there should be no mistake, that such a society will punish some people because of their religions, and force them to act against their most deeply-held beliefs. All this, men say, is completely unacceptable. I fail to see why, since all "free" secular societies mirror this dread vision in almost every respect.

All such societies accept that their citizens will dispute questions of law and public policy. They all accept that some, many, or a few of their citizens will view some, many, or a few of the laws as illegitimate, wrong-headed, and objectionable. These states take care to justify themselves, as to such matters, on political philosophies which permit men to observe even "unjust" laws and keep the civil peace without violating their consciences. These states force as few as possible to violate the dictates of their religious sensibilities, and they oblige dissenters to observe others' rights to enjoy the benefits of those laws. They also punish some people because of their religions, and force them to act against their most deeply-held beliefs. As to the simple fact of "ideological oppression" there is no difference.

Secularists excoriate Pius IX for kidnaping Eduardo Mortara, forcing him to live apart from his Jewish parents and become Catholic. They claim it proves that Catholicism is oppressive and contrary to human dignity. But no ardent secularist objects when a child-custody dispute between a parent who is "obsessively religious" or in a "cult," is decided in favor of the more "reasonable" and "enlightened" parent. Secularists point to the Index as proof that a Catholic polity will always crush dissent and free-wheeling inquiry, while passing laws against "hate crimes" that allow men to be more harshly punished because they possessed objectionable literature. They decry the Inquisition as the nadir of human politics, then go off and establish "Un-American Activities Committees," launch operations like COINTELPRO, or adopt Orwellian practices to ferret out employees who believe differently than the company's official positions on gay rights. Secularists claim it would violate every decency to compel religious instruction for schoolchildren, while at the same time approving of mandatory psychological testing for every child to "ensure appropriate and culturally relevant assessment" of their "social and emotional development."

"Religious" societies are no more likely to engage in "oppressive" behavior than "secular" ones. For every sad example of persecution in a "theocratic" context one may find an equal or worse counterpart in the supposedly-enlightened secular world. Washington was right to compare government and fire, for both are tools, no better or worse than the men who employ them. If we can exonerate the ideals of democracy from responsibility for HUAC by attributing it to a combination of base motives, cowardice, or ignorance on the part of those who could have known better, can we not excuse the ideals of Catholicism from inquisitorial wrongs on the same account? Can we refuse to do so, knowing that the Inquisition occurred as part of a long historical struggle that yielded those very same democratic ideals? Secularist opponents of natural law should do so, and would, if they had the principles they imagine for themselves. But, unfortunately for all of us, they do not. They have not learned the harsh and sober lessons which the Church recites in Dignitatis Humanae. They are not progressives, but atavists of an earlier time in which the Truth was thought to travel along a sword's thrust or a fire's tongue. They do not object to persecution and coercion. They only object to not being recognized as the God in whose name those things are done.

A perspective on natural law which caters to this hypocrisy, effectively granting the state the right determine what is good and valuable in human life by acquiescing to the idea that secular power follows a "reason" and "objectivity" which is superior to all other faiths, is also an atavism. "We have no king but Caesar!" Civilized men have two kings, one who reigns in this world on behalf of the other, who rules from the next. Only men with "particular faiths" can make a society that is not a totalitarian theocracy, because only they can clearly see that the state is not God. Only such men can create a society that respects human dignity, because only they clearly understand how that dignity exists without the permission of their own thoughts and desires. And none of them can deify the king without, at least, being called into question by their neighbors. Of course such men have, and will, from time to time abuse their powers and betray their birthrights. That is the story of man as a whole, the dogma of the Fall. All the more reason, then, to cling to our particular faiths; it is no accident that the most vicious and gross violations of man's dignity have been perpetrated by societies which rejected the Fall as "mere religious dogma."

That's prologue. (Anybody still curious about why I've had no time to blog recently?). Now I come to the latest exhibit in my case, courtesy of Fr. Dowd's Waiting in Joyful Hope. It is the advisory decision by the Canadian Supreme Court giving our northerly neighbors permission to make the disordered affection known as homosexuality a building block of family and social life in Canada. Among the questions raised -- and dispensed with -- by the Court is the argument quite similar to the one which would be fashioned by some modern natural law theorists on the issue:
First, it is argued, the institution of marriage escapes legislative redefinition. Existing in its present basic form since time immemorial, it is not a legal construct, but rather a supra-legal construct subject to legal incidents. In the Persons case, Lord Sankey, writing for the Privy Council, dealt with this very type of argument, though in a different context. In addressing whether the fact that women never had occupied public office was relevant to whether they could be considered "persons" for the purposes of being eligible for appointment to the Senate, he said . . .
The fact that no woman had served or has claimed to serve such an office is not of great weight when it is remembered that custom would have prevented the claim being made or the point being contested.

Customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared. The appeal to history therefore in this particular matter is not conclusive.

Lord Sankey acknowledged. . . that "several centuries ago" it would have been understood that "persons" should refer only to men. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples. The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.

Second, some interveners emphasize that while Lord Sankey envisioned our Constitution as a "living tree" in the Persons case, he specified that it was "capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits." These natural limits, they submit, preclude same-sex marriage. . . .

The natural limits argument can succeed only if its proponents can identify an objective core of meaning which defines what is "natural" in relation to marriage. Absent this, the argument is merely tautological. The only objective core which the interveners before us agree is "natural" to marriage is that it is the voluntary union of two people to the exclusion of all others. Beyond this, views diverge. We are faced with competing opinions on what the natural limits of marriage may be.

Lord Sankey's reference to "natural limits" did not impose an obligation to determine, in the abstract and absolutely, the core meaning of constitutional terms. Consequently, it is not for the Court to determine, in the abstract, what the natural limits of marriage must be.
Notice, first, the hypocrisy of the Canadian jurists. Determining, in the abstract, what the natural limits of marriage are is precisely what they're doing -- the natural limits go past heterosexuality, through homosexuality and (for the present, at least) stop somewhere inside the human race. Secularism always advances with such hypocrisy, because its success rests largely on men remaining blinded to the fact that the laws must serve god and the only issue men can really influence is whose god will be served. But notice as well the short -- and impeccably just -- shrift the justice's opinion gives to the idea that marriage can be defined by reason and observable reality without reference to religious dogmas. Arrive at a definition of marriage by reason and observation, relying on the commonality of prior human experience? Nonsense:
"[S]everal centuries ago" it would have been understood that "persons" should refer only to men. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that marriage should be available only to opposite-sex couples. The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.
Quite so. Several centuries ago it would have been understood that the sun revolves around the earth. Now only Bob Sungenis believes it. Have the rest of us lost our minds, or have we discovered more about heaven and earth than were previously known? The reason-and-observation school of natural law can't answer the question. It can only frustrate itself by making unpersuasive appeals to popularity or antiquity, and this after it's consigned religious truths to a second-class status of "personal preferences," or "particular faiths," individual matters which cannot answer social questions. And so:
The natural limits argument can succeed only if its proponents can identify an objective core of meaning which defines what is "natural" in relation to marriage. Absent this, the argument is merely tautological. . . . [V]iews diverge. We are faced with competing opinions on what the natural limits of marriage may be.
You say it's natural for gays to marry, I say it's not. You say Jews aren't human, I say they are. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Disputes between two people about what should and should not be allowed always resolve themselves into impenetrable "tautologies" so long as the people involved have radically-different and contradictory beliefs which share no common standard. The secularists have their common standard -- the dictates of a hypocrite state silently serving a religion that dare not speak its name. What is our common standard? Domestic-violence statistics for gay couples? The cranial circumference of Jews? Pointing out that an object's soft, red and round and demanding that we forego the possibility that it's Ted Kennedy's nose?

Natural-law theory should attract our attention only to the extent that it claims to indisputably recommend a social order conducive to our fulfillment as human beings. Arguing, as some do, that one may have natural law by reason and observation alone is tantamount to arguing that the meaning of humanity is a material phenomenon that can be established by scientific method. We've had all that before:
[W]e do not start from what men say, imagine, conceive. . . in order thence and thereby to reach corporeal men; we start from . . . their life-process [and] show the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. Morals, religion, metaphysics and all other ideology and the corresponding forms of consciousness thus no longer maintain the appearance of independence. They have no history, they have no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, change, along with this their real existence, also their thinking and the products of their thoughts. It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness.
Karl Marx, German Ideology
It's no accident that this modern view of "natural law" arose in the century whose culture was almost entirely dominated by Marxist paradigms. In this respect, the adoption of paradigms and terms which cannot accommodate the fullness of faith, some legal theorists have strayed in the same way as the old Modernists.

The Modernist project was, essentially, a good one -- to engage the currents and thoughts of modern culture in their own terms, and to offer Catholicism as the only enduring and relevant solution to modern problems. The early Christians did the same thing with the classical culture of their own day. And like some in the era of the Fathers, many who took direction and inspiration from the modernist project became seduced, by presumptions about the power of their own efforts, or by the glittering guile which their host culture offered in place of truth, into departing from the main course of their faith even as they tried to champion its preeminence. In the century of the Fuhrerprinzip it made little sense to speak of law in terms that indiscriminately characterized it as a reflection of the divine will, or allowed the law to be seen as the command of a ruling elite made without any justification other than nebulous appeals to the "common good." Stalin, Mao, and Hitler had seen to it that the world was tired, even frightened, of such ideas. It might have seemed, and indeed was, a good idea to speak to those concerns, to reassure men that Christianity's idea of natural law was scrupulously objective, to inspire them to confidence that Christians can make laws to fit the human condition and not vice versa.

But the modern thought with which I disagree has, I think, repeated the same mistake as the modernists' -- it has forgotten that the issue is not whether culture, philosophy, law, or any other part of civilization will serve God. That is not the argument. The question at issue is, was, and ever shall be, whose god will culture, law, art, or civilization itself serve? Confining any part of our civilization's pursuit of human meaning to the limited horizons of pure reason and empiricism will not make society more reasonable, charitable, or happier. As Chesterton said, "The lunatic has not lost his reason; he has lost everything except his reason." An attempt to explain Christianity, or the Christian view of human affairs, which adopts the same approach will resemble lunacy because it leaves the sanest part of itself unspoken and unwitnessed. Christian legal theory is, so far as I know, unique because it can address the gap between "what is" and "what should be" without abandoning the higher aspirations of our nature or demanding jihads against sinners, unbelievers and backsliders. It does this precisely -- and only -- because it preaches and worships Christ the King, the living, divine God-Man who is the source and summit of our existence. The law will either serve him, or someone else. No meaningful argument in favor of natural law can proceed from any other idea without becoming its own worst enemy.

Monday, November 01, 2004

For the Next Two Days

"Oh God, we consecrate the 2004 elections in the United States of America to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Loving Mother, Patroness and Protectress of Our Country."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Akin Kicks Butt

As people who are crazy enough to read this blog regularly know, the Catholic Answers voting guide has been the target of steady sniping from various quarters. The most recent shot's come from Newsday, which as even crazier readers will recall, is a good source for cheap-shots at the Church. Apparently Newsday's Bob Keeler has turned his 40-watt attention to the Catholic Answers voting guide.

Jimmy Akin takes him down. Go read it, it's a brilliant fisk and a great explanation of how Catholic voting works in practice. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Canonization? Can-Do!

From time to time people, for some odd reason, email me with questions about Catholicism. Usually I answer by return email. But a question sent recently reminded me that the reason I started this blog was to discuss and praise the wonders of Catholicism. That's been a bit thin on the ground here, recently. I get distracted by so many things like movies, recipes, the latest installment of the USCC Follies . . . . See? I'm doing it again. So I thought I'd write a long reply. I left out the first paragraph, which has identifying information in it. My correspondent's words are in blue, my replies in black.

"I am not debating the Communion of the Saints. I do believe that there are people in heaven. My problem is that I do not understand how the Church can say for an infallible fact WHICH people are in heaven."

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your question, but there seems to be some misconceptions lurking in your understanding of what canonization means. Canonization is generally held to be an infallible confirmation by the Church that a person who has died has died in friendship with God and gone to Heaven. That's a pretty limited idea, when you come right down to it. It's so limited that people are often tempted to pile a lot of other ideas on top of it in order to make Catholic teaching sound more dignified or (depending on their standpoint) more ridiculous. One of these wrong-headed ideas, which I suspect is a cause of confusion to you, is that canonization is a necessary part of sainthood. That's not at all true, and understanding that might help with some of your questions.

What is sainthood? Most definitions say that a saint is someone who displays "heroic virtue." Cardinal Ratzinger, writing about St. Josemaria's canonization, gives us some interesting thoughts about what "heroic" virtue does -- and does not -- mean:
Knowing a little about the history of saints, knowing that in canonization processes their "heroic" virtues are investigated, we almost inevitably slip into an erroneous concept of holiness: "It is not for me", we are inclined to think, "because I do not feel able to achieve heroic virtues: it's too exalted an ideal for me". Holiness then becomes something reserved for the "important" [people], whose images we see above the altars, worlds apart indeed from us normal sinners. However, this is an erroneous concept of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected—and this seems to me to be the main point—by Josemaría Escrivá.

Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint works out a "gymnastics" of holiness that ordinary people could not tackle. It means, instead, that God's presence is revealed in the life of a person; it is revealed when the person could do nothing by himself or for himself. Perhaps basically, it is a question of terminology because the adjective "heroic" was badly explained. Heroic virtue does not actually mean that someone has done great things by himself, but that situations arise in his life independently of anything he has done: he was simply transparent and available for God's work. Or, in other words, being holy is nothing other than speaking with God as a friend speaks to a friend. That is holiness.

Being holy does not mean being superior to others; indeed, a saint can be very weak and make many blunders in his life. Holiness is profound contact with God, being a friend of God; it is letting the Other act, the One who really can guarantee that the world is good and happy. If therefore St Josemaría speaks of the common vocation to holiness, it seems to me that he is basically drawing on his own personal experience, not of having done incredible things himself, but of having let God work. Therefore a renewal, a force for good was born in the world even if human weaknesses will always remain. Truly we are all able, we are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God, not to let go of God's hands, not to give up, turning and returning to the Lord, speaking to him as to a friend, knowing well that the Lord really is the true friend of everyone, even of those who cannot do great things on their own.[1]
The founder of the Legionaries of Mary, Frank Duff (whose cause for canonization is presently pending), had the same insight. In a little pamphlet called, Can We Be Saints?, he wrote:
What is a Saint? The answer usually returned to this question is: one who does extraordinary penances and works miracles. Now, this is an incorrect description, for neither miracles nor great penances are essential. The man who works a miracle does not raise himself in God's eyes by it; and, while penance in some shape is necessary, still the teaching of the Saints on this difficult question is encouraging.

What they direct is not bodily penances of a terrifying kind, but rather the strict avoidance of delicacies, softness, comfort. We are told to beware of injuring our health, and to eat enough plain food to enable us to work and pray without hindrance. There is ample opportunity for the severest mortification in the restraint of eyes and tongue, and in a warfare against the seven Deadly Sins.

Thus, there is another definition of what a Saint is. It is this: One who, with the object of pleasing God, does his ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Such a life may be lived out without a single wonder in it, arouse little notice, be soon forgotten, and yet be the life of one of God's dearest friends.[2]
These perspectives on sainthood make two things very clear. First, sainthood is the work of divine grace in the human person; no one but God makes saints because, well, no one but God can make saints. The second is that only a foolish Church would claim that only people who are "certified" by a human examination can be saints. And the Church is not foolish.

It has never been the Church's understanding that the canonization process will result in a complete (or even very large) list of God's saints, so that people who aren't in the canon aren't to be thought of as living among God's people in Heaven. For every saint in the canon there may well be a million saints whose names and lives are unknown to the Church Militant. In this regard I would point out that all the souls who have ever gone to purgatory are destined to be saints in Heaven; their place before God's throne is assured, and souls are departing from purgatory all the time. So there is probably a huge number of saints in Heaven and an even larger number "on the way." I don't think a canon could list them all, and a canon shouldn't be expected to list them all. The word, "canon," is used to describe any authoritative list or rule which is generally accepted as undisputable. The word itself doesn't mean a complete list of everything. There are "canons of ethics," but they don't contain all the good choices one might make in any situation. Clay Waters of National Review Online recently wrote about the "the rock-'n'-roll ‘canon': those lists of classic albums . . . considered beyond criticism."[3] Because something -- an ethical rule, a saint, or Pet Sounds -- is included in a "canon" doesn't imply that anything not listed doesn't also qualify for the same honor. The Church knows that the names of all the saints are hidden, their complete list a divine secret that will not be revealed until the end of time. That is why she celebrates the upcoming feast of All Saints (November 1); we are commanded to venerate the saints, and yet no one thinks the process of canonization has listed all (or even most) of them. So, since God hasn't seen fit to tell us the names of all His saints, we celebrate them as a group, both known and unknown, on that day.

That's all well and good, but it may leave one wondering why God should want us to have a canon of saints at all. Obviously I can't give a complete answer, but the ones I can give may help expand something which, depending on whether I'm right to take you so literally, is a bit cramped in your understanding of the Communion of Saints. You wrote, "I am not debating the Communion of the Saints. I do believe that there are people in heaven." That's the Communion of Saints all right. But it isn't nearly all, or even most, of what Christians mean (or should mean) when they affirm it:
The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption. . . . The solidarity itself implies a variety of inter-relations: within the Church Militant [i.e., the Church on earth], not only the participation in the same faith, sacraments, and government, but also a mutual exchange of examples, prayers, merits, and satisfactions; between the Church on earth on the one hand, and purgatory and heaven on the other, suffrages, invocation, intercession, veneration.[4]
Knowing about this shared life is one of those things about the faith which at first blush don't seem to be reasonably necessary but, on reflection, make every bit of necessary sense. The Trinity is an example of what I mean -- an "unnecessary" revelation that would, if subjected to the same application of Occam's razor non-Catholic Christians often allege against the canon of saints, seem an entirely superfluous invention unworthy of our serious attention. The idea of one God being three persons is very confusing, and there seems to be no reason for all the trouble since we could all be saved by believing in Jesus; Jesus is one of the Persons of the Trinity, and God would not have been lying if He described the activity of the Father and the Holy Spirit to us solely with reference to Jesus. But Walter Farrell, a great commentator on St. Thomas, explains that the Trinity is actually a blessed "secret," confided from sheer love to inspire us by letting us know in a unique way that God is knowable, loveable and more alive than any of His creatures.[5]

When we come to things like that, it's worth remembering that Catholicism isn't about deciding who God is or what He has done. God exists, perfectly, in and of Himself. He doesn't need our "deciding" any more than He needs sunshine, penny-whistles or parakeets. God created Catholicism just like he created everything else -- out of His love, most especially His love for us. God doesn't need the Mass. Men do. God doesn't need the Bible. Men do. When God causes something to exist such as the Mass or the Bible, the point isn't that "God is such-and-so." The point is that God, who is always such-and-so whether or not anything else exists or happens, wants us to know and understand Him as much as we can through what he's given us for the purpose. In the Bible, he shares His very thoughts with us. In the Mass, He gives us His very self entire. When God tells us about the Mass or the Trinity, or sings a Psalm, it's not for His edification, but for ours. So when it's proposed that God's Church can know the names of a fraction of the saints, I think it would be a good idea to inquire about the edification that may occur if God shares such a glimpse of heavenly life with us. Like Farrell's observations about the Trinity, the canon of saints might be better appreciated if we think about the kind of Christianity we'd have if we didn't know about it.

If we admit that there can be no canon of saints, we do more than admit that the identities of the saints are secret. We confess that we do not know a single person who is, in fact, in Heaven. Perhaps John the Apostle, "the disciple whom Jesus loved . . . [who] also leaned on His breast at supper," is in Heaven. John 21:20 (KJV). But we couldn't say that as a fact. We'd have to say that John only may be in Heaven and thus admit that he may be in Hell. The blessed Virgin might be in Hell, too; if you're right then we have no way of knowing whether she is in Heaven, no way to know if her love for her divine Son (or His love for Her) was sufficient to bring about her salvation. When I talked about the Trinity and referred to Walter Farrell's work, I put in a footnote to his description of the kind of suspicions and dire thoughts ignorance of the Trinity could produce if men weren't told about that mystery. I can imagine the kind of dark muttering that would plague us if we lacked a canon of saints. Peter (not "St." Peter, since we're assuming that we can't know if he was saved), writes that Jesus Christ has "begotten unto us a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you." 1 Peter 1:3-4 (KJV). I wonder how "lively" a hope this would be, if it meant hoping to find more favor with God than the Apostle John or the blessed Virgin if, as could be the case, they have ended up in Hell.

Peter goes on to say that we should "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you . . ." 1 Peter 3:15 (KJV). What kind of reason could we give? How attractive could it be to non-Christians? For that matter, how attractive could it be to us? Think of what Christianity would look like if we had to admit that, while Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that we could unite our lives to His and live forever in perfect happiness, we don't know if anyone has ever gained the benefit of His sacrifice. Perhaps Jesus really isn't that loveable, if we must admit that even His own mother might not have been able to love him well enough (or allowed, by God's will, to love Him well enough) to have the joy of salvation? Jesus demands quite a bit from people who are interested in following Him. We have to give up divorce, contraception, abortion, fornication, adultery, lying, soft living, drunkenness -- we have to give up many or even all of the things that, to our hard hearts, seem to make this sorry life "bearable." Why should men do this, if God Himself will not say that the holiest example of Christian life one might name was, in fact, consummated by an eternal reward?

A certain kind of non-Catholic Christianity answers that a "perfect faith" does not need such help or confirmation. But what kind of religion would Christianity be if it demanded we either have "perfect" faith or none at all, especially if it employed a rather twisted idea of "perfection" that ignores the human condition altogether? I don't believe in the non-Catholic catachresis that makes the experience of saving faith into an individualized, "Damascene moment" of blinding revelation coinciding with an infusion of perfect faith and irresistible grace which instantly and forever banishes all human infirmities, unclarities, and limits from the believer's life. Even St. Paul didn't have that experience, though he is curiously cited as an archetype for it. We might as well say that prophecies and miracles are unnecessary as well, since a "perfect" faith would not need them to remain constant or recognize divinity. But God performs miracles all the time and called a thousand years of prophets to witness to His coming. The fall affected our minds, our wills, and our souls. We need miracles and prophecies because we're amazingly weak and dull creatures. God didn't call Isaiah to prophecy about the Messiah because He had to; he inspired the prophecy because without it, we might not be able to recognize Him had we not been told what to look for. The whole of salvation history is about God condescending to the weakness and dullness of man, not by doing away with it, but by working in and through it to bring about His will and manifest His glory. It's one proof for His omnipotence, because a lesser god would be so stymied by our limitations that he would have no choice but to make us different creatures, which are not men, just so He could work with us.

That's one of the reasons, perhaps the most convincing one to me, for having a canon of saints. God knows we need encouragement. God knows we need inspiration. God knows we'd benefit from knowing that people whose lives were as messed up or confusing as our own have been saints, even great ones. So He tells us that even though he lived his life as a criminal, St. Dismas is in Heaven. He lets us know that even though Augustine wasted his youth and deprived his only child of a sufficient home, and the child's mother of the dignity of marriage, Augustine nonetheless became a great saint. He lets us know that the crazy and disorganized life of St. John of God was a holy one of eternal meaning.[6] God does this over and over again, revealing the blessed in all walks of life, all times, and all places. It's a magnificent and kind thing He does, giving us these examples. They're examples of overcoming and dealing with all the daily obstacles to holiness we all face, distractions which are so numerous today that they're almost overwhelming. Any experience that could tempt us to despair, or to draw away from God and His Church, is found in the lives of the saints. Adultery, poverty, illness, false accusations, heresy, schism, murder, great wealth, doubt, a promising political career, physical attractiveness, ugliness, even persecution by the Church's own hierarchy -- saints have encountered and overcome them all with charity and faith. And those saints also had the help of the saints who went before them -- St. Ignatius (or almost anyone else) had the Blessed Virgin, St. Joan had St. Catherine, and so on.

"But," people reply, "shouldn't we find our encouragement, inspiration and hope in God alone?" I don't see why, at least not the way these people mean: "Where God is, man is not." It is a major tenet of the Church's critics. If Catholics take comfort and inspiration from saints, it's supposedly because we don't take comfort and inspiration from God. If we had God, we'd not have saints but "Him alone." If Catholics have a Pope who can teach infallibly, it's supposedly because we don't have God to teach us. If we had Him, we'd have no need for Popes, being taught by "God alone." Wherever Catholics have men, it is claimed, God is absent. The corollary -- that if Catholics had God, men would be absent -- is never discussed. I've always been perplexed at this fundamental insistence on the incompatibility of man and God, especially since God seems to spend history trying to make men one with Him as He is with Himself. (Cf John, Chapter 17). I've never figured out why the Gospel means that God is "alone," especially since He seems to be continually making things that communicate His glory but which are not Himself. If a Protestant looks at a magnificent forest or sunset, and is inspired to love God by it, has he apostatized? Has he become a Druid? Shouldn't he find his inspiration in "God alone"? Why, that's ridiculous, our Protestant friends tell us. If God creates a forest or a sunset to show His glory, we would be remiss in not praising His creation and finding in it evidence of His love and glory. I agree whole-heartedly, and only ask that the principle be reasonably applied to conclude that the saint -- "man fully alive," as St. Irenaeus described God's own glory -- is also among the things which allow us to see God and seek His salvation. I return to Cardinal Ratzinger: "Heroic virtue does not actually mean that someone has done great things by himself, but that situations arise in his life independently of anything he has done: he was simply transparent and available for God's work." The saints are transparent; by knowing them we know more about the God who made them.

We know, for example, that God is not "alone." He is surrounded by multitudes of saints. Nor do the saints live with God "alone," for they are surrounded by multitudes of neighbors in a single family under His divine Fatherhood. Even before He had men, God made angels. No one in God's universe -- not even God -- is ever "alone" in the way that critics of our theology seem to think He should be. I return to the Catholic Encyclopedia: "The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices." The communion of saints is the Church, the mystical body of Christ. Christ's body is holy, and so the saints within it are holy. Christ's body is celebrated, and so the saints within it are celebrated. Christ's body is knowable, and so the saints within it are knowable. But not entirely, not without reserve; the wedding is not complete, and time remains until He comes in glory. So we know some of the saints and the Church, sojourning on earth in quest of saints, has many people in it which are not yet saints. But the hallmark of Catholicism, from Abraham's prayer (Genesis Chapter 18) to the prayer of the Cyrophoenician woman (Mark Chapter 7), from the fifteen promises of the Rosary to the granting of indulgences, is to eagerly grasp as much of God as He may allow. He established the communion of saints, and so when we see a saint, we eagerly follow to see how he followed God. God likes it that way; it's the same reason He gives us parents, friends, and mentors -- to help us follow Him. We just don't think death has much affect on those relationships; Christ conquered death, and both the communion of saints and our canon of saints are holy testaments to His victory.

"I really don't see there is any way possible to do this. People keep telling me that it is the teaching authority of the Church. I understand that the Church has the authority to do this as they do a number of other things, but there ARE plenty of things where the Church does not lay down a teaching. Clearly the Catholic Church does not claim to know everything because they say they do not know where for sure unborn babies go. What I don't understand is why they think they can say for sure where anyone goes."

When I read this I thought "Of course the Church knows for sure where unborn babies go when they die. They go where God wills, and the place He wills them to go is full of happiness and knows no suffering." That much is certain knowledge, whether or not one inclines to the idea of limbo, a supernatural kind of baptism or, I suppose, to both. Never underestimate what the Church knows, is one of my rules. As to the saints, we might say with good accuracy that the Church doesn't know everything, let alone who "the saints" (namely all of them) are. What she does know is which saints should be in the canon when she needs to know it and not before. St. Joan of Arc died in 1431, and was canonized in 1920. Frank Duff died in 1980, his cause is still pending. Pope Leo XIII died in 1903 and I don't for the life of me understand why he doesn't seem to have a cause pending at all. St. Maria Goretti died in 1902 and was canonized in 1950. Why the delays? What significance in the dates? Perhaps men needed to know about St. Joan to fight Hitler and not before, and St. Maria Goretti to fight the flood of impurity, pornography, and sexual license unleased in the last half of the 20th Century. As I said, never underestimate what the Church knows -- even if no one in the Church knows it.

Let me ask you this -- can we know if a miracle has occurred? If a hundred thousand Jews watch the sea part before their very eyes and close back on the pursuing Egyptians, can they be fairly certain that God has performed a miracle without presuming to be God Himself? I think they can, and I think you'd agree with me on that. So, if God brings about a life which is transparent to His love and glory, can we know that life is beatified? Water being water and men being men, it's certainly a greater miracle for God to make man holy than it is for Him to shove two halves of a sea apart. I don't see any reason why God would hide the greater miracle and publicize the lesser achievement. Miracles are like saints -- they sanctify, demonstrate God's glory, confound evil, and encourage the dubious and faithful alike. God hasn't publicized all His miracles, (See John 21:25), but He has publicized a great many of them. (See John). So I think He's publicized some of His saints, but not all of them. We don't need anything like God's omniscience to know about miracles or saints. In fact, we don't have to know very much at all to know about such things -- certainly the Jews following Moses didn't know about Elijah or the Eucharist, but they still ended up knowing a good deal about miracles.

It's at this point I want to go back to an earlier subject and discuss why the canon isn't a complete list of all the saints. That's a reasonable question, I think. If the canon is a testament to the Resurrection, shouldn't the Church give the fullest possible testimony? The question seems even more reasonable if, like some people who are ignorant about Catholicism, we start confusing infallibility with omniscience. Surely, if the Pope can take the time to tell us that Maria Goretti is a saint, he can spare the time to tell me about my Aunt Carol. Without going into the silliness of that last point, I think the reason why the Church has no complete canon of saints is fairly obvious; the purpose of the canon is to testify to God's saving power and thus inspire the Church Militant with examples and gain for us recourse to heavenly friends and patrons. That purpose would be utterly destroyed if the Church were given the ability to post lists of all dead people which had check-marks under columns titled "Heaven, Prayer Authorized", "Purgatory, Heaven Pending" and "Hell, Sorry." People have enough trouble remaining faithful when God's providence deprives them of spouses or children. Would telling them that their daughter or husband is doomed to Hell and is even now being tormented by demons help them to appreciate God's love? Even Job was spared that horror, and his disasters were the work of Satan himself; why should God want the Church to inflict even worse suffering? It's interesting, and very revealing, that although she maintains an infallible canon of saints the Church absolutely refuses to say that someone has gone to Hell -- neither Hitler, Pol Pot, the professor who taught my Civil Procedure course, or Judas himself are named as denizens of the dark world. I speculate, but I wonder if we'd need the beatific vision itself and God's complete explanation of His judgments to sustain us after we learned such things about our friends, heroes, or loved ones? Perhaps that's why such knowledge is reserved for the general judgment, in which God will explain humanity completely to men who will have no more cause for fear, suffering, or tears.

"To me that is between them, God and judgement day. Unless we are present at their judgement I think it is hugely presumptuous of us to assume we know. We can guess/assume/theorize but to say that we know for a fact infallibly? That doesn't seem really plausible to me. How in the world can anyone say they know for sure what God has determined?"

If we can't say infallibly what God has determined, then we've got a lot more to worry about than canonization. The Church can recognize saints, but God makes them. Can we infallibly know that God has made something? All Christians -- Catholic and Protestant -- agree that we can. God decided to make the universe, we know that infallibly. God decided to make David King of Israel, we know that infallibly. God became man, we know that infallibly too. We can infallibly know quite a lot about what God has determined, including that he created the Church to carry on His work. (See Matthew 28:19). So, suppose the canon of saints was begun, not by men in the Church, but by God Himself?

The forty-fourth chapter of the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) contains a canon of saints:
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions: Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations: All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. . . . [T]hese were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.
-- Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 44:1-8, 10-15 (KJV, "Apocrypha")
The author goes on to list his "canon," which includes Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Phinees (Phinehas) son of Eleazar, and Joshua. Tobit tells us about St. Raphael: "Therefore when he went to seek a man, he found Raphael that was an angel." -- Tobit 5:4 (KJV, "Apocrypha")[7].

Many of these names are repeated in the canon given to us in the New Testament, which includes other holy persons:
"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." -- Hebrews 11:5 (KJV)

"And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." -- Mark 9:3-5 (KJV)

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." -- John 8:56-58 (KJV)

"I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine." -- Matthew 22:32-33 (KJV)

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. . . . And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. . . .And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." -- Revelation 12:1-2, 5, 17 (KJV)

"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels." -- Revelation 12:7 (KJV)

"And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings." -- Luke 1:19 (KJV)

"But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." -- Acts 7:55-56 (KJV)
Here we have a canon which existed before the close of revelation: St. Enoch, St. Noah, St. Abraham, St. Isaac, St. Jacob, St. Moses, St. Aaron, St. Phinees, St. Joshua, St. Elijah, the Blessed Virgin, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. When Pius XII added St. Maria Goretti to the canon, or when John Paul II added Mother Theresa they simply continued, as part of the Church God created to do His work, something God Himself had begun. Of course "whether" someone is a saint is, as you put it, "between them, God and judgement day." But the canon of saints isn't about that. It's about God allowing us to know, in some cases, what actually happened "between them, God and judgement day."

"To me that is no different from the Baptist Church that says they know with certainty that so and so is in heaven right this minute. The Catholic Church is doing the same thing with certain people. Yes they are basing it on things that make sense but still whatever things they base it on are still at best an educated guess."

You're telling me about a home-grown sort of canon; I'm defending the idea of a canon, so I can hardly disagree on the grounds that it's impossible to have one basic element of a canon (knowledge that someone is in Heaven) without impiety and ungodly presumption! There's nothing inherently wrong with holding a private opinion that a person is in Heaven or even, assuming sufficient deference is given to Church teaching and ecclesiastical authority, private veneration of such a person.[8] Many of the devotions to our saints sprang up in just this fashion. Sometimes that was a good thing, as it was in the cases of the Blessed Virgin or the martyr-saint Polycarp.[9] Sometimes it was a bad thing, as it was in the case of Simon of Trent.[10] But the fact that it happens illustrates a deep-seated knowledge of the implications of Christianity among the baptized, whether they are Catholics in full communion with the Church or Baptists whose communion is dubious, or partial at best.

We keep saying, in our conversations with Protestants, that Catholicism has the "fullness of the faith." Most of the time I'm not sure about all that implies, but there is definitely a sense in which it's true. The theologies of Protestantism don't represent a kind of "anti-matter" to Catholicism, a complete cosmic opposite of the faith given to the Apostles. (That degree of opposition would constitute the worship of Antichrist and, whatever fantasies Protestants may entertain about the Church, our theologies don't justify such an easy and terrible dismissal). The differences between Catholicism and Protestantism -- or, if you like, the measure of the "fullness" had by the former and not the latter -- aren't like the difference between a man who has embarked on a journey and a man who refuses to go at all. Our disagreements are more like the differences between two men, both of whom are traveling to the same destination, but who have different maps. One of these men is traveling with a good map, with the land and seas drawn correctly in right measure, with roads, dangers, and way stations clearly marked. Another has a badly-drawn map. Some continents are omitted, and others are drawn as being larger or smaller than they really are. Rivers are shown running in the wrong direction, and travel-worthy roads are left off in favor of bramble-ridden goat-tracks. Both these men are on the same journey, insofar as their destinations are the same and many of the things they do to reach that end are also similar. But they are also on different journeys, insofar as one will do many unproductive and counter-productive things (like not taking any food to cross an ocean because his map told him it was a lake) which the other man will not have to suffer through because he had a good map.

So to my way of thinking one doesn't validly criticize Catholics by saying that we do or believe things which are "like" the things done or believed by Baptists, or vice versa. The similarity may be that both of us have taken a wrong direction from our maps; but on the other hand we may be similar because our directions roughly coincide, even if one of us still isn't benefitting from a map which is all it could be. So, Catholicism is "like" the Baptist church in that Catholicism recognizes the Bible as the infallible and written God-breathed rule of faith. Where our maps differ is in our understanding of Sacred Tradition, the role of the Church in vouchsafing the identity of Scripture, and other matters related to the Bible (including a complete canon). This completeness, containing ideas unknown to or rejected by Baptists, results in further differences because, as Richard Weaver said, ideas have consequences. Or, if you like, because a tenth-of-a-degree error on a thousand-mile journey ends up with a huge distance between one's ending point and one's actual destination. So, Scripture and Tradition tell us that there is a visible Church ruled by Bishops which exists throughout history and centered on the bishop of Rome, whereas those things aren't on the Baptist "map." But Baptists aren't wrong when they act "like" Catholics and claim that the Bible is God-breathed, and the Catholic Church isn't departing from orthodoxy when she agrees with them.

The "home-grown" Baptist canon and the Church's canon are a case in point. As I said, there's nothing inherently wrong with private devotions to persons thought to be saints, provided that appropriate precautions are taken in order to ensure that the devotion doesn't end up compromising the Gospel or the Church's mission in the world. What if a congregation includes a former minister among its tacit, home-grown canon, only to learn that he led a secret life of heinous sin? Would we have reason for concern if the only people included in a "canon" were so included because they had left all their property to the church and thus given the "last measure" of devotion to Jesus? The impact of this sort of thinking can have serious consequences for good or ill, and not only on an individual level. To widen the point, I refer to this celebrated piece of evangelical art:

"Praying for Peace" by Ron DiCianni

What does it mean? Does the use of the Cross indicate an equation between the United States and its Presidency and the Church of Christ? What basis do we have for concluding that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington lived lives that were simply transparent to God's holiness and so are among the blessed in Heaven, praying for us to the Father? Are they patrons of our Country, who we should invoke at public gatherings and civic events, asking them to continue praying for us and our country? Now to a certain way of thinking those questions appear to be ridiculous because DiCianni's painting is simply a wholesome representation of the vital role Christianity plays in the life of our country. Things, however, are often made "simple" by deciding not think about them. I'm sure the men and women who venerated little Simon of Trent would have told us that theirs was "simply" homage to Matthew 19:14 and a rebuke to the Satanic forces which prowl the earth seeking to hurt God's little ones.[11] But ideas, images -- things which contribute to a "cultus" -- have a powerful impact that can endure for a long time even if it's specifics aren't being noticed: Even today, the story of Simon of Trent inspires some people to believe that hating Jews is a holy thing.

For these reasons the approval and process of approving public veneration of persons thought to be saints or blessed was rather quickly seized by bishops and then, after a number of centuries, concentrated in the papacy. It's why we have "tests," and inquiries, relators, briefs, petitions, and so forth -- not because the Church is judging the man or woman under consideration, for God has already done that. But because the Church is trying to determine whether God has given us signs of His work in a life from which it can be concluded that a man or woman's beatitude should be a matter of public celebration such as Sirach described: "Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise." (Sirach 44:14-15, KJV, "Apocrypha") Sainthood is miraculous, just as all the sacraments are miracles, and it is fitting that the Church which is the custodian of the sacred mysteries should investigate them and vouchsafe their authenticity for the faithful. We have rubrics for the Mass and prescribed rites for all the sacraments to ensure that the Mass is actually a Mass, that a baptism is a valid one, etc. In the same way, the Church investigates miracles claimed for visitors to Lourdes, or the Shroud of Turin, and interrogates Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco about the Lady they saw at Fatima. Sometimes the Church does this work well and quickly. In other cases, like Simon of Trent's, the Church moves too slowly and hesitantly. There are people who say this disproves the validity of the entire enterprise, but their arguments boil down to noting that canonization features the foibles and shortcomings inherent in any task entrusted to men and then proclaiming the great shibboleth: "Where God is, man is not."

Of course God Himself, working directly and without human agency, could quickly, efficiently, and perfectly enunciate a canon of saints without questions, testimonies, hesitancy, doubt, political implications, and all the rest of the things He's pleased to allow mere creatures to deal with. For that matter, God could just take direct charge of everything, dispensing with human agencies and shoving us all around like pieces on a chessboard who have no more interest in events than Bobby Fischer's pawns had in Boris Spassky. From that standpoint there's no reason why God would want to "waste" three years of His time walking around Judea, eating bad food and sleeping rough, while explaining Himself to a group of thick-headed and recalcitrant bipeds who still, by and large, couldn't get a firm grip on what He was talking about. But He did. He waited, patiently, while they wondered among themselves if He was Elijah or John the Baptist (Luke 9:19); waited, patiently, while the only one who did realize who He was tried to get him to disobey the Father (Matthew 16:23); waited, patiently, when the same disciple denied Him (Matthew 26:74-75); and waited, patiently, while the same Apostle couldn't figure out the meaning of a direct revelation and vision from God (Acts 10:17). Where God is, there are men -- men being stupid and brilliant, obtuse and quick-witted, weak and brave, silly and solemn, sinful and righteous -- He remains with us, working in and through us, as the poet said, "‘till the catharsis of the race shall be complete."[12]

Only a God who so loved the world that He became man would do something like create the papacy as the seal and bond of Christian unity from which "flows out to all the bonds of sacred communion."[13] Papal choices about canonization are not unlike all sorts of other choices God's servants have to make. Who chose to write the Gospel of John? Who chose to take Mary and the newborn child into Egypt? Surely John and Joseph made those decisions, and if we did not believe in a God who led them, we would say they made an "educated guess" that a book about Jesus would be helpful to Christians or that Egypt was the safest place to be if Herod wished to harm your family. Christian men, including those who have high places in the Church, may make choices that we would have to call "educated guesses," if there were no God leading them. But He does lead them, and so the choices are His as much as theirs.

"People keep telling me that these miracles show the people are in heaven but still I don't feel this is enough to say for a fact who is in heaven and who is not. Simply put I just don't think any of us can presume to know what God is going to do at judgement. I think that is one of the chief differences between Catholics and Baptists in fact. I don't get it! Help!"

As noted above, I don't have problems with the idea of Baptists believing that people, even people they know, are in Heaven. What puzzles me about the Baptist approach is that, without an acknowledged and infallible canon of saints, I don't see how a Baptist can avoid the extremes of (I) a despondent refusal to think that more than a handful of people mentioned in Scripture are in Heaven or (ii) an easy-believerism that has everyone ending up there. The only way I could see to achieve a via media that escapes both extremes is to maintain, as a sheer act of will, a sterile set of theological principles without reference to, or expectation of, corroboration by human life as it's actually lived. I think the Catholic way, our "map," is more accurate. We know for a fact that Enoch is in Heaven. We know for a fact that Moses, Elijah and Abraham are in Heaven. We know for a fact that St. Stephen is in Heaven -- and everyone knew it at the time, too, when they heard how Stephen's life had ended. St. Luke didn't "presume" to know what happened to St. Stephen any more than St. Paul "presumed" to know what happened to Enoch. If we say that those are the only saints in our canon, we're effectively saying that what God confided to the Church in the past -- the identities of some of the saints -- is no longer confided to the Church in the present. I see no more reason to accept that than I do to believe that Matthew 28:19 referred only to those then living and that Jesus never meant for baptisms to be performed after the death of the last Apostle.[14] Jesus Christ granted St. Stephen a vision of his salvation and caused that vision to be made public, first, not by Scripture, but by Stephen's own exclamation to the crowd and the memory of those present. If, as seems to be the case, God thought the early Church would benefit from knowing that St. Stephen was in Heaven, I think it more than likely that the same reasons would apply to the 21st-century Church knowing that St. Maximilian Kolbe is in Heaven. It's a communion of saints, not an archive, and it will keep growing and manifesting itself just as the Body of Christ grows and manifests His glory.

With respect to miracles, I can't help but note that miracles were one of the reasons people identified the Apostles as, well, Apostles of God:
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
-- Acts 2:40-42 (KJV)(emphasis supplied)
For that matter, miracles were one of the reasons people identified God as God:
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
-- John 2:9-11 (KJV) (emphasis supplied)
I don't think God would work a miracle at the request of people who are in Hell; Luke 16:22-51 is pretty clear that He won't.[15] So if one asks a person thought to be in Heaven for a miracle, and a miracle ensues, I think that's a good indication that the person enjoys God's favor in the next life. Miracles, of course, are just one part of the inquiry, but I think there's good reason for their significance in the investigation.

I'm sorry if I'm flailing around a bit, but the insistence on our not knowing what God will do, or is going to do, at judgment has me wondering if you realize there are two judgments, the particular judgment and the general judgment which is also known as "Judgement Day" or the "Day of Judgment":
Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul--a destiny which can be different for some and for others. . . . Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, -- or immediate and everlasting damnation.

* * *

The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust," will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:
All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When "our God comes, he does not keep silence.". . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . "I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father - but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence."
The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death.
-- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 1021-22, 1038-1040
If you look at our Lord's analogy of the judgment to the coming of a thief in the night (Luke Chapter 12), you see how easily it has an individual meaning and the collective meaning referred to by St. Peter (2 Peter 3:10) and St. Paul (1 Thess. 5:2). The "goodman" of the house can be any of us, or all of us, and is both. As we do not know the Day of Judgment, we do not know the day on which we will die. But we will be judged individually, and publicly, except that the last judgment shall do more than announce the decision made at our individual deaths: "In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life . . . We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end."

The canon of saints isn't a prediction about what God will do. It's an announcement about what God has already done, made after a serious inquiry into what God has allowed us to know about what He has done. Christians do this all the time, with just about everything relating to our faith. The canon of Scripture took centuries of argument, study, discussion, and prayer to develop. Just about everything in Christianity develops in some way, because Christianity is about finite men dealing with an eternal and infinite God; one should expect some "lag time" between the appearance of the Word and the explicit definition of a doctrine. It's a neat coincidence, given your example about limbo, but the Pope has asked theologians to attempt "a more coherent and enlightened way" to describe the fate of unbaptized infants. People say we keep "inventing" things and we do -- just like the tree keeps "inventing" leaves and couples keep "inventing" babies. The Church is always pondering the Gospel which, contrary to non-Catholic expectations, hasn't been exhausted of insights despite 2,000 years of inquiry. As I tried to say above, the canon is just one part of man's witness to Christ, a kind of never-ending story that will go on, and on, even to Judgment Day and beyond, when all the saints -- canonized or not -- will dwell in the heavenly Jerusalem.

I hope that was of some help, and I'm sorry if it hasn't been. I'll pray to St. Thomas the Apostle for you. He's one of my patron saints, and a good one to have if one's got problems accepting something that seems beyond reason.


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "St. Josemaria: God is Very Much in Our World Today." You can find the full text here.

[2] Frank Duff, Can We Be Saints?. You can read the whole text here.

[3] Clay Waters, "Right Here, Right Now," National Review Online, August 10, 2004. You can read the article here.

[4] Catholic Encyclopedia, "Communion of Saints." The full text can be found here. If the quoted description weren't true, then I don't see how we could follow the Apostle's Creed and describe our relationship with the Church Triumphant as communion. It's always struck me as odd, how our separated brothers end up affirming a "communion" of saints composed of two groups who actually have little or nothing to do with each other.

[5] See, Walter Farrell, O.P., My Way of Life, (1952: Brooklyn, Confraternity of the Precious Blood). I quote here pages 49 - 51:
One of the supreme confidences God has made to His human friends, a divine secret that only God could know, is the story of the impenetrable activity inside the Godhead, the story of the family life of God. He has, in His lover's eagerness to be known, told us of the mystery of the Trinity; the mystery of three divine Persons in one divine nature, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, who are yet, by their unity of nature, one God. The intense life of divinity itself is told to our trusting hearts: the Father, who is God eternally knowing, eternally generating; the Son, who is God eternally known, the Word eternally generated; the Holy Ghost, who is God eternally loved, the breath of love proceeding eternally from the perfect Knower and the perfectly Known. These are three Persons, distinct from one another, but completely identical in their divine nature. This is a lover's surrender of secrets. It is not a truth told to stagger our minds and so to impress us, though certainly the truth is much too big for more than our most timid caress. The secret has been revealed to further and deepen our happiness, a contribution of love to the happiness of us who are so loved.

Even to our dull eyes, there is a tremendous kindness, a gentle protection of our love in this divine confidence. In our stumbling human fashion, we might so easily have seen God as utterly alone . . . aloof from everything for lack of equals, cold for a lack of goodness worthy of His great heart; and, seeing Him thus, we might have given Him pity instead of admiration, adoration and love. In our human experience activity and change are so intertwined that we might easily think of the unchangeable God as condemned to a life of idleness, completely inactive, stagnant, with nothing to do and all eternity to face; and so have our own hearts go dead within us in a sorrow that would be close to revulsion. Because we have direct experience only with human persons, we might easily make the mistake of conceiving of God as an impersonal being, some kind of a huge blob of goodness, spectral, ghostly, without eyes or heart; and thus have rendered ourselves incapable of so intimately personal a relationship as love.

In the trust that love so eagerly gives to a lover's words, and so helplessly since there is no other way of knowing what must be known, we know now that there is no loneliness in God, no lack of equals, no lack of loveableness worthy of infinite love. Rather, the joy, the truth, the beauty, the love of that divine life has spilled over in its abundance to make a world and to quench the thirst given to men for the life that is proper to God. He has told us that truth's bright beauty is never veiled and the allure of goodness never dimmed; in other words, that the activity of mind and heart that can shrink the hours to minutes in our clumsy world of time, flames through all eternity with infinite intenseness. In that divine life, on the word of God, Love is so personal as to be a Person, Wisdom and its Generator so far superior to anything we can conceive as to be Persons. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are divine Persons; the revelation of their eternal life is the divine answer to the absurdity of an impersonal God, the divine invitation to a love so penetrating as to be victorious possession and unconditional capitulation.

God is most anxious that we know these divine secrets; He tells them plainly though they be beyond our mind's power to understand. Depending with a lover's trust on His word, the very knowing of the existence of the Trinity will do so much for our love of God, so much for our living, so much for the honor and respect we will give to men who are to share that divine living now and for eternity.
[6] See, Catholic Encyclopedia, "John of God." The article can be found here.

[7] Space forbids a digression into the ancient exegesis which discloses the identity of the Woman as Mary, or a dispute about the status of the so-called "Apocrypha." A good beginning is Dave Armstrong's website on the subject, which you can find here.

[8] Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Canonization & Beatification,": "It must be obvious, however, that while private moral certainty of their sanctity and possession of heavenly glory may suffice for private veneration of the saints, it cannot suffice for public and common acts of that kind. No member of a social body may, independently of its authority, perform an act proper to that body. It follows naturally that for the public veneration of the saints the ecclesiastical authority of the pastors and rulers of the Church was constantly required." You can find the full text here. One example of a licit private devotion can be found in my parish, where prior to Mass we pray for the beatification of a nun from our convent, Maria Theresia:
Loving Father, you granted countless graces to your servant, Mother Maria Theresia, choosing her to be an apostle of devotion to Your Son in the Most Holy Eucharist and a living testimony of Christian charity to poor children. Grant, dear God, that like Mother Maria Theresia we too will grow in our love for the Eucharist. Let us bring the light of Christ to those around us, especially to those in most need. If it is your will, grant the beatification of your servant Mother Maria Theresia and, through her prayers, grant us the favors we ask of you.

[9] See, e.g. J.B. Carroll, Ed., Mariology, Vol. III, pp. 3-5; Murphy, John F., "Origin and Nature of Marian Cult." (1961: Milwaukee, Bruce Publishing):
"Rather than positing a hypothesis, then, as to the specific where and when of the earliest manifestations of Marian cult, it would seem better to describe it as a gradual realization and growing practice from the earliest times.
Cultus, as we understand it in reference to creatures and implying direct invocation, appears in its earliest manifestations in the honor and respect shown the early martyrs. The martyrs of the early Church were considered the most perfect imitations of Christ and able to intercede for men left behind in the warfare of life.
Perhaps largely as an outgrowth of such devotion the early Christians saw clearly the logic of seeking Mary's intercession. On the other hand, it is most reasonable to expect that Marian veneration developed also in the wake of Christological clarifications in a parallel and complementary, if somewhat belated fashion, through the customary channels of the teaching Church.
Certainly, when personal devotion to Our Lady first appeared in actual literary expression, it broke forth in a richness and energy that indicated an earlier widespread appreciation. The literature which we consider the authoritative expression of Christian tradition is preceded by testimony of Marian cult both in the catacombs and in apocryphal writings.
If we are to measure only direct concrete evidences of Marian cult which remain today and bear up under historical scrutiny, however, we might say that devotion to Mary was born in the catacombs.
In the catacombs Mary is depicted in both historical and symbolical representation. In the latter, where she is more than simply part of a scriptural scene, she is portrayed both with and without the Divine Child.
The oldest and one of the most beautiful frescoes of the Blessed Virgin is that found in a very early part of the catacomb of St. Priscilla. This is the famous fresco of Mary, Infant, Isaias presumably, and the star of Divinity. It dates from the first half of the second century."
[10] Simon of Trent was a little boy found murdered on Easter Sunday, 1475. Suspicion immediately fastened on Jews living in the town who were tortured and forced to "confess" that they had murdered the boy as part of an anti-Christian ritual. The trials themselves were condemned by Pope Sixtus IV. Almost immediately, a cult of veneration grew up around Simon. His cultus was confirmed by the Church in 1588; the confirmation, however, means only that the boy was holy and a saint and that it was permissible to venerate him. It is not canonization and does not necessarily require, or commit the Church to determining, historical specifics such as the identity of the persons responsible for Simon's murder. The papacy steadily refused to canonize Simon of Trent despite popular sentiment in and around Trent. If anything shows the hidden hand of God in this affair, it's the irony of Simon's having been named a patron of torture victims; certainly he could well have died in a state of grace and been in Heaven praying both for the Jews being tortured because of his murder and the souls of the Christians who tortured them. Because it was always inextricably bound up with anti-Semitism, veneration of Simon was forbidden by the Church in 1965. For an account of these events, see R. Po. Chia Hsia, Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial, (1992: New Haven, Yale University Press).

[11] "But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 19:14 (KJV).

[12] The line is from Pieta by David Gascoyne:
Stark in the pasture on the skull-shaped hill,
In swollen aura of disaster shrunken and
Unsheltered by the ruin of the sky,
Intensely concentrated in themselves the banded
Saints abandoned kneel.

And under the unburdened tree
Great in their midst, the rigid folds
Of a blue cloak upholding as a text
Her grief-scrawled face for the ensuing world to read,
The Mother, whose dead Son's dear head
Weighs like a precious blood-incrusted stone
On her unfathomable breast:

Holds Him God has forsaken, Word made flesh
Made ransom, to the slow smoulder of her heart
Till the catharsis of the race shall be complete.
[13] St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, 374-397 A.D., To Emperor Gratian, 381 A.D.: Your grace must be besought not to permit any disturbance of the Roman Church, the head of the whole Roman World and of the most holy faith of the Apostles, for from thence flow out to all the bonds of sacred communion." -- Winter, St. Peter and the Popes, p. 160 (Helicon, 1960), courtesy of the Cor Unum Apologetics Website.

[14] "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (KJV)

[15] 22: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23: And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24: And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25: But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26: And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27: Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29: Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30: And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31: And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (KJV)