Catharism was a dualist heresy that swept through Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages; its growing popularity alarmed Church authorities. It was called by many names (the Catholic Encyclopedia lists twenty-two) but historians prefer to refer to them collectively as Cathars (“pure ones”, or “puritans”). They believed the physical world was the creation of the evil God of the Old Testament and the spiritual world was formed by the God of the New Testament. It was just the latest version of the recurrent dualist heresies like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, but also resembles elements in contemporary secular society in disturbing ways.
This heresy’s primary requirement was the repudiation of marriage and family. Since the evil physical body was only meant to entrap spirits, marriage and procreation were forbidden. Their spirit-liberating ritual known as consolamentum, similar to the Catholic Last Rites, would be denied to children and pregnant women. Their distain for the human body was so extreme that Cathars celebrated suicide with a ritual of its own known as endura, a form of assisted suicide. Their goal was the destruction of the human race thus enabling the liberation of the spiritual world. Continue reading “Today’s Version of the Cathar Heresy”→
Distinct from syncretism, which reflects the blending of elements of unrelated faiths, pluralism affirms that different religions offer alternate paths to the same god, or to salvation. I once heard a priest use the analogy of a group of siblings, representing different religions, arguing with each other over who father loves most. Dad, representing God, then walks in on the quarreling kids and assures them that he loves them all equally.
It’s one thing for members of different religions to engage in dialogue as a means of promoting peace, but quite another to disregard their disparate and competing claims to the truth and declare them equally valid. It’s intellectual anarchy, like insisting that 2+2=5. The danger is that it crosses a line after which one’s own religion is unavoidably diminished in value. Continue reading “The Danger of Religious Pluralism”→
“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
There was a time when St. Hildegard would have probably agreed with these paradoxical but generally true shortcomings of the Holy Roman Empire. As an adult Hildegard had come to know a succession of Emperors, since they were in reality no more than Kings of Germany and she was as famous a German as they were. She especially detested Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for his determination to usurp the authority of the pope in ecclesiastical appointments. Hildegard received a gracious letter from the Emperor, in which he referred to her as “holy lady”, and “beloved lady”, requesting her prayers as a means of obtaining grace. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by fearlessly assuming her role as a prophet, of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God (very unusual for a woman in medieval times):
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you” (Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78).
She follows up with another letter in which explicitly insults the King (a guy who could make her life very difficult):
“…[I]n a mystic vision I see you like a little boy or some madman living before Living Eyes. Yet you still have time for ruling over worldly matters. Beware, therefore, that the almighty King does not lay you low because of the blindness of your eyes, which fail to see correctly how to hold the rod of proper governance in your hand. See to it that you do not act in such a way that you lose the grace of God” (Letter #45, p.78).
GLOUCESTER: I hope they will not come upon us now. KING HENRY V: We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs. March to the bridge; it now draws toward night: Beyond the river we’ll encamp ourselves, And on to-morrow, bid them march away.
Henry V, William Shakespeare
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Obergefell vs.Hodges, a major and well funded campaign began to encourage the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church and other non-profit organizations that oppose homosexual marriage. This has caused alarm among Catholic groups like The Catholic League, whose director Bill Donohue warns:
“Anyone who thinks that radical activists will stop with gay marriage is ignorant: The big prize has always been to force the churches to fall in line. …Stealth politics is what the left is good at, and on this issue they will have their unelected surrogates at the IRS do their bidding.”
From a purely financial standpoint the answer to the question posed above is probably yes, it could be a calamity, particularly with regard to a levy on Church property. Yet knowing the true financial impact on the Church would require an in-depth analysis by a major accounting firm. The USCCB might be wise to commission such a study. A lot of dioceses in America are in bankruptcy and if the Church were to be taxed like a corporation she could do what most corporations do to reduce or eliminate their tax obligations. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as one might think. And then there’s the question of whether parishioners would reduce their giving or stop tithing at all, since the tax-deductability of their contribution would be eliminated. Conducting a broad survey on that question might also be wise.
Some think that the government’s removing of the Church’s tax-exempt status is very unlikely. Since the question of homosexual marriage is a religious matter for the Church, it would be seen as a violation of the First Amendment and be quickly overturned by the courts. (Although, in 1976 the IRS successfully took Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status away because it had a policy against interracial marriage). Others suggest that the political party in power at the time of such a decision would be too fearful of suffering a backlash at the ballot box and they would elect to back off. Continue reading “Would The Church Losing Its Tax-Exempt Status Be Such a Calamity?”→
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami recently celebrated a Red Mass for members of the legal community. His homily touched on the legal troubles currently facing the Catholic Church:
“And so in our country as in other Western countries, we see a tendency to relegate religion to the private sphere. And, in these countries, we see the courts chipping away at the original understanding of religious freedom. In order to fit new political agendas, religious freedom is being reinterpreted narrowly to mean merely “freedom to worship” but excluding the freedom to serve and/or the freedom to witness. The Catholic Church in this country is currently battling in legislatures and in courts against this tendency. And it is not clear that we will prevail. Education, family law, healthcare are just some of the areas in which narrow readings of religious freedom are paving the way for antireligious policies.”
According to St. Hildegard’s vision of the fourth beast, the Black Pig, we will not prevail. This era, which began in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union, is unusual in that it is focused squarely on society’s leaders rather than the people themselves. She explains that the blackness is caused by the pig rolling around in mud and excrement, reflecting the corrupt nature of this era’s leaders:
“…[T]his epoch will have leaders who blacken themselves in misery and wallow in the mud of impurity. They will infringe the divine law by fornication and other like evils and will plot to diverge from the holiness of God’s commands”[Scivias, Book III,Vision11]
The reason we will not prevail has to do with Hildegard’s explanation of the symbolism of the ropes, which signifies that the particular evil that characterizes each era will be present from its beginning to its end. Archbishop Wenski goes on to call what’s happening to the Church “soft despotism”:
“…[I]n this country and other liberal democracies, people of faith are being increasingly subject to a soft despotism in which ridicule, ostracism, and denial of employment opportunities of advancement are being used to marginalize us. We see this when butchers, and bakers and candlestick makers are being put into the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs. …Christian pastors are stalked and threatened for being “Christian” pastors, social scientists are expelled from universities for having turned up “politically incorrect” facts, charitable organizations and confessional schools are harassed if they take seriously their faith’s moral precepts and required their employees to support their missions.”
I discuss this present era at length in the book. Until it ends, however, what signifies the era, the actions of leaders who “…plot to diverge from the holiness of God’s commands,” will continue unabated. Catholics should be prepared for this to intensify.
In her first book, Scivias (book II, vision 3), St. Hildegard explained the symbolism of a vision she experienced; she had seen the image of a woman with many children in her womb, who represented the life of all baptized Christians. They are as unborn children developing in the womb of their mother, symbolizing the Church, which administers the life-giving sacraments to her sons and daughters. She describes differences among these children and notes that “…some direct their attention to spiritual purity and shine with serene virtue, treading earthly things underfoot.” These, she states, “…are marching forward vigorously in the womb of the image” (p.195). She also speaks of those at the other end of the spectrum who “…tear away from her and attack her and break her established rules. They abandon the maternal womb and the sweet nourishment of the Church” (p.196). [All quotations herein are taken from: Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abby of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.].
Hildegard’s view of “ensoulment”, when an unborn child receives a soul, was typical of the Middle Ages. Like today’s Church teaching it was at conception, but the science of the times did not know when conception took place or how long it took. This led to St. Thomas Aquinas’ belief that ensoulment took place after forty days, the time it took for conception to occur according to Aristotelian science. We now understand that it takes place immediately after fertilization. (An excellent discussion of ensoulment by James Akin can be found here). In the following quote Hildegard equates the life of a child, evidenced by its movements, with the reception of the soul:
“…after a woman has conceived by human semen, an infant with all its members whole is formed in the secret chamber of her womb. …[F]or, by God’s secret and hidden command and will, fitly and rightly at the divinely appointed time the infant in the maternal womb receives a spirit and shows by the movements of its body that it lives” (p.119).
In the following passage she establishes the presence of a soul in an unborn child, a soul whose powers remain hidden as the child “awakens” in the womb:
“The exterior human being awakens with senses in the womb of his mother before he is born, but the other powers of the soul still remain in hiding. …[T]he human senses manifest all the reason and powers of the soul” (p.123).
The science of the Middle Ages led her to prohibit conjugal relations during pregnancy:
“Those who have intercourse with the pregnant are murderers. I do not want the work of a man and woman to take place from the time when the root of a little child has already been placed in a woman, lest the development of that little child be polluted by excessive and wasted semen” (p.84).
The position of St. Thomas is often misinterpreted by pro-abortion advocates to suggest that the Church taught that the life of a child was not established until ensoulment took place a period of time after conception. For St. Hildegard, once conception has taken place, any intentional action that puts the life of an unborn child at risk is an act of murder.