In the Middle Ages confession could be an unpleasant experience; penances were severe and could last years. Priests had been taught that if a penance accorded was not in proportion to the gravity of the sin, a portion of the temporal punishment would be transferred to the priest. But around the middle of the twelfth-century priests were encouraged to develop a gentler approach to confession.
French scholar Pierre Payer, an expert on the penitential literature of the period, called it a “pastoral revolution”, where the focus of preaching and the confessional was to educate and counsel rather than admonish and punish. Confession would become, according to Payer, “…one of the most intimate of human relationships that was institutionalized in the Christian Church”.*
Another “pastoral revolution” may be taking place in the Church with the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation AmorisLaetitia, in which Pope Francis introduces a new development in pastoral discernment:
“[Seminarians and future priests] need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.” (link)
The Pope has cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that gives the Vatican a say in the selection of Bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic Church. The deal is supposed to give the Vatican the ability to approve episcopal appointments made by the Chinese government.
To Joseph Cardinal Zen, Retired Bishop of Hong Kong, the Pope would be making a choice for the government-controlled church over the faithful underground church. His opposition is impassioned, calling it a “surrender”, and a betrayal of Christ. The underground Catholic Church is substantially larger and carefully guards its independence from the government and maintains loyalty to the Holy See, but at the price of persecution.
Neither the state Church or the underground Church have a direct connection to Rome; this is obviously what the Pope wants to fix by the compromise. But first he might want to consider a number of historical precedents that suggest such accords don’t end well and consider a more conservative path: Continue reading “Historical Perspectives on the Pope’s Chinese Accord”→
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”→
“Held hostage by feudal customs and threatened by the Cathar heresy, the institution of marriage at the outset of the twelfth-century in Latin Christendom was in urgent need of reform. Liberating Christian Marriage in an Age of Heresy reveals for the first time the role Hildegard played in the Church’s efforts to establish its jurisdiction over the institution and restore marriage to its Christian ideal. With little consensus on matters such as indissolubility and divorce, marital consent, contraception, clerical marriage, etc., the battle for marriage would not be easily won. Called out of her cloistered life and invested by the Church with the authority of an Old Testament prophet, abbess Hildegard, guided by mystical visions, reinforces the efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the reforming popes to restore marriage to the institution God originally intended it to be.”
As I studied Hildegard’s vision of the creation and fall of man (Scivias, Book 1, Vision 2) I was surprised by the fact that she interpreted the story of Adam and Eve almost entirely in terms of sex and marriage. Scholars have suggested that this was the result of her concern about the growing heresy known as Catharism. Cathars did not believe that marriage was a valid institution and forbade procreation. Hildegard was using her vision to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. She begins with a brief description of the vision itself which is followed by 33 short chapters explaining the meaning of the symbolism with some additional commentary.
Her instruction often comes in the first person voice of God using very blunt language. Here, assuming God’s voice, she bitterly condemns the Cathars and their depraved practices:
“They are wicked murderers, killing those who join them in simplicity before they can turn back from their error; and they are wicked fornicators upon themselves, destroying their semen in an act of murder and offering it to the Devil. …By devilish illusion, they pretend to have sanctity. …By his arts he shows them things he pretends are good and holy, and thus deludes them. …And after you pour out your lust in the poisonous seed of fornication, you pretend to pray and falsely assume an air of sanctity” (Bk 2, Vis. 7, Chap. 22).
Notice that here Hildegard refers to their practice of contraception as an “act of murder”. Her instruction is unequivocally orthodox and covers all aspects of marriage: divorce and indissolubility, consent, consanguinity (incest), etc. There was clearly enough material for a short study of her teaching on marriage presented in the historical context in which her first major work, Scivias (an abbreviation of Scito vias Domini, “Know the Ways of God”) appeared.
My book clearly demonstrates that the hand of God was with the Gregorian reformers in the 12th century, particularly with respect to the institution of Christian marriage. Abbess Hildegard was called out of her cloistered life at nearly fifty years old to assist that movement in a prophetic role. This was officially acknowledged by multiple popes who not only recognized the inspired nature of Scivias, but authorized her to conduct preaching tours on the Church’s behalf. The instruction of this new Doctor of the Universal Church on sex and marriage is now on record, a time when, for the Roman Catholic Church, the subjects have taken center stage.
Listening to Hildegard explain aspects of the conversion of bread and wine to the real presence of Christ reveals the uniqueness of the visionary’s prophetic gift as well as how that gift was viewed by Church authorities in the twelfth-century.
While the doctrine of transubstantiation can be traced back to apostolic times, because of its mysterious nature theologians have had a difficult time explaining it. They employed philosophy and logic to draw their conclusions and thus had little success in making various aspects of the miraculous transmutation understandable. In his discourse on the subject, Hildegard’s contemporary, the early scholastic theologian Peter Lombard wrote, “If, however, it is asked of what sort this conversion is, whether formal, or substantial, or of another kind, I am not capable of defining it” (Book of Four Sentences, Book IV, Distinction 11). Continue reading “St. Hildegard’s Vision of the Moment of Consecration”→
Sociologically speaking, little comparison can be made between the form of concubinage that was popular in the Middle Ages and today’s marital alternative known as cohabitation. The medieval pastime endured for centuries and was deeply rooted in feudal society’s pagan history. It generally took the form of a nobleman, unmarried or married, keeping a woman of lower rank or from the peasantry in his home to provide sexual favors. Unsurprisingly, medieval concubines produced many illegitimate children, with many of the bastard daughters growing up to become concubines themselves.
The concern for maintaining a family’s social status meant that concubinage would rarely lead to marriage. In most cases of modern cohabitation, however, there is an intention on the part of the couple to eventually get married, giving the relationship some sense of permanence. Recent statistics demonstrate, however, that a majority of cohabitating couples eventually break up, including couples that eventually do get married. One well known fact about remarried people is that their second marriage is more likely to end in divorce, the third even more, etc. The same goes for cohabitating couples. Advocating cohabitation is giving dangerous and costly advice. Continue reading “Cohabitation, Concubinage, and the Council of Trent”→
“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).
The history of the cathedral of the Diocese of Oakland is instructive for understanding the early influence of the Second Vatican Council on the subsequent design of many Catholic churches. The recently-installed bishop of Oakland at the time, His Excellency Floyd Begin, the Diocese’ first bishop, had attended every session of the Council and returned in 1964 determined to renovate the existing cathedral, built in 1893, rather than spend a large sum on of money on a new one.
INFLUENCE OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
St. Francis de Sales became known as the “…first cathedral in the United States to be completely remodeled according to the liturgical spirit of the Second Vatican Council”. (All quotations herein are from: Jeffrey M. Burns and Mary Carmen Bautista, We are the Church: A History of the Diocese of Oakland. Strasbourg: Editions du Singe, 2001). The enthusiastic bishop had a bold plan for remodeling the Cathedral:
“With the priest now facing the people, the bishop found the venerable stained glass windows behind the alter distracting. ‘The rather colorful windows in the sanctuary impeded the vision of the service, just like the headlights of an oncoming car do.’ The stained glass windows were covered over by redwood paneling. The interior was whitewashed and the exterior was painted in a creme color [it was red brick]. The alter rail was removed as were all the statues, except for that of Jesus. In sum, the remodeled building followed Vatican II directives and created ‘…an atmosphere conducive to participation, worship, and prayer.'”
St Hildegard’s vision of the last days is a description of five symbolic beasts that represent five unique historical periods that immediately precede the time of the Antichrist. The book, The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society, argues that four of the five periods have already occurred in our recent history. If the book’s theories are convincing, then we can look for references to that same future period of time in the prophetic literature of the Bible and compare.
One such reference is the well-known apocalyptic passage in the Book of Revelation which includes a description of the infamous “Whore of Babylon”. Unfortunately, the book of Revelation is very difficult to interpret, and Revelation 17:1-14, which references the Whore of Babylon and the beast with seven heads, is especially difficult to understand. But it can be interpreted, and often is among Catholic theologians, as referencing the time leading up to the Antichrist. To do so requires the premise that the book of Revelation relates to the future and has specific information about the end times. Continue reading “The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard and Revelation 17: The Beast with Seven Heads”→
Lou Verrecchio, author of the popular Harvesting the Fruit blog wrote a post on the Second Vatican Council document intended to redefine the relationship of the Church with the Jewish people, Nostra Aetate. He rightly criticized an interpretation of the document by Swiss Cardinal Koch, who, in a recent speech celebrating its 50th anniversary suggested rather clearly that Jews who have rejected Christ as the Messiah may still find a pathway to salvation:
“That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”
Lou points out how unbiblical such a notion is, as well as contrary to Catholic teaching regarding salvation. In a follow-up post, Lou attempts to clarify a passage from Romans 11:25-27 where St. Paul emphatically states that “all Israel will be saved”:
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”