Thursday, March 29, 2007

More reviews of "Into the Great Silence"

Here are two other review of the unique new film on monastic life "Into the Great Silence"
[I posted a review earlier:
] This film is REALLY making an impression. It is an artistic achievement in the sense that it genuinely moves people.

The Silent Treatment
A Meditative Journey Into a Monastery's World of the Spirit
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 30, 2007; Page C05

At first, the silence feels imposing -- practically deafening -- as we watch the documentary "Into Great Silence" and the monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery praying, reading the Bible or simply sitting in quiet contemplation.

But as we become acclimated to this muted atmosphere (we have plenty of time, as the film is nearly three hours long), something extraordinary happens: Our senses sharpen. The whispering of snow outside, the occasional clearing of a throat and -- sweet mercy! -- the clanging of a bell that summons these befrocked Carthusians to prayer reach our ears with a resounding purity. We may not experience their inner glories, but when we hear the monks' Gregorian chants, it's as though we have slipped from our seats into the back pews of Chartreuse.

All movies are about transformation, in a sense, as we focus -- almost reverently -- on the glowing screen before us. But we are accustomed to our emotions being marshaled along with music, snappy editing, special effects. "Into Great Silence" subjects us, instead, to a sort of sensory deprivation -- echoing the ascetic lifestyle of these monks, who are bound to a life of near-silent contemplation aside from weekly conversational breaks.

More poetic meditation than documentary, it doesn't serenade us with music or offer helpful explanations about this 900-year-old charterhouse or the centuries of tradition that inform its rigorous rules. It doesn't even reveal the monastery's geographic location (in the French Alps, somewhere between Grenoble and Chambery).

By luring us into their hushed world, filmmaker Philip Groening -- who produced, directed, shot and edited the movie -- subtly provokes us into an active state of observation. We experience the rituals of these men's lives, our heads craned forward and our breath held so we don't disturb their devotions. And as we vicariously participate in their daily rituals, we find ourselves, quite literally, at the ground level of spiritual worship. It's hard to recall a similar documentary that brings viewers so palpably close to that sacred experience. Even such religiously themed commercial successes as "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," which moved their audiences with special-effects technology and star power, seem brassy and superfluous by comparison.

With an editing scheme of rhythmic repetition, Groening helps us understand the flow of these monks' existence -- the cumulative power of ritual, repetition and reiteration -- as they seek perpetual communion with God. The monks kneel. And kneel again. Biblical quotations are presented, again and again, in intertitles ("Lord, you have seduced me, and I was seduced"). And chores such as washing dishes and shaving heads come in cycles, too. Over the course of the movie, snowy landscapes outside the monastery become sunlit, florid scenes, then misty vistas, before returning to snowscapes again. (It bears mentioning that when Groening requested permission to film the inhabitants of Chartreuse in 1984, they took 16 years to give him the go-ahead.)

"Into Great Silence," a 2005 German release that won a special jury prize at Sundance last year, is not all hair-shirt rigor. On weekends, the French-speaking monks take long walks through the alpine country, chattering away with an endearing fervor that brings us immense relief. And during winter, when they slither and slide down on the slopes using only their sandaled feet and behinds, we laugh with an almost spiritual release. These scenes are a poignant reminder that they're as human as we are. There is also comfort in the testimony of a blind monk who -- in the movie's only interview -- explains his faith and the easy channel to God he believes is available to everyone. His unequivocal contentment -- he's even grateful for the blindness that led him to this calling -- is an affecting message for audiences, no matter how secular. And we realize this movie has not been about zeal, devotion or faith at all, but simple happiness.

Into Great Silence (162 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema), is not rated but contains nothing objectionable. In some French and Latin with subtitles.

Into Great Silence
by Jim Emerson

We get a lot of movies about noise these days: gunshots, screams, explosions, fist thunks, thunderous roars, revving engines, squealing tires and those deafening sonic swooshes that accompany nearly every corporate logo before the feature even gets started. But we don't experience many moments of silence at the movies (and I'm not just talking about the audiences). "Into Great Silence," though devoid of narration, musical score or much at all in the way of dialogue, encourages us to listen closely: to the sound of snow falling in the mountains, a nocturnal prayer whispered in a small wooden cell with a knocking tin stove, a bell rope pulled in a chapel. Nobody yells. Nothing detonates.

The images also open up to us gradually and quietly. We're not bombarded with fusillades of shots: "Look at this! Now this! Now this!" "Into Great Silence" unfolds with its own gentle, unforced rhythms, designed, as German filmmaker Philip Groning has said, to be less a "documentary" than a meditation.

Groning spent six months living with the monks of the eremitical Carthusian order at the Grand Chartreuse Charterhouse, or monastery, in the French Alps. He brought with him only a camera and basic sound equipment -- no crew, no lights -- to capture the daily lives, prayers and routines of this most ascetic of Catholic orders, which was founded by St. Bruno in 1084. The monks, who have taken a vow of poverty, subsist on very little. They pray aloud at times and sing solemn Gregorian chants, but they rarely speak, except on their Monday walks. If cinema had existed more than a thousand years ago, this is quite like what it may have recorded.

I must confess my fondness for contemplative movies of this sort. The less frenetic onscreen activity you are forced to endure, the more you're able to notice. And the form of "Into Great Silence" is ideally suited to its subject. The monks lead a regimented existence (you can see a typical weekday schedule, and learn about their history, at their official Web site,, but time is allotted for the introspection and reflection that are essential to their devotion. You're given the opportunity to contemplate details, including ones you may overlook in the rush and routine of your own everyday life.

The film is structured, appropriately, with attention to the ritualistic and cyclical nature of these lives -- and, perhaps to a less rigorous extent, all of our lives: work, meals, chores, time alone (with God), time with others. And then there are the rhythms dictated by the passage of time: the daily progression of darkness into light and back again; the passage of the seasons; the aging of the monks' own bodies. Intertitles with biblical quotations are repeated like chants, sometimes followed by three close-ups of monks looking into the camera. There's so much to watch and listen to.

In one of the few segments where anyone speaks, a monk says, "In God there is no past. There is only the present." Oddly, or not, watching this movie I was reminded of the final part of "2001: A Space Odyssey," where Keir Dullea silently grows old in a mysteriously sterile 18th century habitat. One day, while eating, he knocks over a glass, and it shatters on the floor. In the next moment, he is much older. How much time has passed in the interim? The monks' (and the film's) conception of time is similarly static. Groning approached the Carthusians for permission to shoot the film in 1984, and they said they weren't quite ready. Sixteen years later, they said they were.

So, what happens in the course of the picture? As you would expect, everything and nothing. You get the feeling that whatever you witness has probably happened countless times before. Novices are admitted. A clock is re-set, then straightened. On one sunny walk, there's a discussion about the moral implications of hand-washing: how it should be done, and how much. On another walk, the monks slide down a snowy slope. Those are among the action-packed highlights.

But they are not what "Into Great Silence" is about. A movie is always about what happens to you as you watch it, and Groning's stated intention was to entice the viewer to assemble his or her own experience of the film by asking questions and making discoveries as it unreels. Sometimes these questions are elemental: What am I looking at? Is it day or night? At other moments they are experiential: What task or ritual is this? Where are they going? And at others they are more existential: What does it take to find meaning in the physical and psychological discipline of such a life? Are the monks happy, or content? What does the concept of "happiness" mean in this context?

Each of us is left to discover the answers for ourselves.

UPDATE: Yet one MORE review

'Into Great Silence': Why now?
By NANCY KLEIN MAGUIRE, National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2007

In February 1999, I started to research An Infinity of Little Hours, a book about the life of Carthusian hermit monks. That same year, the reverend father of the Grande Chartreuse, the headquarters of the order in France, called Philip Gröning to ask him to film a documentary on the same subject. Mr. Gröning had proposed the project in 1984. In 2006, Mr. Gröning released "Into Great Silence," capturing the life of the Carthusian monks in images (NCR, March 23). I like to think that my book, An Infinity of Little Hours, provides the libretto for Mr. Gröning’s music of Carthusian life.

In 1084, St. Bruno initiated an order of hermits who lived in community. He was serious about the hermit part. While not exactly unfriendly, these hermits do not have hospitality or public relations on their agenda. Historically, the order is so protective of its privacy that it is even averse to canonizing its members. Their standard response to visitors is to momentarily slide back the grill in their entrance door, saying: "We do not allow visitors."

The Carthusian order has been so reclusive that few people, even the most devout Catholics, have heard of them.

Last February, Mr. Gröning and I had a chance to compare notes about these hermit monks. When Mr. Gröning started shooting in 2000, the reverend father looked at him and said, "We are starting a risky thing." Mr. Gröning felt intimidated when he first entered the cloistered charterhouse (monastery); he was afraid that he couldn’t possibly capture the Carthusian life. But, while making the film, he lived the life of a monk for five months, following the same regimen as any new recruit to the order. He went to church, took care of his garden, cleaned his clothes, went on the weekly walk and did all the other monk jobs.

Although the monks talk only twice a week, he became close friends with them. "They let me know they liked me by smiles and other nonverbal gestures." And, of course, on the weekly walk, he could talk to them. Several times in the film, Mr. Gröning’s camera zeros in for 20-second portraits of individual monks. The eyes of the monks tell the story. I was especially intrigued by the monk who didn’t blink. These portraits are so intimate that they seem to me an invasion of privacy of these reclusive men. Yet Mr. Gröning assured me, "There was complete trust between the monks and myself. I do not feel that their privacy was invaded. I would leave a note and ask if I could take a portrait at a specific time." In one shot, a monk conspiratorially glances toward the camera with a slight smile.

Mr. Gröning uses no narrative, no explanatory voiceover, and about two minutes of dialogue. Because Mr. Gröning decided not to comment during this film, the viewer hears the sounds of the cook chopping celery, the elderly gardener digging a spring garden groaning with the exertion, the monks sawing wood for their stoves, wooden spoons clanking against metal bowls, scissors cutting into new fabric, and the eternal rustling of pages. Underneath these sounds, the viewer senses a palpable silence.

Mr. Gröning was not allowed to use artificial lights, so the film alternates between barely-seen candlelight images and clear shots, such as pages of Gregorian chant scrolling across the screen or sharp images of the Grande Chartreuse itself. Scenes of normal human life, monks eating in their cells, getting their heads shaved, feeding cats, and even cows going through the cloister, are mixed with very arcane scenes: for example, an eerie shot of the monks praying Night Office in a dark church during the middle of the night.

To remind the viewer of the present time, Mr. Gröning twice shows an airplane flying above the charterhouse. By this time, I was so immersed in the film that I thought the plane could be a bird. In another scene, Mr. Gröning shows a noisy group of teenagers outside the charterhouse trying to see what goes on inside. When Mr. Gröning worried that he didn’t have enough scenes, "a shot would be right there in front of me."

Using captions and subtitles, Mr. Gröning repeats verses from the Bible throughout the film, particularly the verse, "Oh Lord, you have seduced me, and I was seduced." The repetition suggests the timelessness of the monks’ lives and the tranquility in their portraits. Only once, near the end of the film, does a monk address the camera directly. Mr. Gröning chose a very elderly, blind monk who wears a hearing aid. Mr. Gröning says he chose the monk, not because he was blind, but because his face looks so happy in spite of his handicaps. The monk says:
"One should have no fear of death. On the contrary, it is a great joy to find a Father once again. … And when God sees us he always sees our entire life. And because he is an infinitely good being he eternally seeks our well-being. Therefore, there is no cause for worry."

The blind monk epitomizes the meaning of the charterhouse.

Mr. Gröning’s film does not have a beginning, middle, or end. The monk lives outside of time, and "Into Great Silence" is timeless.

By the time I watched the film for the fifth time, I knew that "Into Great Silence" had become part of my life. Time cycles around the monks and the viewer: We see the heavy snows of the French Alps engulfing the monastery, a glorious image of crocuses emerging from the snow, the lush greenery of summer, then back to the scenes of falling snow.

The result is a stunning immersion in Carthusian life. Mr. Gröning refers to himself as a documentary filmmaker, but above all, he is an artist. "Into Great Silence," in a sense, is a series of stills skillfully placed, rather than a film. Mr. Gröning did not want to create a documentary about the monastery, he "wanted to create the monastery."
"I wanted the film to become a monastery." And it does.

Why now? In his splendid New York Times review, A.O. Scott comments that Mr. Gröning is not interested in the history of the order, nor in why men come or leave; he is not concerned with the biographies of the men.

Before the Reformation, Carthusians were well-known; since then, they have become nearly invisible. Outsiders are rarely allowed into the charterhouse and never inside the hermits’ cells, two-story individual dwellings.

Even consultants, such as theologians, psychiatrists, or doctors, are not allowed to live "in cell." This has been a sine qua non of the order -- no one but potential recruits can live in cell. Yet Mr. Gröning lived in cell. In a conversation with him, the reverend father referred to the Carthusian mission as that of a lighthouse. In a similar vein, Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, said:

Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestants in general may need the monastery again, or wish it were there. The monastery is an essential dialectical element in Christianity. We therefore need it out there like a navigational buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it. But if there really is true Christianity in every generation, there must also be individuals who have this need.

John Morrill, a Cambridge historian, commented on my book: "An Infinity of Little Hours will make most readers recognize the empty plenty with which we crowd our own lives." With sympathy, the film’s blind monk says, "It is a pity that the world has lost all sense of God."

Another way of looking at this question of "why now?" is St. Bruno’s reason for seeking solitude. Weary of the corruption in the Catholic church of his time, he decided to find a way to go directly to God. Perhaps we also want a less institutional, more direct way to God, some inner space, some quiet. After years of watching atrocities on television, we need a safe place.

When I left Parkminster, a charterhouse in England I visited, for the first time, I sensed that something was missing there. Then I realized that I had been missing anxiety. Mr. Gröning had the same experience at the Grande Chartreuse. The monks have no fear. Mr. Gröning hopes that his audience "will realize that this way of life exists and perhaps part of it can be applied outside the monastery."

Filming "Into Great Silence" gave Mr. Gröning more trust that things would go the right way. At the end of my interview, I asked, "What question haven’t I asked that you would like to answer?" He responded, "There is no question that I haven’t been asked about this film."
Mr. Scott in The New York Times hesitates to call "Into Great Silence" one of the best films of the year. "I prefer to think of it as an antidote to all of the others." I agree. The film is addictive -- each time I watch it, I know that I will need to watch it again, to return to life in the charterhouse.

Nancy Klein Maguire is the author of An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order, reviewed by art historian Sr. Wendy Beckett in the July 28, 2006, issue of NCR.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

How an iPod can help you learn the Faith

Perhaps many of you out there think--'well, I would like to learn more about my faith but I just don't have the time.' Perhaps you would also like to pray more but find that you lack the time. Of course, we must make time for God. However, do not discount the moments that you have while you are on the run.

For last Christmas I received an Apple iPod. Many of my late-twenties, early-thirties peers have had iPods. I resisted the idea because I was trying to simplify my life Franciscan-style. I finally gave in to the idea of receiving an mp3 player for Christmas. I am glad I did. The iPod is not just the gadget du jour of your teenage kid. It can also be an excellent tool to halp you grow in your faith!

I am directing this article to those catechists and anyone else who has no idea about the iPod technology...

What the heck is a "podcast"???

A podcast is a broadcast of a radio program (and now--TV and video is available) that you can download and listen to through your iPod. First you need an internet connection (preferibly high-speed) to download (for free!) Apple's software iTunes:

Radio and TV programs will be saved onto mp3 audio files (now, I see them called mp4 files?) and then you can download those audio files to your own computer via the internet and your iTunes software. In fact, you do not even need an iPod to listen to podcasts. All you need is an internet connection and the iTunes software. Once you download a podcast, you can simply listen to it via iTunes on your computer at work or home. If, however, you want to be able to take those podcast programs with you wherever you go... you will want an iPod (or some other mp3 player). The iPods cost $150 and up... but for just $80 you can get the tiny iPod Shuffle which amazingly is the size of a matchbook, clips on to your clothing and can hold 24o songs or the equivalent amount of podcasts. The larger iPods can hold up to 2,000 songs.

Once you have iTunes, you can go to the iTunes Store and search for podcasts. There is a vast number of podcasts of various radio and TV programming that you can suscribe to for free.
When you click on a program to suscribe then your iTunes program will check for updates every day to the podcasts that you suscribe to. If, for example, you suscribe to a podcast of an EWTN program that you like, then every time that the folks at EWTN make available a new audio file of a recent program then you iTunes will automatically download it. You do not have to remember, the program does it for you (it is kind of like getting the newspaper delivered to your door every morning). Once you have received the podcast file, then you can listen to it from your computer or drag it and download it into you iPod. Once you are done listening to it, you can delete the podcast from your iPod (that way, you save room for more future podcasts). Some new cars come set up with a jack to plug your iPod in so that you can listen to it through car speakers. You could also just buy a casette adapter and plug your iPod into that and listen that way.

What podcasts are out there?

You can dowload podcasts of any kind of program--news programs, sports programs, etc. However, there are many prodcast available to help you learn more about your faith. I will list just some of the ones that I have encountered (all these programs can be found from iTunes store by typing the name in the search window):

  1. CATHOLIC ANSWERS LIVE: For those who have access to Catholic radio stations such as EWTN radio or Ave Maria Radio (which is none of us out here in central Iowa) you might be familiar with this excellent program. CA Live airs two hour long episodes a day that will have a guest apologist expert in expalining and defending the Catholic faith. The guests will talk about a given topic (Lent, the Mass, the different rites of the Church, particular dogmas of the Church, controverial topics, etc.) and then take calls from listeners asking questions. This is an excellent way to learn more. Some programs even deal with current films, current hot topics (such as the DaVinci Code book and movie, or the alleged discover of Jesus' tomb, etc.), etc. Search "Catholic Answers Live" or see
  2. EWTN programs: You can suscribe to audio podcasts of your favorite TV shows: EWTN Bookmarks, Life on the Rock, The World Over, Sunday Night Live with Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Personally, I like Marcus Grodi's the Journey Home. On this program, converts to the Catholic faith (often times ministers from Protestantism or other non-Catholic faiths) come on and tell the story of their conversions... and also take phone call questions. This can be a good kick-in-the-butt for the cradle Catholic who takes his faith for granted.
  3. The K-Street Catholic: This is the podcast of the Washington D.C.-based Catholic Information Center ( ). I recently heard about these podcasts from a radio show, and they are excellent. Recent episodes have dealt with the Jewish ordigins of Baptism, the Mass, and the Paschal Mystery and an episode dealing with the "Jesus Tomb" controversy.
  4. Cardinal Arinze Podcast: Cardinal Arinze is the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Holy See. This one time papal prospect has written beautifully on the litugy of the Catholic Church. In recent podcasts he has covered Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).

  5. Understanding the Scriptures: This is a podcast of an adult education class in a parish in Texas. They are using Scott Hahn's excellent textbook Understanding the Scriptures: A Complete Course on Bible Study. If you would like to get an understanding of the overall story of the Bible, and how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament, this is the podcast for you. ( )
  6. The Inner Life (on Relevant Radio): This program airs on the Catholic radio station Relevant Radio.

    This program hosts different priests as spiritual directors for each day. Callers call in with questions about discernment in issues small (personal decisions) and great (a vocation), questions about prayer and growth in the spiritual life, etc. Recent episodes included a discussion on Franciscan spirituality. On iTunes Store search for "Relevant Radio" and you will find this and other programs.
  7. Keep the Faith

    This site has mp3 lectures downloadable for a buck: topics include: many Archbishop Fulton Sheen talks, The Existence of God, St. Augustine, the development of the Latin rite liturgy, Saints of the Reformation, the Enlightenment revisted, Sacred Music and Liturgy, the re-definition of marriage, the Antichrist, the demonic today, etc. [some of this would be of particular interest to traditionalist catholics] This is not a podcast that you can suscribe to as far as I know... you go to the site, download the mp3 files you like, and then you can suck them up into your iPod or other mp3 player.
    This neat site has podcasts on a range of topics: the art of contemplative prayer; stations of the cross meditations (inspired by the Passion of the Christ and with quotations from various Catholic writers, including Josemaria Escriva, Pope John Paul II, and Dietrich von Hildebrand); "De-coding the DaVinci Code"; music from a parishes 2006 Easter vigil; marriage as a vocation; the artist and the sacraments (Barbara Nicolosi tells Catholic artists in Holywood about the need for the sacraments and spiritual direction); the Real Presence of Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist; teaching your children about the sacrament of confession; etc. A virtual treasure trove of good stuff!
    Listing of assorted blogs and audio books.
  10. What does the Prayer Really Say? ( )
    I just discovered this little gem of a site. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf covers matters liturgical... reflections on the text of liturgical prayers (as they are translated with "slavish accuaracy"). He has a lot of great podcasts where he reads and discusses the writings of the great ancient Church fathers--Augustine, Gregory the Great, Cyprian, etc. In a recent podcast he reads St. Augustine's commentary on Psalm 61 and discusses how we as Catholic Christians can more fully enter in the mystery of the Holy Mass--prayer that is "full conscious and active participation". Search iTunes Store by typing

  11. The Light of the East: Pope John Paul II said that the universal Chuch must breathe with both lungs (the East and the West). Do you want to learn more about the treasures of the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church? Check out this broadcast by Fr. Thomas Loya (which airs on Relevant Radio). Fr. Loya is also an expert in Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.( )
  12. the Maronite Podcast: a Place to Pray:
    This is a daily reading of the Prayers of the Faithful or Divine Office for the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church.
  13. St. Michael's RCIA podcast: This is a podcast of some local parish's RCIA classes. I have not really listened to this one, so I cannot vouge for it personally. However, the point is, there are things like this out there. Many adult Catholics would be well-suited to go through RCIA... they could learn a lot or get a refresher on things they once learned but have lost a hold of. If you have a friend who is thinking about coming into the Church but is not ready to join an RCIA program, they can listen in on one from the privacy of their home.

Musical Praise on the go

Many Catholics listen to the local Protestant Christian music station. Nothing wrong with that, but you should know that there are also ways to gain access to specifically Catholic praise music (many Catholic artists out there cannot break into the mainstream Christian stations). I do not like all the music that I hear on these programs (mostly because they do not always fit my musical taste... lyrically, they are great), but you can find a lot of good music. Check out these programs and also the website :

  1. Catholic Praisecast (search for the podcasts through these titles)
  2. Catholic Rockers Podcast
  3. (I am looking for some sacred liturgical music podcasts... if anyone finds one, let me know, eh?)

What else can I do with my iPod?

You can pray. Do you own a favorite CD of the rosary? You can download it to your iPod and pray the rosary while walking, running, gardening, vacuuing, etc. I have posted an article about running with the rosary before

I like to pray the rosary while I run because it allows me the time of meditation... and also keeps my mind off the fatigue and boredom of some longer runs. My mind tends to wander when I mentally pray by myself, so having a recording sometimes keeps me in track. You also can order podcast recordings of rosaries for free (one time downloads).

Franciscan University of Steubenville has a free recording of a recitation of the
scriptural rosary.

This is particularly useful to those who like to pray the rosary with short snippets of Holy Scripture between each prayer. Without a book, this would be difficult (unless you have stores of scripture passages stored in your memory). So, if you are running, driving, or otherwise on the go... and reading from a book is not possible... then listening to this scriptural rosary on your iPod can be ideal. If you cannot locate the podcast of this recording through a search on iTunes Store, then you can get this download from their website (by just right clicking on their link): (Type "Latin Rosary" in iTunes store and you can learn how to pray the rosary in the ancient language of the Church).

Another scriptural rosary can be downloaded from this high-church Anglo-Catholic's website "Pious and Overly Devotional":

Try typing in "Divine Mercy Chaplet" in the iTunes store search window and you can also download the Divine Mercy Chaplet (this one did cost me $1) spoken or sung. If you are waiting at the dentist's office, discreetly slip in your ear plugs and pray the chaplet in 10 minutes!

Pray-as-you-go: The Irish Jesuits have a daily podcast with about 10 minutes of meditation available at . This podcast includes sacred music, the Gospel reading from the day's Mass, and a brief reflection and guided meditation. Taking 10 minutes a day out for mediation can do wonders.

Pray the Prayer of the Church: the Liturgy of the Hours is not just for clergy and religious... it is also a prayer that the laity are encouraged to take up. The litugry of the Hours is the prayer of the Psalms throughout that various times of the day. Do a iTunes Store search for "Liturgy of the Hours" or "Morning Prayer" and "Evening Prayer." Podcasts for these are supposedly plentiful. Go to the following link for podcasts of the Office of Readings:

The US Bishops' Conference also has a daily podcast of the daily readings for Mass; type "daily readings from the New American Bible" in the search window, or go to the US Bishops' website:

The bottom line: you have more time than you think... and w/ the creative use of technology... you can make use of those spare minutes in the day. Plug in your headphones, your car stereo hook up, or play from a speaker docking station (they sell those too) and you can use an iPod while doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, waiting at the bus station/laundromat/doctor's office, etc. Perhaps some might think me weird for listening to my iPod while grocery shopping. But why should that be weird... for 15-30 minutes while I shop, I am by myself... I am not going to be talking to anyone... so I just plug in and enjoy. I recommend that you do the same.

There is probably a ton of other great things out there that you can download and take with you... as I find more things I will post them. If anyone out there knows of other good podcasts... leave a comment below and let me know about it... I will add it to this post.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.5)

NOTE: This is part 5 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

What is a Catholic required to believe?....

"There is no precondition that a magisterial teaching needs to meet any member of the laity’s standards for rationality or logic in order to demand assent. Nor is it required that a teaching result from consultation with the entire church."--CPDT

Regarding the force of the language in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and whether it has settled the matter definitively, Luis wrote:

This means you and I will never see it in our lifetime, but this is not a definition that provides "certainty of faith." Take a look at the dogma of the assumption or any other dogma. It must state that this document is a *definition* that such as such is *revealed truth.* Usually, these definitions are published as "apostolic constitutions" (the highest level of papal teaching), not as "apostolic letters" (the lowest level of papal teaching). This is not simply a matter of terminology. Remember that the Second Vatican Council deliberately refrained from proclaiming any new dogma. Can you find any "apostolic constitution" among the council documents" Can you find any new "definition" in any of the council texts?

I replied:
Even if he was not exercising papal infallibility (see above argument), the Pope may not have felt the need to issue an apostolic constitution because he stated that this conclusion about the Church’s authority to ordain women already “has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” (Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ad Dubium).

In any case, are we to adhere definitively to a church teaching only if it is formally defined as a dogma in an apostolic constitution?

Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium are “dogmatic constitutions” in that they make statements regarding dogmatic matters. Would it be in the spirit of one in communion with the Church to refute and reject those teaching just because they are not apostolic constitutions or council canons?

The Second Vatican Council did not deliberately proclaim a new dogma, does that mean I do not have to adhere to its nuanced teaching on religious liberty (the Declaration on Religious Liberty)? Was that teaching just some unimportant pastoral statement? (In deed, it was such an important teaching that it was one of the predominant reasons for the schism of Archbishop Lefevbre [note: it was the only document that he voted against in the whole Council!]).

Yes, I am aware that Pius XII issued Munificentissimus Deus (defining the Assumption) as an apostolic constitution (as did Pius IX with Ineffabilis Deus--defining the Immaculate Conception).

I am looking at a list of some of the apostolic constitutions that Pope John Paul II issued: Universi Dominici Gregis: On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff; Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities) and Sapientia Christiana (On Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties) both concern Catholic education; Pastor Bonus deals with the curia organization; Sacrae Disciplinae Leges was issued for the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law. Do these apostolic constitutions have any new dogmas in them?

On the contrary, it is in his encyclicals that Pope John Paul II dealt with more dogmatic matters: the Eucharist and the Church, Faith and Reason, Mariology (Redemptoris Mater), Christology (redemptor hominis), the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy and Confession, social teaching (re labor, etc.), missionary activity of the Church, the dignity of human life (Evangelium Vitae), and Ecumenism.

It is true that many apostolic letters also, like Apostolic Constitutions, deal with non-dogmatic issues or issues of significance to very specific localities (nations, etc.). Browsing through JPII’s apostolic letters we see that he uses them for the beginnings of thematic years (the Marian year, Jubilee year 2000, year of Eucharist), to commemorate anniversaries of Councils, key documents (Sacrosanctum Concilium/Orientalium Dignitas), Church movements, saints, world events, etc (often reasserting previous Church teaching—some of which is dogmatic in nature). He addresses current events (Lebanon in ’89). He promulgates the Catechism; writes of the proclamation of a doctor of the Church (Therese), etc.

Some apostolic letters address the dignity of women, anniversaries of bedrock ecumenical councils, the Christian meaning of human suffering, etc.

I do not know exactly what circumstances lead the Pope to use an apostolic letter, apostolic constitution, or an encyclical—since all of these forms are used for a variety of topics and for a variety of teaching purposes. I have always thought that perhaps letters are issued for teaching that is not as lengthy or detailed (as compared with encyclicals—which are also geared to the entire Church). Of course, apostolic letters can also be addressed to the entire church as well (the letter on the Rosary [announcing new mysteries], Dies Domini, the letters on the thematic years, etc.). Are the apostolic letters used more often to deal with current issues of important in the Church? Dies Domini (On the Keeping of the Lord’s Day) was a response to a current neglect of a traditional moral dogma. Misericordia Dei (on certain aspects of the celebration of the sacrament of penance) was issued to revitalize the practice of the sacrament.

Perhaps JPII wrote on the authority of the church to ordain men only [also an issue addressed to the entire Church] in the form of an apostolic letter because: the treatment did not need to be lengthy enough for an encyclical,… and because the letter was issued in response to a recent controversy. I do not know for sure, that is just a guess.

What I do know is that, regardless of which forms of teaching the pope customarily uses to expound on doctrinal matters, he is not obligated to restrict his teaching function (or even his infallible teaching function) to one form (such as an apostolic constitution).

The dogmatic definition of papal infallibility does not specify the vehicle (type of writing, or a specific formula for definition) through which the Pope teaches ex cathedra. The dogma only states: “when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”

Neither does Lumen Gentium mention any specific vehicles for the exercise of ex cathedra teaching (LG#25). The Pope has no such restrictions: he can teach infallibly in any means he choses—he only needs to meet the specifications stated from Vatican I above.

Regarding what Magisterial teachings require the assent of the faithful, Luis wrote:

Unless I have certainty of faith, I can and should doubt, especially
regarding any pronouncements which are irrational and imposed by force
without consultation with the entire church. Are you old enough to
remember the worldwide consultation, down to the level of people in the
pews, preceding the dogma of the assumption? I was a boy (born 1942),
but I still remember, in my parish in Cuba (San Juan de Letrán, Vedado,
Havana, Cuba) the priests urging everyone to sign under either "yes" or
"no" a petition as to whether or not the dogma should be defined.
Believe me, when Pope Pius XII went into St Peter's basilica on 1
November 1950, there was *no doubt" as to what he intended to do.

I replied:

There is no precondition that a magisterial teaching needs to meet any member of the laity’s standards for rationality or logic in order to demand assent. Nor is it required that a teaching result from consultation with the entire church. Just because a teaching is an exercise of God-given authority does not mean that it is “imposed by force.” You are free to believe or not… but being in communion with the Church requires believing—that is the nature of any authority (whether we are talking about the authority of Scripture, of the Magisterium, etc.). Regarding doctrines taught through papal infallibility, Lumen Gentium states: “his [the pope’s] definitions are …irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church…they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal” (LG#25).

I was born in 1977, so I did not live through this extraordinary time. I have, however, read Pius XII’s definition so I am familiar with the process (Munificentissimus Deus #8-11). This was a case where many of the laity petitioned their bishops and the Holy See to proclaim this dogma. Unlike the case with the divine maternity (Ephesus) the pronouncement was not made by the Holy See as a result of some controversy about Mary, the Church, or the Last Things, etc. …it was a traditional belief and there was a genuine groundswell of demand that the teaching be explicitly defined.

Of course you know that it is not true that a pope necessarily MUST consult with the bishops or the laity before exercising papal infallibility or teaching at any level. Bishops are infallible when they teach in an ecumenical council—and they usually do not consult the lay faithful in such cases.

Besides, the Assumption is a completely different matter because there was a record of belief in the Assumption stretching back centuries (Tradition—writings of the Fathers)… there was a practical display of the Church’s belief in Tradition (a liturgical feast day in both the East and the West)… and the dogma can be supported through Scripture. None of these can be said of women priests.

In addition, the Pope was asking the bishops if they themselves and their people believed this. Actually, he asked whether the bishops “judged that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin could be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith” and he added “do you, with your clergy and people, desire it?." In order to assess the matter, your bishop “polled” the parishes. That is fine, however, I do not think he had to do that… he could have just gauged what his people believed/desired and told the Pope. I wouldn’t interpret what your bishop did as some kind of democratic vote by the people as to whether they thought this dogma should be proclaimed.

Regarding who interprets the sign of the times, Luis wrote:

No, the entire church (everybody, everywhere) must be involved in the
discernment process.

I replied:

I agree, but see my comments above [post 5.3?] regarding the slippery topic of determining what the sense of the faithful is. Also, the entire Church needs to step up its knowledge of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and be able to sufficiently think with the mind of Christ and not just the mind of secular society (seeing everything as politics).
By the way, the entire church (everybody, everywhere) would include places like Africa, which would not be too open to the idea of women’s ordination. I am not sure if this discernment process would ever transcend stand-offs and come to any conclusions (once again, see the Anglican Communion where you now have some primates who will not share communion with other primates, and bishops of the Episcopal Church in America saying that if conservative members do not like their policies, then they should be the ones to leave and vice versa). Yes, the entire Church is needed, but at the end of the day, I also want a Pope.


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Do You Trust the Church: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.4)

NOTE: This is part 5.4 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link:
Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

What does the Sense of the Faithful have to say about this? ... and can there be a true development of doctrine at work?

"You write of the sense of the faithful as if the laity are monolithic on this issue...and united in their opposition with 'the Vatican.' "--CPDT

Regarding the question of whether the Church could whirl chaotically in the wind [given the debated "signs of the times"], Luis wrote:

Don't hold your breath. It is hard for the Vatican and 1.2 billion people to whirl chaotically in the winds of change, even if they wanted to.

I replied:
Actually, we all could whirl chaotically if we, as some of our fellow Christian communities are now doing, reversed some of the core teachings found in the deposit of faith (for 2,000 years) as found in Tradition and Scripture. Indeed, I do not think we will whirl chaotically and abandon the Faith as it has been defended, refined, and handed down. That is why I thank God that the teaching Magisterium gives us this guidance… often in the face of serious pressure from society to change its teachings to better suit what they determine to be “the sign of the times” (I could see some Enlightenment Catholics saying that the sign of the times deemed that it was high time to reinterpret the Gospel accounts of the miracles and even Jesus’ resurrection, the Arians would have suggested that the sign of the times was that Jesus was not fully divine; the Donatists would have said that the sign of the times dictated that Christians who were baptized by bishops who later apostacized, needed to be re-baptized, etc.)… certainly the sign of the times points to the need to reassess our teaching on human cloning… after all, what do we know about the definition of human life, we are "only babies who cannot yet eat steak"?

On who interprets the sign of the times, Luis wrote:

Regarding who interprets the signs of the times, it is the church [of] Christ, the *entire* church (i.e., the sense of the faithful), not only the Vatican.

I replied:
I agree with you there—it is the entire Church that interprets the sign of the times. However, when you bring up the sensus fidei (sense of the faithful) you sure bring up an ambiguous concept. How does Vatican II's Lumen Gentium define the sense of the faithful:

“The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office… The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when ‘FROM THE BISHOPS to the last of the faithful’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, GUIDED BY THE SACRED TEACHING AUTHORITY (MAGISTERIUM), AND OBEYING IT, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf. 1 Th 2:13). … The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”

I must admit, I do not fully understand what the sensus fidei means. I have long wanted to make a study of it. Does it just mean that the laity participate in the infallibility of the Church through passive acceptance of the teaching of the Magisterium (surely, it must mean more than that)? But how do we consider the sense of the faithful when they are detached from the Magisterium through either ignorance of its teachings or outright hostility and close-minded defiance and rebellion (for example, was the Protestant Reformation with all of its accompanying heresies an expression of the sensus fidei given all the laity that followed Luther)?

And yet, people appeal to the sensus fidei in the issue of artificial contraception as well… 80% of Catholics, they say, disagree with Church teaching. And yet, after personally reading Humanae Vitae and the other recent papal documents on marriage and the family, after observing the effect of contraception on society, marriage, and the family…I am so certain that this 80% are DEAD WRONG! (and it required Pope Paul to stand his ground and courageously say NO to daunting wave of opinion that said he should reverse Church teaching). Many younger men and women of my generation do not have the same cultural baggage that prevented the previous generation from actually reading Humanae Vitae and studying the issue. Many of the them are coming to this same conclusion as I did (look how popular the theology of the body is becoming among a core of young practicing catholics).

Of course, how do we determine what IS the sense of the faithful? Do we rely on polls? Do we count those Catholics who are not practicing their faith, or who have never even read Humanae Vitae, or who have never even attempted to understand WHY the Church teaches a certain doctrine, or who have never tried to live in accordance with that teaching (actually relying on grace)? I think that if we left those people out of the equation, then the sense of the faithful would read a little differently on that issue.

Again, I do not mean to get off topic, but Humanae Vitae is a classic example of how difficult it is to determine and rely on the vague notion of the sense of the faithful. In the column on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae the author (not sure, perhaps it was you?) stated that “the encyclical was an authoritarian (and futile) exercise in telling married couples when to use (and when not to use) the ‘pill’ and other methods of artificial birth control. It thereby invaded the sacred space of personal conscience for single and married people alike.” If this is a conclusion of the sense of the faithful, then I cannot trust it. I disagree—this is NOT a violation of people’s consciences. The Church has not only the authority but the obligation to teach and clarify to the flock the meaning of the sacred nuptial act in the context of Holy Matrimony—that is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! As a lay person, I deserve to hear the truth about that (especially when trends in society threaten the truth). Much like the sensus fidei, “conscience” is also sometimes appealed to in such a way that it is divorced from authentic formation in the teaching of the Church (the Catechism warns about this false notion of an autonomy of conscience—see Catechism of the Catholic Church #1792).

Indeed, I believe that the Church does not have the authority to admit women to holy orders… and I have many friends (male and female) who share the same belief… are we not to be included in the sense of the faithful? You write of the sense of the faithful as if the laity are monolithic on this issue...and united in their opposition with “the Vatican.” Why do you presume that the sense of the faithful necessarily contradicts what the Pope and bishops teach on this matter? Note, also, that the sensus fidei as defined in Lumen Gentium presumes that the faithful are “guided by the sacred teaching authority, and obeying it”… if people begin with the presumption that the magisterium is misinterpreting Sacred Scripture, and that Sacred Tradition is utterly unreliable on this issue (because it is marred by misogyny), …indeed, when there is an openly hostile and adversarial attitude taken toward the magisterium (“just the teaching of old men at the Vatican”) then how can we say that the sense of the faithful is truly at work.

So, if I appeal more often to the teachings of the bishops and the Holy See (the “Vatican” designates the political unit of the city state) than to the sense of the faithful it is because the latter is far more easily defined (synods convene, documents are published, etc.). I do not mean to deny the role of the faithful in determining the sign of the times… but it is a thorny question, because the faithful are not monolithic… and how do we know what they believe?... as I said, polls are insufficient and superficial. And, like I said, I am part of the faithful as well, and I dispute your interpretation of the sign of the times.

Luis continued:
Also, may I suggest we keep this dialogue focused on the ordination of women. The church has a long way to go in understanding all aspects of human sexuality -- but we know that a man is a man, a woman is a woman, there is man in woman, there is woman in man, and both men and women are human .... and Jesus was *human* (John 1:14).

I replied:
Well, actually, you are the one who brought up the question of what the Church taught about slavery… and also, when the Church first defined that women share equal dignity as men. These are big and complicated historical questions, but I tried to engage those issues when they related to the main topic at hand.

However, I do not think that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality are entirely off the topic at all. As I said [see post 5.3], if I follow your line of argument that men and women have only a superficial physical/genital difference, then this would affect other moral teachings. It would follow, for example, that two men should be able to be joined in Holy Matrimony, … sexual reassignment surgeries would also be morally justifiable. After all, the sex that God created an individual with would be entirely arbitrary, just a matter of physical plumbing… it would have no real significance.

In addition, if you look at the major organizations that are proponents of women’s ordination, many of them also have a parallel agenda that argues in favor of redefining the moral character of homosexual acts and homosexual unions, artificial contraception, and sometimes even “women’s choice” in the procuring of an abortion (the following is an article on a recent demonstration of support for abortion workers by clergy from the United Methodist and the United Church of Christ:

I personally suspect that this is because their understanding of the Christian faith is heavily influence by what I would term radical feminism. I do not mean to harp on these moral issues, I just bring them up because they are the clearest evidence of how some Christians are trying to change traditional Christian teaching in order to better accord with modern social opinions. There is an authentic Christian feminism out there, but if it results in promoting things that harm and kill women (like abortion or contraception), then that ain’t it.

Once again, your assumption about the sacrament of holy orders is that, if someone was redeemed by Jesus Christ then they necessarily should be able to image him in the specific sacramental administration of the sacraments—WHY? Once again, Holy Orders does not confer justification, it does not give any necessary grace in the way that baptism does. If God ordained that only men receive the sacrament, then that is His divine logic… even though we might not totally know why (remember, we are just babies after all). The Church just says that it has not the authority to do otherwise then what is found in the deposit of faith (via Scripture and Tradition).

Church Councils have made specific definitions of the divine and human nature of Christ and of the divine and human wills of Christ. Should we suspect a future Council to decided that matter of whether Christ had “woman in him” because Jung’s psychology suggests that it would be the case? Again, I need an explanation of what is meant by his theory…. Is it backed up by serious metaphysics, or is it fad psychology?


I wrote that if Jesus taught that women should be able to receive Holy Orders, and that that was the will of God (which he would have presumably communicated to the apostles at some point), then the apostles and succeeding bishops would have betrayed Jesus (for 2000 years) by not continuing this teaching. Luis wrote in reply:

Perhaps betrayal is the wrong word, because it sounds judgemental. It
is more like the situation Jesus anticipates in Jn 16:12-14.

I don't see why -- 2000 years for us is like 2 seconds for the Holy
Spirit, who must be patient because sin and prejudice make our minds
obtuse to most treasures already contained in the deposit of faith.

I replied:

I think that the presumption that the apostles and succeeding bishops suppressed the truth because of their own chauvinism is already judgmental. Once again, I think that applying
John 16—that the Spirit will lead the Church into all truth—to this issue is illogical. 2,000 years may be like 2 seconds for the Holy Spirit, but it would still be the case that the Holy Spirit allowed one of the 7 sacraments to denied to half of the Church’s population for 2,000 years.

The Church wrestled over other issues concerning the sacraments—such as what age baptism and confirmation should be administered, who should administer Confirmation, when Holy Communion should first be received, the structure of the Eucharistic liturgy, Holy Matrimony legislation, etc. But, never did it question the sex of those who should receive Holy Orders.

I would say that if Jesus clearly taught that women should not be excluded from Holy Orders, and the apostles and succeeding bishops received that teaching (orally, at least), but then allowed themselves to ignore it because of prejudice… then that would qualify as a very serious betrayal. If it was a teaching that Jesus made clear to the apostles, and they suppressed it… that is more than John 16 can account for. That would be more like the gates of hell overcoming the Church. Not only that, but the entire body of Eastern Orthodox churches—despite their differences in theology and culture—also managed to suppress this truth!

I stated the fact that Church councils explicitly deny the existence of women deacons and priests [Councils of Nicea—325 and Laodicea—360, which use the terms”deaconesses”, “presbyteress” and “priestesses”]. To this Luis wrote:

Again, the use of the terms "presbyteress" and "priestesses" indicates
that their understanding of Christian women priests was nonexistent.

I reply:

Precisely. How could they have an understanding of women priests when they do not exist. If an “understanding of women priests” means women who were validly ordained as deacons or priests then they do understand this hypothetical notion. It is just that they reject the notion. That canon from Nicea states: "Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity." So, they mention the existence of women deacons—but make clear that they are not deacons in the sense of ordained sacramental ministers (clergy). On the contrary, they are members of the laity. So, both Councils seem to understand the idea of ordained women clergy… but they reject the possibility.

Regarding how the admittance of women to Holy Orders could be an organic and authentic development of the Church's doctrine on the sacrament (I argued that it could NOT be), Luis wrote:

By "further development" I mean coming to a mind that the genital
plumbing of Jesus is not normative for ordination to the diaconate,
priesthood, or episcopate. What is normative is that he became human,
not that he became male. We simply have to get over the traditional
phallocentrism that most religions share. This is not a 180 degree
change. It is simply to keep going along the straight and narrow path,
shedding both new and old distortions of the faith.

I replied:
It is a 180 degree change in Church teaching to say that "the Church has no authority"… and then that "the Church has the authority…" OR "the male sex is an important part of imaging Christ in the sacrament of Holy Orders" and then "the male sex is not an important part…"
It is strange for a religion so steeped in phallocentrism to give its highest veneration (hyperdulia) to a woman saint (the Blessed Virgin Mary). It is strange for a religion so steeped in phallocentrism to entrust the teaching of its young males to the teaching authority of so many female religious sisters. The Catholic Church is not exactly the Taliban.

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Do You Trust the Church?: A Cnoversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.3)

NOTE: This is part 5 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

Does the Church's teaching that women possess full human dignity stretch back only to the 1980's?

"The issue of the dignity of women is addressed precisely because recent trends in society had called this into question."--CPDT

Luis claimed that the Church has only recently come to the conclusion that women were not sub-human. I made the point that the Church has always affirmed the dignity of women—most clearly in the life of the Church itself (the fact that women were immediately baptized; that women saints and martyrs were immediately venerated, that women played important roles in the religious life, etc….).

To this Luis wrote:

Untrue. The first official acknowledgement was "Mulieres dignitatem" (1988). And again, it was about acknowledging the dignity of women as human persons, while still making clear that their dignity does not include the dignity of the ministerial priesthood.

To this I replied:

I have only previously skimmed portions of John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter “Mulieres Dignitatem”

...So I read some more. You tell me Mulieris Dignitatem included the Church’s first declaration of the dignity of women. Once again, I am no historical theologian, but just off the bat I would say that your facts are wrong. The first two paragraphs detail recent discussions of women’s dignity—including the documents of Vatican II, and the works of Pope John XXIII and Paul VI (do you contend that these citations do NOT teach that women have human dignity in the eyes of the Church?):

"1. THE DIGNITY AND THE VOCATION OF WOMEN - a subject of constant human and Christian reflection - have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling".1 This Message sums up what had already been expressed in the Council's teaching, specifically in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes [49] and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem.3

Similar thinking had already been put forth in the period before the Council, as can be seen in a number of Pope Pius XII's Discourses 4 and in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII.5 After the Second Vatican Council, my predecessor Paul VI showed the relevance of this "sign of the times", when he conferred the title "Doctor of the Church" upon Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Catherine of Siena,6 and likewise when, at the request of the 1971 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he set up a special Commission for the study of contemporary problems concerning the "effective promotion of the dignity and the responsibility of women".7 In one of his Discourses Paul VI said: "Within Christianity, more than in any other religion, and since its very beginning, women have had a special dignity, of which the New Testament shows us many important aspects...; it is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear".8"

I would add that the fact that women have equal dignity and rights is affirmed in Paul VI’s 1971 apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens (#13), Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (#19), and Pope John Paul II’s 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (#22-23). The first two documents were written as reflections on the Church’s social teachings with a specific focus on human labor rights. Familiaris Consortio, of course, was written to address the role of the Christian family. The topic of the dignity of women came up in these documents, even though this was not the central point of the documents nor the primary reason for their being written. The issue of the dignity of women is addressed precisely because recent trends in society had called this into question (by exploiting women in the work force, and the rise of both a male chauvinism and a radical feminism that could not balance woman’s right to participation in public life with her central role in the family). Even Mulieres Dignitatem, itself, was written in the wake of a synod of bishops and in light of a recent Marian year. Of course, I also believe that it was written in response to the modern errors of radical feminism.

With just a little more research, I was able to scare up some other references to the dignity of women:

Papal Directives for the Woman of Today: Allocution of Pope Pius XII to the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women's Leagues, Rome, Italy, September 11, 1947 [

“Catholic women and girls, formerly you would have thought only of worthily playing your sacred and fruitful role in the management of a wholesome, strong, and radiant home; or you would have consecrated your life to the service of God in the composure of the cloister or in apostolic and charitable works. Beautiful ideals, where woman, in her proper place, and from her proper place, exercises quietly a powerful influence. But now you appear abroad, you enter the arena to take part in the battle…

…Towards the center converge all the rays of activity of woman in her social and political life, an activity of which the object is above all else, to protect the dignity of the daughter, of the wife, of the mother; to preserve the home, the family, the child in their primordial order; to safeguard the rights of the family, and make all efforts bear toward the safekeeping of the child under the guardianship of his parents. … We had pointed out the menacing dangers, and We then referred especially to what might be called the secularization, the materialization, the enslavement of woman, all the attacks directed against her dignity and rights as a person and as a Christian.”

Read Pope Pius XII’s 1954 encyclical on consecrated virginity Sacra Virginitatis
] and tell me that he is not assuming the Christian dignity of women.

In paragraph #69 he argues that women have a right to leave their families and pursue the consecrated life despite parental opposition (sounds like a right accorded to someone with human dignity to me), he acknowledges the heroics of consecrated women who were facing current persecution, and he extols the virtues of the many canonized married women saints. Pargraph #70 is interesting, as well (showing the unique spiritual priesthood of consecrated virginity):

“Let parents consider what a great honor it is to see their son elevated to the priesthood, or their daughter consecrate her virginity to her Divine Spouse. In regard to consecrated virgins, the Bishop of Milan [Ambrose] writes, "You have heard, parents, that a virgin is a gift of God, the oblation of parents, the priesthood of chastity. The virgin is a mother's victim, by whose daily sacrifice divine anger is appeased." (70).”

(One does not need to exercise sacramental priesthood in order to have Christian dignity [see post 5.1].)

Pope Pius XI’s encyclical On Christian Marriage, Casti Connubbi states:

“Finally, but especially, the dignity and position of women in civil and domestic society is reinstated by the former [the indissolvability of marriage]; while by the latter [divorce] it is shamefully lowered and the danger is incurred "of their being considered outcasts, slaves of the lust of men."”
(see also paragraph 74 which argues that obedience towards husband is not unworthy of human dignity—thus presuming that women have human dignity).

Pope Pius XI’s 1926 encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico) [
] does not explicitly mention the dignity of women, but considering how often it highlights the courageous role of women in the resistance (#16, 20, 27), I would safely say the document (like so many others) presumes that fact.

Pope Gregory XVI’s 1840 encyclical “On the Propagation of the Faith” Probe Nostis:

“Likewise a source of joy to the Catholic world, and a wonder to nonCatholics, are the many widespread sodalities of pious women. Under the rule of St. Vincent de Paul or in association with other approved Institutes, they are remarkable in their practice of the Christian virtues. They devote themselves entirely either to saving women from the way of perdition, or to training girls in religion, solid piety and the tasks suited to their state in life, or to relieving the dire want of their neighbors with every assistance. No natural weakness of their sex or fear of any danger holds them back.” (#9)

Despite that concluding expression that smacks of chauvinism today (though, women do have a comparative natural weakness with regard to physical strength), Gregory notes with pride how those women excelled in Christian virtue (which is the declaration that the Church makes every time it canonizes a woman saint)… and that this was even remarkable to non-Catholics. Once again, he considers the dignity of women as a given.

That was the result of me just doing a search with the term “women” on the papal encyclopedia website ( To do justice to the historical question of magisterial pronouncements on the status of women would require more research than I have the time to do at this moment (though it is something I would like to continue).

Of course, throughout the history of the Church, wherever the Church affirmed the dignity of humankind made in God’s image—the Church implicitly affirmed the dignity of women (again, which is why women were baptized and viewed as man’s equal in the veneration of the saints).

As an aside: An interesting article that discusses the human errors (chauvinism) of theologians can be found at:
... the author makes a good point that, despite Thomas Aquinas’ flawed statement about the male sex being more noble, he also defended the dignity of women in a way that was unprecedented for its time.

You write that Mulieres Dignitatem teaches that woman’s “dignity does not include the dignity of the ministerial priesthood.” Once again, why is the exercise of the ministerial priesthood a prerequisite for Christian dignity? I would like a theological argument, and not a sociological argument (i.e. glass ceilings, etc.).
I wrote that Jesus continually challenged cultural prejudices about women that were current in his day… why, then, would he hold back his teaching or truncate the Gospel by being hush about who can receive Holy Orders? In response, Luis wrote:

John 16:12-14 -- "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Do you feed steak to a baby? No, because the baby will get an indigestion. The apostles were babies, Chris; and, 2000 years later, so are we.

I replied:
We are such babies that for 2,000 years God permitted women to be excluded from one of the 7 sacraments even though it was his will that they receive this sacrament.. merely because we couldn’t handle it? Again, I asked “what was the ‘ignorance and prejudice that [Jesus] could not handle in his mission to the Jews’ ”? You did not answer that question. Again, I think that this line of reasoning is illogical. Simply quoting John 16 can be applied to justify ANY reversal of doctrine (as is the current practices among some of the mainline Protestant denominations). This also comes back to the question of who defines what the sign of times dictates (and within that, whose voice speaks for the laity… for women, etc.?—when we know there is a diversity of opinion).

I wrote that the personal misconceptions of individual theologians (such as Aquinas) concerning the female nature can coexist along side the valid theological principles whereby only men are ordained (because only men can sacramentally image Christ who was a man). To this, Luis replied:

The fact that Jesus was male is only of secondary importance. The important thing is that Jesus was a human being. At the incarnation, he assumed human nature, and this include to be either male or female; else, he would not have been "like us in all things but sin." What is not assumed is not redeemed ... so we are back at the contradiction that women can be baptized but cannot be ordained.

I replied:
Yes, he assumed a human nature… but he also took on the nature of a male, more specifically. It all comes down to the question of whether being male or female has any meaning in God’s eyes … or is it just, as you say, a matter of genital plumbing. When I read Genesis 1-2 (note: the man and the woman receive some different consequences for the Fall…they are different yet complementary—the man must cling to the woman), when I consider the female heroes of the Old Testament, when I read the writings of St. Paul about husbands and wives, when I read the theology of the body, it seems like the distinction between women and men is not arbitrary… that God intended different gifts to be found in men and women and that these gifts are to be complementary.

Your argument can also be taken to affirm holy matrimony between two men or two women (as some Christian denominations now do). Jesus assumed a human nature, and so redeemed all of human nature. However, it does not necessarily follow that all who are redeemed and justified must necessarily be able to receive the sacrament of holy orders.

Holy Orders empowers one to act in the person of Christ in the very specific sacramental administration of the sacraments… it does not grant any graces necessary for salvation (as baptism does). It does not restore sanctifying grace or result in the remittance of sin (as does Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick). Baptism is a more fundamental sacrament as it is necessary for salvation. Holy Orders, like Holy Matrimony, is not. It is for this reason that when I was studying for the priesthood for some years, the restriction of holy orders to unmarried men did not bother me. As great as holy matrimony is, my dignity as a human being and as a Christian does not require that I receive this sacrament. So, these two sacraments (baptism and holy orders) are not exactly on the same level. I see no necessary contradiction between being able to baptize women but nor ordain them.


I wrote that misconceptions by individual theologians does not mean that prejudice is at the root of the millennium of Sacred Tradition that preceded him and, more importantly, began with Jesus Christ and the apostles.

Luis replied:

Yes it does, because they thought that men and women were mutually complementary *and* mutually exclusive. Now we know better. We know that men and women are mutually exclusive (physically) only at the genital level, and perhaps some psychological traits which exhibit wide
variability. We also know (since Carl Jung) that there is man in woman and there is woman in man. This is not a theory or a hypothesis, but a scientific fact established by tons of clinical evidence.

I replied:
What is this clinical evidence?... because I do not even know what exactly is meant by the hyposthesis that “there is man in woman and woman in man”… you have obviously studied this question and I have not… so you have to explain to me precisely what is meant by this assertion. What is meant by the “man” that is in woman and vice versa… how is it explained? You only mentioned anima and animus to me… and if these are psychological or philosophical terms then I admit that I am unfamiliar and would need them explained. I still would hold to the fact that there are essential differences between men and women that complement one another, and that these differences have theological significance (since God created us this way). Does the fact that only women can cooperate with God in co-creation through the specific and intimate process of child birth have NO theological/anthropological meaning? In the same manner, does that biological fact diminish the dignity of men (are men mere inseminators)?

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Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (Part 5.2)

NOTE: This is part 5.2 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

Has the Church definitively settled the matter?; what authority and dignity do women have in the eyes of the Church?

"Church authority as depicted in Scripture is hierarchical—however distasteful and scandalous that may seem to us modern Westerners."--CPDT

Regarding whether the matter of the male-only priesthood has been defined definitively by the Church, Luis wrote:

“No council has defined the male-only priesthood as a dogma of the faith
either .... so it is an open issue .... but there is a gag order at the
moment not to discuss it .... why do we need a gag order to avoid facing
an open issue?”

I replied:

Again, these are your words: “the male-only priesthood… is an open issue.” In contrast, these are the Pope’s words: “…at the present time in some places it [the male-only priesthood] is nonetheless considered still open to debate … Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance …this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

You make a legalistic distinction between a “dogma of the faith” and something pertaining to the faith that is to be definitively held. I think this is a matter of splitting hairs. Clearly, this is a matter pertaining to the faith (central to the nature of the Church) that you do not definitively hold to.

Where is it written that the faithful are only to give their assent to defined dogmas and not to the other expressions of the Magisterium as it pronounces on faith and morals? The Vatican II Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium is instructive regarding the obligation of the faithful with regards to magisterial teaching on matters of faith and morals:

“This loyal submission of will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.” (LG#25)

By the way, the doctrine is formulated in an infallible manner (even if this is debatable, it is at least as strong as a teaching can be asserted given the language!) and is a doctrine that has been taught in the recent past with frequency (this was not the first time this doctrine was taught).

The Catholic Church has argued that slavery and the slave trade is immoral… although they did not define it as a “dogma of the faith”. If I seek to be an obedient and faithful Catholic am I free, in good conscience, to deny that teaching? (Some dissidents make the same argument about the clear teaching against artificial contraception: “it was not infallibly defined as a dogma so I can discard it!”)

Still, some theologians argue that Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis WAS infact exercising papal infallibility in this pronouncement:

See the following articles:
[Jeff Mirus:
and Fr. Peter Pilsner on the same issue:

I will quote from Jeff Mirus’ article:

“The operative paragraph in this short document is the final substantive paragraph, immediately preceding the Apostolic Blessing: ‘Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.’

Let us compare this with Vatican I's definition concerning the exercise of papal infallibility: ‘the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person of St. Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore irreformable because of their nature, but not because of the agreement of the Church.’ [First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ]

THE FOUR TESTS OF INFALLIBILIY: There are, clearly, four tests of infallibility: The Pope must be
(1) intending to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority (3) a matter of Faith or morals (4) to be held by the universal Church. ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ not only passes all four tests, but it is manifest that the Pope deliberately phrased the teaching to ensure that this would be obvious.”

In his analysis, Mirus draws the connections:
"1.) intending to teach: “I declare…” It is obvious from the context that he is teaching something, he is clarifying a part of the faith which some think is still subject to change. His objective in teaching is that "all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance”.

2.) by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority: “in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32)” (the chief scriptural passage cited in the Official Relatio on Infallibility presented by Bishop Vincent Gasser to the bishops at I Vatican Council).

3.) a matter of faith or morals: “regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself”
4.) to be held by the universal Church: "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.” Incidentally, dogmas are to be held by the universal church… with mere disciplines (such as priestly celibacy) is not always to be held by all (e.g. – Eastern rite priests, some Anglican/Lutheran converts in the West).

Some might claim that the Pope is not using a precise formula for an infallible dogmatic pronouncement (or that it is not in the right form of papal document). Mirus notes:

“Once we understand that it is the Pope and not the document that is infallible, a subtle shift in our perception occurs. Instead of looking for a particular linguistic formula in the text, and fearing that something may not be infallible if the "proper" formula is absent, we look in the text for language which indicates the Pope's intention. Does the language clearly indicate, by whatever words, that the Pope intends to teach by virtue of his supreme authority on a matter of faith or morals in such a way that binds the whole Church? If so, the Pope is exercising his prerogative of infallibility, and what he teaches is irreformable.”

Two other paragraphs are illuminating:

“Third, dogma is not limited to a prescribed body of information already defined. Rather, any point in the general body of Christian doctrine may become dogma by being irreformably defined. The process by which a doctrine is stated so precisely and authoritatively that it becomes irreformable is the process by which a doctrine develops into a dogma; the clearest culmination of this process is a formal dogmatic definition. Fourth and finally, the definition of infallibility at Vatican I does not limit infallibility to those extraordinary cases in which the Holy Father states he is formally defining a new dogma. Whether or not he would call Ordinatio Sacerdotalis a dogmatic definition, the Pope has stated infallibly a doctrine that has always been known, taught and believed by the great body of Catholic faithful--namely that the Church has no authority to ordain women. He has, in other words, irreformably formulated a proper understanding of a limitation on the authority of the Church.”

I realize, Luis, that you believe the male-only priesthood is a discipline and not a doctrine (indeed a discipline that was outrageously elevated to the level of doctrine by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis). However, show me some statement from the Church’s Magisterium or 2,000 years of Tradition that explicitly refers to or defines the male-only priesthood as a discipline. What clues do you find in the historical record that this was a discipline?

Regarding the question of whether the Church changed its teaching on slavery, Luis wrote:

“The slavery issue is certainly part of "faith and morals," and both go together.
One of the great debates in Europe after the discovery of America was whether
or not the native Indians had souls and could be baptized. I imagine something
similar may have happened by blacks. I look forward to you educating me further on this.”

I replied:

I have tried to demonstrate in my recent email to you [to be posted soon] that it is false to claim that the Catholic Church (in a magisterial document) positively taught that chattel slavery and the slave trade were morally acceptable. On the contrary, I cited over a half dozen papal documents that taught that slavery and the slave trade was immoral. I do not know who was involved in such debates about the humanity of native Americans… I do not doubt that they occurred… but the question is what the Catholic Church explicitly and positively taught through the Magisterium.

I questioned where Luis finds “the official position of the church was that women were sub-human”? (Does he have a papal document or canon from a council that states this?... something besides scattered speculative musings from theologians?) I also asked why he would say that the Church taught that women were sub-human given the fact that they baptized women from the very beginning, canonized and venerated women saints, supported and partnered with women religious in missionary endeavors, etc. Luis singled out the point about women being baptized and wrote:

Excellent question, which now we see as an obvious contradiction; again, it has more to do with resistance to having women in roles of religious authority, and very little to do with sacramental theology.

I replied:

How do you back this assertion up? The Church cites sacramental theology and the precedents of Scripture and Tradition in its explanation of the teaching. See above [post 5.1] for the argument that the ability to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders does not necessarily follow from baptism (any more than the necessity to marry follows from baptism).

Regarding the fact that women exercise tremendous authority and power in virtue of their holiness and their vocations which are essential to the mission of the Church, Luis wrote:

All the cases you mention retain religious authority 100% in male hands.
Influnce, yes; authority, no.

I replied:

Holy and influential women certainly do exercise tremendous moral authority (they have also historically held teaching positions—which is a form of authority). You seem to limit “religious authority” to juridical administrative authority and authority to teach (as bishops, and in councils, etc.). I would also note that a woman superior also exercises hierarchical “religious authority” in shepherding her order—which includes administration, legislation, and shaping the spirituality and apostolate of the order. Women sometimes serve as the chancellor of a diocese or on the marriage tribunal. Women have for some time now had important roles in the various curia offices.

You are right, however, women do not exercise another kind of hierarchical authority which is the jurisdiction of the pope, bishops, and pastors of the Church (authority exercised over an entire body of laity). This, I think, is the root of the problem. My question to you is: what if women were pastors, bishops, and popes? Wouldn’t these women teach the same things as have always been taught (by male bishops) as they would be guided by the Holy Spirit? Or, would women—by virtue of the fact that they are women—decide to teach other things? Would women teach something differently about the moral character assigned to homosexual acts? Would they teach that abortion or artificial contraception was morally acceptable? I know that you say these are not the issue at hand… but, when I skim through a list of organizations that support women’s ordinations, I see more than a few of them have an agenda that desires changes in current Church teachings.

What I believe is at root is a desire for the “democratic” model of Church authority: everyone is represented, everyone gets a chance to lobby for “their” preferred teaching. We see this in the Episcopal Church with its “house of deputies” (composed of laity and clergy) so as to give everyone a voice. This democratic vision of Church magisterium has led to many false teachings and the tearing down of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition in my mind. Church authority as depicted in Scripture is hierarchical—however distasteful and scandalous that may seem to us modern Westerners. The argument for women’s ordination seems to be about power/gender politics, having a voice, and a “seat at the table.”

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