Saturday, July 16, 2016

On Vacation

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Carmel. It also happens to be my birthday, as well as the first day of my children's summer vacation. I shall be taking some time off - perhaps as much as a few weeks - to spend with my family, to refocus my prayer life, and to decompress from the recent events in the Church and the world. If you've enjoyed and/or benefited from this little blog-shaped effort, please consider saying a short prayer for its editor, a sinner.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Last week, the good people at OnePeterFive were gracious enough to publish an article I wrote entitled Pornography and the Prophet: Islam, Feminism and the Myth of the "Willing Whore." In the article, I discuss the very real threat that unregulated immigration from Muslim countries represents to European women. If you haven't read it, you can do so here.

I admit that, after having done a fair amount of research for the article, I have become more sensitive to the issue than I was before. But I don't go scouring the internet for stories which might substantiate my findings. Nonetheless, when they pop up in my news feed or Twitter timeline, I pass them along. Today, I started re-tweeting them with the hashtag #ShariaRape. This made me aware of just how many cases there are right now. These all appeared within the space of an hour:

I'm not a hashtag activist or whatever, I just decided to start indexing cases to make it easier to find them in the future. If you're on Twitter, please consider doing the same. If there is any kind of response, I might do a follow-up story in the future.

Christian Initiation in the Third Century

Reading N°56 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

In the third century, initiation into the Christian life was by Baptism, preceded by the catechumenate, and immediately followed by Confirmation and participation in the Holy Eucharist. When a pagan, disillusioned from the mysteries of his religion or touched by the courage of the martyrs or by the example of Christian virtues, comes to the bishop to ask for a share in the Christian mysteries, the bishop first makes him undergo a probation, vaguely mentioned by Hermas[1] and St. Justin,[2] clearly organized in the time of Tertullian,[3] and called the catechumenate. For several days, the postulant remains at the entrance to the Christian meeting during the celebration of the mysteries, for, right after the first prayers, the deacons exclude the catechumens. But the Church gives him instruction apart.[4] She then requires that he "renounce the devil and his pomp and his angels,"[5] that he prepare for the solemn initiation by prayer, fasting, vigils, and confession of his sins.[6] Such, at least, was the rule at Carthage, as described by Tertullian. He says that the Church is thus exacting with the candidate for Baptism in order to be assured that he will not fall back into sin once he is baptized.[7] The Church should be composed only of saints.

3rd century representation of Baptism
Catacomb of Ss. Marcellinus and Peter
Then comes the day of Baptism, "illumination," "reconciliation," "palingenesis" (new birth) as it is called.[8] Regularly the candidate is dipped three times in the water, in memory of Christ's burial; his threefold coming out of the water symbolizes the mystery of the Resurrection. At each immersion, the name of one of the three divine persons is pronounced.[9] In case of necessity, however, especially in case of sickness, Baptism was conferred by sprinkling or pouring. Some paintings of the third centtlry depict ceremonies which may go back to the end of the second century, showing the candidate standing in the baptistry, with the water reaching to his knees, and being sprinkled on the head.[10]

The days especially reserved for the initiation of the catechumens are the Saturday before Easter and the Saturday before Pentecost, but Tertullian declares that, strictly speaking, Baptism may be conferred on any Sunday or even on any ordinary day.[11]

When the baptismal ceremony is over, the new Christian is clothed in a white garment and introduced into the assembly of the faithful. The bishop, seated, presides at the meeting. The priests, at the bishop's side, and the deacons, whose duty it is to maintain order, are the only ones occupying places of honor. The rich are shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the freemen with the slaves. The newly initiated comes up to the bishop. The head of the Church, by the imposition of hands and anointing with holy chrism, confers on him the Sacrament of Confirmation, which makes him a perfect Christian and is looked upon as the complement of Baptism.[12]

At length the newly baptized is admitted to participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice. We have already given St. Justin's description of the principal ceremonies of this rite. Passages from Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and the canons of Hippolytus[13] enable us to complete the picture. From the middle of the second century, the "breaking of bread" is finally separated from the fraternal meal which accompanied it. The sacred function henceforth appears in all the purity of its rite, free from the abuses that so greatly afflicted St. Paul. We can easily imagille the neophyte's feeling when, for the first time, he was present at the mystery so long awaited.

3rd century representation of the Eucharist
Catacomb of Commodilla

A movement among the deacons and inferior ministers is a sign that the sacrifice is about to begin. Some go among the assembled faithful to see that each one stays in his proper place and to direct the liturgical acts; the others place on the altar the bread and the chalices prepared for the sacred repast.

"The Lord be with you all," says the bishop. "And with thy spirit," they respond. "Raise up your hearts," the bishop then says. To which they answer: "They are with the Lord." He continues: "It is fitting and just."

After several prayers, the chief of which is an invocation to the thrice holy God, the bishop, amid profound silence, slowly pronounces over the bread and wine the mysterious words first uttered by the Savior the night before He died. The mystery is consummated. Christ is on the altar, in the midst of His faithful, under the mystical veils of the consecrated elements. Again the prayer begins, more earnestly, addressed to the God here present, though invisible. Suddenly a deacon's voice cries out: "Sancta sanctis" (holy things are for the holy). "Amen," the people respond. The bishop receives communion, then the priests and deacons, and lastly all those present. The bishop lays the consecrated host in the communicant's right hand, which is open and held up by the left hand. The deacon holds the chalice, from which each one drinks directly. At each communion, the bishop says: "The body of Christ," and the deacon: "The blood of Christ." Each communicant responds "Amen."

When the communion is over, the deacon gives the signal for prayer. All pray, sometimes kneeling or even prostrate, in sign of humiliation and penance, sometimes standing up, with arms extended and the hands open like Jesus on the cross, to testify that they are ready to endure every suffering. Says Tertullian:
Thither [toward Heaven] we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed. [...] With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us - the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment.[14]


[1] Hermas, Visions, III, vii, 3.
[2] First Apology, 61.
[3] De praescr., 41. Tertullian's De poenitentia was addressed to catechumens.
[4] Idem, De baptismo, 1.
[5] Idem, De corona militis, 3.
[6] Idem, De baptismo, 20.
[7] Idem, De poenitentia, 6; De baptismo, 20.
[8] Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, I, 6.
[9] On the triple immersion, see Tertullian, Adversus Praxean, 26.
[10] De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, II, 334.
[11] Tertullian, De baptismo, 19.
[12] On Confirmation, see St. Irenaeus, Haereres, IV, xxxviii, 2; Tertullian, De baptismo, 7f; St. Cyprian, Letters, 73. The Sacrament of Confirmation is sometimes called consignatio.
[13] The authority of Tertullian and St. Cyprian is well known. As to the Canons of Hippolytus, Batiffol says, "we possess no more complete and explicit description of the institutions of the early Church: it is a document of the highest rank." (Anciennes littératures chrétiennes, p. 158.) Save for a few easily recognized retouchings, the Canons of Hippolytus agree admirably with whatever we know about the liturgy in use at the beginning of the third century. (Ibid.)
[14] Tertullian, Apol., 30.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Ghost of John XXII: Prelates, Clerics & Scholars Request Clarification of Amoris Laetitia

Pope John XXII
During a sermon delivered on Gaudete Sunday, AD 1329, Pope John XXII made a statement - repeated on the Feast of All Saints, AD 1331 - which the pious considered scandalously offensive and the learned deemed potentially heretical: that the souls of those who have died in Christ will not enjoy the beatific vision until after the general judgment at the end of days. The statement might have received less attention than it did had it been made at some other period in Church history. As it happened, however, the Second Council of Lyons had solemnly defined in 1274 that "the souls of those who, after having received holy baptism, have incurred no stain of sin whatever, also those souls who, after contracting the stain of sin, either while remaining in their bodies of being divested of them, have been cleansed [...] are received immediately into heaven." While Pope John XXII's statement was not a direct contradiction of this definition - he did not deny that the blessed departed enter heaven immediately upon death, but merely that they enjoy the vision of the Divine Essence prior to the Resurrection - it came close enough to a contradiction that it raised serious concerns among the faithful. Theologians felt duty-bound to respond, and in 1333 a number of them gathered in Paris to evaluate the question on its theological merits, concluding that the opinion of the pope was, in fact, erroneous. Though John XXII initially attempted to quell any opposition to his view, going so far as to have a Dominican, Thomas of England, thrown into prison for contradicting him, he was eventually brought to his senses and retracted his statement before his death in AD 1334. His successor, Pope Benedict XII, went on to effectively censor John XXII's opinion - uttered not as pope, but as a private theologian - as heresy in his 1336 dogmatic constitution Benedictus Deus.

While not a particularly glorious moment for the papacy of John XXII, this incident nonetheless represents a victory for the Church insofar as it underscores the fact that all Catholics - including the Pope - are bound to uphold the truth and eschew error, regardless of its source.

And it is a lesson which bears repeating.

It cannot be denied that, like John XXII, Pope Francis has a penchant for dropping theological bombs in his sermons. It was, for example, in a sermon that he accused the Blessed Virgin Mary of doubting God, of wanting to say "Lies! I was deceived!" as she looked upon her Son suffering on the Cross. Note that this was not some unfortunate slip of the tongue: he repeated the scandalous claim, almost verbatim, two years later in a talk given to a group of gravely ill children. Though it appears to directly contradict the certain teaching of the Church on the freedom of the Blessed Virgin from all personal sin, this is evidently what Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, believes and teaches. A century ago, such a statement would have been unthinkable, and had it been uttered, would have provoked widespread shock and vociferous objection. Today, such things are hardly noticed, and when some poor soul feels obliged to speak up, he's shouted down as an uncharitable troublemaker. After all, we're told, only the weak of faith are scandalized by such things.

Pope Francis has made so many statements which are offensive to pious ears that one has to wonder whether this is an integral part of his method of evangelization, i.e., to garner attention by making a statement which smacks of heresy but, upon close inspection, merely flirts with it without crossing the line.[1] Engaging in this kind of rhetoric has a three-fold effect: (1) it thrills the heretics who are already on their way out of the Church, suggesting to them that they should bide their time as the Magisterium is about to give in to their demands, (2) it provides just enough cover to enable moderate commentators to run interference for the Pope, maintaining the illusion that "everything is awesome," (3) and it frustrates the orthodox while simultaneously rendering them virtually powerless in their efforts to restore doctrinal and liturgical order: if they remain silent, they are seen as giving tacit approval to the implied heresy; if they speak up, they are reprimanded for impugning the impeccable orthodoxy of the Pope and fomenting a "schismatic mentality".

While many have grown tired of parsing the sloppy theology of the Pope's private sermons and disarming the pastoral zingers he regularly delivers at 30,000 feet, prelates and scholars have remained attentive to the official statements made by Pope Francis wherever they touch upon matters of faith and morals. As done retroactively with John XXII, Pope Francis has been given more or less carte blanche as a private theologian; it is when he speaks in his capacity as Supreme Pontiff that his words are held to the loftier standard of Tradition. Thus, when the Pope issued Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation which followed the 2014-15 Synod on the Family, his words came under an appreciable amount of careful scrutiny by cleric and scholar alike.

  • U.S. Jesuit James V. Schall has described key sections of Amoris Laetitia as "an exercise in sophisticated casuistry."
  • German philosopher Robert Spaemann remarked that "chaos has been turned into a principle with one stroke of a pen. The Pope should have known that he will split the Church with such a step and that he leads her into the direction of a schism - a schism that would be not at the periphery, but in the middle of the Church."
  • American professor of philosophy and theology Peter Kwasniewski noted that Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia poses "a serious problem in moral theology and contradicts not only Veritatis Splendor but the entire framework of Christian ethics that we see in the New Testament, in the [Church] Fathers, in St. Thomas, in [the Council of] Trent, wherever you look."
  • Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in response to an open letter from the president of American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Christopher A. Ferrara, noted: "In using our reason and in respecting the proper sense of the words, one can hardly interpret some expressions in Amoris Laetitia according to the holy immutable Tradition of the Church."
  • U.S. philosopher and former dean of the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America Jude P. Dougherty observed: "Authors and telecasters use [equivocation] when they are not sure of the facts. Politicians often employ it in creating legislation that subsequently permits freedom of contradictory interpretation by courts, regulators, and prosecutors. Pope Francis, who never speaks clearly, uses it to such an extent that in doctrinal matters what was certain before has become problematic."
  • Cardinal Carlo Caffarra recently remarked: "His Holiness realizes that the teachings of the Exhortation could give rise to confusion in the Church. Personally, I wish - and that is how so many of my brothers in Christ (cardinals, bishops, and the lay faithful alike) also think - that the confusion should be removed."

While each of these men is to be commended for speaking out, it is clear that, as individuals, they can accomplish very little in the way of moving Pope Francis to clarify the true intent behind the words of the Exhortation. Together, however, such critics might have a better chance. It is, therefore, unsurprising to learn that a group of prelates, clerics, scholars and professors have done just that.

A statement released by Dr. Joseph Shaw yesterday reads as follows:
A group of Catholic academics and pastors has submitted an appeal to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals in Rome, requesting that the Cardinals and Eastern Catholic Patriarchs petition His Holiness, Pope Francis, to repudiate a list of erroneous propositions that can be drawn from a natural reading of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. During the coming weeks this submission will be sent in various languages to every one of the Cardinals and Patriarchs, of whom there are 218 living at present. 
Describing the exhortation as containing “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals,” the signatories submitted, along with their appeal, a documented list of applicable theological censures specifying “the nature and degree of the errors that could be attributed to Amoris Laetitia.” 
Among the 45 signatories are Catholic prelates, scholars, professors, authors, and clergy from various pontifical universities, seminaries, colleges, theological institutes, religious orders, and dioceses around the world. They have asked the College of Cardinals, in their capacity as the Pope's official advisers, to approach the Holy Father with a request that he repudiate “the errors listed in the document in a definitive and final manner, and to authoritatively state that Amoris Laetitia does not require any of them to be believed or considered as possibly true.” 
“We are not accusing the pope of heresy,” said a spokesman for the authors, “but we consider that numerous propositions in Amoris Laetitia can be construed as heretical upon a natural reading of the text. Additional statements would fall under other established theological censures, such as scandalous, erroneous in faith, and ambiguous, among others.” 
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “According to the knowledge, competence, and expertise which they possess, they [the Christian faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful” (CIC, can. 212 §3). 
The thirteen-page document quotes nineteen passages in the exhortation which seem to conflict with Catholic doctrines. These doctrines include the real possibility with the grace of God of obeying all the commandments, the fact that certain kinds of act are wrong in all circumstances, the headship of the husband, the superiority of consecrated virginity over the married life, and the legitimacy of capital punishment under certain circumstances.  The document also argues that the exhortation undermines the Church's teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have made no commitment to continence cannot be admitted to the sacraments while they remain in that state. 
The spokesman said, “It is our hope that by seeking from our Holy Father a definitive repudiation of these errors we can help to allay the confusion already brought about by Amoris Laetitia among pastors and the lay faithful.  For that confusion can be dispelled effectively only by an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching by the Successor of Peter.”
In a subsequent clarification, Dr. Shaw revealed that, though the names of the 45 signatories have not been released to the public, they are attached to the document sent to Cardinal Sodano and will be known to all 218 Cardinals and Patriarchs of the Church. The reason for this anonymity appears to be less the fear of reprisal and more the fear of causing additional public scandal. As Dr. Shaw noted on Twitter:

It would be naive to assume that this action alone will move the Cardinals to make a formal petition to Pope Francis to repudiate any erroneous propositions contained in Amoris Laetitia. Nonetheless, it is a potentially significant step in that direction, particularly if it contains the request that Pope Francis provide "an unambiguous affirmation of authentic Catholic teaching." Admitting that the document contains error is one thing. Refusing to publicly confirm authentic Catholic teaching, on the other hand, is an altogether different matter. Pope Francis can easily avoid the former; the latter is much more difficult to avoid and, if done intentionally, can be used as evidence of obstinacy - something even Pope John XXII was careful to avoid.


[1] This is not unlike the popular "shocking statement" meme, of which there are literally thousands of iterations:

In modern parlance, one could say the Pope is "trolling" us.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Denial of Hell

Fourth in a Series on Hell

 Fr. François Xavier Schouppe, S.J.

There are some miserable men - let us rather say, fools - who, in the delirium of their iniquity, make bold to declare that they laugh at hell. They say so, but only with their lips; their consciences protest and give them the lie.

Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois
Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois, famous for his impiety as much as for is sanguinary ferocity, was the chief author of the massacres of Lyons in 1793; he caused the destruction of at least 1,600 individuals. Six years after, in 1799, he was banished to Cayenne, and used to give vent to his infernal rage by blaspheming the holiest things. The least act of religion became the subject of his jests. Having seen a soldier make the sign of the cross, "Imbecile!" he said to him. "You still believe in superstition! Do you not know that God, the Holy Virgin, Paradise, Hell, are the inventions of the accursed tribe of priests?" Shortly after, he fell sick and was seized by violent pains. In an access of fever he swallowed, at a single draught, a bottle of liquor. His disease increased; he felt as if burned by a fire that was devouring his bowels. He uttered frightful shrieks, called upon God, the Holy Virgin, a priest, to come to his relief. "Well, indeed," said the soldier to him, "you ask for a priest? You fear hell then? You used to curse the priests, make fun of hell! Alas!" He then answered: "My tongue was lying to my heart." Pretty soon, he expired, vomiting blood and foam.

The following incident happened in 1837. A young under-lieutenant, being in Paris, entered the Church of the Assumption, near the Toilers, and saw a priest kneeling near a confessional. As he made religion the habitual subject of his jokes, he wished to go to confession to while away the time, and went into the confessional. "Monsieur l'abbé," he said, "would you be good enough to hear my confession?" "Willingly my son; confess unrestrained." "But I must first say that I am a rather unique kind of a sinner." "No matter; the sacrament of penance has been instituted for all sinners." "But I am not very much of a believer in religious matters." "You believe more than you think." "Believe? I? I am a regular scoffer." The confessor saw with whom he had to deal, and that there was some mystification. He replied, smiling: "You are a regular scoffer? Are you then making fun of me, too?" The pretended penitent smiled in like manner. "Listen," the priest went on, "what you have just done here is not serious. Let us leave confession aside; and, if you please, have a little chat. I like military people greatly; and, then, you have the appearance of a good, amiable youth. Tell me, what is your rank?" "Under-lieutenant." "Will you remain an under-lieutenant long?" "Two, three, perhaps four years." "And after?" "I shall hope to become a lieutenant?" "And after?" "I hope to become a captain." "And after?" "Lieutenant-colonel?" "How old will you be then?" "Forty to forty-five years." "And after that?" "I shall become a brigadier general." "And after?" "If I rise higher, I shall be general of a division." "And after?" "After! there is nothing more except the Marshal's baton; but my pretensions do not reach so high." "Well and good. But do you intend to get married?" "Yes, when I shall be a superior officer." "Well! There you are married; a superior officer, a general, perhaps even a French marshal, who knows? And after?" "After? Upon my word, I do not know what will be after."
"See, how strange it is!" said the abbé. Then, in a tone of voice that grew more sober: "You know all that shall happen up to that point, and you do not know what will be after. Well, I know, and I am going to tell you. After, you shall die, be judged, and, if you continue to live as you do, you shall be damned, you shall go and burn in hell; that is what will be after."

As the under-lieutenant, dispirited at this conclusion, seemed anxious to steal away: "One moment, sir," said the abbé. "You are a man of honor. So am I. Agree that you have offended me, and owe me an apology. It will be simple. For eight days, before retiring to rest, you will say: 'One day I shall die; but I laugh at the idea. After my death I shall be judged; but I laugh at the idea. After my judgment, I shall be damned; but I laugh at the idea. I shall burn forever in hell; but I laugh at the idea!' That is all. But you are going to give me your word of honor not to neglect it, eh?" More and more wearied, and wishing, at any price, to extricate himself from this false step, the under-lieutenant made the promise. In the evening, his word being given, he began to carry out his promise. "I shall die," he says. "I shall be judged." He had not the courage to add: "I laugh at the idea." The week had not passed before he returned to the Church of the Assumption, made his confession seriously, and came out of the confessional his face bathed with tears, and with joy in his heart.

A young person who had become an unbeliever in consequence of her dissipation, kept incessantly shooting sarcasm at religion, and making jests of its most awful truths. "Juliette," some one said to her one day, "this will end badly. God will be tired of your blasphemies, and you shall be punished." "Bah," she answered insolently. "It gives me very little trouble. Who has returned from the other world to relate what passes there?" Less than eight days after she was found in her room, giving no sign of life, and already cold. As there was no doubt that she was dead, she was put in a coffin and buried. The following day, the grave-digger, digging a new grave beside that of the unhappy Juliette, heard some noise, it seemed to him that there was a knocking in the adjoining coffin. At once, he puts his ear to the ground, and in fact hears a smothered voice, crying out: "Help! help!" The authorities were summoned; by their orders, the grave was opened, the coffin taken up and unnailed. The shroud is removed; there is no further doubt, Juliette was buried alive. Her hair, her shroud were in disorder, and her face was streaming with blood. While they are releasing her, and feeling her heart to be assured that it still beats, she heaves a sigh, like a person for a long time deprived of air; then she opens her eyes, makes an effort to lift herself up, and says: "My God, I thank thee." Afterward, when she had got her senses well back, and by the aid of some food, recovered her strength, she added: "When I regained consciousness in the grave and recognized the frightful reality of my burial, when after having uttered shrieks, I endeavored to break my coffin, and struck my forehead against the boards, I saw that all was useless; death appeared to me with all its horrors; it was less the bodily than the eternal death that frightened me. I saw I was going to be damned. My God, I had but too well deserved it! Then I prayed, I shouted for help, I lost consciousness again, until I awoke above ground. O, goodness of my God!" she said, again shedding tears, "I had despised the truths of faith; thou hast punished me, but in thy mercy, I am converted and repentant."

They who deny hell will be forced to admit it soon; but alas! it will be too late.

[The following video contains a Lenten retreat sermon delivered by a traditional Catholic priest on the subject of Heaven and Hell.]

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Hierarchy in the Third Century

Reading N°55 in the History of the Catholic Church

 Fr. Fernand Mourret, S.S.

While Christian apologetics was speaking in tones of confidence, the Church was enjoying comparative freedom. The last six years of Emperor Commodus and the first nine years of Septimius Severus were a time of peace. She profited thereby to develop her hierarchical, sacramental, and liturgical institutions, to complete the organization of Church property, to promote the study of theology, and to give a new impulse to her Apostolic expansion. We have now reached the point where we should take a general view of this internal activity of the Church. And then we shall have to resume the story of her struggles against persecution and heresy.

(l. to r.) Priest, Bishop and Deacon
from the Raganaldus Sacramentary, c. AD 845

Tertullian's works show us the Church as an essentially graded society. The laity are subject to the deacons and priests, and all owe obedience to the bishop. No longer is there any mention of the presbyterial council. The monarchical episcopate is established everywhere. The lists of bishops which the historian Hegesippus gives in the middle of the second century leave no doubt on this point. The bishop's authority comes from the fact that he is the depositary of Apostolic authority, handed down to him through an uninterrupted series of bishops connected with the Apostles. Unlike the Apostles, the bishop has a limited territory, first called a "parish," later a "diocese."

The first bishops were chosen and instituted by the Apostles; but at an early date it became the custom to nominate bishops by election. When a see became vacant, the lower clergy of the diocese met and elected one of their number, after obtaining from the people a good testimony in favor of the candidate. Then they presented this candidate to the bishops of the neighborhood, who assembled in the principal city of the vacant diocese to preside at the election and to give canonical institution to the bishop-elect. The documents of the second century and of the early third show us the bishop administering his diocese in complete independence of the lower clergy. Yet in many instances he takes counsel of them and sometimes even asks the advice of the people.

Simple priests and deacons, unlike bishops, are promoted to Orders only upon the good testimony of the people. They can exercise no function without the approval of the bishop who ordained them; in case of serious fault, they can be deposed by the bishop. They are his helpers in the work of instructing the faithful and in the administration of the Sacraments. At the meetings of the Christian community, they take their places around the bishop - as it were, his crown. While the episcopal see is vacant, they assume charge of the administration of the diocese and render an account of their administration to the new bishop.

The duties of deacons are: to preach, baptize, and - under the bishop's control - to administer the property of the Church, to serve the bishop at the altar, to announce the meetings of the faithful, to maintain order, to receive the offerings of the faithful and to divide them among the poor.

Virginity, so earnestly recommended by St. Paul and exemplified by the Savior, His blessed Mother, and the Apostle St. John, is the ideal which the faithful, and especially the clergy, endeavor to approach. But as yet it is not made obligatory upon the clergy by any positive rule. The imperial laws forbidding celibacy placed too great an obstacle in the way of recruiting the clergy if celibacy were made a strict obligation. The only requirement is that, following the precept of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:7 ff; Acts 20:34) the candidate for the clerical state be not twice married.


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Monday, July 4, 2016

Apparitions of the Damned

Third in a Series on Hell

 Fr. François Xavier Schouppe, S.J.

St. Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, relates in his writings a terrible fact which, about the middle of the fifteenth century, spread fright over the whole North of Italy. A young man of good stock, who, at the age of 16 or 17, had had the misfortune of concealing a mortal sin in confession, and, in that state, of receiving Communion, had put off from week to week, month to month, the painful disclosure of his sacrileges. Tortured by remorse, instead of discovering with simplicity his misfortune, he sought to gain quiet by great penances, but to no purpose. Unable to bear the strain any longer, he entered a monastery; there, at least, he said to himself, I will tell all, and expiate my frightful sins. Unhappily, he was most welcomed as a holy young man by his superiors, who knew him by reputation, and his shame again got the better of him. Accordingly, he deferred his confession of this sin to a later period; and a year, two years, three years, passed in this deplorable state; he never dared to reveal his misfortune. Finally, sickness seemed to him to afford an easy means of doing it. "Now is the time," he said to himself; "I am going to tell all; I will make a general confession before I die." But this time, instead of frankly and fairly declaring his faults, he twisted them so artfully that his confessor was unable to understand him. He hope to come back again the next day: an attack of delirium came on, and the unfortunate man died.

The community, who were ignorant of the frightful reality, were full of veneration for the deceased. His body was borne with a certain degree of solemnity into the church of the monastery, and lay exposed in the choir until the next morning when the funeral was to be celebrated.

A few moments before the time fixed for the ceremony, one of the Brothers, sent to toll the bell, saw before him, all of a sudden, the deceased, encompassed by chains, that seemed aglow with fire, while something blazing appeared all over his person. Frightened, the poor Brother fell on his knees, with his eyes riveted on the terrifying apparition. Then the damned soul said to him: "Do not pray for me, I am in here for all eternity;" and he related the sad story of his false shame and sacrileges. Thereupon, he vanished, leaving in the church a disgusting odor, which spread all over the monastery, as if to prove the truth of all the Brother just saw and heard. Notified at once, the Superiors had the corpse taken away, deeming it unworthy of ecclesiastical burial.

After having cited the preceding example, Monsignor de Segur adds what follows:

In our century, three facts of the same kind, more authentic than some others have come to my knowledge. The first happened almost in my family. 
It was in Russia, at Moscow, a short while before the horrible campaign of 1812. My maternal grandfather, Count Rostopchine, the Military Governor of Moscow, was very intimate with General Count Orloff, celebrated for his bravery, but as godless as he was brave. 
One day, at the close of a supper, Count Orloff and one of his friends, General V., also a disciple of Voltaire, had set to horribly ridiculing religion, especially hell. 'Yet,' said Orloff; 'yet if, by chance, there should be anything the other side of the curtain?' 'Well,' took up General V., 'whichever of us shall depart first, will come to inform the other of it. Is it agreed?' 'An excellent idea,' replied Count Orloff; and both interchanged very seriously their word of honor not to miss the engagement. 
A few weeks later, one of those great wars which Napoleon had the gift of creating at that time, burst forth. The Russian army began the campaign, and General V. received orders to start out forthwith to take an important command. 
He had left Moscow about two or three weeks, when one morning, at a very early hour, while my grandfather was dressing, his chamber door is rudely pushed open. It was Count Orloff, in dressing-gown and slippers, his hair on end, his eye wild, and pale like a dead man. 'What, Orloff, you? at this hour? and in such a costume? What ails you? what has happened?' 'My dear,' replies Count Orloff, 'I believe I am beside myself. I have just seen General V.' 'Has General V., then, come back?' 'Well, no,' rejoins Orloff, throwing himself on a sofa, and holding his head between his hands; 'no, he has not come back, and that is what frightens me!' 
My grandfather did not understand him. He tried to soothe him. "Relate to me," he says to Orloff, "what has happened you, and what all this means." Then, striving to stifle his emotion, the Count related the following: "My dear Rostopchine, some time ago, V. and I mutually swore that the first of us who died should come and tell the other if there is anything on the other side of the curtain. Now, this morning, scarcely half an hour since, I was calmly lying awake in my bed, not thinking at all of my friend, when, all of a sudden, the curtains of my bed were rudely parted, and at two steps from me I see General V. standing up, pale, with his right hand on his breast, and saying to me: 'There is a hell, and I am there!' and he disappeared. I came at once to you. My head is splitting! What a strange thing! I do not know what to think about it." 
My grandfather calmed him as well as he could. It was no easy matter. He spoke of hallucinations, nightmares; perhaps he was asleep... There are many extraordinary unaccountable things... and other common-places, which constitute the comfort of freethinkers. Then he ordered his carriage, and took Count Orloff back to his hotel. 
Now, ten or twelve days after this strange incident, an army messenger brought my grandfather among other news, that of the death of General V. The very morning of the day, Count Orloff had seen and heard him, the same hour he appeared at Moscow, the unfortunate General, reconnoitering the enemy's position, had been shot through the breast by a bullet, and had fallen stark dead.

"There is a hell, and I am there!" These are the words of one who came back.

Mgr. de Segur relates a second fact, which he regards as alike free from doubt. He had learned it in 1859, of a most honorable priest, and Superior of an important community. This priest had the particulars of it from a near relation of the lady of whom it had happened. At that time, Christmas Day, 1859, this person was still living, and little over forty years.

She chanced to be in London in the winter of 1847-48. She was a widow, about twenty-nine years old, quite rich and worldly. Among the gallants who frequented her salon, there was noticed a young lord, whose attentions compromised her extremely, and whose conduct, besides, was anything but edifying.

One evening, or rather one night, for it was close upon midnight, she was reading in her bed some novel, coaxing sleep. One o'clock struck by the clock; she blew out her taper. She was about to fall asleep when, to her great astonishment, she noticed that a strange, wan glimmer of light, which seemed to come from the door of the drawing-room, spread by degrees into her chamber, and increased momentarily. Stupefied at first, and not knowing what this meant, she began to get alarmed, when she saw the drawing-room door slowly open and the young lord, the partner of her disorders, entered her room. Before she had time to say a single word, he seized her by the left wrist, and with a hissing voice, syllabled to her in English: "There is a hell!" The pain she felt in her arm was so great that she lost her senses.

When, half an hour after, she came to again, she rang for her chamber-maid. The latter, on entering felt a keen smell of burning. Approaching her mistress, who could hardly speak, she noticed on her wrist so deep a burn, that the bone was laid bare, and the flesh almost consumed; this burn was the size of a man's hand. Moreover, she remarked that, from the door of the saloon to the bed, and from the bed to that same door, the carpet bore the imprint of a man's steps, which had burned through the stuff. By the directions of her mistress, she opened the drawing-room door: there, more traces were seen on the carpet outside.

The following day, the unhappy lady learned with a terror easy to be divined that, on that very night, about one o'clock in the morning, her lord had been found dead drunk under the table, that his servants had carried him to his room, and that there he had died in their arms.

I do not know, added the Superior, whether that terrible lesson converted the unfortunate lady, but what I do know is that she is still alive, and that to conceal from the sight the traces of her ominous burn, she wears on the left wrist, like a bracelet, a wide gold band, which she does not take off day or night. I repeat it, I have all these details from her near relation, a serious Christian, in whose word I repose the fullest belief. They are never spoken of, even in the family; and I only confide them to you, suppressing every proper name.

Notwithstanding the disguise beneath which this apparition has been, and must be enveloped, it seems to me impossible, adds Mgr. de Segur, to call in doubt the dreadful authenticity of the details.

Here is a third fact related by the same writer. In the year 1873, he writes, a few days before the Assumption, occurred again one of these apparitions from beyond the grave, which so efficaciously confirm the reality of hell. It was in Rome. A brothel, opened in that city after the Piedmontese invasion, stood near a police station. One of the bad girls who lived there had been wounded in the hand, and it was found necessary to take her to the Hospital of Consolation. Whether her blood, vitiated by bad living, had brought on mortification of the wound, or from an unexpected complication, she died suddenly during the night. At the same instant, one of her companions, who surely was ignorant of what had just happened at the hospital, began to utter shrieks of despair to point of awaking the inhabitants of the locality, creating a flurry among the wretched creatures of the house, and provoking the intervention of the police. The dead girl of the hospital, surrounded by flames, had appeared to her, and said: "I am damned! and if you do not wish to be like me, leave this place of infamy and return to God."

Nothing could quell the despair of this girl, who, at daybreak, departed, leaving the whole house plunged in a stupor, especially as soon as the death of her companion at the hospital was known.

Just at this period, the mistress of the place, an exalted Garribaldian, and known as such by brethren and friends, fell sick. She soon sent for a priest to receive the sacraments. The ecclesiastical authority deputed for thus task, a worthy prelate, Mgr. Sirolli, the pastor of the parish of Saint-Saviour in Laura. He, fortified by special instructions, presented himself, and exacted of the sick woman, before all, in the presence of many witnesses, the full and entire retractation of her blasphemies against the Sovereign Pontiff, and the discontinuance of the infamous trade she plied. The unhappy creature did so without hesitating, consented to purge her house, then made her confession and received the holy Viaticum with great sentiments of repentance and humility.

Feeling that she was dying, she besought, with tears, the good pastor not to leave her, frightened as she always was by the apparition of that damned girl. Mgr. Sirolli, unable to satisfy her on account of the proprieties which would not permit him to spend the night in such a place, sent to the police for two men, closed up the house, and remained until the dying woman had breathed her last.

Pretty soon, all Rome became acquainted with the details of these tragic occurrences. As ever, the ungodly and lewd ridiculed them, taking good care not to seek for any information about them; the good profited by them, to become still better and more faithful to their duties.

[The following video contains a sermon delivered by a traditional Catholic priest entitled We Can't Imagine the Pain of Hell.]