Why is Hell Eternal?

There is general agreement among Fathers, Doctors, and recent theologians that those punished in hell are incorrigible. In cases where some allowed or allow the possibility of a certain soul's or person's conversion (whether that conversion occur through the first time meeting with Christ in the case of pagans who did not know Christ on earth, through a medicinal, purifying penalty, or in some other  way), they do not consider such a person doomed to everlasting punishment in hell.

However, there is less agreement on why those in hell are incorrigible. The common patristic account, when an account is given by those fathers who uphold everlasting punishment in hell, is that God has established this lifetime for grace and repentance, withholds his grace after death from those who died without charity, and therefore no conversion to God is then possible. Thus a person need not have fundamentally perverted their natural desire for good, need not be thoroughly bad, in order to punished in hell forever; it is enough to be overall more bad than good; one grave sin is enough.

The departed have not in the grave confession and restoration; for God has confined life and action to this world, and to the future the scrutiny of what has been done.

8. What shall we do in the day of visitation… when He will reason with us, and oppose us, and set before us those bitter accusers, our sins, comparing our wrongdoings with our benefits, and striking thought with thought, and scrutinizing action with action, and calling us to account for the image which has been blurred and spoilt by wickedness, till at last He leads us away self-convicted and self-condemned, no longer able to say that we are being unjustly treated — a thought which is able even here sometimes to console in their condemnation those who are suffering….

9. … [His right judgment] places in the balance for us all, our entire life, action, word, and thought, and weighs against the evil that which is better, until that which preponderates wins the day, and the decision is given in favor of the main tendency; after which there is no appeal, no higher court, no defense on the ground of subsequent conduct, no oil obtained from the wise virgins, or from them that sell, for the lamps going out, no repentance of the rich man wasting away in the flame, and begging for repentance for his friends (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 16).

Recent theologians (possibly including Joseph Ratzinger), reluctant to affirm that the incorrigibility of those in hell is due to God's hardening their hearts in sin through a withdrawal of their grace, commonly hold that only those are in hell who have so distorted and perverted their will through deliberate sin, that it is impossible for them to convert, or impossible without a strict miracle. Thus only persons who became thoroughly bad in this life are in hell.

A middle position might be that in the moment of death God's love is so encountered that persons, depending on their life up till then and their state at that moment, necessarily either accept God's love, or so forcefully reject it that they thereby become thoroughly bad, even if previously they were not so, but had just failed to subordinate some true good to God.

It seems necessary to take one of these positions. Man's first, original will has to be good, since it is a natural will, from God, the creator of nature. And all man's particular choices and voluntary acts derive from this first original will for goodness, which must, just considered in itself, remain, as long as man's nature remains. Hence, man must remain capable of conversion to the true good, if guided through the right influences. Thus incorrigibility must be due either to God's taking away the possibility of those influences (a hardening of man's heart), or man's being in himself so set in evil that he is utterly closed to those influences that could otherwise draw him to good through his first and natural desire for goodness.

Luisa Piccarreta and the Divine Will

Luisa Piccarretta, who supposedly lived for many years on only the Eucharist and the Divine Will, experienced ongoing visions in which Jesus gave her an understanding of holiness that had not previously been granted to any saint, an understanding of holiness as being not only acceptance or submission to the divine will, but "living in the divine will", an identification with the divine will. When she asked Jesus how it is that till her time no saint had ever fully lived in the divine will, had never reached this degree of charity, she was told that it was because they lacked this understanding, that they could not love more than they understood. She was told that with this message of the Divine Will Jesus made her "Herald of the New Era" and had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin Mary was on Jesus' right side in heaven, while she (Luisa) was at his left.

When read charitably, taking into account both the mystical language and the imprecisions that can rightly be expected to arise when someone with very little education writes down 36 volumes of such visions, the essential message of living in the divine will seems to be none other than that contained in, for instance, the writings of St. Francis de Sales and St. John of the Cross on the union of charity. (If read with indifference or with antecedent suspicion as to the truth of the message, however, it might be equally possible to read her writings as affirming an identification of the human being with God that goes beyond, or is rather antithetical to the christian doctrine of deification and friendship with God.)

Nonetheless, some grave problems seem to be present in her writings with regard to the claims surrounding this message of holiness: the claim that  (1) this way of holiness is radically new and better than anything before it, that (2) Luisa herself surpasses all the previous saints in holiness, with the exception of the Virgin Mary, and that (3) this way of holiness depends upon "understanding".

(1) "My beloved daughter, I want you to know the order of my Providence. In every 2000 year period I have renewed the world. In the first period I renewed it with the flood. In the second 2000 years I renewed it with my coming to the earth and manifesting my humanity from which, as so many channels of light, my divinity shone. And in this third period of 2000 years, those who are good and the saints themselves have lived the fruits of my humanity, but have enjoyed my divinity scarcely at all. Now we are at the end of the third period and there will be a third renovation. This is why there is general confusion. It is due to the preparation for the third renovation." (January, 1919)

(1) "These writings cost me more than creation and redemption. They have within them all the value of My Will." (Vol. 23, March 8, 1928)

(1 & 2) "When you call my Will into you, you also do a unique act. Out of respect for my Will which inhabits you, I must pour enough graces and Love into you to make you surpass all other creatures."

(1 & 2) "It is certain that I have called you first over other souls. Because to no other souls, however much I have loved them, have I shown how to live in My Will, the effects, the marvels, the riches that the creature receives who acts in My supreme Will. Search the lives of the saints as much as you wish or in books of doctrine and you will not find the wonders of My Will working in the creature and the creature acting in My Will. The most you will find will be resignation, abandonment, the union of wills, but the Divine Will working in the creature and the creature in My Will, you will not find this in anyone. This signifies that the time had not arrived in which My kindness would call the creature to live in such a sublime state. Moreover, even the way I ask you to pray is not found in any other . . . " (Book of Heaven, Vol. 12, p. xix)

(2) "Now daughter, you, . . are unique in my mind; and you will be unique in history. There will not be—either before or after you—any other creature for whom I will obligate through necessity the work of my ministers. ., . Since I wanted my Mother with me as the first intermediary of my mercy . . . I wanted her on my right. . . . I wanted you [Luisa] as the first intermediary of justice. . . . I wanted you on my left." (Book of Heaven, p. 12)

(3) "It is true that there have been saints who always did my Will, but they have taken of my Will only to the extent that they understood it. They knew that to do my Will was the greatest of acts, the one which gave Me the greatest honor and which brought them their sanctification. They acted with this intention and so this is all that they received."

In fact, precisely these claimed new aspects (a radically new and essentially better way of holiness, a holiness that depends upon understanding, etc.) are not new claims in the history of the Church. The early Church had to resist gnosticism, which in its own way made perfection dependent upon understanding, as Luisa seems to. Joachim of Fiore proposed a third era of the history of God with his people, as Luisa does. If these claims are taken as part of the message itself, they are signs that it is not from God. The rule of faith, the rule of the Church, since the beginning in fact sees this kind of radical novelty as a sign of heresy.

But while these problems could be taken as an indication that the visions were not from God, but from self-delusion or a demon, they do not necessarily imply that. It is also possible that she had a true experience in which God really revealed himself and a message of holiness to her, yet her perception of this was distorted by an ignorance of the writings of the saints and doctors, so that she pereceived it as radically new, and unconsciously imposed this perception on the vision itself, by a desire for an end to suffering, so that she imagined a "new era" on earth in which suffering would be no more, an so on.

Private revelation, precisely insofar as it is divine revelation, must be true. However, quite unlike the content of Sacred Scripture, the concrete communication of this revelation is not guaranteed free from error, even substantial error. This is sometimes overlooked in discussions of various private revelations, and the assumption is made that either the experiences are from God, and the writings in which these experiences are communicated are all true, or that the experience are not from God. The third logical possibility, however, that the experience are from God, but the communication of these experience is mingled with the recipient's own ideas and influenced by the recipient's own desires, may be a common, or even the usual case. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indeed, implies that there is always some influence of the recipient's own background. Speaking about Fatima in particular, but also visions in general, it affirms: "Such visions therefore are never simple “photographs” of the other world, but are influenced by the potentialities and limitations of the perceiving subject. This can be demonstrated in all the great visions of the saints… the images are, in a manner of speaking, a synthesis of the impulse coming from on high and the capacity to receive this impulse in the visionaries." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Message of Fatima, 2000)

Will Those Who are Saved Be Few?

From Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 47 (48)

"We have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people." [Augustine's text is "in medio populi tui", though The Hebrew, Greek, and Vulgate read "in your temple"  rather than "people".] Who have received, and where have they received? Is it not the people itself that has received mercy? If your people has received mercy, how have we received mercy, and in the midst of your people, as though distinct persons: those who have received, and those in whose midst they have received? … All who bear God's sacraments are counted as God's people, but not all reach his mercy. All who receive the sacrament of Christ's baptism are called Christians, but not all live worthily of that sacrament. For there are some of whom the Apostle says: they have the appearance of piety, but deny its power.

He lives worthily of God's mercy, who hears and holds and does what the Apostle says: "we warn and entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6:1). Therefore he who has not received the grace of God in vain, has received both the sacrament and the mercy of God.

"We have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people." In the midst of your people who do not receive mercy we have received your mercy. "He came into his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, he gave power to become children of God."

At this point a question will occur to anyone thinking about the matter: That people who in the midst of God's people have received God's mercy, how great a number will it be? How few they are! Scarcely anyone such is found; can it be that God will be displeased with all the rest, and destroy so great a multitude? They tell this to themselves, promising themselves what they have not heard God promise. And indeed if we should live wickedly, if we immerse ourselves in enjoying the delights of this world, if we are slaves to our lusts, will God destroy us? For how many are there who keep God's commandments? We hardly find one or two, at any rate very few; will God save those alone, and damn the rest? "By no means!" they say. "When he comes and sees such a great multitude at his left hand, he will have mercy, and will grant indulgence."

Evidently the serpent also promised this to the first man; for God had threatened death, if he tasted of the fruit, whereas the serpent said: by no means, you will not die the death. They believed the serpent, they found God's threat to be true, the devil's promise to be false. So also now, brethren, put the Church before your eyes. See how it is an image and likeness of Paradise: the serpent does not cease to suggest what he then suggested. But the experience of the first man's fall should avail to warn us not to imitate his sin. He fell so that we might rise. Let us answer such suggestions the way Job did. For the devil tempted him through a woman, as through Eve, and, overcome in paradise, he overcame in the dung. Therefore let us not listen to such words, nor let us think that those [who keep God's commandments] are few; they are many, but they are hidden among an even greater number. For we cannot deny that the wicked are many, and so many that the good are not apparent among them, as a seed is not apparent on the threshing floor. For whoever sees the threshing floor can think that the chaff is alone. Send an inexperienced man, and he will foolishly think that oxen are sent and man sweat there in the heat in order to crush the chaff; but there is in fact a mass to be purged by exposure to the wind. Then an abundance of grain appears, which was hidden in the abundance of chaff. And now you want to find those who are good? Be such, and you will find them. Therefore against that despair see what follows in the psalm. For when the psalmist had said: "we have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people," he indicated that that people, in the midst of which some receive God's mercy, was not receiving God's mercy; and lest men should get the idea that they are so few as to be almost none, how he has consoled them with the following words? "As is your name, God, so is your praise unto the ends of the earth." (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 47 (48))

The argument "How many are there who keep God's commandments? We hardly find one or two, at any rate very few; will God save those alone, and damn the rest? By no means! When he comes at sees such a great multitude at his left hand, he will have mercy, and will grant indulgence." is not altogether implausible in view of the fact that eternal punishments are threatened in order to restrain persons from doing evil and thus lead them to God. If the obligation of the commandments, the breaking of which is punished by hell, were to have as a consequence that more people were ultimately separated from God than would have been in the absence of those commandments and threats, then the commandments and the threat of hell would seem to be counterproductive, something for which God would not have a motivation.

Augustine does not directly address the plausibility of this argument. One, could, however, answer it in several ways: (1) in fact many persons are restrained from evil and begin the path to good by reason of the fear of hell; Augustine's answer goes somewhat in this direction, inasmuch as he says that there are many persons will be saved, they are just many less than those who will be damned; (2) the obligation of the commandments and threat of hell does not imply that anyone will go to hell (be separated from God) who would not have in the absence of the commandments, but only makes explicit the separation from God that is already attendant upon a will that bears nothing but hatred for God and goodness; this view seem to be suggested by Pope Benedict's portrayal of hell in Spe Salvi: "There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves…. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell." In this description of hell, it seems no one would ultimately go to hell for failing to meet a high standard of love, but for utter depravity, a possibility of separation from the ultimate good, God, that would have equally existed had the commandments and threat of hell not been explicated.

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

We are all invited to work in the Lord's vineyard. But the Lord does not force anyone. He only invites. If someone doesn't want to work, or wants to only under his own conditions, he does not have to do so. In the Gospel we heard a parable about persons who wanted to work only under the stipulation that they themselves would dispose of the vineyard and its fruits. When we hear this story, we might think, how could they be so stupid? How could they think, if we just kill the owner's son, he'll have to put us in his son's place? What kind of madness is this?

It may be easy enough to criticize the men in this parable at a comfortable distance. But I think Jesus is here pointing to a real danger, a danger also for us. When we really want something, we want to see it through. And it is good that way. We shouldn't be like jellyfish, unable to stick to anything with firmness. But this desire to see things through carries a danger with it, that we become blind to reality: we see only the way that we imagine for ourselves, the way on which we have decided—whether or not that way is the right one. Let's imagine the tenants again, with a bit of imagination: they thought to themselves: “It is unjust for the owner to take such a portion of the fruit for himself, though he hasn't been around working on the field, harvesting the grapes, etc.” And when he sends his servants to get his portion, they think, “We must be strong. We must resist, in order to get our rights.” And they beat the servants. When the owner sends still more servants, they think, “He is simply deaf. He won't accept that the fruits belong to us.” And they are completely confident, they have to just resist still more steadfastly. Finally, when the owner sends his son, they think, “If we kill him, then the owner will have no other choice. He'll have to make us the heirs, if he wants to keep the vineyard running.” All quite logical. But a view of the whole is lacking. They are not the only ones who have to live from the fruit of the vineyard. And everything does not depend on them.

This image is perhaps a bit fantastic. Nevertheless I believe the core is true, and a real danger. They wanted to push themselves through, and became blind to the reality, to the actual situation with the owner, the vineyard, and the other persons involved. And we are all, without exception, tempted in this or that field to push our own will through, instead of listening to Jesus's will, and are in danger of losing sight of the reality that is expressed in this divine will. We see this perhaps more clearly in larger, tragic cases: perhaps someone enters into an ill-advised marriage against the advice of parents, friends, and spiritual father, and winds up unhappy, or someone gets involved in drugs despite knowing it's not really the right way, or the insistence on the right to dispose of one's own body and to determine one's family as one wills leads to a father and mother killing their own child. These are the more obvious cases. But we are all tempted to it in smaller, daily cases.

To take this attitude to its ultimate completion is the worst thing that can possibly happen: that instead of us saying to God with joy and without reservation, “Thy will be done!”, God has to say with sadness, “Thy will be done. You do not want to live for my kingdom. You do not have to, and if you do not want to, you shall not.” This outcome at the end of today's Gospel reading, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you” (Mat 21:43), is like God's “last resort”, what he does when everything else is in vain. Only when God has done everything, and we still refuse to accept his will, would he say to us, “Thy will be done.” The reverse side, or the opposite of this terrifying possibility is presented to us in the Letter to the Philippians. If we do not lose sight of God, but place everything before him, all our concerns and our worries, and listen attentively to him, his peace will fill our hearts. Someone makes a sacrifice for his family, sticks by a friend in a difficult period, gives up his own will to serve and to do God's will, and finds therein deep peace. In this celebration of the Eucharist let us make especially consciously this prayer, which we pray frequently in the Our Father. “Thy Will be done!”

Website hacker, vandalism

Inmotion hosting, the company where this site is hosted, was hacked yesterday, September 25, and pages on many of the 700,000 sites hosted by this company were replaced with electronic graffiti boasting of the hacker's accomplishment. Here a series of announcements from the company on the matter. The hacker is apparently the hacker who through DNS hijacking intercepted the local domains for google, microsoft, yahoo, and others, instead sending a similar hacked page to internet users' browsers. (http://thehackernews.com/2011/09/inmotion-hosting-server-and-trinity-fm.html) The blog on this site was defaced for around 20 hours, as some readers noticed. The hacked page was not itself dangerous to computers or browsers viewing the site. The pages have been repaired, and the company says that it is acting to close the security vulnerability issues that allowed the attack in the first place.

Puzzle About Happiness

The following puzzle compares the happiness of a man who thinks some of the goods he generally seeks in life are realized with the happiness of a man in the case where those goods are realized, but he thinks they are not. Besides being an interesting thought exercise, it might be helpful for shedding some light on what is involved in the notion of happiness. Warning! The scenario presented is not a pleasant one! A nicer scenario that would so starkly focus on the same issues did not, however, occur to me.


Twenty years from now, two twins, who are both happily married and love their families, have had a falling out with a extremely brilliant, wicked, and rich scientist, who determines to destroy their lives. He kidnaps them, locks them in separate rooms, and offers each of them the choice between the following two options:

(1) I will kidnap your wives and children, and torture them for the rest of your life in the most horrible ways thinkable, but by careful use of precise memory-altering drugs, planted evidence, false witnesses, etc., I will see to it that you are convinced without the slightest doubt that your wife and children died a a heroic or a peaceful death.

(2) I will kidnap your wives and children, and by the use of precise memory-altering drugs so that they no longer remember you at all, arrangement of circumstances, etc., I will do my best to see to it (there's a 95%-99% chance of success) that they are quite happy in their new life, but by use of similar drugs, falsified evidence, etc., I will ensure that you are convinced that they are being tortured and suffering horribly.

The first of the twins chooses the first option, while the second chooses the second. The wicked scientist keeps his threats and promises. Five years later, the first man is still convinced that his family died heroically, though they are in fact still suffering. The second man is still convinced, and reasonably on the basis of the evidence available to him, that his family is suffering, though they are not.

The questions for you, dear reader, are the following: on the basis only of the statements provided: (1) at this point in time, five years after the deed, which of the two men is happier? (2) Taken as a whole, whose life is happier?

Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9). As soon as anyone thinks he has God totally figured out, he is posed to discover that it isn't true. Granting that his insight into the ways of God is basically correct, God is still different, and even greater than he imagines. When God spoke through Isaiah, some persons seem to have thought: when someone abandons God, then God abandons him; his chance is over. To this God responds “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”(Isa 55:8). However long someone has been distant from God, let him return to the Lord, and he will find mercy with him.

In the Gospel (Mat 20:1-16a), too, we hear of he God who is very different from how we think. Jesus tells a parable about a household as a likeness for the Kingdom of the Heaven. At the beginning of the story nothing unusual occurs. At first sight we could even get the impression that the man wants to pay no more than necessary to get the job done. Only when he sees that he can't complete the day's work without more laborers, he goes out again to the market place to look for more workers. It was also not unusual to hire workers without previously agreeing upon a set wage. He would then have to pay the minimum wage customary in the region. But at the end of the day he surprises everyone by paying all the workers the same wage, one denarius, a usual wage for a full day's work. We heard how the man who worked the whole day were rather annoyed that they didn't get anything more than those who had only worked a single hour. The vinegrowers union might have also had a complaint against the owner: he disturbs the labor market, takes away motivation from the workers to work a full day, and thus makes it more difficult for the other winegrowers to get good work done. But God is no finance manager. He is a lover, and wants to give to everyone who comes to him. The last workers were as needy as the first. They needed just as much for their families as the first workers needed, and he gives them just as much.

This parable is given us as a complement to the promised reward for the following of Christ. Just before the parable we heard today, a young man came to Jesus and asked him what he had to do in order to gain eternal life. Jesus said, keep the commandments: you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, etc., and above all, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The man answered that he had done all these, and asked what he still lacked. Thereupon Jesus invited him to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and to follow him. But he didn't want to do this, and went away sad. Peter, perhaps to be sure that, as Jesus promised the young man treasure in heaven, that the disciples also would receive a reward for following Jesus, and perhaps a bit proud that they had followed the call to discipleship, asked: “We have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (Mat 19:27) Jesus answered: “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mat 19:28-29). God does not let any love and service to his kingdom go unrewarded.

But immediately following this, Jesus warns against self-complacency with one's discipleship, and against the temptation to set limits to God, and on account of this promise to classify people into two sets: the people that are following Christ, and are going to receive this reward, and the people that have left him, and will not receive this reward. God does not so quickly give up. He does not act as a businessman who wants to get as much income with as little expenditure as possible. He wants to give, and he constantly invites all, so that he can give to all. The first places in heaven, if we can speak in this way, belong not to the bishops, priests, deacons, pastoral assistants, and those who put in the most hours for the kingdom, but to those who most of all recognize their own neediness and open themselves to God's love. Amen.

Solemn High Mass in Norcia

I was recently in Norcia, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Benedict, and had the opportunity to assist as deacon of a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. (I wrote a post two years ago when they received the apostolate from the Ecclesia Dei commission to celebrate the Holy Mass in both the ordinary and the extraordinary form. Their conventual Mass is now regularly celebrated in the extraordinary form.) Here are couple of photos from a Mass where I and two of my brothers were the ministers.

For those of my readers who are not subscribed to the feed, but come to this website itself, I wish to note that I will be unlikely to make any new posts until the end of August.

Just before the Gloria

Receiving the blessing from the priest before the Gospel

Make me responsible and trustworthy, but not yet…

The "Budget Control Act of 2011" (PDF of the bill; see also the Congressional Budget Office's Analysis of the Bill) passed by the house yesterday and by the senate today reminds me of Augustine's plea: "Make me chaste, but not yet". The plan makes conditions that entail a reduction of 2.1 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years — assuming that income from taxes remains as calculated, and that the interest rate for the US public debt does not rise. However, virtually none (merely 1%) of this reduction has to occur before 2013. Essentially, the plan is a promise to do something about the problem, but not yet… only after the next election. It is an attempt to satisfy voters with the promise to rectify the out-of-control debt of the USA, while avoiding the dissatisfaction that might follow upon the hardships possibly entailed in correcting the problem.

In addition, even with its future promise the plan offers far too little. It allows for an increase in the public debt limit of at least 1.5 Trillion in the next two years, while requiring a reduction of 1.9 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years. The current annual deficit is more than one trillion, and the expected deficit over the next ten years well over ten trillion, making this "deficit reduction" nearly meaningless. Obama basically suggested that the people of the united states, who were, according to the polls, against any increase in the debt limit, are just ignorant of economics. [Press Conference]

The real situation is more like this: picture someone with $200,000 debt, paying 10% interest on it, and whose spending otherwise matches his income; he has to borrow an additional $20,000 this year to make the payments on his long-term debts, and is thus getting ever deeper and deeper into debt; next year he will have to borrow $21,000 to make the payments (assume half of his debt payments go to interest and half to principal), and over the next ten years will have to borrow $300,000 and be $150,000 deeper in debt. He decides he will take out a mortgage on his house to cover the payments for the next ten years, and will reduce his spending by $50,000 over the next 10 years. Now, instead of borrowing a total of $300,000 over the next 10 years, and getting $150,000 deeper into debt, he only has to borrow $250,000, and get only $100,000 deeper into debt. This is only slightly putting off the time when he can no longer make the payments on his debts, and is bankrupt.

Despite the near uselessness of the budgeting of the Budget Control Act, there is a condition in it of potentially more real value, namely that the House of Representatives and Senate should vote before the year's end on a resolution proposing a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution of the United States. If such a meaningful amendment were to be made, it would be of far greater value than stop-gap measures like the budgeting of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"Call to Disobedience" and Schönborn's Response

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" of Vienna pubished a public "call to disobedience" on Trinity Sunday. Cardinal Schönborn this week in the summer edition of the staff magazine of the Archdiocese of Vienna made a response to this “call to disobedience” of the “pastors' initiative”, which, if not formally schismatic, is close to it. I translate both of them here.

If anything, the Cardinal's response could perhaps have been even stronger. Is one justified in going out of one's way not to lose those who in many ways do not share the mind of the Church, if this results in detriment to the visible christian identity, unity, and witness of the Church–and thus the loss of many who would otherwise be attracted to and find Christ in the Church? It does not seem so to me.


“Call to disobedience”

 Rome's refusal to make a long needed reform of the Church and the inactivity of the bishops not only allow us, but force us to follow our conscience and to ourselves take action:

 We priests in the time to come want to point the way ahead:

1. WE WILL in the future speak an intercession for reform of the Church. We take seriously the scriptural saying: Ask, and you shall receive. Before God there is freedom of speech.

2. WE WILL absolutely not refuse the Eucharist to believers of good will. This applies particularly to the divorced and remarried, to members of other christian churches, and in individual cases also those who have left the Church.

 3. WE WILL as far as possible avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, or employing travelling priests who are unknown to the local community. A Liturgy of the Word that is done by the community itself is better than liturgical on tour.

 4. WE WILL in the future consider a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion as a “priesterless celebration of the Eucharist”, and will also name it such. Thus we fulfill our Sunday obligation in a time of few priests.

5. WE WILL disregard the prohibition of preaching for competently educated lay persons and teachers of religion. Precisely in a difficult time it is necessary to proclaim God's word.

 6. WE WILL do what we can to see to it that every parish has its own director: man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part-time. This is to be accomplished not by merging parishes, but by a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL therefore use every opportunity to speak out publicly for the admission of women and married men to the priestly office. We see in them welcome colleagues in the office of pastoral care.

Finally we see ourselves in solidarity with those colleagues who are no longer permitted to exercise their office on account of a marriage, but also with those who, despite having a (sexual) partner, continue to fulfill their service as priests. Both groups with their decision follow their conscience – as we also do with our protest. We see in them just as much as in the pope and the bishops “our brothers”. What a “fellow brother” is supposed to be over and above that, we do not know. One alone is our master – while we are all brothers. “And sisters” – as it however should be said among christians. For this we desire to stand up, for this we desire to intervene, for this we desire to pray. Amen.


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's response

Dear fellow workers!
Dear brothers and sisters!
And this time especially: dear fellow brothers in the priestly service!

The leaders of the “pastors' initiative” published a “call to disobedience” (www.pfarrer-initiative.at) on Trinity Sunday (June 19). I did not want to reacted immediately, lest I answer in the anger and sorrow that this call aroused in me. At the priestly ordination on June 24 I made indirect reference to it in my homily. The public call to disobedience shakes me deeply. How would it be for the families in our country, if disobedience were raised to a virtue? Many employees ask themselves how it is possible to propagate and practice disobedience in the Church, when they know that they would have long ago lost their jobs if they there made a call to disobedience. 

We priests at our ordination freely, forced by no one, put our hands in the bishop's to show “reverence and obedience” and before the whole community said loudly and clearly, “Yes, I do promise it.” Do you stand by this? Can I, can the communities have confidence in this? As a bishop I also promised faithful communion with and obedience to the pope. I shall stand by this, even if there have been moments wenn that was not easy.

Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is a matter of the concrete expression in life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we pray to the Father that his will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and its power through the interior readiness of the one who prays to accept God's will also in those cases where it differs from what he would imagine for himself. This readiness also becomes concrete in ecclesial obedience to the pope and bishop. What this readiness demands can sometimes be painful.

In the “master plan” for our diocese, in the process “Acts of the Apostles” 2010 and in our plan of development for the diocese it is also a matter of God's will. What is God's will for us, for the archdiocese today, in a situation of great change? In prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist together, in contemplation of the Scriptures, in our looking at the development of our society, we strive to recognize God's will. The “master plan” should indeed be the plan of the Master, of the Lord.

Precisely here the “call to disobedience” takes up its position – but crosswise to the “master plan”. Since the reforms demanded by the initiators of the “pastors' initiative” have still not occurred, and since they bishops, as they see it, are inactive, they see themselves forced, “to follow their conscience and themselves take action.”

If it becomes a question of conscience, to be disobedient to the pope and bishop, then a new level is reached that urges a clear decision. For the conscience is always to be followed when it is a formed conscience that has examined itself critically. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, in a solitary decision of his conscience, refused military service in Hitler's army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman came after many years of intense struggle to the certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. Therefore one who in his examined conscience comes to the conviction that “Rome” is on a wrong track that gravely contradicts God's will, would in the ultimate case have to draw the conclusion, to no longer continue on the way with the Roman-Catholic Church. But I believe and hope that this ultimate case does not occur here.

I do not have to give interior assent to every decision of the Church, especially not in regard to disciplinary decisions, and I may honestly wish that the leadership of the Church would decide otherwise. But when the pope again and again – as in the case of the priestly ministry – gives clear guidelines and recalls the standing teaching, then the exhortation to disobedience in fact calls the ecclesial community into question. Ultimately every priest, and we ourselves must all decide whether or not we want to go the way with the pope, the bishop, and the universal Church. It is always difficulty to see one's own vision curtailed. But he who gives up the principle of obedience, dissolves unity.

In my pastoral letter I invited all to a common way together. I suggested a very concrete way: that we put mission in the first place, and direct everything to it, putting before all else the effort to become new and better disciples of Jesus. By this “the world” will recognize whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really brings something salvific. All efforts at structural reform have to be seen from this perspective.

I do not consider the “call to disobedience” to be a helpful step. I will at the next opportunity talk with the representatives of the “pastors' initiative”. I will particularly point out some inconsistencies in their “program of disobedience”, such as the formulation “priestless celebration of the Eucharist” or the disparaging remarks about the help of outside priests as “liturgical tours”. Only a style that is marked by mutual esteem helps us further along, as we had the happiness of experiencing in the three diocese assemblies.

In not long I will have been a bishop for 20 years. The bishop is at the service of unity, for his own diocese and with the pope and the universal Church. I perform this service with joy. I experience much that is beautiful, but also some painful wounds to unity. The “call to disobedience” is among these wounds. I call to unity, for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. John 17:21) and for which he give his life. May he help me in my service of preserving the bond of unity in love and true.

I wish you all a blessed summer time.


+ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn