Tag Archives: Catholic Doctrine

Dr. Edward N. Peters: A Primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

In the Light of the Law

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on the following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, through its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority eversupporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief(credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held(tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Moreover, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

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Additum: Scholion on the phrase “homosexual unions” as envisioned in CDF’s “Considerations” (2003).

Some are wondering whether the 2003 CDF document requires Catholic opposition toany civil attempt to accord same-sex couples, qua couples, any, let alone many, of the rights of married couples. I think the CDF document does not make such a demand on Catholic consciences.

Consider: having thoroughly and completely and correctly rejected the claim that same-sex couples can marry, the CDF document, to underscore, I suggest, its rejection of that claim,  would not even countenance use of the phrase “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage” or “homosexual marriage”, and instead referred exclusively to “homosexual unions”. Now, however, a decade further into this debate, the distinction between “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual marriage” and “same-sex, or gay, or homosexual unions” is more commonly recognized, with the latter category (“unions”), insofar as it limits itself to civil consequences for certain living arrangements and does not attempt to redefine marriage itself, being a possibility to be assessed in accord with prudence, while the former category (“marriage”) is, as a matter of principle, to be universally and indeed vigorously rejected.

In short, notwithstanding the 2003 CDF language, civilly sanctioned “homosexualunions”, as that term is understood today, might or might not be objectionable depending on the terms of such recognition, but civilly sanctioned “homosexualmarriage” can never be supported by Catholics in good conscience.

Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

Clerical Continence and the Restored Permanent Diaconate by Donald J. Keefe SJ

Clerical Continence and the Restored Permanent Diaconate

The results of the historical research of Alfons Cardinal Stickler into the apostolicity of the tradition of clerical celibacy and continence,[1] the corroboration of his conclusions by Frs. Christian Cochini and Roman Cholij, and the theological analysis of the intrinsic relation between the sacramental signs of marriage and of priestly orders proposed by Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver at a recent Roman conference,[2] are all in practice controverted by the effective condonation of the noncontinent exercise of their orders by post-conciliar married deacons who having lived in ignorance of any obligation to abstain from conjugal relations after their ordination, have now have been absolved of any obligation to continence, and in fact, if widowed, may apply for dispensation from what has been a diriment impediment to remarriage and, if remarried, continue in the exercise of their orders.[3]

This anomalous departure from the ancient tradition of clerical continence appears to have its inception in the discussions of the restoration of the permanent diaconate during the second Vatican Council.[4]  However, it cannot be shown to have been authorized by the Council, whether tacitly or overtly, nor by Pope Paul VI in the documents by which he formally instituted the restored permanent diaconate and permitted the ordination to it of mature married men, nor by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Further, it is not unlikely that the practical condonation of the use of marriage by such deacons has led to a comparable condonation of the use of marriage by converts from among Protestant clergy who have later been ordained in the Roman Catholic rite; it is evidennt enough the noncontinence of married deacons is no more anomalous than the noncontinence of married priests.

Therefore, the restoration of the permanent diaconate and the ordination of married men to the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II requires a further examination for, if the effective condonation of clerical noncontinence in married deacons and married priests in the Roman rite is in fact legitimate, that legitimacy can rest upon no other grounds than the documents underlying the restoration of the permanent diaconate.  In what follows, we shall show that those documents provide no justification or warrant for diaconal noncontinence.

I.  The Documents of Vatican II: Lumen Gentium §29

The concluding sentence of Lumen Gentium §29 reads:

De consensu Romani Pontificis his Diaconatus viris maturioris aetatis etiam in matrimonio viventibus conferri poterit, necnon iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus tamen, lex caelibatus firma remanere debet.[5]

It is as well to note at the outset that it is the significance of “lex caelibatus” which is in issue.  Granted that the canonical requirement of consecrated celibacy for those in major orders, (the “lex caelibatus”) is waived for married candidates (men “in matrimonio viventes”), and is retained for presumptively unmarried, because more youthful, candidates for the diaconate (“pro juvenibus idoneis”), the meaning of this waiver of the “lex caelibatus” granted the more mature candidates for the diaconate must be determined.  Specifically, does the waiver legitimate, for those candidates who are married, the continuance of conjugal relations with their wives after their ordination?

The language of Lumen Gentium itself cannot be said to do so.  The waiving of the “lex caelibatus” refers simply to dropping the juridical prohibition of married candidates for higher orders; the dropping of the requirement of nonmarriage for an older candidate says nothing about a removal of the obligation of clerical continence after his ordination, unless his continuing in conjugal relations be thought inseparable from his marriage.  Since continuing in conjugal intimacy is not thus integral to marriage, and that as a matter of canon law, such a reading of Lumen Gentium cannot be defended.[6]

Similarly, Austin Flannery’s translation of Lumen Gentium§29 offers no justification for diaconal noncontinence:

Should the Roman Pontiff think fit, it will be possible to confer this diaconal order even upon married men, provided they be of more mature age, and also on suitable young men, for whom, however, the law of celibacy must remain in force.  (387)[7]

Neither do the reports of the conciliar discussions and debates concerning the restoration of the permanent diaconate justify the equation of the waiver of celibacy with a waiver of clerical continence, although some evidence of a conciliar confusion of the obligation of consecrated celibacy with the obligation of continence, whereby the waiver of the one might be thought to be assimilated to the waiver of the other, begins to surface in them.[8]

Herbert Vorgrimler’s commentary on Lumen Gentium §29 relates the procedure decided upon in the third session for the restoration of the permanent diaconate; he affirms, as in line with the conciliar decision, that the “duty” of celibacy is not to apply to married deacons:

Only two points are laid down with regard to the way it (the restoration of the permanent diaconate) is to be done: the competent authority is the episcopal conference, with the consent of the Pope; the duty of celibacy is not to be imposed upon men of more mature age, although it remains for younger men.[9]

The phrase used by Vorgrimler, that of a “duty of celibacy,” is entirely misleading; §29 of Lumen Gentium speaks of a “law of celibacy,” not of a “duty.”  This is not mere quibbling: such a misreading reveals a certain lack of reflection upon the relation of major orders to consecrated celibacy on the one hand and to continence on the other.  In fact, it amounts to a confusion over the meaning, and therefore the interrelation, of celibacy and of continence, and of their respective relations to major orders.  In the first place, major orders are a diriment impediment to marriage; e.g., we read in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” that

Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt.[10]

As Paul VI here affirms, ordination to the diaconate makes subsequent marriage impossible: an unmarried deacon cannot marry, and a married deacon, upon the death of his wife, cannot remarry.  The language here is not disciplinary: it speaks of a simple sacramental incapacity, the sort that is termed a diriment impediment.  Canonists are accustomed to speak of major orders as a diriment impediment to marriage only when celibacy is formally embraced as a condition of ordination.  However, the inability of a married major cleric to remarry upon the death of his wife can only be due to precisely such an impediment: i.e., one which as inherent in his exercise of his orders simply nullifies any such attempted marriage.  It is of course true that this impediment is not absolute: a cleric may be laicized and, in consequence of such laicization, of such removal from the exercise of orders, he may be granted a papal dispensation from the law of celibacy.  Nonetheless, in the absence of such dispensation, the “lex caelibatus” binds even the laicized cleric, and simply precludes a subsequent marriage.

This inhibition upon the marriage of major clerics is not mere Roman rigorism.  The reasons for it rest upon the meaning of ordination itself, and finally derive from the nuptial relation between Christ and the Church which is celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  A diriment impediment to marriage, an inability to marry, a sacramental incapacity, is inherent in the exercise in persona Christi of major orders.  However, this impediment is distinct from (a) celibacy, and (b) continence.

Celibacy denotes the unmarried status, the absence of the marital bond.[11]  Concretely, celibacy is thus merely a matter of fact: the absence of a marital bond.  However, “consecrated celibacy” denotes a specific commitment to the unmarried state, as alone consonant with ordination to a major Order, whether that be in prospect, or already received.[12]  Heretofore, in the Latin rite, consecrated celibacy has been canonically requisite to the reception of major orders.  The institution of the married permanent diaconate is by way of exception to this canonical and liturgical tradition.

The noncelibate state, on the contrary, denotes the presence of a marital bond, and the consequent incapacity to enter upon another marriage prior to the death of one’s spouse.  Prior to the approval of the admission of married men to the permanent diaconate by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium,noncelibate men, as has been seen, were barred by canon law from receiving major orders.  However, noncelibacy — which is to say, the existence of the marital bond — has never been understood to be a diriment impediment to such ordination.

Continence is deliberate abstention from sexual relations.  Its first reference is to abstention from marital relations; by extension and a fortiori, it denotes abstention from all extramarital sexual relations.  Abstention from marital relations may be temporary, in accordance with the Pauline counsel in I Cor 7:5, or it may be permanent, as required by the reception of major orders, a sacrament transcending but not annulling marriage.[13]  Cochini has shown such clerical continence to have been required of married men by an tradition which can only be of apostolic origin.[14]  Married men who, with the consent of their wives, were ordained as bishops, priests, or deacons, were thereafter held to continence: only in the Eastern Church has this obligation not been observed, and Cholij has shown the inadequacy of the supposed conciliar foundation of that rejection of clerical continence.  The Code of Canon Law continues to require the consent of the wife of the candidate for the permanent diaconate.

The canonical clerical celibacy proper to the Latin rite, which has been dropped for the “more mature” candidate for the restored permanent diaconate, is the unmarried status heretofore canonically requisite for ordination to any of the three major orders.

The sacramental character of Orders is thus analogous to the vinculum of sacramental marriage, in that ordination to a major Order simply renders the ordained man, whether married or unmarried, incapable of contracting marriage apart from laicization and papal dispensation.  Thus, such ordination bars the cleric arctius altari conjungi from attempting or entering into marriage, quite as an existing marriage bars one from entering into another marriage.

It is then evident that one cannot accurately speak of a “duty” of celibacy any more than one can speak accurately of a “duty” of marriage.  Quite as marriage connotes the obligation of fidelity, clerical (here, diaconal) celibacy connotes the duty or obligation of continence.  But as marriage is distinct from fidelity, so celibacy is distinct from continence.  As marriage is not the same as fidelity to marriage, neither is celibacy the same as the continence which, analogously, is fidelity to major orders.  However, such casual reference to celibacy as a “duty” precisely suggests or connotes this identity, and so induces the confusion between celibacy and continence which seems to have governed much of the discussion of the celibacy of the permanent diaconate at Vatican II.

To speak of clerical celibacy as a “duty” further implies that clerical celibacy is not a committed state, but is only a continuing moral responsibility which one might fail to meet, as one may fail to meet the duty of marital fidelity.  Such language further suggests what could not be affirmed, the merely “functional” status of clerical celibacy: that is, to speak of a duty of celibacy is to intimate that celibacy, with its connoted moral obligation of clerical continence, is not integral to major orders.

Therefore, while it is entirely proper to speak of a celibate major cleric’s duty of continence, it is quite misleading to speak of his celibacy as a “duty.”  Duties are positive moral — and therefore free — concomitants of a positive office, or munus, which arise out of that office.  Because they arise out of an office or munus such as orders, duties consist in continuing fidelity to that office, but they are not identified with the office, and should not be spoken of in such a fashion as to blur that fact.  Once ordained, an unmarried deacon, priest, or bishop is not free to be noncelibate, for a man exercising major orders simply cannot marry: such a cleric cannot be married apart from dispensation.  But he is certainly free to be continent, for otherwise continence would not be a matter of fidelity; therein lies the particular obligation, the “duty,” of the major cleric — here, the deacon.

Vorgrimler informs us that two points, viz., the authority competent to admit married men to the permanent diaconate, and the married (non-celibate) character of the permanent diaconate, were those most debated at the second and third sessions:

For the course of the voting, see the historical introduction to this commentary by G. Philips.  In view of the interventions and the results of the voting, the text was considerably revised by the Theological Commission (relatores: B. Kloppenburg, O.F.M., and P. Smulders, S.J.), and adopted into the draft of July 3, 1964 in a form which differs substantially from the present text only in two points.  One is concerned with the authority competent to admit married men to the diaconate.  Here the Theological Commission was ordered to insert the words De consensu Romani Pontificis.  The second point was whether young men who wished to be deacons were obliged to celibacy or not.  The council decided in favor of celibacy, but it should be noted that as many as 839 Fathers rejected celibacy in such cases.  The official relator, Bishop Jiménes L. Henriquez [sic], was not in favor of young married deacons.  (227; emphasis added)

In the first place, if Vorgrimler’s recital of a conciliar discussion of the “obligation” of celibacy is accurate ad litteram, this usage again reveals the acceptance of a certain suggestio falsi within the conciliar discussion, wherein “celibacy,” which in the technical language of canon law simply refers to the unmarried state, is discussed as though it were an obligation: viz., the word is used by the conciliar Fathers as though it were associated with “continence” in such wise that a noncelibate or married diaconate is one which is noncontinent, i.e., a diaconate which contemplates the continuing use of marriage by the married ordinatus.  If on the other hand, Fr. Vorgrimler may be thought to be reading his own confusion on this point into the conciliar discussion, it does not appear that that discussion contained anything which might have worked to correct such a mistake.  As we shall see, this confusion of celibacy with continence, and of noncelibacy with noncontinence, did in fact obtain among the bishops, and nothing in the record of the conciliar discussion of Lumen Gentium §29 evidences any recognition of the confusion, nor any clarification of it.[15]

Further on in his commentary on this passage, Vorgrimler has observed that

It is also noteworthy that the tasks of the deacon include liturgical functions, but that his role in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is one of the most outstanding features of the diaconate in the Eastern Churches, receives no mention.  (229)

Vorgrimler’s report of a lack of conciliar interest in the liturgical dimension of the diaconal office, particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist, is consistent with Michael Novak’s report.[16]  Gérard Philips’ historical survey,[17] cited by Vorgrimler supra, contains the following observations:

Here (relative to the priesthood) the whole assembly was perfectly unanimous.  But when the votes were taken on the diaconate, the difference of viewpoint emerged more strongly than ever.  In principle, the revival of the permanent diaconate was accepted by 1903 votes against 242.  But the next day, 29 September, the question came up as to whether the local authorities, with the approval of the Pope, could decide on the actual revival, and here almost a third of the voters expressed themselves in the negative.  (702 against 1523).  But the nub of the controversy was whether this form of diaconate could be entrusted to married men of mature age.  Here the two thirds majority was slightly larger, 1598 ayes against 629 noes.  The next clause was the only one which was rejected by the assembly.  The draft envisaged the possibility of young men who were not bound by the law of celibacy being ordained deacons.  Here a large majority of the Fathers flatly said no: 1364, against 839 ayes.  (130).

Philips’ account says nothing of the noncontinence of the married men ordained to the permanent diaconate: again, the same silence characterizes Novak’s fuller treatment of the conciliar debate.

A confusion of celibacy with continence, of marriage with noncontinence, and so a confusion of the institution of a noncelibate (married) diaconate with the formal permission for the diaconal use of marriage, is evident on both sides of the debate.  The only possible inference from Philips’ account is that the minority of bishops — 839 out of 2203 is no inconsiderable fraction —, who voted against holding even the younger and unmarried deacons to the “lex caelibatus,” could hardly have understood the universally noncelibate, viz., married, diaconate which they contemplated for the younger men nonetheless to oblige such men, once married, to abstention from the use of marriage.  There would not have been sufficient point to such a proposal to gain the support of eight hundred and thirty-nine bishops.  The minority bishops could only have had in view, and were understood by their conciliar adversaries to have in view, the establishment of a novel diaconate: one whose members, because they could marry after ordination, need not be continent after ordination.  But there is no conciliar clarification of the minority’s obvious identification of noncelibacy with noncontinence.  One can hardly avoid concluding that the majority of the conciliar Fathers shared this confusion with the minority.

The latent, or tacit — but in any case evident — confusion among the conciliar Fathers of clerical celibacy with clerical continence, and so of married clergy with clerical noncontinence, which this vote manifests, could not but have carried over into the conciliar approval of the ordination of married candidates for the diaconate, to whom the “lex caelibatus” would not apply.

For it does not appear that the conciliar Fathers ever considered a married diaconate to which the lex caelibatus would not apply, to be the mere tautology that it is.  For the conciliar bishops, the waiver of the lex caelibatus with respect to married deacons was quite uncritically understood to connote the legitimation of conjugal intercourse.  The vote on the waiver of celibacy for the younger deacons could only imply that more than a third of the bishops voting were in favor doing what had never been formally discussed: legitimating subsequent marriage or remarriage by a man in full exercise of major orders.

As Gérard Philips observes, “a large majority of the Fathers flatly said no” to the minority proposal of the dropping of the law of celibacy for the younger candidates for the diaconate.  We may be quite sure that in the minds of the minority, the noncelibacy which they would permit the younger candidates did not carry the implicit qualification that as married deacons they would live in continence.  Rather, for reasons which we shall later explore,[18] the minority view of the restored diaconate had so accepted a dissociation of celibacy from major orders, at least with respect to the diaconate, as to no longer consider ordination to the diaconate a diriment impediment to subsequent marriage.

Given this dissociation, they could hardly be concerned for the continence of married deacons.  But again, insofar as one may judge from the conciliar documents, as well as from the reports of those present, there was no significant discussion of this underlying point of view.  It would seem to have passed unchallenged by the majority, who simply held to the ancient tradition.  For there is no record of such a subtlety entering into the conciliar discussion.  In the view of the minority at least, the relaxation for diaconal candidates of the lex caelibatus was identically the relaxation of the traditional requirement not only of married continence for those in diaconal orders, but was also the dismissal of the tradition which had found in major orders a diriment impediment to marriage.

But what of the majority?  We can only conclude that they rejected what they understood the minority to approve: the admission to the diaconate of unmarried candidates, who subsequent to ordination might marry and enter into marital relations.

It is important to emphasize that an approval by the conciliar Fathers of the subsequent marriage of unmarried deacons would have for them to have flatly rejected the liturgical and doctrinal tradition of clerical celibacy which Stickler, Concini and Cholij have rightly judged to be apostolic in its origins — and more, to have done this without any conciliar discussion of so radical a step.

Yet further, that step — the conciliar approval of a view of diaconal orders in which ordination to the diaconate would not be a diriment impediment to marriage — would not only have amounted to a conciliar approval of the noncontinence of married clerics across the board; its dissociation of celibacy from major orders would have instituted a drastic alteration in the sacramental doctrine of Roman Catholicism, one extending to the Eucharist itself, which for reasons which cannot here be explored, would thereby have ceased to be the offering of the One Sacrifice.[19]

Therefore, the majority of the conciliar Fathers, whose views found expression in Lumen Gentium §29, were aware of the doctrinal significance of clerical celibacy, if inarticulately: for the majority, the celibacy required of the younger candidates to the diaconate connoted a continuing obligation to continence, and most certainly was associated with recognizing, in ordination to the diaconate, a diriment impediment to subsequent marriage.  The majority’s rejection of a noncelibate youthful diaconate, one whose members might later marry, is otherwise unintelligible.  This rejection of the minority approval of a noncelibate and noncontinent youthful diaconate cannot but have had consequences for what the majority understood the opening up of the diaconate to married men to entail, but these consequences seem never to have been explored at the Council.

Consequently it is manifestly important to clarify the terminology used in the conciliar approval of the restored permanent diaconate, and in the papal legislation implementing that restoration.  Specifically, it is necessary to avoid what the conciliar Fathers did not avoid, the confusion which would identify the “lex caelibatus” with the obligation to continence and, eo ipso, would identify relaxation of the “lex caelibatus” with a relaxation of the obligation of continence in those ordained to major orders.

We have seen that “celibacy” and “celibate” do not identify respectively with “continence” and “continent.”  A celibate priest or deacon is unmarried; he is expected to be continent, but a sinful noncontinence does not nullify his celibate state.  A noncelibate priest or deacon is one who is married; his noncelibacy does not imply or warrant his noncontinence, in law or in fact.

Thus the celibacy and the continence of those in major orders are in the same positive correlation which links marriage to fidelity in the married;[20] a married deacon or priest cannot be celibate — this is a matter of definition.  Nonetheless, he should be continent, for the reasons adduced by Cochini and Cholij, and resumed in Archbishop Stafford’s recent lecture.[21]  It is then evident that those men who are candidates for a liturgical office by which they will be arctius altari conjungi[22] are held to continence, and precisely by such ordination, whether they are celibate or married.  No other reading of Lumen Gentium §29 is internally coherent, nor could it be made consistent with the later papal legislation instituting the restored diaconate.

II The Papal Documents

Three years after the Council, Paul VI began to lay down the norms for the permanent diaconate: first in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,”[23], then in “Pontificalis Romani Recognitio,”[24] and finally in “Ad pascendum”[25].  Moreover, the Pope had earlier spoken to the same subject, if only briefly, in “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.”[26]

“Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” is then the first in time of these documents; it bears only in passing upon the diaconate but, because “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” follows immediately upon it, what it has to say on that subject is of no little interest.  We quote §13 of “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,” in full, and the final paragraph of §42:

§13         Porro hi contradictorum veluti concentus non solum perantiqua et grandia testimonia sive Pastorum Ecclesiae, sive magistrorum pietatis opprimere videtur, sed etiam viva in nostrisque oculis haerentia exempla, ab innumerabili cohorte edita sanctorum ac fidelium Dei administrorum, qui in re vera sacrum caelibatum demonstrant sibi causam itemque indicium eius fuisse doni, quo se totos laetissimosque Christi mysterio tradiderunt.  Quae utique egregia exempla, non minus nostris quam praeteritis temporibus posita, placate constanterque adhuc loquuntur.  Quapropter Nos, quibus praesentes res semper curae fuerunt, teneri non possumus, quin nec opinatam hanc mirificamque veritatem animadvertimus, qua docemur nunc etiam in Dei Ecclesia, ubicumque terrarum ea sancta tabernacula statuit, innumerabilem multitudinem sacrorum administrorum — subdiaconorum, diaconorum, presbyterorum, episcoporum — voluntarium Deoque sacratum caelibatum caste et integre servare.

§42         Ceteroqui Ecclesiae primores ab hac utenda potestate minime abstinere ex eo colligitur, quod recens Concilium Oecumenicum sapienter censuit, ut sacer nempe diaconatus ordo provectis etiam aetate viris, in matrimonio viventibus, posset conferri.  (emphasis added)

The italicized phrase is perhaps a term of art, although the 1983 Code of Canon Law avoids it; first appearing in Lumen Gentium §29, immediately afterwards in “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,” and then in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” it imports a continuing condition or status which will not cease upon ordination: this can only be the marriage bond itself.  To interpret it otherwise, as warranting the continuing use of marriage by a married deacon is to rest the use of marriage by a deacon upon a highly debatable exegesis of a rather obscure canonical phrase, and to suppose that such a drastic departure from tradition could rest upon such a debatable exegesis.

Such a putative papal rejection of the tradition of diaconal continence would require more foundation than the documents instituting the permanent diaconate can provide.  This is particularly the case when, as here, the implication of a papal dismissal of the requirement of diaconal continence would have clear doctrinal import, as is shown to be the case by Cochini’s establishment of the apostolic origin of the tradition of clerical celibacy.

The third of these documents, the “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” is Pope Paul VI’s formal statement of the rules governing the restored permanent diaconate.  In it, a paragraph confirming the existing law relative to the diaconate, except insofar as specifically altered (“nisi aliter cautum fuerit”), prefaces the numeration of the new regulations; viz:

698         Principio igitur quae in Codice Juris Canonici de diaconorum juribus et officiis, sive omnium clericorum communibus, sive eorundem propriis, statuuntur, ea omnia, nisi aliter cautum fuerit, confirmamus et in eos etiam valere edicimus, qui stabiliter in diaconatu sunt mansuri.  Pro quibus praeterea haec alia, quae sequuntur, statuimus.

There follow thirty-five headings of regulations respecting the restored permanent diaconate; of these, the second, eleventh, sixteenth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-sixth bear upon the requirement, or not, of diaconal continence.

The second paragraph contains a clear if unattributed paraphrase of the final sentence of Lumen Gentium §29; it merely changes the order of phrases in that sentence.  However, even as altered, this text deals only with celibate and noncelibate candidates for the diaconate, and says nothing which could be read to authorize the noncontinence of married deacons.  The law of celibacy, imposed on unmarried candidates for the diaconate, obviously does not hold for married candidates: once more, “celibate” means “unmarried,” and it is simply as a matter of definition that married candidates are not celibate.

Here we place in sequence, for purposes of comparison, once again the final sentence of Lumen Gentium, §29, and the excerpt from “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” which depends upon it:

Lumen Gentium, §29: De consensu Romani Pontificis hi Diaconatus viris maturioris aetatis etiam in matrimonio viventibus conferri poterit, necnon iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus tamen lex coelibatus firma remanere debet.[27]

699         “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” ¶2: In petenda ab Apostolica Sede approbatione exponendae sunt tum causae, quae novam huiusmodi disciplinam aliqua in regione constitutendam suadeant, tum rerum condiciones, quae veram boni eventus spem afferant; itemque describendus erit eiusdem disciplinae modus, utrum videlicet agatur de diaconatu conferendo iuvenibus idoneis, pro quibus … lex caelibatus firma remanere debet, an viris maturioris aetatis, etiam in matrimonio viventibus, an utrique candidatorum generi.  (original emphasis)

To repeat, the reference in the latter excerpt to Lumen Gentium §29 is by way of italicization, not citation, and so can be said to be implicit.  It can be read only as warranting or authorizing the ordination of deacons “in matrimonio viventibus,” which is to say, the ordination of married men to the diaconate.  Nothing whatever appears in that text to authorize the novelty of a continuing exercise by them of conjugal relations subsequent to their ordination.  It cannot be said to have been instituted by the Pope even tacitly, as by indirection.  It is therefore evident that the condition of such a drastic change in the diaconate, as restored by Vatican II and Paul VI, viz., the “nisi aliter cautum fuerit” set forth in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” at 698, quoted supra and again here, simply is not met:

698 Principio igitur quae in Codice Juris Canonici de diaconorum juribus et officiis, sive omnium clericorum communibus, sive eorundem propriis, statuuntur, ea omnia, nisi aliter cautum fuerit, confirmamus et in eos etiam valere edicimus, qui stabiliter in diaconatu sunt mansuri.  (emphasis added)

The eleventh paragraph of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” requires the permission of the wife before the ordination of the married candidate to the permanent diaconate:

700         ¶11. Grandioris aetatis viri, sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti, ad diaconatum vocari possunt: hi vero ne admittantur, nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec impediant nec dedecorent.  (emphasis added)

Once again, we here see celibacy contrasted not with noncontinence but with marriage, and the contrast evidently is understood as exhausting the possibilities.  This paragraph quite clearly restates the traditional requirement for permission from the wives of married ordinands who, by their husbands’ ordination and consequent continence, would find themselves comparably bound to continence: we shall see that the moral demands placed upon the wife by her husband’s ordination are sufficiently alluded to in the “nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec impediant nec dedecorent.”

Paragraph sixteen is yet more difficult to account for, if one supposes the use of marriage by the married permanent deacon to be licit:

701         ¶16. Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt.

The phrase, “grandiore etiam aetate promoti,” can only refer to those candidates for the diaconate who are “viri(s) maturioris aetatis, etiam in matrimonio viventibus,” (“sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti”) i.e., the older candidates for the permanent diaconate, to whom the law of celibacy does not apply.  Here, we are informed that, whether married or not, once ordained the older deacons are incapable of marrying, or of marrying again.

It is impossible to understand why a second marriage should be excluded “ex tradita ecclesiae disciplina” if, contrary to that traditional discipline, conjugal intimacy in an existing marriage is acceptable.  The paragraph clearly refers back to the ancient tradition which found such a remarriage, with its implication of reinstituted conjugal intercourse by one in higher orders, entirely immoral and in fact impossible.  This interpretation, the sole possible one, of course invokes again the traditional law of continence for married deacons.

The twenty-fifth paragraph is as follows:

702         ¶25. Diaconi, utpote qui Christi et Ecclesiae mysteriis inserviant, a quovis pravitatis vitio se abstineant Deoque semper placere studeant, ad omne opus bonum pro hominum salute parati.9 (Cfr. 2 Tim 2,21)  Ob receptum ergo ordinem, longe aliis excellant oportet in vitae liturgicae actione, in studio precandi, in divino ministerio, in oboedientia, in caritate, in castitate.  (original emphasis)

First to be remarked of this paragraph is the Pope’s emphasis upon the traditional liturgical responsibility of the permanent deacon, a matter we have seen to have been largely ignored by Lumen Gentium §29.  Secondly, we note that the “castitas” to which the preceding quotation makes reference is the traditional equivalent of that “pudicitia” which from the earliest years had described the continence required of those ordained to the episcopacy, priesthood, and diaconate.[28]

The twenty-sixth paragraph of this papal document takes for granted the liceity of permanent deacons “in matrimonio viventium,” once again contrasting that state not with continence, but with celibacy.  A single diaconal spirituality is said to be incumbent upon both celibate deacons, and those who are married, viz., those “in matrimonio viventes:”

702-03   ¶26. Episcopalis Conferentiae erit efficaciores normas statuere ad spiritualem vitam alendam diaconorum, tam in caelibatu quam in matrimonio viventium.  Curant tamen locorum Ordinarii, ut omnes diaconi:

1)  assidue legendo attenteque secum meditando Dei verbo vacent;

2)  frequenter vel etiam cotidie, quantum fieri potest, Missae sacrificio actuosi intersint, SS. Eucharistiae sacramento reficiantur idemque pietatis causa invisant; (emphasis added)

Again, we note the stress which Pope Paul VI has placed upon the Eucharistic focus of the restored diaconate.  Here the Pope makes the first clear reference, whether in Lumen Gentium or in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” to the ordained deacon as “in matrimonio vivens.”  The only use of such language in Lumen Gentium or in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” related to married candidates for the diaconate.  If in fact “in matrimonio vivens” does imply ongoing conjugal relations, surely here was the place to have made it clear, for the contrast, constant heretofore, of celibacy with marriage, not with noncontinence or with the use of marriage, has excluded a reading of “in matrimonio viven(te)s” which would imply the liceity of marital intercourse after ordination to the diaconate.

The earlier paragraph (11) of the same document, in which we have read that the consent of the wife of the married candidate for the diaconate is prerequisite to his ordination, only confirms the equation of “in matrimonio viventes” with the reality of marriage bond itself:

700         ¶11. Grandioris aetatis viri, sive caelibes sive etiam matrimonio conjuncti, ad diaconatum vocari possunt: hi vero ne admittantur, nisi constet non solum de uxoris consensu, sed de eiusdem etiam christiana morum probitate illisque dotibus, quae viri ministerium nec empediant nec dedecorent.  (emphasis added.)

According to the tradition which Cochini and Stickler have cogently argued to be of apostolic origin, it was precisely the post-ordination use of marital relations by the married deacon which was described as an impediment to the diaconal ministry at the altar, and as indecent.  Consequently, the addition of this ad cautelam proviso must be read as meant to guard the consequently continent modality of life required for the admission of married candidates to diaconal orders: that they be continent thereafter, and this with the wife’s consent and with her foreseen moral support.

This interpretation is the simplest reading of the language of paragraph 26, “tam in caelibatu quam in matrimonio viventium.”  Once again, it is to be noted the paired opposites are presented as exhaustive; further, if “in caelibatu (viventes)” simply means “unmarried,” as opposed to “in matrimonio viventes” as the equivalent of “married,” nothing in this paragraph (26) can be shown to warrant a noncontinent married permanent diaconate.  If on the other hand “caelibatus” does not exhaust the alternatives to “in matrimonio vivens” this needs to be shown, whereas that it does not has only been assumed — unwarrantably — by those who suppose the married deacon to be permitted conjugal relations simply qua noncelibate.

It must be therefore be concluded that at this point in the documentation there has appeared no warrant for the novel understanding of the diaconate whereby the ordination of married men to the permanent diaconate would no longer oblige them to subsequent continence.  Because they are married, such deacons are by definition not celibate, but this says nothing as to their freedom to continue to engage in marital relations.  The relaxation of the “lex caelibatus” for the permanent diaconate does not in any manner imply the relaxation of the obligation of continence for those in major orders.  It is intended merely to open up candidacy for the permanent diaconate to a group of men formerly excluded from such orders by the fact of their married state, their noncelibacy.

It is further to be noted that conjoined to paragraph 26 supra is a subsection exhorting precisely the close association of the deacon with the Eucharistic sacrifice which has been — and remains — the liturgical ground for clerical continence.  In fact, whatever the silence of the Fathers at the Council on the point, “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” clearly assigns to the restored permanent diaconate the liturgical responsibilities within the Church’s Eucharistic worship which have been traditional to the diaconate as such:

701         ¶22.     Secundum memoratum Concilii Vaticani II Constitutionem, diaconi est, quatenus loci Ordinarius haec ipsa expedienda commiserit:

1)         inter actiones liturgicas episcopo et presbytero adesse in omnibus, quae rituales varii ordinis libri eidem attribuunt;

3)         Eucharistiam asservare, sibi ceterisque distribuere, eam in viaticum morientibus offere, atque eucharisticam benedictionem, quam dicunt, cum sacra pyxide populo impertire.

Further, the prefatory pages of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” leave no doubt that the restored permanent diaconate is indeed the sacramental Order of the apostolic tradition, ordination to which confers a specific character, by which the deacon is ordered to the service of the altar.  This service of the altar had been further spelled out in earlier introductory paragraphs, among them following, which assign and confirm the traditional liturgical duties of the diaconate:

697-98   Sacrum diaconatus ordinem iam inde a prisca Apostolorum aetate catholica Ecclesia magno in honore habuit, quemadmodum ipse Gentium Doctor testatur, qui diaconos una cum episcopis nominatim salvere jubet1 (Cfr. Phil 1, 1) atque Timotheum docet, quaenam virtutes animique dotes ab iisdem sint expetendae, ut suo digni ministerio aestimentur.2 [Cfr. I Tim 3, 8-13.] (emphasis added)

Porro Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, perantiquam huiusmodi morem servans, honorificam diaconatus mentionem in Constitutione, a verbis Lumen Gentium incipienti, fecit ibique, cum de episcopis et presbyteris egisset, tertium quoque sacri ordinis gradum celebravit, eius dignitatem illustrando atque officia percensendo.  Verum hinc probe intellegens haec munera, ad vitam Ecclesiae summopere necessaria, in disciplina Ecclesiae latinae hodie vigenti in pluribus regionibus adimplere difficulter posse, hinc tantae rei commodius consulere exoptans, sapienter decrevit, ut diaconatus in futurum tamquam proprius ac permanens gradus hierarchiae restitui posset.3 (Cfr. n. 29; A.A.S. 57 [1965] p. 36.)

Quamvis enim nonnulla diaconorum munera laicis viris, in terris praesertim missionali opere excolendis, revera committi soleant, eos tamen juvat… qui ministerio vere diaconali fungantur…per impositionem manuum inde ab Apostolis traditam corroborari et altari arctius coniungi, ut ministerium suum per gratiam sacramentalem diaconatus efficacius expleant.4 (Cfr. Conc. Vat. II, Decr. Ad Gentes, n. 16; A.A.S. 58 [1966] p. 967)  Qua profecto ratione optimo quasi in lumine collocabitur propria huiusce Ordinis natura, qui non tamquam merus ad sacerdotium gradus est existimandus, sed indelebili suo charactere ac praecipua sua gratia insignis ita locupletatur, ut qui ad ipsum vocentur, ii mysteriis Christi et Ecclesiae stabiliter inservire possint.5  (Cfr. Conc. Vat. II, Const. Dogm. Lumen Gentium, n. 11: A.A.S. 57 [1965] p. 46.)

In 1972, norms for admission to the diaconate were promulgated in “Ad Pascendum;” these include:

6. The special consecration of celibacy observed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and its obligation for candidates to the priesthood and for unmarried candidates for the diaconate are indeed linked with the diaconate.  The public commitment to holy celibacy before God and the Church is to be celebrated in a particular rite, even by religious, and is to precede ordination to the diaconate.  Celibacy taken on in this way is a diriment impediment to entering marriage.

In accordance with the traditional discipline of the Church, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage.26

26Apostolic Letter Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem, n. 16: A.A.S. 59 (1967), p. 701.

“Ad pascendum,” A.A.S. 64 [1972] 534-540; tr. Documents, 439

The language bearing upon the continence expected of the ordained deacon, married or unmarried, remains indirect.  For example, the celibacy attaching to the office of the priesthood, and of the unmarried deacon, is said to be a diriment impediment to marriage.  We have earlier seen that the married deacon is unable to remarry (“Post ordinem receptum diaconi, grandiore etiam aetate promoti, ex tradita Ecclesiae disciplina ad ineundum matrimonium inhabiles sunt”).  If there was there no explicit mention of a diriment impediment, it is understandable enough, for it is ordination to the diaconate which is the ground of the impediment: the language quoted here is sufficiently explicit as to its reality.  In the end, the obligation of consecrated celibacy is of sacramental, not merely of juridical provenance: thus before affirming that diaconal orders constitute a diriment impediment to marriage, “Ad Pascendum” speaks not of an illiceity but of an incapacity in the deacon with respect to subsequent marriage.

That the requirement of diaconal continence is left intact by Vatican II and Pope Paul VI is yet further manifest in the spate of scriptural and patristic references in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and again in “Ad Pascendum” — these references to Phil 1:1, to I Tim 3, to 2 Tim 2, to Ignatius Martyr, to Polycarp, to Irenaeus, to Justin Martyr, to Tertullian, to the Didascalia Apostolorum, to Hippolytus’ Traditio Apostolica, to Leo the Great — invite the application to the renewed permanent diaconate of all that had been understood by the patristic tradition to pertain to the diaconal office.

With the publication of Cochini’s research, anticipated by the work of Alfons Cardinal Stickler and confirmed by that of Roman Cholij, the burden of going forward with the evidence rests upon whoever would deny that the apostolic tradition of continence is integral to the apostolic and the patristic understanding of the diaconal Order, and consequently that the tradition is liturgical and therefore is doctrinal.  It is not at all a mere disciplinary usage, as Cochini and Cholij have shown.

As prelude to the list of “norms” set out in “Ad Pascendum,” Pope Paul VI recited his extensive consultation with “experts,” as well as with the episcopal conferences.  It is inconceivable that he would have ignored the scholarship of Fr. Stickler who, raised by Pope John Paul II to the archiepiscopate in 1983 and to the Cardinalate in 1985, had already at the time of the Council a stellar reputation as a Church historian, and who as we have seen had published a paper directly on the continence of the diaconate in 1964 and another in 1970, well prior to “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and “Ad Pascendum.”  Cochini has written:

Fr. Stickler was an expert at the Second Vatican Council, which decided, as we recall, the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Church.  His study, “The Continence of the Deacon, Especially during the First Millennium of the Church,” published in 1964, was written as part of studies aiming to bring to the Council Fathers elements of reflection borrowed from history.  The author points out that one must understand celibacy in the early Church not only as meaning a prohibition of marriage, but also in the sense of perfect continence for those who were already married.  The Western Church Tradition is studied in the light of the teachings of the councils, of the Fathers, and of the Roman pontiffs who always preserved (or restored) its essential features.  The author opines it is on the basis of motivations inherent in the very nature of the Order and of the sacred ministry that this uninterrupted tradition demands a perfect continence on the part of those who have been married before receiving sacred Orders.

Apostolic Origins, at 43.

The doctrinal point raised by Fr. Stickler — viz., that continence is integral to the diaconal service at the altar — seems never to have been expressly contested by the Fathers in the Council.  This impression is confirmed by the conciliar reportage, supposing it to be accurate, of Vorgrimler and Philips, supra, as well as that of Henri Fesquet.[29]  Similarly, Michael Novak’s fuller account of the debate over diaconal celibacy never touches on this point.  The only debate was over marriage versus celibacy for the diaconate; the continence which the tradition has required of married deacons simply did not arise as a topic of discussion.

In connection with this reportage, it is noteworthy that Stickler’s name, that of a peritus at the Council who had addressed this much-discussed subject expressly in the 1964 article cited by Cochini, supra, is not found in the index of Vorgrimler’s Commentary, in which the quotations supra from Vorgrimler and Philips appeared; neither is he mentioned in Fesquet’s book, nor in Novak’s, nor in the Actus Synodalia.  It can hardly be supposed, then, that his well-known position had been controverted by the conciliar Fathers: such a controversy could not have passed unnoticed, whereas we have both Vorgrimler and Philips as witnesses to its absence from the conciliar discussion.  We must conclude that Stickler’s point of view was never opposed at the Council, and more likely, that the question of whether or not the married permanent deacon was to be continent was not raised at all.  As has been seen, it does appear that a large minority of the conciliar Fathers took for granted the noncontinence of the married diaconate: otherwise, the minority approval of waiving celibacy also for the younger candidates for the diaconate is without point.

Cochini has shown that the continence of the diaconate was from the earliest records considered to be on the same level as that of the priest and the bishop, and that this requirement of continence in those serving the altar did and does not rest upon such early legislation as that promulgated by the Councils of Elvira (305) and of Carthage (390) (which, bye the bye, are cited neither by “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” nor by “Ad Pascendum”) but rests rather upon a liturgically-grounded apostolic tradition which links celibacy and marital continence to the intercessory Eucharistic role of the higher clergy, whose rank reflects the level of their direct responsibility for the celebration of the Mass.  Following I Tim 3:8-13, this continence was from the earliest times held consistent with the ordination of married men to the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate, who were held to strict continence thereafter.  Such ordination of married men was predicated upon the prior consent of the wives of the candidates, for of course ordination imposed continence upon them as well as upon their husbands, even to the point of forbidding the widows of deacons, as well as of priests and bishops, to remarry quite as it forbade widower bishops and priests to remarry; we have seen this requirement reaffirmed in §11 of “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and also in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.  The ordination of younger, unmarried men to the diaconate required then as now a life-long commitment to celibacy and obviously to continence.

It is only with the Council in Trullo, at the end of the seventh century, that this discipline lapsed in the Eastern Churches; Cochini has detailed the circumstances of this deviation, and Cholij, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, has seconded Cochini’s conclusion that it is indeed a deviation, as has also Henri Crouzel.[30]

In the light of Lumen Gentium’s omission, stressed by Vorgrimler, of any mention of participation in the celebration of the Eucharist as among the duties, liturgical and otherwise, of permanent deacons, it might have been asked whether the “permanent diaconate” envisaged by the Council had not suffered a sea change from that of which the apostolic tradition has demanded celibacy.  For an instance of such change exists: Cochini and Cholij both record a change in liturgical responsibility in the reverse direction, which affected the subdiaconate in the West from the fifth century onward to Vatican II.  From its primitive standing as an exterior service or ministry akin to that of an acolyte, lector or porter, the subdiaconate had by the fifth century became directly involved in the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery.  Thereupon it was recognized by the Pope as a major Order, and its candidates were committed to continence, despite the considerable inconveniences involved in the drastic demand this novelty placed upon married subdeacons.  The abolition of the subdiaconate as a major Order, and its consequent dissociation from celibacy by Pope Paul VI in “Ministeria Quaedam,” §4,[31] can only reflect a shifting of the liturgical responsibilities of the subdiaconate away from direct responsibility for the Eucharistic celebration.  In Rahner’s view, just such a shifting of responsibility, from liturgical to practical responsibilities, would appear to have long since overtaken the permanent diaconate at the time of its recommended reinstitution by Lumen Gentium and Ad Gentes Divinitus, and its actual institution by “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” and “Ad Pascendum.”

However, if only because the conciliar motives for that reinstitution of the permanent diaconate, as set forth in Lumen Gentium, §29 did not touch the diaconal exercise of a direct responsibility in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, it is evident that no change in the liturgical responsibilities of the permanent diaconate was in contemplation at the Council.  What may have been assumed by many of the Fathers present there is another matter.

In any case, Paul VI, in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” explicitly reaffirmed the liturgical and particularly the Eucharistic responsibility, and the correlative Eucharistic spirituality, of the restored diaconate.  The Pope was equally insistent upon the traditional hierarchical rank of the permanent diaconate, and upon the indelible sacramental character which the ordination to it, by the imposition of hands, effects.

There can be no doubt that the Pope has restored the permanent diaconate in the sense of the traditional, sacramentally-conferred, hierarchical Order, an Order which he describes in the traditional language of “altari arctius conjungi.”[32]  It is this closeness to the altar, inseparable from their liturgical office, that Cochini has shown to be the basis for the ancient tradition requiring continence of deacons, as it is required of bishops and of priests.

Yet further: it must be kept in mind that the Nota Explicativa which Pope Paul VI added as an appendix to Lumen Gentium bars the reading into that document, by way of a supposedly latent implication, of any novel doctrinal affirmation:

the sacred synod declared as binding on the Church only those matters of faith and morals which it has expressly put forward as such.[33]

It is impossible to find in the documents of Vatican II any intent or indeed any intimation of an intent to teach a novel interpretation of the sacrament of orders; in fact, the conciliar intent to attach the renewal of the permanent diaconate to the biblical and patristic tradition is evident.

Thus, the post-conciliar proliferation of married and noncontinent deacons, in the face of an evident apostolic tradition denying the liceity of such a practice, demands a solution which can only be an explicit recognition of the binding character of the apostolic tradition of diaconal continence.  The pastoral problem has no other answer, for any alternative would undercut the nature of the diaconate itself, as arctius altari conjungi.  Further, the implications of the noncontinent married diaconate for the celibate priesthood cannot be ignored: if a noncontinent diaconate, “altari arctius conjungi,” is legitimate in the Latin Church, all that remains for the legitimation of a married and noncontinent priesthood and episcopacy is negotiation of the terms of the surrender of all sacramental realism.  In the final analysis, we are dealing with a matter which puts in issue the point upon which the Reformation turned, and which was resolved at Trent: the Mass as the celebration, or not, of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  If the apostolic doctrine on that point is to be upheld, so also that which is strictly conjoined to it, the celibacy of those who serve the altar upon which the One Sacrifice is offered and the One Flesh of the New Covenant instituted.

The contemporary fact of the married deacons — and perhaps of married priests as well — in full exercise at once of their marital intimacy and their orders is an obvious surd in Roman Catholic life and worship, for the coincidence of conjugal relations with responsibility for service arctius altari conjungi has been illicit since apostolic times for reasons going to the heart of the Church’s Eucharistic worship in truth.  Consequently, there is every reason to deny that the restoration of the permanent diaconate in any sense legitimates the noncontinence of deacons “in matrimonio viventes.”

The Fathers at Vatican II, and Paul VI in his implementation of Lumen Gentium, §29, were intent upon the restoration of the third hierarchical Order; it is evident from the opening paragraphs of “Pontificalis Romani Recognitio” that there was no intent to introduce a novelty:

Pontificalis Romani recognitio non tamen generali modo a Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II praescribitur,1 sed etiam peculiaribus regitur normis, quibus eadem Sacra Synodus ritus Ordinationum, sive quoad caeremonias sive quoad textus2 dimutari iussit.  (original emphasis)

Sed ex Ordinationis ritibus illi imprimis considerandi sunt, quibus per Sacramentum Ordinis, vario gradu collatum, sacra Hierarchia constituitur: sic ministerium ecclesiasticum divinitus institutum diversis ordinibus exercetur ab illis qui iam ab antiquo Episcopi, Presbyteri, Diaconi vocantur.3  (original emphasis)

In recognitione autem ritus Ordinationum Sacrarum, praeter principia generalia, quibus integra instauratio Liturgiae, iuxta praescripta Concilii Vaticani II, regi debet, summopere attendendum est ad praeclaram illam doctrinam de natura et effectibus Sacramenti Ordinis, quae in Constitutione de Ecclesia ab eodem Conciliio pronuntiata est, nam textus et ritus ita ordinari oportet ut sancta, quae significant, clarius exprimant, eaque populus christianus, in quantum fieri potest, facile percipere atque plena, actuosa et communitatis propria celebratione participare possit.4  (original emphasis)

1Conc Vat. II, Const. de Sacra Liturgia, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 25: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 107.

2Ibid., n. 76: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 119.

3Conc. Vat. II, Const. dogm. de Ecclesia, Lumen gentium, n. 28: A.A.S. 57 (1965) pp. 33-34.

4Conc Vat. II, Const. de Sacra Liturgia, Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 21: A.A.S. 56 (1964) p. 106.

After reading language such as this, it is impossible to believe that the restoration of the permanent diaconate by the Council and the Pope contemplated making any alteration in the sacrament of orders.  Some at least of the conciliar Fathers must have been aware of the doctrinal weight of the traditional obligation of diaconal continence; Fr. Stickler’s articles would not have passed unnoticed.  While the Fathers agreed at the Council to permit a married permanent diaconate, and while there is reason to suppose that the commentators we have cited (Vorgrimler, Philips, Novak, Fesquet), and with them a minority of the Fathers, understood the phrase “in matrimonio viventibus” to connote or denote permission for the continuing use of marriage by married deacons, there is no indication in the records of the conciliar debates that the Fathers ever approved a noncontinent married diaconate.  In fact, the evidence is all to the contrary effect.  The reasons for the confusion at the Council over the meaning of diaconal celibacy are not apparent on the record.[34]

Married bishops, priests, and deacons are no novelty in the Church, but the use of marriage by men in major orders is precisely the novelty which Stickler understood it to be; we have seen Stickler repeat this conviction, which the research of Cochini and Cholij has since corroborated.

Finally, the theological development of the doctrine of “Pastores Dabo Vobis” presented by Archbishop Stafford’s lecture provides further reason for agreeing with Cochini’s affirmation of the patristic origin of the Latin tradition of clerical celibacy; it does appear that the sacramental signs themselves of marriage and of orders intimate the impropriety of noncontinence in anyone who is “altari arctius coniungi,” as we have seen the diaconal office described by Paul VI in “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.”

Vorgrimler has pointed to the large minority of bishops at the Council who voted to relieve even the unmarried deacon of any consequent obligation of celibacy.  We can hardly suppose so large a number of the world’s Catholic bishops to be intent upon dismissing an apostolic doctrine, and yet the perduring tradition of clerical continence can have no other ground — but this is precisely what does not appear to have been suspected by that minority of Fathers who voted against diaconal celibacy at the Council.  The minority of the Fathers — a sizable minority — quite clearly intended to dispense even the young unmarried deacons from both celibacy and from continence in marriage.  The only alternative to this conclusion is that the minority read “celibacy” strictly, to mean unmarried simply, so that the dropping of the requirement of celibacy for unmarried deacons meant permission for them to marry after ordination coupled with the obligation to live continently thereafter — but for the reasons which have been set out, that alternative appears to be excluded: in brief, it is pointless.

When the majority reaffirmed the requirement of celibacy traditional for unmarried deacons, and at the same time approved the ordination of married men to the diaconate — thus approved the ordination to the permanent diaconate of men who were not celibate — they did not thereby license the use of marriage by such deacons; had they done so, there would have been no possible basis for their firm refusal to drop the requirement of celibacy for younger candidates for the diaconate.

In sum, there is every reason to insist that the sacrament of orders remains as it has been, and that the current practice — one cannot speak of its canonical institution — of a noncontinent diaconate is an aberration which will not attain a permanent standing in the Church.

Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

(formerly) St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie

October, 1998


[ed. note: while this essay shows signs of being dated, the essential dogmatic elements remain the same]


[1] Alfons Stickler, “La continenza dei diaconi specialmente nel primo millenio della chiesa,” Salesianum 26 (1964) 275-302; “Tratti salienti nella storia del celibato,” Sacra Doctrina 15 (1970) 585-620; “Il celibato ecclesiatico” in L’Osservatore della Domenica, supplements to nos. 103, 109, and 115 of L’Osservatore Romano for May 6, 13, 20, 1979; “L’évolution de la discipline du célibat dans l’Église en Occident de la fin de l’âge patristique au Concile de Trente,” in Sacerdoce et célibat.

[2] Archbishop (now Cardinal) J. Francis Stafford, “The Eucharistic Foundation of Sacerdotal Celibacy,” Origins 23/12 (2 Sept., 1993) 211-216.  The then-Archbishop Stafford delivered this address at a conference on the priesthood, held under the auspices of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy on May 26-28, 1993, at the Gregorian University in Rome to mark the first anniversary of the papal encyclical, Pastores Dabo Vobis.  His essay relies upon Christian Cochini, S.J., Origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal.  Préface du Père A. Stickler; coll. Le Sycamore (Paris: Éditions Lethielleux; Namur: Culture et Vérité, 1981).  Page references hereafter to Fr. Cochini’s chef d’oeuvre will be to its English translation, The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy.  With a Preface by Father Alfons M. Stickler.  Translated by Nelly Marans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990) [henceforth, Apostolic Origins].  This latter edition is furnished with an index, unfortunately lacking in the original.  See also Roman Cholij, Clerical Celibacy In East And West.  Foreword by Alfons Cardinal Stickler, S.D.B., Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church; Preface by Michael Napier of the Oratory (Leominster, Herfordshire: Fowler Wright Books, 1989) [henceforth, Clerical Celibacy].  At the time of his writing, Fr. Cholij, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was secretary to the bishop of the Ukrainian-rite Catholics of London.  As Cardinal Stickler observes, Fr. Cholij’s book is a most valuable supplement to Fr. Cochini’s work, the more so in that although himself a member of a rite (Ukrainian) permitting the ordination of married men and their subsequent exercise of marital rights, Cholij agrees with Cochini that this concession rests upon a mistaken interpretation written by the Quinisext Council (In Trullo) into the Greek translation of the canons of the Council of Carthage.

Fr. Cochini’s book originated as a doctoral dissertation for the Institut Catholique (Paris), while Fr. Cholij’s study was written as a doctoral dissertation in canon law at the GregorianUniversity in Rome.  Cochini’s dissertation, defended before a board headed by Jean Cardinal Daniélou, S.J., was at the latter’s urging, with the approval of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and under Fr. Alfons Stickler’s guidance, later expanded into the present work.  Its invaluable contribution to the theology of Orders seems to have been little  regarded in this country, although since its appearance in English translation it is being widely read.  Its distinguished author is now a missionary in Taiwan.

[3] During the summer of 1998, American ordinaries received two documents, written in close association by, respectively, the Congregation for the Clergy and the Congregation for Education.  The document from the Congregation for the Clergy was published in English as “Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons,” Origins 28/11 (Aug. 1998) 181-91.  In it we read:

For married candidates, to live love [sic] means offering themselves to their spouses in a reciprocal belonging, in a total, faithful and indissoluble union in the likeness of Christ’s love for his church, at the same time it means welcoming children, loving them, educating them and showing forth to the whole church and society the communion of the family (§68, 188a; emphasis added).

An English translation of the document issued by the Congregation for Education was published in the same number of Origins as “Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons,” ibid., 191-204; it contains the following passage:

In particular, the widowed deacon should be supported in living perfect perpetual continence.192  He should be helped to understand the profound ecclesial reasons which preclude his remarriage (cf. I Tim 3:12), in accordance with the constant discipline of the church in the East and West.193  (§62, at 200b; emphasis added).

192Cf. Canon 277.1.

193Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, III, 16; Ad Pascendum, VI; Canon 1087.  Provision is made for possible exceptions to this discipline in the June 6, 1997, circular letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship; and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Prot. No. 26397, 8.

The circular letter referenced in the footnote quoted supra (193) was published in English as “Deacons’ Remarriage: Laicizing Priests,” Origins 27/11 (Aug. 28, 1997), 169, 171-72, wherein we read:

1. The competence1 to treat of cases of dispensation from the obligations of sacred ordination and of vows in the above mentioned institutes, such dispensation being inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state, lies with this congregation. (at 169b; emphasis added)

1Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 230.139 (Feb. 8, 1989).

On the next page of the English tr. of the circular letter the following language appears:

6. As a consequence of the new disposition concerning the permanent diaconate and of the norms issued by the Holy See5 and by numerous episcopates regarding formation, lifestyle and ministerial activities entrusted to deacons, a difficulty that arises from the impediment preventing “married permanent deacons, widowed after ordination” from contracting a further marriage [sic].  Such a second marriage after ordination could in fact be attempted only under the pain of canonical nullity.6  (at 171a-b)

5Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 29; Paul VI, apostolic letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (June 18, 1967): A.A.S. 59 (1967), pp. 697-704; apostolic constitution Pontificalis Romani Recognitio (June 18, 1968): A.A.S. 60 (1968), pp. 369-373; apostolic letter Ad Pascendum (Aug. 15, 1972): A.A.S. 64 (1972), pp. 534-550; Code of Canon Law, Canons 236, 276.2 and .3; 1035.1; 1037; 1042.,1; 1053.3; John Paul II, “Catechesis” from the Oct. 13, 1993, general audience address: Insegnamenti XVI, 2 (1993), pp. 1000-1004; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1554.

6Ad Pascendum, VI, and Canon 1087 in connection with Canon 1078.2.1.

7. For some time it has been evident that because of this prohibition grave difficulties have arisen for those who have been widowed after ordination but are desirous of remaining in the diaconal ministry.

8. With a view to establishing a new practice modifying the current norm, which requires three cumulative and simultaneous conditions which would constitute motivating exceptions for the granting of a dispensation from the prohibition of Canon 1087, this dicastery has requested and has obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are [sic] sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, namely:

—The great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs.

—That he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care.

—That he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care (§8, at 171b).

And finally, at the end of the circular letter:

9. The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.  It was further established that this circular letter be sent to diocesan and religious ordinaries informing them of these new measures for future reference.

10. Diocesan and religious ordinaries are therefore kindly requested to give due attention to these instructions should they have occasion to forward petitions for dispensation to this congregation.

Vatican City, June 6, 1997

Archbishop Jorge Medina Estevez, Pro-Prefect

Archbishop Geraldo M. Agnelo, Secretary

The first passage quoted, (§68) excerpted from the document published by the Congregation for the Clergy, clearly knows nothing of, or ignores, the traditional requirement that married men in major orders be continent in their marriage after ordination: the propriety of sexual relations between married deacons and their wives is even insisted upon.  As will be shown, the liceity of this departure from tradition was never discussed during the Council by any of the bishops concerned for the married diaconate.  Further: it is evident that with their promulgation by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the new norms annul the diriment impediment to marriage constituted by prior ordination to major Orders.  The “diriment” character of that impediment has been summarily negated; the impediment of Orders has been treated as though it were of merely canonical provenance and standing, and its dispensability thereby taken for granted.  The “great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon, etc.,” now trumps “the constant discipline of the church in the East and West” which has required that “such dispensation (be) inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state” — this inseparable connection of its dispensation with dismissal from the clerical state is that which makes the impediment of Orders to be a diriment impediment.  The constant tradition of the Church, East and West, has been denied doctrinal significance, and this without any discussion of the subject by the bishops at Vatican II or elsewhere, and in the entire absence of any competent theological inquiry into the matter other than that provided by Stickler, Cochini and Cholij, whose unanimity contradicts the assumptions of both Congregations and of the Secretary of State.

It is to be noted that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, while asserting that “this dicastery has requested and obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, etc.,” relies for this assertion of papal permission upon a document which on this point is at best ambiguous, for we have read in the circular letter that:

in a letter of March 22, 1997 (no. 402.629) permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

In the first place, the protocol number assigned this letter of March 22nd is the same as given the letter received the previous February 27th concerning the dispensation of laicized priests: both numbers may be in error, and one of them must be.  However that may be, in the footnote citing both of these letters from the Secretary of State we have read that:

The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27th, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22nd, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

Here the Congregation clearly asserts, in the active voice, that the Cardinal Secretary of State has communicated to the Congregation for Divine Worship a papal permission to dispense, under certain circumstances, laicized priests under the age of forty from their canonical incapacity to marry.  In this direct statement there is nothing startling, for while the laicization of a priest does not imply such dispensation, and while its discretional grant by the Pope to priests who have been thus dismissed from the clerical state may be more or less rare, such a dispensation presents no novelty.  However, in the Congregation’s circular letter we find incongruously associated with this dispensation granted to laicized priests, another and entirely different situation.  For it is to be noted that the description in the Congregation’s ‘circular letter,” of the Secretary of State’s letter of March 22nd, couched in the passive voice, makes no mention of any papal approval of the dispensation which may be granted by the Secretary of State to widowed deacons from the canon law and the ancient tradition which have barred their remarriage.  Rather, in that same passive voice, we read that, in the March 22nd letter, “permission was given” to the Congreation for Divine worship to grant such dispensations: it does not say by whom permission was given.

Where, as here in the case of widowed deacons, a papal permission to dispense from a diriment impediment is not clearly asserted, as it was in the circular letter’s immediately prior discussion of the dispensation of laicized priests, that permission cannot be presumed, as the circular letter presumes it.

In the absence of a clearly and responsibly affirmed papal permission, who has the canonical authority to grant such a dispensation from a traditionally diriment impediment?  Within the ambiguous context of the Congregation’s ‘circular letter,’ which touches its jurisdiction, the question does not arise.  Viz., we read:

1. The competence1 to treat of cases of dispensation from the obligations of sacred ordination and of vows in the above mentioned institutes, such dispensation being inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state, lies with this congregation. (at 169b; emphasis added)

1Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 230.139 (Feb. 8, 1989).

The second clause of the quoted sentence is clearly a continuing limitation placed upon the authority of the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The limitation is stated in the present tense, as a fact in being at the time of the writing of the letter.  And in fact, nothing in the following paragraphs of the letter recite any expansion of this jurisdiction by the Pope, who alone can dispense from diriment impediments.  There is only the general statement by the Congregation in paragraph 8, which we have read supra, stating that:

8.   With a view to establishing a new practice modifying the current norm, which requires three cumulative and simultaneous conditions which would constitute motivating exceptions for the granting of a dispensation from the prohibition of Canon 1087, this dicastery has requested and has obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are [sic] sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, namely:

—The great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs.

—That he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care.

—That he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care (at 171b).

This is curious: the “motivating exceptions” apply to all dispensations from “the prohibition of Canon 1087”, which applies to everyone in major orders, not merely to deacons: it reads:

Can. 1087 – Invalide matrimonium attentant qui in sacris ordinis sunt constituti.

Yet we have seen that the circular letter’s application of these exceptions to the dispensation of priests from “the prohibition of Canon 1087” requires their prior laicization, in such wise that these exceptions can have no bearing on their case.  Viz.: the first condition expressly concerns deacons who will remain in the exercise of their orders, while the second and third “conditions” for granting dispensations from Canon 1087 likewise can have no application to the previously unmarried and now laicized priest, unless it contemplates condoning the contumacious attempted marriage of the previously laicized priest under the age of forty who, unable for some reason to meet his responsibilities for his young children, or parents, or parents in-law, now seeks a dispensation from Canon 1087, which condonation can hardly be presumed.   Nonetheless, we have seen that the next paragraph of the circular letter expressly applies these new conditions to priests:

9. The Cardinal Secretary of State, in a letter (No. 4092.629) of Feb. 27, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22, 1997 (No. 402.629) [sic], permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of the permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination.

The clarification of this confusion must be left to canonists: it defeats common sense.

The puzzlement over the reality of an intimated papal approval of the new conditions which would permit the novel remarriage of widowed men in major orders without their prior laicization, which in fact underwrites the encouragement given them by the Congregation for Education and the Congregation for the Clergy to live in marital relations with their wives, might easily be resolved, were the subject letter of March 22nd letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State to the Congregation for Divine Worship available for public or even episcopal inspection.  However, such correspondence is not available in any published collection insofar as a reasonably diligent search can discover.  Thus, even were its protocol number accurately cited in the English tr. of the circular letter in Origins, it would be without value to anyone seeking that information.

One cannot but wonder why these two letters from the Secretary of State, disparate in time as well as in subject matter, were so closely associated by the circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.  They were dealt with separately by the Secretary of State, and no reason appears for their being lumped together four or five months later by the Congregation for Divine Worship: we have seen the muddle which this close association has permitted and perhaps forced.  Further, such a clear departure, in the case of the widowed permanent deacon, from an ecclesial tradition whose authority is nonetheless cited in the first section of that circular letter, needs some rather more solemn form of communication than can be provided by a circular letter.

In this connection, it should not pass without remark that the title given this circular letter by the editor of Origins simply reverses the letter’s order of treatment of its subject matter, which deals first with the dispensation of laicized clergy, and only then with the dispensation of widowed permanent deacons.  This was hardly inadvertent: the editor recognized the relative unimportance of the former subject, and the high significance of the latter, and thus testifies further to the incongruity of their being bundled together in the circular letter.

Not only is the situation anomalous which results from the novel dispensation granted widowed permanent deacons from what has been the diriment impediment of Orders to marriage: it clearly invites a comparable nullification of the celibacy and continence required of the priesthood by a comparably ancient ecclesial tradition, and by the canon law.  This outcome might be thought acceptable on the ground that several Eastern Churches in union with Rome nonetheless permit the marriage of their priests prior to ordination.  They do not of course permit the re-marriage of their priests after ordination without having first dismissed them from the clerical state.  The Eastern practice since Trullo provides no grounds for the re-marriage of widowed permanent deacons.

Once the widowed deacon’s re-marriage is admitted as consistent with his continuing in the exercise of his orders — i.e., with remaining in his clerical state — not only is there undercut the continent fidelity traditionally essential to the spirituality of Orders; there is also invoked by this anomaly a Protestant interpretation of the Eucharist.

Given that the permanent deacon is in major Orders, and thereby arctius altari conjungi, his capacity to remarry while in the exercise of his Order implies either that the diaconal Order is no longer arctius altari conjungi, or that the Eucharist is no longer the offering of the One Sacrifice of the Second Adam for the Second Eve, for by this authorization of the remarriage of widowed deacons the nuptial symbolism of the sacrament of Orders has been dismissed without any discussion of that symbolism, or even any exhibition of interest in it, and this on the level of universally-distributed proclamations by two of the Vatican dicasteries.

The anomaly of diaconal remarriage may continue to be ignored, as it has been by documents issuing from three Vatican dicasteries and the from Vatican Secretary of State: it does not thereby cease to insert confusion into the sacrament of Orders, a confusion which touches the Church’s worship in truth.  Catholic sacramental worship is utterly dependent upon the truth, the authenticity of its sacramental signs, whose institution is of God, not man, but whose safeguard must be the Magisterium.

[4] Actus Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, Vol. III, periodus tertia, Pars I, Sessio Publica IV. Congregationis Generalis LXXX-LXXXII (Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1973) [hereafter, Actus Synodalia], 259-69, esp. 266ff.

[5]A.A.S. 57 [1965] 36.

[6]Codex Juris Canonici, C. 277 distinguishes clearly between celibacy and continence:

§1. Clerici obligatione tenentur servandi perfectam perpetuamque propter Regnum coelorum continentiam, ideoque ad caelibatem adstringuntur, quod est peculiare Dei donum, quo quidem sacri ministri indiviso corde Christo facilius adhaerere possunt atque Dei hominumque servitio liberius sese dedicare valent.

§2. Debita cum prudentia clerici se gerant cum personis, quarum frequentatio ipsorum obligationem ad continentiam servandam in discrimen vocare aut in fidelium scandalum vertere possit.

The distinction between continence and celibacy is again recognized in C. 599:

Evangelicum castitatis consilium propter Regnum coelorum assumptum, quod signum est mundi futuri et fons uberioris fecunditatis in indiviso corde, obligationem secumfert continentiae perfectae in caelibatu.

The most recent examination of the historical articulation of this apostolic tradition, with an overview and criticism of previous studies of clerical celibacy, is provided by Christian Cochini’s study, cited in note 2, supra.  In the foreword of Roman Cholij’s comparable work, Clerical Celibacy In East And West, also cited in note 2, supra, Cardinal Stickler has written that:

These two studies surpass, therefore, all the preceding ones which are often one-sided and even historically wrong, and will constitute in the future the new, scientifically certain basis for every safe statement in this delicate field with all its different and even opposed subjective meanings and objective difficulties.

[7]Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, [henceforth, Documents] at 387.

[8]The official summaries of the Conciliar discussion of diaconal celibacy may be found in Francisco Hellín, Concilii Vaticani II Synopsis in ordinem redigens schemata cum relationibus necnon Patrum orationes atque animadversiones 2. Constitutio Dogmatica de Ecclesia Lumen Gentium; ser. Studi sul Concilio Vaticano II (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1995), 310-315; see also “Relationes circa Caput III”, 2066-2067; 2077-2080.

[9]This may be found in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II [henceforth, Commentary] at 22-30.

[10]“Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” §16 (A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704) at 701.

[11]Stickler has drawn attention to the more inclusive understanding of celibacy in the early Church; see note 1, supra, and Cochini, Apostolic Origins, at 43.

[12]“Ad pascendum,” A.A.S. 64 (1972) 534-540; tr. Documents, at 439:

6. The special consecration of celibacy observed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and its obligation for candidates to the priesthood and for unmarried candidates for the diaconate are indeed linked with the diaconate.  The public commitment to holy celibacy before God and the Church is to be celebrated in a particular rite, even by religious, and is to precede ordination to the diaconate.  Celibacy taken on in this way is a diriment impediment to entering marriage.

In accordance with the traditional discipline of the Church, a married deacon who has lost his wife cannot enter a new marriage.26

26Apostolic Letter Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem, n. 16: A.A.S. 59 (1967), p. 701.

[13]Archbishop Stafford developed this point in the lecture cited in note 2, supra.

[14]The review article, “The Apostolic Origins of Clerical Continence: A Critical Appraisal of a New Book,” Theological Studies 41 (1982) 693-705, which Fr. Roger Balducelli, O.S.F.S., directed to the French original of Cochini’s study, applies an Enlightenment notion of historicity to Cochini’s conclusion of the apostolic origins of clerical celibacy, and on that rather fragile if commonplace foundation dismisses Cochini’s findings.  This is to proceed rather by an ideologically-driven fiat than by a serious examination of Cochini’s argument.  The Enlightenment’s rationalization of history is really not the last word on the subject.

[15]I am indebted to a conversation with Edward N. Peters, J.D., J.C.D., Diocesan Director for Canonical Affairs for the Diocese of San Diego, for a clarifying insight into the failure of the conciliar Fathers to distinguish between celibacy and continence during their discussion of the renewal of the permanent diaconate.  Their inadvertent melding of celibacy with continence may well underlie the post-conciliar divagation from the ancient apostolic tradition of diaconal continence.

[16]Michael Novak, The OpenChurch: Vatican II, Act II (New York: Macmillan, 1962, 1963, 1964), 121-27; see also Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber: The Unknown Council (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), 96-100.

[17]Gérard Philips, “History of the Constitution,” Commentary, 105-137.

[18]See note 33, infra.

[19]The point is developed in Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter’s “Do This in Memory of Me”: A Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Priestly Orders (Toronto: The Mission Press, 8 December, 1983); see also the comparable pastoral letter of Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, “In the Person of Christ, The Head of the Body: The Mystery of the Priestly Vocation,” Origins 18 (1988) 349-360, together with the address cited in note 2, supra.

[20]At bottom, as Cardinal Stafford has pointed out, this is the relation between the ex opere operato effect of the sacrament (the res et sacramentum) — which is the diaconal, priestly or episcopal character in the ordained, and is the matrimonial vinculum in the married — to the ex opere operantis effect, (the res sacramenti) of the sacramental sign — which in the ordained is celibacy, in the married is fidelity, and in each is the free fulfillment, the spirituality, of the respective sacramental sign — whether of Orders or of Matrimony.

[21]Cf. note 1, supra.

[22]“Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem,” A.A.S. 59 [1967] 697-704, at 698.

[23]A.A.S. 59 (1967) 697-704.

[24]A.A.S. 60 (1968) 369-373.

[25]A.A.S. 64 (1972) 534-540; (Documents, 433-441).

[26]A.A.S. 59 (1967) 657, 697; §§ 13 and 42.

[27]See note 4, supra.

[28]Cochini, op. cit., 236 (quoting Ambrose, De officiis III (PL 104b-5a), 247-48, and citing Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, the so-called Canons of Hippolytus, Epiphanius of Constantia, and Jerome; et passim.

[29]Henri Fesquet, The Drama of Vatican II: The Ecumenical Council, June 1962 – December, 1965; tr. Bernard Murchland; American Intro. by Michael Novak (New York: Random House, 1967).

[30]Henri Crouzel, “Une nouvelle étude sur les origines du célibat ecclésiastique,” Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 73 (1982) 293-97.  Cochini’s and Cholij’s works are cited in note 2, supra, et passim.

[31]A.A.S. 64 (15 August, 1972) 529-534; Documents 427-32.

[32]See note 22, supra.

[33]Documents, 423.

[34]The reasons given by the bishops and their theologians at the Council for their advocacy of a noncelibate permanent diaconate sometimes simply assumed without discussion that diaconal celibacy is without intrinsic relation to the diaconate.  This view appears in a highly pertinent document provided me by the late Fr. William J. O’Rourke, S.T.D., then pastor of St. Steven’s Church, Quinebaugh, CT.  Entitled “Formal Request to Restore the Diaconate as a Permanent Order Presented to the Fathers of Vatican Council II in 1962 by the Original Deacon Circle, Munich, West Germany,” it has more recently been translated and published by Patrick McCaslin and Michael Lawler as Appendix 2 of Sacrament of Service (Mahway, NY: Paulist Press, 1986).  Its signatories stressed that

The diaconate, to which, according to St. Paul (cf. I Tim 3:12) the earliest Church councils and the custom of the Eastern Churches up to the present day, married men are admitted, had in the early Church its own specific nature: the basic fundamental was always the liturgical office, while the exercise of the other essential offices, namely the works of charity and the ministry of the word, varied in importance according to the needs of particular places and times. (at 146)

Further on, to the same effect:

The tasks of the restored diaconate would all have their source and center in the intimate connection of the deacon’s office with the Holy Eucharist.  (at 146)

But the signatories and their theological advisor[s] evidently had no intimation of any causal link between that “intimate connection” and the tradition of diaconal celibacy, for they continue:

What of the question of celibacy?  The celibacy of the priest plays an impressive part in witnessing to the reality of supernatural goods, especially in our day, when so much emphasis is placed on the goods of this world.  This celibacy would also apply to deacons under the new plan, when they were members of religious orders.  On the other hand, the Church is also stressing more and more today the witnessing power of the sacrament of matrimony as a sign of Christ’s union with his Church and as a means of sanctification in the world.  As the diaconate of its nature does not require celibacy, it seems that there are rich potentialities for holiness in the married life for those who would also belong to the hierarchy of the Church as deacons.  (at 148-49)

Obviously, this highly pragmatic rationale for a married diaconate can apply to the priesthood as well as to the diaconate.  Further, we see here the confusion of noncelibacy with noncontinence in the allusion to the “rich potentialities for holiness in the married life.”  It would strain the intention of the authors considerably to read into such language that transcendence of matrimony by major orders and the consequent obligation of the ordained to live in continence, which the apostolic and patristic tradition affirms.

The pragmatic mentality we have noted in the “Original Deacon Circle” surfaces again in the near-ultimatum presented the conciliar Fathers by Bishop McHugh of Panama: “Aut diaconatus instauretur uxoratus, aut non instauretur.”  For Bishop McHugh, as for most of the bishops favoring the married diaconate, the justification for its renewal was pastoral and practical.  The married diaconate was perceived as a means of bringing a more or less influential class of laity into closer association with the mission of the Church.  Even Cardinal Spellman, although he had opposed the restoration of the permanent diaconate, had also treated the question of its restoration pragmatically, as a merely disciplinary matter, and Cardinal Döpfner of Munich, who rejected Cardinal Spellman’s objections to the restoration, evinced no interest in exploring the doctrinal content of the traditional requirement of celibacy in the diaconate, although he defended the sacramentality of the diaconate as a matter of doctrine.

Cardinal Döpfner was a major spokesman for the restoration of the permanent married diaconate; his argument, here as elsewhere, was clearly reliant upon the views of his famous peritus, Karl Rahner, whose viewpoint on the question is set out in “The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate,” Theological Investigations V, 269-314 (a translation of his contribution, “Die Theologie der Eneuerung des Diakonates,” to a massive collection of articles which he co-edited with Herbert Vorgrimler, Diaconia in Christo; ser. Quaestiones Disputatae 15/16 (Herder: Freiburg im Breisgau, 1962); see pp. 285-324).  In this essay, Rahner displays a highly nominalist theology of diaconal ordination and diaconal orders.  We find him simply reversing the order of sacramental causality, reasoning as though the sacramental sign were indefinitely plastic, continually informed by concrete facticity of the empirical situation, and not by the liturgical intentionality intrinsic to every sacramental sign and therefore intrinsic to the sacramental character received at ordination, the res et sacramentum which is the effect ex opere operato of the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church by the risen Christ.

E.g., we are told that

If one bears the distinction of office and of the rite of the transmission of office clearly in mind — and if one is quite clear in one’s mind about the fact that in the very nature of things a rite of the transmission of office can “demand” celibacy only if the office to be transmitted demands it — then it will be easy to answer the question with which we are now concerned.  For the Church shows by her practice that she does not see any very close and necessary connection between the office of deacon and celibacy.  For this office exists and is transmitted in the Church without celibacy being demanded.  For, those men and office-bearers in the Church in whose case the desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated here are de facto for the most part married men, and neither the official Church nor people in the Church have ever maintained or felt any incompatibility or inconvenience in the co-existence of this office in recent centuries or at the present time.

Throughout this widely-published article, Rahner expressly presupposes that the service rendered by the participation of married laymen in the Church’s mission is the concrete exercise of a factual if anonymous diaconate which, as anonymous, can only have arisen and been transmitted nonsacramentally: we have seen him speak nonchalantly of deacons as

those men and office-bearers in the Church in whose case the desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated here.  (emphasis added)

For Rahner, clearly enough, the meaning of the diaconal office is controlled by the pragmatics of its quite anonymous exercise.  This entirely gratuitous presupposition controls his analysis.  In view of the presupposed “de facto” situation, ordination to the diaconate, as he argues, must now conform to what that “diaconate” already is, by virtue of its supposedly de facto ongoing transmission and exercise by married laymen.  Every significant question is begged.

Rahner’s reasoning discounts a priori the sacramental efficacy ex opere operato of ordination to the diaconate, and reduces the Church’s liturgical worship to that level of historical anonymity which will support the article’s major premise of an anonymously transmitted diaconate already in existence as a matter of hard fact: i.e., pragmatically.  There is no reason for limiting his rational to the diaconate.

Consequently, for Rahner, the sacramental sign of diaconal orders is intrinsically empty, devoid of any intrinsic intelligibility and so without any intrinsic sacramental efficacy, for that intelligibility, and therefore that efficacy, according to Rahner’s postulate, have already been supplied ab extra, pragmatically and “anonymously” by the de facto historical situation.

To accept this rationale is to accept ordination sola fide; the diaconal Order can have nothing to do with the sacramental realism which specifies Catholicism, nor can any of those office-bearers in the Church in whose case the “desirability of a sacramental transmission of office is indicated”.

We need not here repeat nor enlarge upon the sharp criticism already made of Rahner’s sacramental theology: for a celebrated instance of that criticism, see William A. Van Roo, S.J., “Reflections on Karl Rahner’s “Kirche und Sakramente”,” Gregorianum 44 (1963) 465-500.  The same sacramental nominalism as Rahner then endorsed now serves such organizations as CORPUS with respect to their dismissal of any need for priestly celibacy, and such organizations as the Women’s Ordination Conference with respect to their dismissal of any need for priestly masculinity, or indeed for the priesthood as defined by the Council of Trent.

Summarily, those theologians and bishops favoring the restoration of the permanent diaconate as noncelibate generally understood celibacy to be a merely disciplinary usage, advantageous under past circumstances but without intrinsic significance for the diaconate, and a matter therefore dispensable for practical purposes.  The dropping of this supposedly extrinsic disciplinary requirement was dealt with by them simply as the quite acceptable and necessary price to be paid for supposedly pastoral ends — which were recited at length by some dozen contributors to the last section of the Diaconia in Christo.  It is fairly evident that when celibacy is understood to be merely a disciplinary matter, its waiver is eo ipso the waiver of continence in the married deacon: any other view must derive from something more than an extrinsic disciplinary usage.

The conciliar Fathers’ unconcern for the doctrinal weight of the ancient tradition of diaconal celibacy, and for any doctrinal import which the restoration of the permanent diaconate as noncontinent might have, was not uncommon.  While those favoring the restoration often stressed also the doctrinal character of the close association of the diaconate with the priesthood and the episcopacy, this association contributed little to the discussion.  The novel association of the restored diaconate with marriage and the exercise of marital intercourse by married deacons was much more in view, however uncritically, as the language, already cited, of the “Formal Request” of the Original Deacon Circle reveals:

the Church is also stressing more and more today the witnessing power of the sacrament of matrimony as a sign of Christ’s union with his Church and as a means of sanctification in the world.

From the perspective afforded by the passage of more than thirty years, it may be said that the hopes placed in such a “diaconate” as Rahner, the authors contributing to the final section of Diaconia in Christo, and “The Original Deacon Circle” envisaged, have not been fulfilled, whether in the First World or in the Third.  An anonymous diaconate is finally imperceptible, which is to say, fictive.  An anonymous diaconate cannot but vanish from history, for it has no sacramental objectivity, no character given ex opere operato by the efficacious sacramental sign that is ordination to the diaconal service of the altar, and can only be imperceptible to, and thus without impact upon, the secularity of the world.  If the restoration of the permanent diaconate is to be efficacious in those dioceses which elect it, such restoration can be realized only by a return to the Catholic tradition, and to a fuller appreciation of the sacramental, liturgical, and apostolic specificity of the diaconate than was in evidence among those discussing its renewal at Vatican II, or has been in evidence since.


                   Rev.  Donald J. Keefe, S.J. [1974]
[Father Keefe was an Associate Professor of Doqmatic and Systematic
Theology in the Divinity School of Saint Louis University. Father
Keefe  is a graduate of Colgate University and the Georgetown
School of Law. He received his licentiate in theology at
Woodstock College and his doctorate at the Gregorian University
in Rome. Father Keefe is a member of the Bars of the District of
Columbia, State of New York and the U.S. Supreme Court. He taught
theology at Canisius College in Buffalo before coming to Saint
Louis University in 1970. He is the author of a book, "Thomism
and the Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich: A Comparison of
Systems" (1971).]
During the past few years a number of developments in widely
separated fields have raised the problem of the human norm to a
level of urgency which Catholic theology cannot ignore. Some of
these developments are technical, particularly in the biomedical
area; some are dogmatic, touching particularly the requirement of
masculinity for the Catholic priesthood; some are more properly
cultural and put in question the conventional norms of sexual
morality. Any attempt to propose the fundamental structure of
properly human existence will inevitably reflect upon these
concerns, and doubtless upon many other’s. It is evident that a
brief article on this topic will be open to objections arising
from interests which have been inadequately considered, if at
all, and very few of which can be given a brief response. In
consequence, some limitations must be placed upon any given
discussion, limits which are in no sense a disavowal of the
implications which the norm proposed may entail. For our
purposes, the discussion must be limited to a single issue: the
bearing of the norm upon the morality of “in vitro” conception of
human life. This is in itself a limitation upon the broader topic
of the morality of what has come to be called genetic
manipulation or genetic engineering.
The most adequate treatment of the more general topic by a
Catholic theologian is undoubtedly that of Karl Rahner;(1) his
approach is also endorsed by James Gustafson.(2) As might be
expected, Rahner’s treatment of the topic is not without
subtlety. In the first place, he rejects the possibility of a
deductive approach to moral theology, an approach which would
proceed by inference from some adequate definition of human
nature. The objection to such an approach is its static quality,
and its consequent ignorance of the creative and historical
dynamism of human morality, of human freedom. He then proposes as
his own moral norm what he calls the faith-instinct. This he
regards as universally given to all human beings as the origin of
their moral understanding. The actual process of moral
understanding is one of historical self-determination; otherwise
put, it is the noetic aspect of our con-creation of ourselves in
history. The faith-instinct is directed to a goal, which is
already given: the predetermined nature of man. This
predetermined nature is the object of an existential intuition.
This intuition is simply the direct self-awareness each of us has
of his humanity: it is immediate knowledge, preconceptual, prior
to and the a priori of all reflex thought and utterance. It must
be remembered that Rahner accepts no dichotomy between our
self-awareness and our existence; to exist as human is to exist
as self-aware, and this self-awareness is historical, a
being-toward, an awareness-toward, a final goal which is already
given us as the meaning and the norm of historical existence. It
is this final goal which is the truth of our humanity. Our
immediacy to, our intuition of this truth is also that by which
we are free: to live humanly, historically, morally is therefore
a matter of choice, of decision. We can express our
self-awareness by affirming the human structure which is the
meaning of history, and by so affirming enter into the
con-creation of ourselves, or we can refuse: so to refuse is to
refuse history, the “absolute future” of our humanity. Thus, our
faith-instinct is expressed in moral existence. It cannot be
reduced to objective statement, for its content is the “prius” of
any conceivable conceptual elaboration and is always available
for further expression into history than has been given it. For
Rahner, morality has therefore the structure of self-creativity;
it is a dynamism oriented to a goal which is pre-determined,
toward the production of a self whose ontological truth is not
negotiable, to a destiny uniquely individual which must be
individually accepted as the gift of God, not feared as an alien
trespass upon one’s proper autonomy. For Rahner, it is this fear
of one’s destiny which is expressed in genetic manipulation.
     Now man is in a certain respect most free when he is not
     dealing with a “thing” but calling into being another,
     freely responsible person. If he is not to conceal or fall
     short of his nature, man must be presented clearly with the
     dialectically opposite position of his freedom as a man. And
     in concrete terms that means that the freedom to determine
     another person must remain a clear-cut and radical destiny,
     which one has not chosen but accepted. Procreation in
     particular must not become an act of neurotic anxiety in the
     face of fate. The other person must remain the one who is
     both made and accepted; both an elevating influence, because
     he has been chosen, and a burden to be accepted and carried.
     If man, when confronted with his child, saw only what he had
     himself planned, he would not be looking at his own nature,
     nor would he experience his true self which is both free and
     the object of external determination. Genetic manipulation
     is the embodiment of the fear of oneself, the fear of
     accepting one’s self as the unknown quantity it is.
     . . . . What in actual fact is the driving force behind
     genetic manipulation? What sort of person is driven to it?
     And the answer would be, in the first place, the hate of
     one’s destiny; and secondly, it is the man who, at his
     innermost level, is in despair because he cannot dispose of
This argument Rahner supplements with others: for example, a
sphere of intimacy is necessary to personal freedom, and must be
safeguarded; for another, the fundamental Christian conviction
that history is irreversible should urge our cultivation of “a
sober and critical resistance to the fascination of novel
possibilities.” However, these arguments are not thought to be
conclusive; it is not upon their cogency that the moral decision
is to be based; Rahner considers such reasoning to constitute no
more than
     an appeal to, and the inadequate objectifying of, a human
     and Christian “instinct” which can be discovered in the
     moral field. A moral awareness of this kind (which both is
     and does more than we have mentioned here) forms the context
     in which man has the courage to make decisions; thus a
     decision is also more than its rationale, because the act is
     always more than its theoretical foundation. . . . This will
     is meaningful in spite of the fact that it neither claims
     nor is obliged to be exhaustively analysable by theoretical
     reason; measured against the opposite will, this will is
     more deeply meaningful and more genuinely human.(4)
Rahner is certainly correct in his analysis of the place of
discursive reason in moral decision. The theological rationale
can never be more than an appeal to freedom. It is calculated to
enhance, not displace, free choice and for this to be possible
there must be some co-naturality between the truth which the
rationale proposes, and that presumed to be in the inchoate
possession of the person to whom the appeal is directed.
Consequently, the instinct of faith, understood as the direct
awareness of an as yet unuttered knowledge of the self, is seen
without much difficulty to be the condition of possibility of
moral choice, and so the norm of moral choice, the human norm.
Rahner has also provided it with a certain content, which may be
summed up as historicity: those familiar with his anthropology
will recognize the weight of this word, and acknowledge as well
the power of the transcendental method which has elaborated its
meaning. But in this elaboration we verge upon scholasticism; the
appeal begins to be again to logic, rather than to the instinct
of faith, and this seems to be forced by the need to give the
instinct a public content. Rahner is well aware of the
difficulty; his notion of the anonymous Christian underlies his
attempts to meet it.(5) Unfortunately, this anonymity accorded
the expression of the instinct of faith is in some tension with
its historicity: it should make some identifiable difference to
be a Christian. Given that the anonymity is not complete, and
that the anonymous Christian is urged by his faith-instinct
toward a more adequate, and therefore less anonymous, expression
of his self-awareness, it remains difficult to locate the public
content of the faith-instinct.
In what follows, we will suggest that this human norm which is
given us in the faith-instinct has achieved a privileged public
expression in Judaeo-Christian history. Before doing this, it
will be necessary to look somewhat more closely at the instinct
of faith itself: to many, it will have an unfamiliar sound.
The intuition which is designated the instinct of faith in the
Thomist theological tradition is not a private possession of
Rahnerian Thomism, although the term itself is identifiably
Thomist. Anyone wishing to familiarize himself with its fortunes
in that school may well begin by reading E. Schillebeeckx’s (6)
discussion in the second volume of his Revelation and Theology,
where an ample further bibliography is available. Those standing
outside the Thomist tradition can turn to Tillich’s analysis of
ultimate concern for an understanding of the some reality. More
remotely, we are dealing with Augustinian illumination; still
more remotely, with Platonic anamnesis, given a Christian
conversion. In the medieval period, Bonaventure provided it with
its classic account in the Itinerarium mentis in Deo. Its
importance to the Thomist synthesis is a rediscovery of the
present century, after some centuries of scholastic rationalism.
Schleiermacher revived the interest of Protestant theologians in
it in his equation of faith with a sense of total dependence. The
most important development of it in the modern period is
undoubtedly that of Kierkegaard, whose identification of truth
and subjectivity underlies much of the theological development of
the present century, although the contributions of Newman and
Blondel are also significant. The instinct of faith can thus
claim to be as ancient and as recent as anything in Christian
theology. In the simplest terms, it is intellectual intuition,
the complex datum of immediate awareness. Our problem is to
identify the object of this intuition: precisely what is it that
is intuited, in the concrete? It cannot be simply the triune God,
for the intuition is also an awareness of oneself; further, it is
difficult to understand how an intuition of the Godhead could be
referred to faith in the historical Jesus who is the Christ. On
the other hand, if it is an intuition of the Christ, then the
ontological possibility of such an intuition as a universal datum
of consciousness must be established, and that in such a manner
that the experience permit the anonymity of which we have spoken,
as well as the historical mediation of its content. This is of
course the task of systematic theology: we cannot undertake it
here. Suffice it to say that during the past quarter century or
thereabouts the conviction has been growing that the root datum
of everyone’s direct, preconceptual awareness is a God-given,
gratuitous intuition of one’s relatedness to God in Christ
through the pleroma of his creation, of which we are all
participations. More succintly stated, the instinct of faith,
however labelled, is the intellectual aspect of our creation in
Christ. Rahner has himself been hesitant to go so far,(7) yet
there is some reason to believe that he also is coming to share
this view of the matter. It is in any case the view upon which we
shall now proceed.
If we grant that the object of the immediate intuition which we
have been referring to as the instinct of faith is the Christ, we
must at the same time remember that we have to do with
self-awareness, with the global experience of ourself in relation
to Christ and to his creation which is the condition precedent,
the ontological ground, of our articulated experience. We are
self-aware precisely as radicated in the fundamental relatedness
of Christ to his creation. This correlation of Christ to his
creation constitutes what is usually called the “whole Christ”:
this “whole Christ,” constituted in its entirety by the Father’s
sending of the Son to give the Spirit, is that by which we exist,
for our creation is but our participation in this fullness.
Because our immediate dependence upon it is constitutive of our
whole reality, it is constitutive of our self-awareness, and is
therefore the object, the immediate datum, of the intuition which
we have called the instinct of faith.
This instinct is universal, the subject matter of all religious
experience and of all religious expression. It is a “lumen,” a
continuing illumination, prior to all concepts, which we can no
more escape than we can escape our creation. We can refuse it by
turning away from it, so to speak, but it is inseparable from our
constitution as human in this world. Because it is prior to any
distinction in us between will and intellect, it is immediacy in
the order of goodness as well as in the order of truth: it is
inspiration as well as illumination. It is an invitation, a
continual temptation, to enter freely into the
creative-redemptive work of Christ, to con-create ourselves and
our world in Christ. The appropriate response to this invitation
is simply to live in Christ. Such a life may well be anonymous in
its Christianity, but it is not automatic, for it demands a
decision for the good and the true, for the human, which is not
imposed upon us. This decision is the fundamental moral option,
continually before all human beings throughout history and the
world. Its universal availability is the universal grace of
participation in the Christ, the light of the world.
Because we are immersed in a fallen humanity and in a fallen
history, we have the mysterious ability to refuse to be creative,
to refuse to be free, to refuse to exist in the only order of
history which is real, the history of salvation in Christ. There
is within us a counter dynamism, an inclination contradictory to
that of the instinct of faith. This concupiscence, which
according to the Catholic tradition is rather the effect of sin
and the temptation to sin than sin itself, is oriented to the
nullification rather than the creation of humanity, to the
disintegration of those correlations between Creator and creation
which are the truth and the reality of man, which are intuited in
the instinct of faith.
The most devastating disintegration worked by the concupiscent
instinct is the isolation of the divine from history and so from
the world of men; the cosmos then becomes a place of servitude
and death. This is the commonplace of the pagan religions, whose
salvation schemes, as those of the philosophical systems which
are their heir, require the removal of man from matter and from
One elected people were delivered, by their worship of the God of
history, from this trap; their history is their liturgy, for
Yahweh is present to them in the now, this day, forcing their
exodus from cosmic servitude into the freedom of the desert, into
the responsibilities of freedom. We are today the inheritors of
their history; we stand in continuity with it by our worship of
their God, the God of history. We are then members of a
worshipping community, a community whose history is the history
of the discovery of the structure of truly human existence, which
is the structure of the worship of the God of history. It must be
stressed that we have no other ultimately reliable criteria for
free, moral, historical existence than those which this worship
has discovered, for this worship is the only proper response to
the normative presence of the Lord of history in the midst of his
people. All other criteria can be no more than possibilities of
thought: those of historical worship are the actuality of
This worship is then crucial; it is a struggle, sustained by the
creative presence of God in history. It is a struggle for
significant, sacramental existence. For this worship and for this
significant existence, the bipolarity of human sexuality has been
discovered to be of fundamental importance, of an absolutely
radical liturgical value.(8)
For Judaism, as for the fertility religions which menaced her
faith, woman is the symbol of immanence, of nature, but within
Judaism this feminine symbolism is not of alienation, but of
reciprocity or bipolarity with the masculine, as in the Jahwist
creation account, where she is the helpmate of man, or in
Proverbs 8, where she is the cooperator with God in the creation
of the world. The bi-sexuality of the creation is simultaneous
with its goodness: this is a consistent theme from the Jahwist
creation account to the late Wisdom literature of the post-exilic
period. In particular, the positive value accorded femininity in
the Old Testament is equivalent to the rejection of the
pessimistic dualism which characterizes the cosmic religions of
the pagan world. This was by no means an instant insight; the Old
Testament has many traces of the primitive deprecation of
woman,(9) but the history of the Hebrew people from the tenth to
the first century before Christ is a history of the purification
of Judaism from the primitive tendency to see in woman the
ancient and ambivalent adversary of the masculine divinity. The
value accorded the feminine by the cosmic religions is the
expression of their experience of the natural world, ambivalent
in its simultaneous threat and promise. The value given woman by
the Jahwist religion corresponds to the instinct of faith which
is expressed in the affirmation that the world is created good,
that it has in it no immanent principle of evil, and therefore,
no ambivalence.(10)
The Wisdom tradition is explicit. Created Wisdom, described by
von Rad(11) as “the mystery inherent in the creation of the
world,” as “a voice which came from creation, the voice of the
primeval order,” is also “the darling, the pet,” who, present at
the creation of the world, is personified as feminine: “she was
the dearest child of God, and played with Creation and with men.”
Contrasted in Proverbs 1-8 with the seductive harlot, the
temptress whose lineaments are clearly drawn from the temple
prostitute of Canaanite worship, this created Wisdom is herself a
seductress: her voice is addressed to the individual, not to the
covenant community. She summons those who would possess her,
offering them life; entirely benevolent, evoking and even
provoking the acceptance of her gift of salvation, she is Eve to
those who seek her, a testimony emanating from creation, the good
creation whose primordial order is such that it must be
symbolized and personified as woman. This quasi-personal Wisdom
speaks with the undifferentiated voice of the primordially
feminine: as companion, sister, lover, bride, wife and mother to
men, and as the created cooperator with Jahweh in the creation of
the world. She speaks not to Israel but to the individual who
seeks her, and who is masculine in the seeking.
What is sought is life, the summary salvation benefit which is
the gift of God alone, mediated by motherhood. To see in this
Wisdom the face of Eve, “the mother of all the living,” is no
great step, one all but explicit in the Wisdom hymns. The
antithesis of this Wisdom is not the male, but the harlot whose
temptation is to destruction, to foolishness and death. It is the
harlot who repeats the cosmic symbol of the antagonist of the
masculine, the demonic feminine, the principle of disorder, of
chaos, old ocean and dark night. To follow her is to abandon
Yahweh, to enter upon a pagan worship of the principle of death.
For the harlot is either sterile or the destroyer of her
children: false to Yahweh, she has no life to mediate, for she
serves idols who are not God. The Yahwist worship simply
transposes the pagan religion into demonolatry, at the some time
introducing the true feminine symbolism, the truth which summons
one to leave the foolish servitude of cosmic demons, to enter the
service of the God of history, the God of the living, not of the
dead, who does not enslave but proclaims the year of jubilee.
The application of the feminine symbol to the covenant community
is equally striking. While feminine Wisdom is primarily oriented
toward the individual Hebrew, the feminine symbol which is Israel
is primarily oriented to Jahweh, as bride to bridegroom. This
relation between the God of the covenant and his covenanted
people is too well known to require much illustration here. Some
of its most vivid expressions are to be found in the Prophets, in
Hosea, Jeremiah, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel.(12) The theme is
again insistent: Israel’s infidelity to the covenant is
assimilated to the betrayal of a marriage bond; it is adultery,
fornication with false lovers, harlotry. The prophets continually
summon Israel to return to her first love, to cease her barren
prostitution to false gods. There is then a noticeable tension
between the feminine imagery of the Wisdom literature and that of
the prophets; the latter stress the historical fallenness and
degradation of the bridal community of the covenant, while the
emphasis or tonality of the Wisdom symbol is eschatological or
primordial, with little reference to fallenness. The
eschatologically good creation beckons to each man, enticing him
to an achievement never wholly realized, the achievement which is
his own con-creation of himself,(13) his own integration into the
primeval order of creation. The historical symbol of the fallen
woman who is the unfaithful Israel does not however bear the same
unrelieved condemnation which is visited upon the “alien woman”
and the “seductress” of Proverbs 1 and 5; the pessimism of Amos
and Hosea gives way in the later prophets to the conviction that
Jahweh is intent upon the restoration of his covenanted bride to
the innocence and purity of her primordial fidelity. In one of
the latest of the Wisdom books we find this bridal Israel theme
of the prophetic books resumed; in the Song of Songs the feminine
imagery of the good creation and of the redeemed Israel merge in
the single vision of the eschatological nuptials of Jahweh and
his people, a vision which is also that of Deutero-Isaiah. The
historical creation of the Jahwist tradition finally identifies
with the cosmic interest of the post-Exilic writers, and the
theme of the good creation is given its universal application:
creation is salvific, as history is.(14) The feminine symbols
combine to express this experience which is Israel’s: the
experience of order in history under Jahweh,(15) the Lord of
history and of the world.
The New Testament further develops this coalescence of the
feminine symbols; they now converge upon Mary and the Church.(16)
In Colossians, Paul develops the cosmic role of the Christ; by
him, Christians are set free of their cosmic servitude to the
“principalities and powers,” simply because these, no less than
humanity and the universe itself, are created in Christ and so
are subordinate to him. The entire created order is assimilated
to the Body of which Christ is the head, and in the letter to the
Ephesians Paul has come to realize that this relation is marital,
for the Christ’s relation of headship to his Body is that of
husband to wife. By this life-giving union — for all life
belongs to God — the Church is fecundated by the life-giving
Spirit, as was Mary, the archetype of the Church. This parallel
is brought out first by Luke, then John, and has been the subject
of an ecclesial meditation from that time forward: from it has
been developed all that the Church has taught of Mary, and
necessarily of the Church as well: they are the single locus of
the divine presence in the world, of creation and redemption in
Christ, and of freedom from the ancient enslavement to cosmic
futility. Since the second century, the Fathers have seen in
Mary’s virginal relation to God, as bride and as mother, the
reality of the created Wisdom of which Sirach and the Psalmist
sang; in her “Fiat” they have seen the eschatalogical fidelity of
the covenanted bride, the Church, to the New Covenant by which
she is “one flesh” with her head, the Christ.
Over the centuries the reflex of this meditation, whose ground is
already given in Ephesians, has seen that the meaning of the
sexual relation is realized only in its lived symbolism of Christ
as the head of his Body which is the Church.(17) There has been
more than logic at work here: Paul does not reason from the
nature the marriage to the nature of the Christ-Church relation.
Rather, it is the meaning, the truth, the liturgical significance
of sexuality which is given to him concomitantly with the
revelation of the unity of Christ with his Church. Paul’s
condemnation of extramarital sexual expression is that it is
idolatrous, inseparable from false worship. He insists upon this,
not as a child of his time, immersed in the idiosyncracies of
Judaism despite himself, but as the recipient of a revelation of
the order of God to man so vast as to defeat explanation: it must
be lived, by a life which is in Christ, a life which shares the
experience of order given to Paul in such surpassing measure.
For it is an experience of order with which we have to deal, an
experience which lives out the instinct of faith to call creation
good precisely by symbolizing it as feminine, possessing an
intrinsic truth and beauty which is that of daughter, sister,
bride and mother: the face of Eve, the mother of the living, as
of Mary, the mother of God. It is an experience which has found
abominable all sexual expression which is not liturgical, which
does not celebrate the saving presence of God to his people. It
is an experience which sees, beyond all the long recital of our
betrayal of each other and of God, a steadfast love of God for
his people which is properly that of Father, Son, Brother and
Bridegroom, a relation of love which gives meaning to these human
roles, rendering them holy, liturgical, so that to be a man is to
worship God by imaging his relation to his creation, as to be a
woman is to worship God by imaging the relation to him of his
pleroma, the spiendour by which He is present to us, and we to
This experience is an experience of conversion, an experience
given to faith, in and to the community of the faith, through
some three millennia of historical discovery, a discovery which
has been called by one of the greatest Christian minds of the
century an unveiling of the mystery of the etemal feminine,(18)
whose ultimate realization is Mary, the Mother of God. It is
obvious that any argument for the normative value of this
Judaeo-Christian experience of God in history can do no more than
describe it: the appeal is to faith, as Rahner has said.
Even from such a hasty survey as this, some indication of the
profundity of this sexual symbolism can be obtained, and some
appreciation of its inseparability from the experience of order
which is salvation history, which is the worship of the Lord of
History, and whose only adequate articulation is liturgical. This
liturgical tradition has found in the masculine-feminine polarity
a significance transcending all other signs by which reality may
be communicated. The faith-instinct of the Jewish and the
Christian people has found no more profound symbol of God’s love
for humanity than that which a man should have for his wife, no
more profound symbol of the splendour of the good creation than
that of feminine beauty, and no more profound symbol of betrayal,
the betrayal of the covenant, than marital infidelity. In sum,
neither the Old Covenant nor the New can dispense with the
holiness of the marriage relation, and from the liturgical
significance of masculine and feminine existence. Karl Barth was
not wrong to find sexuality to be at the root of our imaging of
God;(19) if the creation of man is the apt means by which God
expresses himself in the finite, as the Trinitarian theology (20)
of Rahner maintains, the conclusion is inescapable. The mystery
of God’s relation to humanity in history and in the world is not
communicated to us as information: it cannot be conveyed except
as an experience of order, the experience whose initial moment is
that of a conversion, a conversion which is a transvaluation of
the relation between ourselves and the world. This conversion is
simultaneous with the exaltation of the feminine, as the symbol
of the good creation: we refuse both, if we refuse either.
Very simply put, the alternative to the sacramentality of
femininity and masculinity is a relapse to a dualistic pessimism,
the pessimism which finds the individual human being to have no
more than a pragmatic value, to be only a thing whose worth is
precisely measured by its fulfillment of a function. If we do not
approach our sexuality as revelatory, and therefore as
mysterious, bearing a meaning and value which only worship can
unveil, we will again be trapped by an ancient dialectic which
can give no value to masculinity which is not a suppression of
women, and none to femininity which does not conclude to the
emasculation of the male.  Eliade (21) has illustrated the
universal use of the masculine-feminine polarity to depict the
radical dichotomies which are instinct to the experience which
the ancient pagan liturgies express. These antagonisms are the
very structure of a mimetic experience of order which puts no
value in the individual or in personal freedom. Private
initiative and personal responsibility become thus a defiance of
the timeless order established “in illo tempore” by the divinity,
an order which, as Gilgamesh learns, has reserved death to men
and life to the Gods, or as the creation story in the Enuma elish
tells us, an order which charges man with servitude, that the
gods might be free. The absolute tensions placed by this
experience between the free individual and the society, between
experienced reality and discursive reason, between time and
eternity, between man and god, are all epitomized in the
dichotomy between the masculine (understood as the symbol of
order, rationality, divine transcendence) and the feminine (the
symbol of chaos, mystery, nature, immanence). Plato’s rationalist
attack upon the mimetic understanding of the poets is only an
objectification of the instinct of pagan wisdom to defeminize the
world: the stifling of history is its goal, Sparta has been its
inspiration, and a homosexual sterility its destiny. (23)
The correlatives of the secularization of humanity and of human
sexuality do not wait to be discovered: the discovery is part of
every culture unformed by the Judaeo-Christian experience of
order in history. If we do not experience salvation by the Lord
of history within our history, we shall surely seek it outside of
history, as has every primitive religion apart from Judaism, and
as has every rationalist objectification of the pagan experience
of disorder in history, of creation as evil.
Much has been written and said over the past seven years
concerning the problem of what is called “civil religion.”
Insofar as every society, every culture, is in search of a remedy
for the evils at hand, there is a certain kind of quest for
salvation at work in all peoples, at all times. More than most
people, the citizens of this nation seek such salvation: from the
burdens of poverty, of ignorance, of disease and even of death.
But every such quest must decide, if only implicitly, whether the
problems which we encounter are those which yield to logic, to
technology, to the application of the machine. This decision is
one about man, about the source of the evil in his world, about
the value of freedom and of history. When the salvation sought is
equivalent to a foreclosure of freedom, a moratorium upon human
unpredictability and spontaneity, those who seek salvation in
this guise are converted to a new experience of order, one
incompatible to and fundamentally at war with that which has
formed the Western world for some three thousand years. With
every such conversion, a new adherent to a new civil religion is
gained, and the tensions endemic in a free society are increased.
We should not be deceived. If there is no perception of the
indecency of reducing human mating to a laboratory event, it is
because we are involved in a different experience of order than
were the founders of our religious and cultural institutions.
This difference is simply a loss of faith: we are no longer able
to affirm the revelation, for the symbols by which its truth may
be uttered are no longer alive to speak for us and to us. We have
turned away from the light, and no longer recognize the splendour
of our humanity, we no longer see in ourselves the image of God.
Having rejected the symbolic and sacramental significance of the
sexuality whose truth is luminous of Jahweh’s relation to his
people, we have rejected the fundamental mystery by which we live
in history, by which we worship God.
For the Christian symbols are true because they are
participations in the reality of which they speak: their truth is
inescapable in history. It is possible to ignore that truth, but
it is not possible to escape the consequences of that ignorance,
of that refusal of the Wisdom which the good creation utters. The
truth of these symbols is not a matter of information; it cannot
be summed up in however prolonged a statement. Their mystery is
revealed only to worship; it is given to faith and not otherwise.
When that faith is historical, when it is not the mere ritual
re-enactment of a cosmic legend or of a cosmic, because equally
timeless, philosophy of man, but is rather the participation of
the worshiping community in the creative deed of God in history,
then the history of the community is the history of its
participation in the good creation, and in the Wisdom which is
its voice, a voice heard in the streets, not of the faithless and
whoring Babylon, but of that Jerusalem which is the Church. It is
with that wisdom that we are now concerned: it utters at once the
meaning of history, the structure of freedom, and the uniquely
valid norm of the human and the moral.
This norm, as we have seen, safeguards and is safeguarded by the
instinct of faith. By means of this faith instinct, it has become
explicit in the Judaeo-Christian salvation history that human
sexuality is holy, that it is the profoundly meaningful human
structure by which the historical revelation of Jahweh as present
to his people is mediated, not as information, but in reality, as
reality: the meaning of the feminine is Mary’s mediation, as the
meaning of the masculine is Christ’s. Their relation is the
revelation of a single mystery, the truth of God and man. Thus
the relation between human sexuality and salvation history is
reciprocal: only within this relation is sexuality known to be
holy, to be significant, and only when it is so valued, can its
symbolic power be creative, salvific rather than destructive.
Again, there is no matter of logical inference here; we do not
deduce the sanctity of the masculine-feminine relation from the
revelation, or vice versa. These are given simultaneously and
inseparably in what von Rad and Voegelin have referred to as an
experience of order in history: we have made that language our
own. This experience is an ongoing intuition of the structure of
significant existence, of the moral norm. Radically, this is an
experience of living in a salvation history, in a benevolent
world, the good creation. Its ontological prerequisite is our
creation in Christ. Its finality is the building up of the full
membership of the Body which is the Church. The Church is then
encountered as the truth of that eternal feminine which the pagan
seers experienced as the animating principle of nature, which the
Old Testament authors found at once in the figure of created
Wisdom and in the fallen and redeemed Israel whose paradigm is
Eve, and which in the New Testament and the patristic tradition
focuses finally upon the Church, and upon Mary as the archetype
of the Church. This feminine principle is the created medium of
salvation, bridging the abyss between God and man precisely as
feminine: to be feminine has no other meaning than to be the
pleroma,(24) the splendour, the beauty, the fullness of God’s
presence among men, enticing men to their salvation by the
bearing of His gifts.
In this experience, the value of masculinity pivots upon that
assigned the feminine, as the cautionary verses in Proverbs may
remind us. The feminine mediation of Jahweh is also the mediation
of the revelation of the masculine, which can no longer be self-
enclosed, fearful of mutuality, alienated from woman whether by
isolation or nullification. The Jahwist has said goodbye to all
that, and the record of the Old Testament history is a record of
the purification of these symbols from their circumambient pagan
context, a purification worked not by reason but by the worship
which is also the experience of order. In this experience, the
sexual relation is marital, the great sacrament of Christ and his
Of all this, enough has been said to point out the basis for
believing that such technological rationalizations,
secularizations, of human sexuality as in vitro fertilization are
simply blasphemous. They convert the value of the feminine to
that of a producer of egg cells, a functional definition as
inhuman and as suppressive as any known to the ancient idolatries
(which at least respected her mystery even in fearing it). They
are consequently dismissive of any value in masculinity
irrelevant to the process of fertilization. That this will
provide even a technological solution to a human problem is open
to question: that it will introduce a destructive degradation of
the symbols by which we live in history is quite certain.
The fact that such technological procedures are now sufficiently
commonplace to be matters of public and academic discussion is
witness to the presence among us of a new mentality, perhaps not
yet dominant, but certainly interested in domination. Its newness
is however only with relation to the experience of order which
has formed the western world; it is actually the ancient
alternative to the worship of the God of history. Its
re-emergence has not gone unremarked. Eric Voegelin (25) gave an
account of its progressive impact upon our legal and political
institutions some twenty years ago; more recently Karl Stern (26)
has pointed out its association with the decline of trust in our
cultural institutions, as manifested in the writings of half a
dozen salient authors since Descartes. For our own inquiry, Leon
Kass has spoken to the some effect:
     We are witnessing the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of
     the idea of man as something splendid or divine, and its
     replacement with a view that sees man, no less than nature,
     as simply more raw material for manipulation and
     homogenization. Hence our peculiar moral crisis. We are in
     turbulent seas without a landmark precisely because we
     adhere more and more to a view of nature and of man which
     gives us enormous power and, at the same time, denies all
     possibility of standards to guide its use. (27)
Later in the some article, Kass urges some reliance upon caution
and education for protection against the evident danger of the
new mentality. Education is sufficiently broad a term as to need
some specification. It is axiomatic to decry the equation of
education and morality as a mistake of Socrates; yet, as I have
read somewhere, we may suppose that Socrates, and Kass, know what
any schoolboy knows. For it is true that it is our educational
institutions which must bear the blame for the resurgence of the
new gnosticism. By institutions I do not especially designate the
schools, though it is in their purlieus that most of the more
optimistic estimates of technological salvation are heard. For
all our cultural institutions have failed notably to make their
symbols live and speak. And underlying that failure is a more
sombre and personal one. Many of us have lost all experience of
our own historical significance, and it is perhaps not too much
to say that for all of us that experience is highly dilute; in
these circumstances, it is not remarkable that we are unable to
communicate effectively our own experience of order. It is usual
to refer this loss of conviction to the weight of technological
manipulation, but this is simplistic; even such enormous tools as
the new generation of computers remain without autonomy; they
possess no intrinsic dynamism inimical to man, however enormous
their potential. The primary educational institution remains the
voice of Wisdom, and the worship which responds to that voice.
Our failure is a failure to worship the God of history, to enter
effectively into the con-creation of the world. For that worship
is the only guarantee we have of being more than meets the eye,
more than a rabble of phenomena ripe for rearrangement in the
image, and according to the likeness, of that sullen god of a
timeless utopia, the philosopher king whose transcendence is our
diminution. It is to his foolishness that we must listen, if we
will not hear the voice of Wisdom, if we will not heed the
instinct of faith.
If our technology is not assimilated to the worship of the God of
history,(28) it will be because we ourselves have decided, like
many before us, to be less than we are, and in the service of
that decision, have undertaken our own domestication, which is
also our disintegration, our reduction to the integers of which
Dr. B. F. Skinner has spoken so well. The human truth is then
rendered entirely manageable. The one symbol which resists this
dehumanization utterly is that of the human community, the sexual
community. When we tamper with this, when we treat the stuff of
life as though we were mixing reagents in a bottle, we are in the
sanctuary of a false god, whose image is not man, but a cypher.
And we shall find in that bottle not a man, but a demon.
1.   Karl Rahner, “Experiment with Man,” Theological
Investigations ix, 244-245.
2.   James Gustafson, “Genetic Engineering and the Normative View
of the Human,” Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed.
Preston Williams, Schenkman Publishing Co., Cambridge, Mass.,
1973, 57.
3.   Rahner, op. cit., 244-245.
4.   Ibid., 251.
5.   Karl Rahner, “Christian Humanism,” Theological
Investigations ix, 187-243; x, Part Four, “The Church and the
World,” 293-388.
6.   Edouard Schillebeeckx, Revelation and Theology, ii, Sheed
and Ward, 1968, 30-72.
7.   Karl Rahner, “Questions of Controversial Theology on
Justification,” Theological Investigations iv, 210-218. Rahner’s
more recent work, The Trinity, Herder and Herder, New York, 1968,
seems to be more amenable to, and even to require, a doctrine of
creation in Christ.
8.   Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, i, tr.  D.G.M.
Stalker, Harper and Row, New York, 1963, 150.
9.   Thierry Maertens, La promotion de la femme dans la bible,
Casterman, Tournai, 1967, esp. 49 ff. Edouard Schillebeeckx,
Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, Part  1, tr. N.D.
Smith, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1965.
10.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, Abingdon Press, Nashville and New
York, 1972, p. 305.
11.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 163-175; Old Testament Theology,
12.  E.g., Hos 1-3; Jer 2:1-2, 3:1-13, 4:30-31, 5:7-11, 13:20-27,
18:13, 23: 10-11; Is 47, 50:  1-3, 54: 1-17, 62: 1-12, 66: 7-13,
Ezk 16, 23.
13.  von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 308-311.
14.  von Rad, Old Testament Theology i, 137-139, observes that in
Deutero-Isaiah and in the Wisdom tradition in particular,
creation is understood to be soteriological; the creation of the
cosmos and of Israel are seen almost as coinciding in Is 51:9.
15.  Eric Voegelin has established the meaning of this
expression, whose contrast is with the experience of order in the
cosmos. Each type of order has its peculiar symbolic expression.
Voegelin remarks, relative to the Judaeo-Christion experience,
     For mankind is not constituted through a survey of phenomena
     by even the most erudite historian, but through the
     experience of order in the present under God.
     When finite speculation possesses itself of the meaning of
     history, philosophy and Christianity are destroyed and
     existence in the historical form has ceased.
Order in History, ii, The World of the Polis, Louisiana State
University Press, Baton Rouge, La., 1957, 16, 19.
16.  Ren‚ Laurentin, Courte trait‚ de th‚ologie mariale, 4e
edition, P. Lethielieux, Paris, 1959, provides an indispensable
starting point for the study of the Marian theology which is the
prime locus for the Church’s meditation upon feminine symbolism.
See also Otto Semmelroth, Mary, Archetype of the Church, tr.
Maria von Eroes and John Devlin, with an Introduction by Jaroslav
Pelikan, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1963; Hugo Rahner, Our Lady
and the Church, tr. Sebastian Bullough, O.P., Darton, Longman,
Todd, London, 1961; Karl Rahner, Mary, Mother of the Lord, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1963, as well as the numerous Marian
articles dispersed in the Theological Investigations; Louis
Bouyer, The Seat of Wisdom, tr. A.V. Littledale, Pantheon Books,
Random House, New York, 1962, and Max Thurian, Mary, Mother of
All Christians, Herder and Herder, New York, 1963, for a review
of contemporary Marian theology. The most comprehensive dogmatic
study is H.U. von Balthasar’s Sponsa Verbi: Skizzen zr Theologie
II, Einsiedeln, Johannes Verlag, 1960.
17.  Karl Rahner, “Marriage as a Sacrament,” Theological
Investigations x, 199-221, esp. 218.
18.  Teilhard’s development of this theme is the subject of Henri
de Lubac’s L’ternel Feminin, Aubier-Montaigne, Paris, 1967, esp.
179-215, in which the Teilhardian  symbol, the “veiled Virgin” is
seen as the sign of creation itself, precisely as saivific, and
as finally unveiled in Mary. There is far more than metaphor
19.  Some little digression may be useful here. When Karl Barth
asserted, (Church Dogmatics 3/1, 183-206) some twenty years ago,
with a good deal of vehemence and some contemporary support, that
the creation of man to the image and likeness of God should be
referred to the interpersonality of man and woman, he ran counter
to the received exegetical opinion, which considers that man’s
imaging of God is rather to be found in the dominion given him
over the created world. Cf, von Rad, Old Testament Theology I,
136-153, and The Interpreter’s Bible, i, 484-485. More recently,
Leo Scheffczyk, Creation and Providence, tr. R. Strachan, Herder
and Herder, New York, 1970, 10, has been at pains to point out
Barth’s supposed error. The chief argument against Barth’s
reading of Gen 1:27 would seem to be that supplied by von Rad:
that contemporary paganism understood the image notion, which was
a common one, in terms of man’s imitation of divine despotism,
and further that the Priestly tradition had a horror of the
intrusion of sexuality into Jahweh’s creative deed: this in sharp
reaction to the Canaanite mythology. This argumentation seems
quite inconclusive. If, as is the case, the cosmic Babylonian
creation myths are rejected by the Priestly creation account,
which nonetheless has a cosmic rather than a historical emphasis
(in contrast to the Jahwist creation story), is not the
conversion from dualism which controls the reworking of the pagan
understanding of creation also that which accounts for a
reworking of the negative valuation of sexuality operative in the
Canaanite creation myth? The despotic god of the Babylonian
culture necessarily had an antagonistic relation to the
recalcitrant — and feminine — principle of immanence; does it
really make sense to suppose that the notion of despotic dominion
as the specific attribute of Jahweh remains a part of the
Priestly tradition? If on the contrary this notion is given a
transvaluation appropriate to the Lord of history, of the good
creation, so that lordship is no longer despotic, antagonistic to
creation, then the idea that the sexual mutuality of man and
woman is an imaging of God in his soteriological relation to his
creation is hardly inconsistent with the Priestly tradition,
particularly inasmuch as its final redaction is had at a time
when the Canaanite religion is no longer a vital alternative to
Jahwism. In brief. the good creation theme of the Priestly
account is simultaneously the abandonment of divine despotism,
and of the objectionable content of the sexual symbolism
associated with that despotism; this occurs in the conversion
process which is equivalent to faith in Jahweh, the lord of
history whose relation to his creation, to humanity, to Israel,
is seen as marital at an early period: he is a jealous, not a
despotic God. The “heiros gamos” of the cosmic mythology has not
been abandoned, but transvalued. In consequence, there seems to
be a scriptural base for Barth’s assertion.
20.  Karl Rahner, The Trinity.
21.  Mircia Eliade, Mephistopheles and The Androgyne, Sheed and
Ward, New York, 1966. To assert, as Eliade does, the nexus
between the flight from history is of course to reject the
occasional embarrassment over the sexuality of mankind which we
find even in such eminent authorities as Gregory of Nyssa; v. In
Cantica Canticorum, homilia vii, P.G. 44, 916b, cited in Gregoire
de Nysse, La cr‚ation de l’homme, intro. et trad. de Jean
Laplace, S.J.; notes de Jean Danielou, S.J., Editions du Cerf,
Paris, Editions de L’Abeille, Lyon, 1943, 56. Gregory reads Gal
3:28 to mean that the eschatologically redeemed creation is
sexless. H.U. von Balthasar points out the gnostic roots of this
mentality in Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur, tr. L.
Haumet et H.-A. Prentout, Aubier Editions, Montaigne, Paris,
1947, 127-150. It nonetheless has had a certain vogue of late:
e.g., Wayne Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a
Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions xii, 3,
(Feb. 1974) 165-208.
22.  Eric Havelock, Preface to Plato, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Mass. 1963.
23.  Henri Marrou, The History of Education in Antiquity, Sheed
and Ward, New York, 1956, has detailed the close association in
classic culture between the devaluation of the feminine, whether
in the militarist culture of Sparta or in the philosophy schools
of Athens, and the perversion of the male. See esp. ch. 2 and 3.
24.  Henri de Lubac. Corpus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et L’‚glise
au Moyen Age. Etude Historique. Deuxieme Edition, Revue et
Augmentie. Aubier, Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1949, 139. The
author observes of the Pauline notion of the Church, “`Corps,’
c’est aussi organisme, c’est ‚change entre des membres aux
fonctions variees et conspirants, et c’est aussi plenitude.”
25.  Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, The Univ. of
Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1952, describes a continual
degradation of the historical experience of order as written into
the constitutive law of the American and European republics over
the past two and a half centuries.
26.  Karl Stern, The Flight from Woman, Farrar Strauss and
Giroux, New York, 1965, finds a comparable decline in Western
literature since Descartes, linking it to a decline of the
mutuality of the masculine and the feminine in our culture, and
to a consequent homosexual emphasis. In this connection, the
celebrated vision of Aidous Huxley, as manifest in Brave New
World, may be a bit myopic. The possibility that there may be no
particular demand for the pneumatic ladies of his utopia is quite
real. The anti-utopias envisioned by Orwell and C.S. Lewis are
more realistic.
27.  Leon R. Kass, “The New Biology: What Price Relieving Man’s
Estate?”, Ethical Issues in Biology and Medicine, ed. Preston
Williams, 164.
28.  Philippe Roqueplo, O.P., “La cr‚ation g‚mit en travail
d’enfantement,” La nature: problŠme politique, Desclee de
Brouwer, Paris, 1971, 162 ff, suggests the need for such an
SATTLER:  Don, what do you mean when in the early part of the
paper you refer to the predetermined nature of man?
KEEFE:    It’s difficult to point to an eschatological reality
without treating it in a language that makes it sound
uneschatological, and therefore, unmysterious. Predetermined
means fixed, in the sense that God has created man. Therefore… 
SATTLER:  To be a certain kind of being?
KEEFE:    Therefore, man is what God has made him to be, and this
is determined. It is not open to indefinite change. Man has a
structure. It is one which is to be discovered, certainly. It is
one which is to be discovered in worship.
SATTLER:  In other words, his concreation is not open to his
KEEFE:    No. He is created in the image of God. That image is a
matter of discovery, but it’s also a matter of fact. Does that…
SATTLER:  It’s a start, I’m sure. But we’re going to have to work
at it.
KINDSCHI: Don, in your description of human sexuality as the key
paradigm for a relationship between God and his people, or
between Christ and his Church, how do you explain or how do you
fit into that the fact that two of the key developments in the
biblical imagery are asexual? Both Eve out of the rib of Adam and
Christ from the Virgin Mary, either are asexual. How does that
fit into this picture?
KEEFE:    Let me take the latter one first. Creation is, as
understood theologically, as the Father sending the Son to give
the Spirit, to give the lifegiving Spirit. Consequently, Mary’s
generation of the Christ is virginal insofar as it is a total
dedication of her life-giving function to God. This is the
ordinary patristic explanation of this.
You were saying that, if sexuality is the key symbol, then it
should be operative at the moment of creation. Then it would be a
symbol of itself. Sexuality is a symbol of creation. It’s a
symbol of something other than itself. The incarnation, if we
take the creation in Christ seriously, is the radical moment of
creation. The focal energy of God’s relation to man is released
at the incarnation. If we take creation in Christ seriously, this
is what it means. Therefore, the sexual relation is symbolic of
that reality which precisely involves femininity as that to which
Christ’s humanity is responsive, and that into which his humanity
is sent by God. In consequence, then, her femininity is a
mediation between God and man. Man precisely is Christ.
Now, to answer your question simply would be to go through a
whole theory of symbol. What we mean by symbol, in relation to
that which is symbolized. But ultimately it would seem that the
pagan temptation to use sexuality in its various accounts of the
cosmogenesis are rejected because this is in some fashion a
violation of the good creation. As soon as you have the various
accounts of the sacred marriage in paganism, or more primitively
of some divine masturbatory act by which the first pair of gods
come into being, you are already supposing a web of relationships
which say something about the interrelation to the sexes.
The fundamental mystery is the good creation. The symbol points
to this, but it is not identified with it.
Now, that is about as close as I can get to an answer to a very
difficult question, a difficulty I’m sure you’re aware of.
THOMAS:   If I follow the logic of your argument in terms of the
development, the historical development of the man-woman
relationship, the meaning that that has in the history, etc., the
reflective nature of the divine covenant, it would seem that the
logic would lead to a conclusion that there should be no man-made
technological interference with the basic natural creative
dynamics of this relationship. Now, you can see it, I think,
something like “in vitro” embryology where the technology is
perhaps more apparent. But if you pulled it back a little bit and
think of the issues relating to birth control, say, that you have
a technological intervention there as well. Does your argument
stand, you might say, as the biblical dogmatic basis against that
kind of thing, as well as against other technologiztion?
KEEFE:    It’s certainly relevant to it. It isn’t dispositive of
it. The reason that I restricted this just to the “in vitro”
situation is because there you have the sharpest and the clearest
case that I know of reducing human sexuality to a function and
nothing more. It is, I think, true that a laboratory is an
unhistorical environment in that it attempts to make the
intrusion of the unpredictable as slight as possible. When one
does this there is immediately a refusal of the symbolic truth
insofar as that is not reduced to the univocal symbols of
mathematics. The notion that sexuality then has a value which is
not available to the apparatus in the laboratory is ignored. Now
it seems to me that when you suppose that human sexuality can be
turned over to such a use that you are treating it in an overall
sense as something that is of no more significance, say, than the
processes of digestion. It keeps occurring to me that there have
been many programs for improving the race. These are almost as
old as human history. Attempts to improve the breed by referring
its blood lines to divinity, attempts to keep noble blood pure
and so on. These are commonplace. And all of them failed. The
most recent failure I suppose being that of the Third Reich. They
failed because history finally defeated them. They’re
inconsistent with the realities of history. And almost always
they involve some sort of an attempt to isolate that which is to
be controlled from historical reality. A laboratory is about as
unhistorical as you can get because its isolation from the
contingent is the most complete. And it seems to me when there is
a real attempt to produce human life in a laboratory you have
already admitted that the contingencies of the human reality of
which one deals — and I take it that the fertilized ova of which
we are dealing — are human beings. There could be only one
reason for putting a human being in an unhistorical environment.
That is to subject him or her to total control. That is to deny
his transcendence.
Now, can this be applied to the question of contraception? I
think the question of contraception is a classic instance of an
attempt to solve a human historical, liturgical problem without
reference to worship. It was thought for reasons of natural law,
upon a basis which upon examination seems to be rationalist, that
contraception violates the decencies of sexual symbolism. And
well it may. But this has not been a matter of discovery. This
has been a matter of law. At least we seem to be in a position
where it is practically impossible to find a consensus within
Catholicism on this point. And the failure of consensus on a
point of this importance seems to me to indicate that it has not
been permitted to become a matter of discovery by worship. It
would seem that if there is an indecency in the sort of
contraceptive usages which you refer to, that it would be
discovered by decent Christian people who are truly involved in
Christian worship and would discover in this worship the same
sort of inconsistency between that worship and contraception that
Paul discovered between that worship and the deeds of which he is
concerned with in the first chapter of Romans. But it isn’t
something that is going to be a matter of inference or of
The only possible discovery process for the structures of the
human norm is historical worship which is an educational process
among other things. At least that’s the way it seems to me your
question must be answered.
McLEOD:   When you were talking about sexuality as the symbol of
creation, isn’t it, more fundamentally than that, a symbol of
KEEFE:    Well, it’s a good creation. Presumably it’s a creation
which is an act of love.
McLEOD:   And Christianity is really saying what love is, being
self-giving, free-giving, creation?
KEEFE:    The Father sending the Son to give the Spirit,
precisely. And this immediately involves a sexual expression of
that sending. That is, the incarnation. That is what I mean. I
haven’t said this very well, I recognize.

Quotation of the Day from “Reflections on the ‘Functional’ Nature of the Priesthood”

 Footnote  #2  from

“Reflections  on  the  ‘Functional’  Nature of the Priesthood”

by Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

 [ii]  The  mistake  is  at  least  as  old  as  St.  Thomas’  application  of  the  Aristotelian  category  of  the  “perfect  society”  to  the  Church.  Within  the  past  few  decades,  sociology  has  displaced  theology  in  many  fields  of  formerly  theological  interest,  particularly  sacramental  theology  and  ecclesiology.  EDWARD Schillebeeckx  did  not  invent  this  dissent,  but  his  willingness,  even  eagerness,  to  reduce  the  priesthood  to  a  variety  of  “leadership”  in  Ministry:  Leadership  in  the  Community  of  Jesus  Christ;  tr.  John  Bowden  (New  York:  Crossroad,  1981)  paved  the  way  for  a  widespread  rejection  of  the  sacramental  reality  of  Orders:  e.g.,  John  Coleman —  the  author  of  “The  Future  of  Ministry,”  America  144  (March  28,  1981),  243-49;  and  “Ministry  in  the  80′s,”  Call  to  Growth/  Ministry  9/2  (Winter,  1982)  24-31 — teaches  sacramental  theology…  at  Berkeley.

“Reflections on the ‘Functional’ Nature of the Priesthood,”

Faith, 32/ 2, March-April, 2000.

Even better, see Footnote #1:

[1] Gregory Baum, whose article in The Ecumenist (November-December, 1965) announced the passage, supposedly warranted by Lumen Gentium, §28, from a “cultic” priesthood, defined by the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, to a “ministerial” priesthood specified by the “making present” of Jesus’ salvific work, was a bell-wether in the ecumenical/liturgical effort to persuade Catholics that Vatican II had underwritten the merely functional priesthood, one resulting from Christ’s gift of ministry to his people, in such wise that it became impossible to distinguish the universal priesthood which is given in baptism from that priesthood which is given in ordination, since the latter is no longer specified by the authority to offer the One Sacrifice in persona Christi.  Baum contrasts a priest who thinks his ordination to have given him a distinct ontological reality, with the post-conciliar “ministerial” priest who has no such illusions. However, over the intervening thirty years, Baum failed to persuade the Magisterium: Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, closed the door on the functional priesthood.

Ed. note: Gregory Baum left the priesthood in 1976.

“Reflections on the ‘Functional’ Nature of the Priesthood,” by Donald J. Keefe, SJ

“Reflections on the ‘Functional” Nature of the Priesthood,”
Faith, 32/ 2, March-April, 2000
Reflections upon the “Functional” Priesthood


“Functionalism,” as the term is employed in sacramental theology, amounts to a neologism by which dissenting theologians mask their departure from the sacramental realism of the Catholic liturgy.[i]  It operates by indirection, connoting rather than denoting the existence of a “functional” sacrament, in the sense of a mere symbolism, no more than the expression of a sociologically-determined role in society, rather than the free and intrinsically efficacious Catholic liturgical symbol whose institution by Christ accounts for its concretely historical objectivity and efficacy.  The term introduces the hearer into the universe of pseudo-sacramental, pseudo-serious, heterodox sub-Catholicism.

The historicity, objectivity and efficacy of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic worship transcend the empirical or pragmatic order: they are in that sense metaphysical, not the mere  expression of a dynamism immanent in human culture wherever found, an impersonal “function” that becomes the proper object of the experimental inquiry of one or another of the social sciences.   The effort to reduce the Church’s sacraments to socially-conditoned phenomena specifies the  colporteurs of functional sacramentalism, whose bête noire is the sacrament of priestly orders, but only because of its inherently nuptial symbolism, its spirituality of celibacy.  The abolition of that symbolism, grounded in the Eucharistic Una Caro, is the dissenting goal of goals, by approximating which all else is measured.

In consequence of this anti-nuptial fastidiousness, the application of “functional” is generally reserved to the sacraments of matrimony and orders where its attribution implies the equally real existence of “dysfunctional” marriages and ordinations, whose sacramental signing is presumed to be historically conditioned, liable to inefficacy by reason of its very concreteness and historicity.  This implication cannot but include the submission of the authenticity of the Church’s sacramental realism to empirical verification by those whose academic credentials supposedly warrant their judgment.

As is evident, anyone taking “functionalism” seriously places himself outside the orthodoxy of Catholic faith and worship.  Such a person abdicates the office of Catholic theologian by having undertaken the subversive program of inculcating his own dissenting infidelity as normative for theological discourse.  This dissent and its subversive agenda are paraded as intellectual honesty, as prerequisite to the sincere — and therefore clinically disinterested, or “presuppositionless” — quest for understanding whose alternative is that hypocrisy which, without proof, would presuppose the free truth of the Catholic tradition.

Thus, whenever “functional” is used deliberately to describe a sacrament, its use signals a programmatic dissent, a dissent with a destructive agenda, the justice of whose goal, the dehistoricization of the Catholic tradition, is intuitively clear, requiring no justification and incapable of submission to serious doubt: it is not open to discussion.  Those who do not share its intuition and intellectual universe it constructs, are by that failure excommunicated as a matter of necessity.

From without that universe of dissent, it is obvious that a Catholic theologian cannot put in issue the reality of the Catholic worship in truth.  From within the Catholic universe, the res Catholica whose community is historical and free by the historicity and the freedom inherent in its liturgical celebration and proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus the Christ, the root celebration and proclamation is the Eucharistic offering by a priest or bishop, of Christ’s One Sacrifice in his person and by his authority.  Here all else has its ground and source in such wise that to put this Offering in question is unthinkable.  While it is evident that one can apostasize, to do so is to remove oneself from that Communion in and by which the Church signs the Kingdom of God.

The dissenting insertion of functionalism into sacramental theology implies the existence of an empirical criteriology of sacramental efficacy and the consequent vulnerability of that efficacy to extra-ecclesial judgment.  The authenticity of the Church’s worship is submitted, at bottom, to the secular academy.  Insofar as the sacramental “function” is understood to be empirically verifiable, open then to examination and assessment, so also must be presumed its occasional failure to function properly, its failure to produce desirable, empirically discernible, consequences, for empirically-normed sacraments can have only an empirical efficacy, a “function,” the assessment of which is now taken to be a theological interest.

When sacramental efficacy and “function” are thus equated, theologians drop their properly theological interest in the realism of sacramental marriage or a sacramental ordination, to undertake a sociological inquiry for which few of them have any training and whose limits they rarely understand: the “postulatory atheism” which. Peter Berger, a few decades ago, found inherent in the method of that discipline, remains as he found it: sociology finds the Lutheran “servile will” a more calculable social bond than sacramental realism, and certainly more so than the free and yet indissoluble unity of the One Flesh of the Christus totus which the sacraments of marriage and of orders presuppose as their foundation.

By the adoption of this neologism, with its frequently deliberate rejection of sacramental realism — perhaps more often indeliberate and unreflective where theological novices are in view — the Catholic profession of theology is transformed into an empirical quasi-technical interest in sociology, psychology, and other of the soft sciences.  To hear this idiom without protest and, worse, to deploy it oneself, is to cooperate in a perversion of the Church’s faith and worship.  The faith thereby is submitted to the oversight of amateur sociologists and psychologists, and the Church’s sacraments become the objects of an ironic curiosity rather than of the reverence which is the beginning of the theological quaerens.

Nonetheless, the passage from the realm of sociology to the realm of its confusion with theology is a garden path for many.  From a sociological inquiry into family life, they pass to a quasi-sociological, pseudo-theological consideration of marriage, then to a similarly sociologized, pseudo-theological consideration of the Catholic priesthood.  By an easy step or two, they move from a perhaps legitimate academic, empirically-grounded sociological description of families as functional or dysfunctional, to the application of that empirical description to the non-empirical yet objectively historical, because sacramental, reality of a sacramental marriage or ordination.  This passage from sociology to pseudo-theology reduces the non-empirical historical objectivity of a sacrament to the empirical objectivity of a sociological category.   In short, it reduces the method and subject matter of theology to the method and subject matter of sociology.[ii]

This ease of passage from a sociological interest in empirically defined families to a pseudo-sociological, pseudo-theological interest in sacramental marriages is understandable: “family” may easily seem to include “marriage” in such wise that if sociology can comprehend families, it can hardly avoid having an equal comprehension of marriages.  The merger of the sociological and the sacramental having been achieved, the legitimacy of a sociological criticism of sacramental marriage warrants an extension of the sociological criticism to any other sacrament.

Thus, if the “functional-dysfunctional” analysis is legitimate vis à vis sacramental marriage in such wise as to identify with the “valid-invalid” analysis proper to theology, nothing stands in the way of its determination of the nullity or not of any given ordination.  With this facile inference, the “functional” marriage and the functional priesthood are in place, and the canonists impatient of doctrine will easily be found, willing and even eager to accept the equivalence of nullity and dysfunctionality.  Consequently, we have long been hearing of sacramental marriages that “die;” if that idiom is not much used to justify departures from the priesthood, it is because these are already legitimated by the commonplace acceptance of the merely functional standing of orders: ordinaries of major dioceses in the U.S. and Canada have underwritten the absurdity of attributing a metaphysical standing to ordination.[iii]

With the extension of the competence of sociological analyses of sacramental realities, particularly marriage and the priesthood, the sociological category of  “dysfunctional,” a doubtless useful label for troubled families in which the relations between the members are perceived as abusive and destructive, has been enlarged to include the sacraments of the Catholic Church.  We began to hear, some forty years ago, of “dysfunctional” marriages: i.e., of marriages seen to have “died” by reason of comparably abusive relations between husband and wife.  The use of this term arbitrarily subordinated the sacramental efficacy of the sacramental symbolism of marriage to historical conditioning, to the circumstantial casualties and erosions that are the commonplace of daily experience, with the result that the irrevocability of the sacrament of marriage had been dismissed ex parte, without discussion.  No marriage, within this facile convention, could henceforth be considered transcendent to circumstance, for it is evident that sociologically-normed realities cannot transcend their social contexts, as a matter of definition.

Consequently, to employ this idiom is to dismiss the intrinsic efficacy ex opere operato of the sacramental signing by which the Catholic liturgy is Catholic.  Since the Reformation, the sacramental realism of Catholic worship has been under constant attack: since Vatican II however, that attack is launched from within the nominally Catholic community.

Within the three decades since the Council, the dysfunctionality of the sacraments has become a commonplace postulate within the ranks of the dissenting theologians and the theological journalists who lately, by reason of the overwhelming success of the liberal “march through the institutions” are more influential than the clergy in forming the consciousness of avowedly Catholic people.

These theologians and their allies have found in the dismissal of sacramental realism a relief from the burdens of the committed moral existence which is proper to Catholic fidelity.  In the end, the assertion of a “functional” sacrament is the denial of the Catholic doctrine affirming the realism, the concretely historical efficacy, of that sacrament, and the inescapably eternal as well as historical significance of the actions which attend it. By the glib attribution of “functional” to the sacraments, realm of the holy is overcome and, with it, the significance, the dignity, of human existence in history.

It is now thirty years since a famous sociologist announced the incompatibility of personal dignity with the modernity which he thought to be the engine driving the progress of civilization.[iv]  B.F. Skinner then spoke for the pessimistic consciousness now epidemic in the West, and nearly so within the Church.[v]  Personal dignity, and the personal exercise of authority and responsibility which are its hallmarks, have until very recently been perceived within the Western tradition to be the linchpins of the free society.  Lately however, from within the burgeoning historical pessimism that specifies the Western heresies of modernity and post-modernity, these expressions of human dignity have become identified with an alienating personal idiosyncrasy: tolerable to a point perhaps, but at bottom aberrant, erosive of a public order which regards personal dignity and personal freedom as that by which we threaten each other, by which put each other at incalulable risk, rather than as the condition of possibility of the free, nuptially ordered, personal mutuality which is the free society.  It begins to appear that when all is said and done, we find the irresponsibilities of the cage more agreeable that the jungle perceived to be the inexorable consequence of the common public exercise of personal responsibility for the future.

The foregoing of all claim to personal dignity, personal freedom, personal responsibility, and personal authority has long been seen to be the price of entry into the civic responsibility proper to the secular society’s apotheosis of humanity.[vi]  In that society of dissociate and morally irresponsible, personally insignificant individuals lacking all dignity because lacking all relation to each other, the society which, fifteen centuries ago, Augustine dubbed “the City of Man,” the submergence of the responsible self in the we-saying reflex of the mass, collectivist quest for a secular, technologically-secured salvation, relieves one of all responsibility.  Thereby, with the dehistoricization of consciousness, God is dead, and everything is permitted.

In this “New Age” renewal of the ancient pagan pessimism, salvation is appropriated by personal extinction.  Immersion in the mass consciousness of modernity has no other goal, for in that City, the exercise of personal responsibility has become incomprehensible, the exercise of personal authority, criminal, and the affirmation of personal dignity, absurd.

Because sacramental marriage is the coalescence, into a single, highly efficacious and attractive public expression, of those historically-optimistic aberrations by which men and women actually accept unconditioned personal responsibility for each other in the mutuality, the “one flesh” of elective, nuptial love,  modernism attacks sacramental marriage from an animus as mindless as it is unrelenting.  The instinctively ad hominem response of modernity to the inherent truth and dignity of men and women who give it public utterance in their nuptial fidelity bars from the outset all discussion of its merits:[vii] they have become the subject, at best, of a humor no longer jovial but demonic.

Modernity finds the same absurdity in the young man who, in the rite of ordination to the Catholic priesthood, assents to the call from the ordaining bishop.  By that response he announces his free acceptance of priestly orders, his free undertaking to offer the One Sacrifice and to forgive sins in the person of Christ, to serve the Church and her alone, in celibacy, for the rest of his life — a life whose difficulty is underwritten by the decline of candidates for it to a near vanishing point.

For the Catholic priesthood has no natural attractions which could militate against those offered by comparable careers in the learned professions.  Nonetheless, despite the powerful attractions of marriage and family, of career, property and independence, young and not so young Catholic men continue to present themselves for ordination to the priesthood, knowing that by that ordination they will be forever changed, set apart, committed for the rest of their lives to a course of conduct sustainable only by seeking and finding an ever-closer bond in the worship of the Church with the Lord they will be vowed to serve by accepting responsibility for that worship.

Sacramental realism assumes that in baptism we are given a dignity, a personal word to utter which, as a personal participation in the Church’s historicity, in her worship in truth, transcends the ephemeral chatter otherwise marking our fallenness.  In that worship we each appropriate the Truth that is Christ, given to each of us as our food and drink, for in Him we are members of a priestly people, entitled to the support of the altar.  In this Communion with the risen Jesus the Lord,, we are ourselves affirmed by the II Adam who is our Head, who has named each of us in the naming of his bridal Church and who, by that naming, has summoned us, given each of us our vocation, our uniquely personal truth to utter into the world.  In that free utterance of covenantal fidelity, we appropriate the gift of our own free truth, our personal imaging of God in the freedom that is the worship of the Church.

To worship there is to appropriate as one’s own that sacred symbolism, that utterance into public life of the truth of the good creation, made effective ex opere operato by Christ’s institution, which stands radically athwart the propaganda and the project of modernity, within whose irresponsible society no man or woman has a personal word to utter, and so has no truth or dignity which could be profaned.  Each depersonalized individual has nothing to betray, nothing to honor, nothing to regret, nothing to praise or to blame, nothing over which to rejoice, nothing of which to complain.  To enter this impersonal realm of absolute irresponsibility is to live without hope, without love, without a future or a past.  This is life in the world of man, built by the faithless for their own oppression.  Only death can solace its misery, and death is lavishly to hand, the remedy for all social ills, the efficacious quasi-sacramental sign of that salvation which is oblivion, “the abolition of man,” the soteriology of sin.

The imperceptible inculcation over the past thirty years and more of the connotations of sacramental “functionalism” have deeply eroded much of the confidence of Catholics in their liturgy.[viii]  For example, although “functional” is not often said of the Eucharist, theories which would submit the Real Presence to political or sociological criteria abound.[ix]  For example, liturgists who should know better commonly insist upon the distribution, at any given Mass, only of hosts consecrated during that particular Mass, as though those consecrated at any earlier Mass were by the passage of time rendered no longer capable of mediating the Sacrificial Presence of the Risen Christ.[x]  Consecrated hosts which once were held in ciboria of precious metals upon which artists lavished their skills, are now to be kept in baskets; the gold and silver of which chalices were made has been replaced by some remarkably ugly pottery.  For the contemporary liturgist, the Mass which the Church proclaims to be the Offering by the High Priest of the One Sacrifice, has become merely a meal, and a folksy one at that.

This pseudo-liturgical piety manifests the antisacramental consciousness of the Lutheran Reformation, which regards the Eucharist as “dysfunctional” apart from the Mass in which the hosts were consecrated: the consequent nullification of all other forms of Eucharistic devotion follows as of course, a consequence unworthy of remark.  The Reformation’s aversion from such devotions become fashionable in Catholic circles since the Council for reasons having nothing whatever to do with the Council, but today we find Benediction, Perpetual Adoration, the Forty Hours subsumed under the threat of a supposed competition between the tabernacle and the altar, thought to have been recognized by Vatican II, although the Conciliar documents know nothing of it.

The result is the removal of the tabernacles in our parish churches from their traditionally immediate proximity to the altar, with its corollary, the practical disappearance of Eucharistic piety.  Obviously, this is not the product of any Magisterial decision or policy whatever.  Rather, it is insisted upon by self-proclaimed liturgical experts whose focal aversion — again Lutheran — from Catholic doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass has become increasingly evident over the past decade.[xi]  That aversion focuses upon the priesthood: upon its masculinity, its celibacy, its office to offer the One Sacrifice in the person of the Christ.

The Functional Priesthood

One hears rather less of functional marriage of late, perhaps because annulments have become so common as to be perceived by many as “Catholic divorce.”  When marriage thus understood becomes a commonplace, all those virtues which the sacramental sign of matrimony underwrites, and whose lack unravels all free social unity — chastity in and out of marriage, fidelity in marriage, and that subtle but indispensable, sacramentally-signed differentiation within the equal dignity, authority and responsibility of the man, the woman, and their covenant, together with the irreversible personal interrelations which that differentiation connotes and supports, within the one flesh of marriage — all these also soon go by the board.

The consequence is the loss of the free unity of the nuptially-ordered society: its is now replaced by the coercive, mechanist society of Hobbes, a congeries of dissociated humans.  In that fragmented massa damnata, each human being is a social atom with no inherent meaning or significance, lacking any constitutive differentiation from and consequent interrelation with any other, each utterly without personal significance, the multitude held in unity only by a terror greater than their fear of each other, each defenseless, open to unconditional manipulation by the application of that terror.

The currently popular advocacy of the “functional priesthood” is therefore in the service of an agenda: its program is familiar. It came into fashion some thirty years ago, coincident with reversal of altar and its dissociation from tabernacle, with concern for use of hosts consecrated at the Mass attended, with the henceforth ordinary use of “extraordinary” Eucharistic ministers, with fastidious avoidance of concelebration as offensive to women, with an animus against the reservation of the priesthood to men, and against priestly celibacy.  It was at this time that a new paradigm of the priesthood became the object of a popular quest: “professionalism” was in,[xii] usually in some sociological guise, and tradition of a distinctively priestly spirituality was out.[xiii]  The new liturgical translations from 1970 onward began to reflect this new paradigm.  Any language intimating a liturgical differentiation between the “presider” and the people in the pews was suppressed, for now it was understood, without any felt need to explain, that in the liturgy of the Mass they were all doing the same thing.  Implicit in the new paradigm was the discountenancing of the priest’s customary daily celebration of the Mass: this had become meaningless apart from a congregation, for it was now the faith of the congregation which would effect the new “transubstantiation,” no longer of the bread and wine of the Offertory into the sacrificial Body and Blood of Christ but rather, that of the “assembly” into the Body of Christ that is the church.  Soon religious communities, in which every priest had celebrated daily, became congregations, in which one would celebrate for all.  Priestly garb became superfluous; the clergy soon became indistinguishable from the laity, apart perhaps from a certain modishness in dress.

Henceforth, an empirical criteriology for the new priestly professionalism was in view: first, the priest’s novel presidential function needed elaboration: it would not be enough to be seen as a mere occupant of the chair at the liturgical assembly, who would cease to ‘preside’ and vanish into the dissasembled assembly at the end of the liturgy.  We began to hear of the priest as “leader,” a notion requiring a interpretation by “inculturation” for it to be understood[xiv] — for there were other candidates for leadership —: and a consequent education in “leadership.”[xv] in “listening skills”, etc., and those found not up to the new standards, particularly of the novel histrionic liturgical performance thought to be implicit in the strategic reversal of the altars, were invited to reconsider their vocation.[xvi]  Whether the invitation was heeded is hard to say: certainly the vocation crisis was not thereby resolved, but it was effectively confused.[xvii]

The application of the term, “functional” to the priesthood immediately announces an interpretation of the sacrament of orders which rejects the sacramental character imparted by ordination, as its application to marriage announces an interpretation of marriage that rejects the irrevocable bond between husband and wife infallibly caused by their free, sacramentally-signed personal commitment to each other.

In either case, the mentality at work is Protestant: a “protest” against the astonishing, even absurd Catholic doctrine which maintains that adult baptized Catholics are capable, by their participation in the Church’s worship, of historically unconditioned self-assertion: capable then of giving their word irrevocably in despite of all that may occur in the future.

The sublime arrogance of a young man and a young woman, perhaps still in their teens, thus pledging themselves to each other for all their lives, come what may, “forsaking all others, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, until death do us part“ must horrify any actuarian: the odds against such absolute fidelity are overwhelming.  From the pragmatic and pessimistic stance of the circumambient modernity, the pledge of unqualified fidelity to the Church, the Bride of Christ, which sacramental ordination entails, is in even worse case.  For a man thus to forego what modern secularity regards as his birthright, impersonal access to women liberated for his use by the Pill, by legalized abortion, by feminist ideology, is a radical abdication of manhood itself; this becomes the more obvious when it is considered that by ordination the priest places himself under the personal authority of his ordinary, who thenceforth will determine where and how he will serve his diocese.  For a man thus deliberately to place himself under authority is seen to have foregone thereby that individualistic autonomy and irresponsibility which modernity so prizes, which it associates with the acquisition of the wealth — i.e., with power, that counterfeit of responsible freedom — by which the modern, atomized man may isolate himself yet more fully from his fellows, and so approach more nearly that transcendent standing which befits the Atom as Absolute.  Clearly, priestly Orders are counter-cultural these days, even more radically so than is marriage, which is so easily camouflaged as romance.  But the romanticization of the priesthood as functional proceeds apace.

In fact, it is only the Church’s sacramental worship that recognizes such radically unconditioned, unsentimental personal commitments for what they are, integral and integrating elements of the Church’s worship in truth, which is to say, of the Catholic worshiper’s sacramentally objective imaging of the Triune God.  Only in that worship is there validated the traditionally commonplace supposition that adults do in fact have an absolutely true word to give and that, once given, it can be broken only by a failure of personal integrity — which is to say, by the grave sin of covenantal infidelity.  In short, it is only in that worship that full personal responsibility, full personal significance in history, can be appropriated, for only there is the imaging of God understood in its full nuptial meaning.[xviii]

The assumption of the inviolable personal dignity of all human beings, and of the correlative personal responsibility and authority of adults, is inseparable from the Judaeo-Christian culture of the Western world, but it is an assumption entirely open to the actuarial, pragmatic criticism which sees in the claim of the sacramental symbols of Catholic worship to an ex opere operato efficacy an utter absurdity — e.g.,. the absurdity which a physicist would find in the defiance of entropy by the purported inventor of perpetual motion.  Every pagan, whether the dévot of a bygone cult or a convert to the contemporary secularity, knows that time devours its children, that it erodes the one, the good, the true, the beautiful, and that salvation is given only by flight from time, not by immersion within its futility.  But ordination to the priesthood is a radical personal immersion in the history of salvation precisely as salvific: the man so ordained accepts and affirms the final significance of history, the Kingdom of God, as the very objectivity of the historical order.  For the Catholic priest, the life, death and Resurrection of the II Adam is the unsurpassable fulfillment of von Ranke’s criterion of historicity: the Resurrection, with all it implies, is “that which actually happened,” the Event which unites the past, the present and the future into a single indefeasible sign of the Christ’s victory over the otherwise fatal fragmentation of time and space.

Only Catholic Christianity supports the historical optimism which sees in history itself the medium of salvation: for the Catholic, salvation history is history as objectively understood, in the appropriation of a free historical consciousness which is available only as a gift of truth, freely to be appropriated, freely to be affirmed.  This appropriation-affirmation is liturgical: the time into which one enters, in which one lives by that appropriation, is the time which the Christ’s sacrifice redeemed, and which, as Eucharistic, his sacrifice orders by giving it that free unity, the sign of its fruition in the fulfilled Kingdom of God, by which it becomes history, possessed of an objectively significant content.

By this personal participation in the Catholic liturgy, the gift of personal dignity is freely appropriated and freely uttered into history — a history which is fallen, but which is irrevocably changed by that utterance, which is participation in the mission of the Word, who does not return to the Father without doing that for which he was sent, the redemption of fallen history.

The priest, under the bishop, is ordained to authority over and responsibility for this liturgy: his authority and responsibility are not his own: he can exercise them only in the Person of Christ, the II Adam, the Bridegroom of the II Eve who is the Church.  In Christ’s name the priest offers the One Sacrifice which causes the Church to be, which institutes that One Flesh of the II Adam and the II Eve that is the New Covenant: this is his primary authority, his primary responsibility.  From this Eucharistic authority flows what ancillary authority he may have: to preach, to baptize, to forgive sin, to confirm, to anoint.  His office is then Christ’s: to recapitulate all things in the Caput, the Head, in whose Name he acts.  This recapitulation is the bestowal of the free unity of the One Flesh of the New Covenant upon a fallen world, the flesh whose cause is sin and whose sign is death.

The priest can do this only because he has by his ordination become what he was not: i.e., he has become capable of offering the One Sacrifice in the name and with the authority of Jesus, the High Priest and the Victim of the Sacrifice, and capable of forgiving sins in that same Person and with that same authority.  This priestly capability is constitutive, never to be lost: that it survives even his own sinfulness, his willful abandonment of its responsibilities, was settled by the condemnations of the Donatist heresy in the fifth century.  Therefore the priestly character is not a metaphysical accident: it exists on the level of substance, as does all grace.[xix]

The priesthood is then not a function, any more than the baptismal character of the baptized is a function.  As one cannot take a furlough from the consequences of one’s Baptismal character, so also one cannot have a vacation from the responsibilities of one’s ordination, i.e., of one’s priestly character.  Even formal laicization does not remove the priestly character, the priestly authority and responsibility to act in persona Christi.  The laicized priest is of course forbidden under pain of grave sin to exercise that authority, barring cases of extreme necessity, but he cannot be deprived of it — by anyone, even the Pope — nor can he abdicate it on his own responsibility, whether the abdication be temporary or permanent.  The priesthood is constitutive of his very person, of his exercise of free responsibility and authority, and the priest’s fidelity to the priesthood — which is nuptial fidelity to the Church in persona Christi, is the intrinsic criterion of his personal conduct and his life.  This consequence is not a matter of Church law: it is the reality of his priestly Order.  Freely and responsibly undertaken, this fidelity is inseparable from the priest’s capacity to act in the Person of Christ: to have accepted that Personal authority is henceforth to live under it: he lives, in Paul’s words, not for himself but for Christ, whose fidelity to the Church in the One Flesh of the New Covenant is irrevocable.  The priesthood is not an accident, a function: it is the priest’s very substance, his existence as a man whose fidelity is his raison d’être.

Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

former Professor of Dogmatic Theology

St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie

Yonkers, N.Y.     10704

[i] Fr. Gregory Baum, whose article in The Ecumenist (November-December, 1965) announced the passage, supposedly warranted by Lumen Gentium, §28, from a “cultic” priesthood, defined by the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, to a “ministerial” priesthood specified by the “making present” of Jesus’ salvific work, was a bell-wether in the ecumenical/liturgical effort to persuade Catholics that Vatican II had underwritten the merely functional priesthood, one resulting from Christ’s gift of ministry to his people, in such wise that it became impossible to distinguish the universal priesthood which is given in baptism from that priesthood which is given in ordination, since the latter is no longer specified by the authority to offer the One Sacrifice in persona Christi.  Baum contrasts a priest who thinks his ordination to have given him a distinct ontological reality, with the post-conciliar “ministerial” priest who has no such illusions. However, over the intervening thirty years, Baum failed to persuade the Magisterium: Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, closed the door on the functional priesthood.

[ii] The mistake is at least as old as St.   Thomas’ application of the Aristotelian category of the “perfect society” to the Church.  Within the past few decades, sociology has displaced theology in many fields of formerly theological interest, particularly sacramental theology and  ecclesiology.  Schillebeeckx did not invent this dissent, but his willingness, even eagerness, to reduce the priesthood to a variety of “leadership” in Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ; tr. John Bowden (New York: Crossroad, 1981) paved the way for a widespread rejection of the sacramental reality of Orders: e.g., John Coleman, the author of  “The Future of Ministry,” America 144 (March 28, 1981), 243-49; “Ministry in the 80′s,” Call to Growth/ Minis-try 9/2 (Winter, 1982) 24-31, teaches sacramental theology to Jesuit seminarians in the Jesuit theologate at Berkeley.

[iii] See the second paragraph of the quotation in n. 13, infra, in re the distribution of Fr. Huels’s article.

[iv] B. F.Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Bantam/Vintage Books, 1972).

[v] The primary evidence for the existence of this consciousness are pastoral letters issued by ordinaries who radically misstate the Eucharistic tradition of the Catholic Church.  Notable in this genre is Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide for Sunday Mass, published on the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, September 4, 1997, by Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles.

[vi] Feuerbach was the first to state this clearly: see his Essence of Christianity

[vii]A recent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, prompted by the denial by the Supreme Court of  New   Jersey of the legitimacy of the refusal by the Boy Scouts to admit homosexuals to their membership, chided the supposed bigotry and archaism of this refusal.  The author’s condescension to the Judaeo-Christian consciousness which formed the Western civilization is unmistakable:

To be sure, the Boy Scouts’ policy of excluding homosexuals from their ranks should merit no one’s approval.  It is bigoted, archaic and harmful both to the Boy Scouts’ organization as well as to the young men the organization serves.

Richard E. Sincere, Jr., “Pro-Gay Ruling In New Jersey Hurts Gay Rights,” Wall Steet Journal, ccxxxiv, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 1999, A-17.  Mr. Sincere is the president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty.

“To be sure” is good: a supremely confident invocation, underwritten by the New Jersey bench, as earlier by the Supreme Court, of the politically correct consciousness, whose correctness, secure against all discussion, not only dismisses but also condemns four millenia of Western tradition without a hearing. We have here another instance of the now-familiar nullification by public authority of the historical consensus of a free people, in favor of the rationalist utopian vision of an elite: see Romer v. Evans, 854 P 2d. 1270, cert. den. 114 S. Ct. 414 (1993).  The first symptom of the animus against this free and historical consensus is the absolute refusal to permit its public advocacy: whose who would be its advocates are condemned before they speak.  Truths of this intuitive clarity can only be recognized: their discussion —worse, their criticism — is henceforth simply impertinent, not to be countenanced.  Legally coerced subscription to such dictamina is the very hallmark of the depersonalized and irresponsible society.

[viii] A convenient sample of the views of a leading purveyor of sacramental functionalism over some twenty-five years may be found in the posthumously published collection of Robert W. Hovda’s articles, Robert Hovda: The Amen Corner; John F. Baldovin, Editor (Collegeville: A Pueblo Book; Liturgical Press, 1994).  The “Amen Corner” began as a feature of Living Worship, a journal of the Liturgical Conference in Washington edited by Hovda in the early sixties, who used it there for some years as a personal forum before taking it with him to Worship magazine, where it continued in the same function until his death.

[ix] A supposedly authoritative article in the widely distributed New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990), “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, reads Paul as teaching that the lack of discipline in the Corinthian community nullifies the Eucharistic celebration which he criticizes in 11:17-22 of that Letter:

The essence of his reaction is that there can be no Eucharist in a community whose members do not love one another.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 809, ¶49:56

The absurdity of this inference is patent, for it would make impossible that unworthy reception of the Eucharist whose reality Paul specifically affirms — and condemns — a few verses further on (29-30).  Murphy-O’Connor’s cites his own articles as authority for his view, to which he returns repeatedly.  It amounts to a rediscovery of the Donatist heresy, which Augustine fought almost from the beginning of his episcopate on radically Pauline grounds.

[x] We may refer in this connection to the Pastoral Letter published by the Ordinary of Los Angeles, cited in note 2, supra, of which the following excerpt is typical:

Do not deprive these symbols — bread, wine, eating, drinking — of their power.  Our more careful planning helps us avoid taking from the tabernacle hosts consecrated at a previous Mass because we have given thanks over this bread and wine on this altar.  (emphasis added)

Although its language of this excerpt, like the rest of Cardinal Mahony’s Pastoral, is deliberately obscure, the policy these lines would institute has no doctrinal or canonical ground in the Catholic tradition.  The One Sacrifice offered at each Catholic Mass is not numerically distinct from the One Sacrifice offered at any other, nor is the Body and Blood of Christ received at each Communion numerically distinct from that which is distributed at any other.  There is one Eucharistic Lord, the same yesterday, today and forever, and one Church because there is one bread, a point made by Paul in I Cor 10:17, by the Didache, and by Ignatius Martyr.  The unity of the One Sacrifice is not open to debate, still less to liturgical revisionism.

[xi] The official declaration of this aversion is found in the Third Progress Report on the Revision of the Roman Missal (Washington: I.C.E.L., 1992), whose chapter on the “Order of the Mass” (pp. 128-151) announced a radical rejection, by the self-styled International Commission on English in the Liturgy, of the Catholic Eucharistic tradition.  E.g., the Mass has become merely a meal; the deacon, as one whose office includes the distribution of Communion, has thereby become its ordinary minister, for there is no other ordinary Eucharistic ministry than this.  No Lutheran would say otherwise. There is of course no mention of an offering of the One Sacrifice by the priest-celebrant.  The same animus is apparent in Cardinal Mahony’s Pastoral Letter, cited in n. 2, supra.

[xii] The “professionalism” in view was curiously romantic: without credentials, without examination, without morale, without discipline, without fiduciary responsibility, and so, in the end, without honor.

[xiii] A decade ago, I summarized the malaise afflicting the Catholic priesthood in a long footnote, from which the following is excerpted:

The conventional approach is that voiced by Fr. M. Edmund Hussey of Ohio, in his address to a conference in Palm   Beach: “Needed: A Theology of the Priesthood,” Origins 17 (1988) 577-583.  Fr. Hussey evidences no comprehension whatever of the Eucharistic unity of the Church, nor of the role of the ordained priest in the Church so constituted, and yet is willing to prescribe for the priestly renewal which he seeks.  For him and his audience, the central problem is posed by the Eucharist itself, whose celebration he views in the fundamentally sociological terms made normative for most of the contemporary discussion by Edward Schillebeeckx’s Ministry.  It is from such dubiously academic and yet more dubiously theological postulates that Fr. Hussey, like Schillebeeckx and Coleman, would extrapolate a priesthood which condescends to the Catholic tradition which it depreciates in order to have a “mainstream” future.  Fr. John Grindel, C.M., in “Different Expectations, Different Kinds of Training,” Origins 13 (1983) 187-194, described the problem presented to contemporary seminary training by the current inability of seminary directors to agree upon the meaning of the priesthood, a confusion obviously shared by their bishops: see the lectures on the same subject by Archbishops Murphy and Pilarczyk, cited above, and by Bishop Kenneth Untener, “A Vision of Future Ministry,” Origins 13 (1984) 552-556.

In the meantime the liturgists, routinely backed by a hierarchy long confused–by their own advisors–over their own responsibilities, are proposing to inhibit the practice of Eucharistic concelebration which, within their ranks, is seen to affront the ascendancy of the functional interpretation of the priesthood: see John M. Huels, O.S.M., “Concelebration: Sign of Unity or Division?” Liturgy 80 (April, 1987), whose pleasant hints of the authoritarian character of measures impending in case of resistance to the unity he has in view are unfortunately not atypical.  Fr. Huel’s article was again published for the edification of the Archdiocese of Chicago by Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, IL; it was republished by the Canadian National Liturgical Office in Ottawa, in a circular issued to the Canadian Catholic clergy, and six months later was reissued by the same office as an appendix to the Liturgical Report distributed by that office to the Canadian clergy.  Suffused with an innuendo condescendingly dismissive of the old-fashioned notion, taught immemorially and at Vatican II, that the priesthood is an ontological reality, confident that in a Church in confusion over the meaning of the priesthood, the future lies with those who do not consider their ordination to have any distinctive spirituality associated with it, Fr. Huels’ theology obviously had high-level episcopal approbation in Canada and in the United States.  His article closes with a scarcely veiled threat to outlaw concelebration by reason of the scandal it affords to feminists.  The theological and canonical substance of the piece could hardly be flimsier, but in the servile spiritual milieu which has fostered and promulgated this travesty, such considerations are not of much weight: Huels is “right on” as to the New Class agenda, and that obviously suffices.  The contrast between Huel’s portentous essay and work inspired by the Council itself is instructive; see Jean McGowan, Concelebration: Sign of the Unity of the Church (New York: Herder & Herder, 1964)

Covenantal Theology: rev. edit. with an Appendix (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1991) at 105; continuation of n. 110.

[xiv] Fr. Bartholomew Winters’ dissertation, Priest as Leader.  The Process of Inculturation of a Spiritual-Theological Theme of Priesthood in a United States Context, defended summa cum laude at the GregorianUniversity in 1995, was published by the Gregorian University Press in 1997.  It conforms precisely to the functional notion of the priesthood.  In its 340 pages of text, there is no mention of the sacrifice of the Mass.  At this writing, Fr. Winters is the Director of Priestly Formation at Mundelein, the theological seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

[xv] Twenty years ago a laicized priest, Thomas H. Groome, in Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision (HarperSan Francisco, 19811980) proclaimed the effective usurpation of the clerical magisterial office by the masters of catechesis, whose function it now was to interpret the doctrinal tradition in terms of political correctness.  By that time, the catechetical community had already trimmed the doctrinal tradition to the sub-Christian dimensions allowed by regnant starveling educational theory, having understood themselves to have been freed of magisterial oversight by the spirit of Vatican II.  No bishop seems to have disagreed with the massed DREs until in the late nineties, when the NCCB finally awakened to the disastrous impact of this insolence upon two generations of dummed-down Catholics.  It would be consoling, but naïve, to suppose that matters have changed substantially since that official episcopal awakening.

[xvi] See Robert Hovda’s “Amen Corner” in Living Worship for May, 1967.

[xvii] E.g., Archbishop Pilarczyk observed in 1986 that:

The image of the priest has changed in the church.  It is almost as if priesthood is a different office now except that nobody is too sure where the difference lies….It is clear that we are in some kind of crisis of priestly ministry.  The nature of the crisis is not all that clear.  Is it a crisis of image … of numbers … of celibacy … of change … of prayer … of secularism … of confidence?

In a sidebar of an article by Bishop Thomas Murphy, “The Host of Challenges Priests Face,” Origins 18 (1988) 152-156, at 153.

A few years earlier, Archbishop Murphy, in “The Local Community and the Future Priest,” Origins 12 (1982) 428-431, had approvingly quoted a National Catholic Vocation Council Booklet which presented the contemporary priestly ideal as that of

a person who concelebrates the gifts and ministries of all the people.

Diocesan Priest (Washington, D.C.: National Vocational Council, 1982), at 430.

And this in the green wood: it has since been seasoning for more than fifteen years.

[xviii] Pope John Paul II, in the series of lectures delivered weekly from Sept. 5, 1979 through April 2, 1980, now collected in The Original Unity of Man and Woman (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981) associates marriage to our imaging of the Trinity and to the primordial covenant of God with humanity: see pp. 36, 38, 51, 62, 73-4.  In the apostolic exhortation entitled Familiaris Consortio the Pope is explicit:

The Eucharist is the very source of Christian Marriage.  The Eucharistic sacrifice, in fact, represents Christ’s covenant of love with the Church, sealed with His Blood on the Cross.

The. Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World; Vatican tr. of Familiaris Consortio from the Vatican Polyglot Press (Boston: St.   Paul Editions, n.d.) §57 at 86.

[xix] It would be difficult to write a more contentious sentence.  The Catholic theological community has been accustomed for more than seven centuries to the nature-grace analysis of St. Thomas, according to which nature, as the object of creation, is sharply to be distinguished from grace, which latter term St. Thomas understands as a gift in the historical order which modifies an already naturally constituted human being.  Therefore, for St. Thomas, the distinction between nature and grace is reduced to the distinction between a substance and its accidents.  This metaphysical analysis is dismissed by the Reform, whose antisacramentalism is inseparable from its rejection of metaphysics, with the consequence that it is easy to infer, mistakenly, a Protestant mentality in whoever rejects, not metaphysics, but that particular metaphysical analysis.  In Covenantal Theology; rev. ed. (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1996), and earlier in Thomism and the Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich (Leiden: Brill, 1971), I have defended, per longam et latam, the substantiality of grace as the creative effect of the Christ’s Gift of the Spiritus Creator to the Church and, through the Church to the world.  Here it may be sufficient to observe that creation is in Christ, according to Paul in Ephesians, and John in the Prologue: it can then hardly be ungraced, as the Thomist substance-accident analysis requires.  Even Thomas admits that grace is recreatio: ST Ia q. 93, a. 4, citing the patristic tradition summarized in the Glossa ordinaria 3, 92A.  Further, the ex nihilo sui et substantiae proper to creation is also that which is proper to grace: to speak of a “double gratuity” in the order of substance is metaphysical nonsense.  It is also evident that, inasmuch as accidents, in the Thomist analysis, have their necessary cause in substance, a gratuitous accident is impossible within that analysis.  The notion of an “obediential potency” has no metaphysical foundation. For further commentary, see the two books cited in this note.

The Best of Keefe: “Sacramental Sexuality and the Ordination of Women” [1976]

Sacramental Sexuality

and the Ordination of Women

Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.



In a paper presented at an ITEST conference held at Fordyce House

two years ago, a theology of sexuality was sketched as a basis

for the consideration of the moral questions posed by the

fertilization “in vitro” of human ova. Such a theology could not

but carry over into other fields of considers e ecumenical

concern. A contemporary focal point for that concern is the much

discussed issue of the ordination of women. If the further

development of that theology in the present essay is to be kept

within reasonable bounds, it must be understood to require as its

preface the Proceedings of the October, 1974 ITEST Conference,

and particularly the article in which its scriptural ground, or

perhaps support, was proposed.(1) Even so, the sum of the present

article cannot amount to more than an introduction to the

questions which such ordination raises and a pointer to the

direction in which their solution lies.

In broadest outline, that earlier paper tied the transvaluation

of cosmic or nonhistorical sexual symbolism,(2) e.g., that of the

Babylonian mythology, to a conversion to the worship of the Lord

of history, a worship which is integral with faith in the

fundamental goodness of creation. More precisely, such faith

causes or is constituted by this transvaluation. The cosmic

religions expressed their ambivalent experience of the universe

in terms of an ambivalent relation between the sexes, a relation

whose liturgical expression variously required priests who were

kingly, and priests who were castrate; virgin guardians of the

temple, and temple prostitutes. The metaphysical expression of

this experience oscillated between a dualist alienation of the

principles of transcendence and immanence, and their monist

identifications.(3) Its supreme poetic integration is the

tragedy,(4) in which human futility and human dignity are found

implacably and eternally opposed.

That cosmic ambivalence found the feminine principle, in all its

manifestations, irreconciliable with that of masculinity; the

exaltation of the one is inevitably the suppression of the other.

Human existence thus experienced and a cosmos thus structured

cannot be called good; their salvation must come from their

dissolution, from the elimination of those antagonisms which are

encountered universally.(5) The experience of all qualification

of reality and of all differentiation as injustice, as strife and

pain puts limits upon what salvation can mean. From this cosmic

point of view, the escape from evil, from the fallenness of

things, is by deliverance from all qualitative differentiation.

The religious, and later the theoretical, explorations of this

salvation found that two modalities were possible to it: the

masculine one of absolute transcendence, the transcendence of an

unqualified self, and the feminine one of an absolute immanence,

the immanence of the absolute community. In either mode an utter

serenity, an unqualified consciousness is attained; the past is

concluded and the future foregone in an intuition of the real

which refuses value to whatever is resistant to undifferentiated

unity. This vision has been competitive with Christianity from

its beginnings, and continues to be in our own day.(6)

The faith of the covenanted people of Yahweh in the goodness of

historical creation, in the goodness of the covenanted history of

Israel, was simultaneously a refusal to accept the cosmic

conflict between transcendence and immanence, between God and his

creation. This faith was identical with an experience of order in

history under Yahweh’s lordship. Within this covenant experience

evil was not encountered as a blind inevitability in the

universe; rather it was experienced as the result of a free

refusal of Yahweh’s good creation. Such a refusal could not avoid

a return to the cosmic religion, lived out in a pagan use of

sexual symbols. No longer expressive of the good creation, such a

use was seen as unholy, as whoring and fornication, and at the

same time as idolatry. The prophetic condemnation of this

infidelity to Yahweh condemns it as adultery, for Yahweh is

understood to be in a marital relation to his people, to the good

creation formed by his continual presence to it as the Lord of

history. By this marital presence, which knows no primal

ambivalence, Yahweh affirms the immanent good of his creation in

a word which the New Testament knows to have been irrevocably

given and uttered into the good creation.(7) That word is his

covenant, the definitive institution of a free people whose

freedom is their history, their worship of the Lord of history.

In this worship they are delivered from slavery to the cosmic

powers through the continual offer of a future which transcends

their past, and in which they can be sustained by him alone. His

word is not uttered in vain; it evokes the created response which

is wisdom, the splendor and fulness of his creation. This

response the Old Testament recognizes to be feminine; by this

insight the cosmic notion of the feminine is transvalued, and the

new realization enters, through the appropriation process which

is the worship of Yahweh, into the reassessment of the marital

relation itself.

This process is impeded by the fallenness of the covenanted

people, who hesitated then as now before the demands of

historical existence. Their fallenness is portrayed in the

prophets by the imagery of a woman unfaithful to her marriage

vows who turns away from Yahweh, the giver of life, toward

sterility and death. But the prophetic protest against Israel’s

and Judah’s sin, however concerned with the threat of divorce and

abandonment by Yahweh, concludes in the later books with the

assurance of his forgiveness and the final consummation of

Yahweh’s covenant with his bridal people. Out of this struggle

emerged a consciousness of the strict connection between the good

creation, the covenant, and the marital relation: all of these

involve the same conversion, the same transvaluation, the same

historical existence, the same faith.

Thus baldly summarized, the Old Testament symbolism announces a

reversal of the pagan assessment of the masculine-feminine

polarity: that polarity is now the structure of the creation

which is good, and the bisexuality which once signalized the

ambivalence of the finite world becomes the symbol of the

reciprocity of God’s love for the people he has made his own, and

their love for him. As this is seen to be the meaning of the

holy, so also the marital relation is transformed, to become a

religious sign and realization of the covenant which grounds

it.(8) In this transformation, the world ceases to be an

ambivalent reflection of masculine value and feminine disvalue;

that ancient antagonism is concluded. The masculine henceforth is

so by a creative and life-giving love, not by isolation from or

supression of a destructive femininity, while the feminine is so

by her mediation of that love, not by subordination to an alien

power. Nor is this symbolism dispensable, as peripheral to

Judaism, for it is integral to the revelation itself; Yahweh is

known only in his election of his people, and that elective love

is marital.(9)

This Old Testament use of marital symbolism is given its highest

development in the Pauline letters, particularly in Ephesians,

whose marital doctrine is rooted in Gen 2:24, “Therefore a man

leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and

they become one Flesh.”(10) In this letter Paul integrates the

First and Second Adam theme of Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15, the Church as

Body theme of 1 Cor 15, the tangled intimation of the sexual

bipolarity of the human image of God which we find in I Cor 7 and

11, and the passing reference in 2 Cor 11 to the Church as the

Bride of Christ in an unexplored comparison to Eve. His struggle

to express the truth he had received culminates in a contrapuntal

theology of the New Creation, the New Man and the New Bride whose

Head purifies her by the sacrifice of his body and blood, by

which sacrifice he is “one flesh” with his body.(11) In this New

Creation Christ is the incarnate image of the unseen God; the

letter to the Colossians puts him at the center of the universe

and of humanity. But he is thus Image and Creator as Head of the

Church, his Bride; he is Image as sacrifice, as priest, as the

second Adam to her whom the patristic reflection designated the

second Eve. By this bipolarity Christ is incarnate, and Image.

Luke adds a further modulation to this marital symbolism, in the

parallel accounts of the descent of the Spirit upon Mary, whereby

she becomes the “Theotokos,” and upon the apostles at Pentecost,

where, in what may have been a celebration of the New Covenant, a

commemoration of the body and blood of the sacrifice, the Church

comes to be.(12) The patristic meditation upon the interrelation

of these themes has found in Mary’s virginal motherhood of our

Lord the antitype of the Head-Body relation which constitutes the

Church: it is by Christ’s mission from the Father that his Spirit

inspires at once the freedom of Mary’s “Fiat” and the New

Creation within her body, a child whose masculinity was conceived

by her immaculate response to God’s elective love.(13) By Mary’s

free worship, the New Covenant is given, and the New Israel is

formed, in and to whom God is definitively present, because made

man. The masculine-feminine dialectic is identical in Acts: the

descent of the Spirit of Christ creates the Church in a moment of

ecstatic freedom whose prius is the Eucharistic immanence of the

risen Christ. The “one flesh” of Mary’s conception of her Lord is

identically the “one flesh” of the Church’s celebration of her

Head, the sacramental consummation of the New Covenant which she,

in the integral freedom of her worship, conceived.

The theological development of these themes has found in Gen 2:24

the summary of the New Creation, the New Covenant, the New Adam

and the New Eve, “Una Caro.”(14) There also, inchoate, is the

charter of all Christian sacramentalism, the revelation that

God’s creative freedom is most powerfully exercised in the

creation of our own free response to him, a creation in and of

the Church by the presence in it of His Son. This sacramental

structure of reality, of the good creation which is created in

Christ, is the warrant for Christian freedom and the basis for

Christian morality: it provides the meaning and the significance

of human life and history. This meaning, this value and truth, is

not abstract, not a matter submitted to the judgment of

scholarship and theory. It is a gift, not a necessity of thought,

and it is given concretely in the life of worship which is our

existence in Christ., our communion in the ‘one flesh’ of his

union with his Church.

Within the communion of Roman Catholicism, ordination has

traditionally been reserved to men. This reservation was first

put in question within the less tradition-oriented Protestant

communions; the question is now raised by Catholic theologians.

Because the sacramental principle is so integral with the Church,

any theological discussion of it is inevitably also an

ecclesiology. Disputes over the ordination of women tend to

become disputes over the nature of the Church, and thus to range

beyond the limits of the initial subject matter. In fact, the

ordination of women is often advocated as the implication of a

more fundamental argument.

A most instructive development of the ecclesiological and

sacramental theology which is found consistent with the

ordination of women has been presented in a recent article by

Edward Kilmartin.(15) Kilmartin has been teaching and writing in

this field for some twenty years; his theological credentials are

of a very high order. It may not be too much to say that no more

cogent statement of the theses underlying the advocacy of women’s

ordination is available in English.

The basic concern of Kilmartin’s article is the inadequacy of the

“ex opere operato” doctrine of the Eucharistic worship. He finds

this device employed in such a fashion as to disintegrate the

organic unity of Eucharistic worship; specifically, it reduces

the role of the laity in the congregation to mere passivity while

reserving to the consecrating priest the substance of the

worship. By way of corrective, Kilmartin examines the meaning of

the Church’s apostolicity, and concludes that this meaning is to

be derived from the fundamental mode of the immanence of the

Risen Christ in the Eucharistic community. Kilmartin understands

this fundamental presence of Christ to be a presence by faith.

This faith is of course caused by the gift of the Spirit, a gift

given by the risen Christ. The Spirit inspired in the apostles

that faith which is the faith of the Church; the Church is made

to be Church by this faith, the first effect of the presence of

the Spirit. The faith of the apostles is then a secondary

consequence; Kilmartin understands them to be dependent upon the

prior faith of the Church. Their  apostolic office’ is

consequently a participation in the power of the Spirit only as

this power is mediated to them by the Church: they participate

only indirectly in the priesthood of Christ, as do all other

Christians. Thus understood, apostolicity is not a ‘character’ or

an ‘office’ or a ‘power’ distinct from the one gift of the

Spirit, mediated by the Church, which is faith.

There is no question then of an ontological reality passed on

from the apostles to their successors by the sacrament of orders

in such wise that any bearer of the apostolic character is

dependent for that character upon a line of direct succession by

ordination from one of the apostles upon whom that office first

rested, whether by the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, or by

a mission from the risen Christ. Rather, office in the Church is

understood now to be a function delegated to an office holder by

the local Church in which apostolicity primarily resides. This

view of office as functional rather than as ontological removes

from it any intrinsic characteristic which the Church must

consider as visibly and historically constitutive for Eucharistic

worship and thus for the Church itself. Instead it is the

Church’s faith, seen as a spiritual “anamnesis” of the sacrifice

of the Cross, which is constitutive for the worship as for the

Church; absent this “anamnesis”-faith, there is no Eucharist, no

Body of Christ, no presence of Christ, no Church. If the

“anamnesis” is given, no particular ordination ritual may be

insisted upon as necessary for the Eucharist, for Eucharistic

presence is by faith, not by an “ex opere operato” effective

consecration by a priest of the bread and wine of the sacrifice.

The radical consequence of this theology is that the Church is

not caused by the sacramental-historical event of Christ’s

sacrificial relation to the Church in and by which he is

sacramentally present as at once priest and sacrifice. Rather,

the Church is caused, created, by the presence of the Spirit sent

by the risen Christ, who is ‘not here.’ The ontological

Eucharistic presence is identified with faith.

Kilmartin draws a number of conclusions from this notion of

apostolicity; they are those already familiar to the Christianity

of the Reformation. They are (1) Priestly character can no longer

be considered the power to consecrate, for the functional nature

of the priesthood excludes such a power; (2) Apostolic office is

required, not for the Church’s liturgy, nor because the power of

orders makes the priest the direct representative of Christ,

“alter Christus,” but because the priest must be linked

historically to an office instituted by Christ for stewardship

over the faith; (3) The role of the priest in the Eucharistic

liturgy is the ritual expression of the faith of the Church;

apart from this faith there is no Eucharist; (4) There can be no

ordination except to a function in a local Church; all absolute

ordination to the Church at large is excluded; (5) The priest

cannot distribute the fruits of the Mass, because he is not an

“alter Christus”; (6) Protestant Eucharists cannot be judged

invalid for failure of valid orders; they must be judged only in

terms of the relation they signify and symbolize between “the

comprehensive ecclesial reality” and the Eucharist; (7) There can

be no basic objection to the ordination of women, since priests

represent directly not the Christ but the one Church which,

according to Gal 3:28, transcends all masculine-feminine

distinction; (8) The pope is not the vicar of Christ in the sense

of effectively playing the role of Christ.

The logic of Kilmartin’s reasoning is unassailable; once the

original concession is made, the conclusions he arrives at are

inevitable, as are others which he does not pursue. When the

presence of the risen Christ to the Church, by which the Church

is created, is understood to be a presence by faith, there is in

view an ecclesiology completely different from that which

understands the Church to subsist and be caused by the immanence

in her of the risen Lord as the unfailing consequence of her

visible and historical worship. In the technical language of

classical sacramental theology, Kilmartin’s theory denies the

infallible efficacy of the sacramental sign (“sacramentum

tantum”) and as a necessary consequence denies the infallible

effect (“res et sacramentum”) of that sign. All saving efficacy

of the Cross is now detached from any free human activity save

that of Jesus on the Cross, and even the efficacy of the Cross is

no longer referred to any contemporary historical event or

structure. The Christian’s worship is now reduced to an absolute

simplicity: that “anamnesis” of the Cross which is without any

identifying characteristics which might distinguish it from

non-worship. The refusal of the “ex opere operato” efficacy of

the sacramental sign (i.e., the denial of the distinct reality of

the “res et sacramentum,” whether the baptismal or priestly

character, the event of absolution, the sacrifice of the Mass as

the re-presentation of the Cross — in brief the denial of the

reliable historicity of Christian worship) rejects the intrinsic

value of all human and historical reality. Any alternative

inevitably tends toward a vainglorious theology of the Church

triumphal, a theology which does not understand how the

significance of the Cross must include the denial of our own


For Kilmartin then,, the reformation of Catholic Eucharistic

worship requires its being telescoped: the sacramental sign

(“sacramentum tantum”) is dispensable because without any

intrinsic significance and without any spiritual and creative

efficacy; it then follows that there is no sacramental effect of

such a sign, an effect which itself signifies and causes union

with Christ but is not itself that union (i.e., no “res et

sacramentum”). All that remains is the Cross of Christ and the

salvation which it causes. Christ’s deed empties human history of

meaning, instead of filling it with meaning; His deed is

discontinuous with all of ours in this life, doomed as our lives

are to complete inefficacy, for without him we can do nothing,

and he is not here but in his Kingdom, the only “res sacramenti.”

The denial of the good creation which this theology entails is

obvious. We should not then be surprised that attached to it is

the refusal of the marital symbolism by which the Old Testament

and the New have known and uttered the goodness of creation.

The union of the faithful with Christ can no longer be understood

in Kilmartin’s theology as the union of the Head and the Body,

for such a comprehension, native to the classical theology, rests

upon the supposition that marriage is a sacrament, a historical

sign of worship whose unfailing effect, the marriage bond (“res

et sacramentum”), is a sign of the greater mystery to which it

can only point, the union of the faithful in Christ. That the

marriage bond, with its exclusivity, its indissolubility, its

sexual bipolarity, is a sacrament means at a minimum that Christ

is to his Body as bridegroom to bride. The classical theology

reinforces this relation by its insistence upon the historical

immanence of the sacrifice of Christ in the historical Church.

The marital dialectic of the Eucharistic ‘one flesh’ is

eliminated with the elimination of all concrete presence of the

sacrificed and sacrificing Christ to his Body, to the Bride for

whom the sacrifice is offered and by which she is created through

the gift to her, in her history, of the Spirit. That dialectic

falls within the condemnation of “ex opere operato” historical

efficacity of all sacramental signs, whether marital or

Eucharistic. Head and Body are now blended in a unity

transcending all masculinity and femininity (we are referred to

Gal 3:28), a unity which must become a logical identity as soon

as the inability of any historical and intrinsically

differentiated symbol to signify it sacramentally is seriously

accepted. Of this Christ-faithful union the most complete union

fallen humanity knows has nothing to say, being utterly

transcended by it. Sacramental signs have been reduced to a

pragmatic gesturing, of some social and psychological value, but

without any intrinsic relation to our salvation, for that faith

has no historical expression which may be relied upon. This

isolation of ritual from any significance, from any efficacy, is

the hallmark of the decadent scholasticism of the 14th and 15th

century; its rejection of all secondary causality prepared the

way for the ‘total corruption’ pessimism of the Reformation: the

road is a well-travelled one.

As Kilmartin observes, his ecclesiology requires that the one

Church “transcend all masculine-feminine distinction.” Once the

sacrifice of the Mass is dismissed by the reduction of the

presence of Christ in the Church to a presence by faith, all

concrete qualification of historical human existence loses

religious value, because every such qualification stands in

contradiction to the ineffable “Una Sancta,” the Church which has

no immanence in the historical humanity it utterly transcends:

absent the Head, absent also the Body. The antihistorical cosmic

salvation is restored, again androgynous, the nullification

rather than the fulfillment of creation in the Image of God.(17)

Such an ecciesiology makes of the Christ an “Uebermensch” whose

transcendence is rationalized; no longer in mysterious union with

his immanence, his transcendence is controlled by an inexorable a

priori logic which forbids such immanence. His unique sacrifice

submits to the same logic, to become the nullification rather

than the sustenance and support of our historical significance,

our worship. Once the proposition is accepted that the sacrifice

of Jesus the Christ on the Cross admits no representation in the

Mass, this cosmic nullification of history is already in effect.

The event of the Cross then has the mythic quality of an event

“in illo tempore,” a moment entirely discontinuous with our

fallen futility.

Whether such a theology as Kilmartin has offered is always and

everywhere satisfactory to those who advocate the ordination of

women may be doubted; certainly some would consider their

ordination consistent with the traditional notion of the

priesthood. But it is upon notions such as his that most

systematic justifications for the ordination of women rest;(18)

at a minimum they play down the sacrificial aspect of the

priestly office as the corollary of the contention that the

priestly role is not that of an “alter Christus,” and therefore

not limited to men. Rather, the priest should be understood as

“alter ecclesia,” as Kilmartin has suggested; sometimes one hears

“alter Spiritus.” With whatever accent the redesignation is

proposed, the meaning of the Catholic worship is transformed: the

Mass, the Eucharistic celebration becomes a faith-response to the

Event “in illo tempore” which voids history of significance, the

event of the Cross. The response which is fit is thereby

problematic, for it can be annexed to no effective sign: the new

notion of worship cannot permit sacramental efficacy. We begin to

hear again echoes of the late medieval dissolution of all

experienced meaning by means of logical analysis, a dissolution

which so separated the elements of reality as to deprive the

created world of immanent value as of transcendent significance,

and so of mediation of God. Upon this we cannot delay, save to

observe that the decision to reduce all worship to faith can rest

only upon a reduction of all human life in history to

insignificance. If this be the remedy for such exaggerations as

have been foisted upon the sacramental worship of Roman

Catholicism, one cannot but wonder at the diagnosis.

That Kilmartin does not push the logic of his reworking of the

Eucharist to its cosmic extremity is clear enough; neither did

the “sanior pars” of the Reformation, but the objections to such

extrapolation are themselves irrational, as the Calvinists

pointed out to the Lutherans, and the sacramentarians to the

Calvinists. When theology does not find its unity in the

historical tradition of the Church, by which the revelation is

mediated, that unity will be found in the ideal immediacy of

God.(19) Only the former position is Catholic; the latter is

cosmic, founded upon the logical isolation of God from man which,

in default of the historical revelation, is understood to be

ontological as well. Between the Catholic and the cosmic there is

no bargaining space. When it is urged that the theological

principle which travels under the tag of “ex opere operato” has

served only to corrupt the Eucharistic worship of the Church, the

appropriate therapy would appear to be the renewal of the primacy

of the reality which is to be understood over the speculative

devices by which theologians have managed to misunderstand it.

One cannot reasonably abandon the ecclesial tradition because it

has been misunderstood by theologians or liturgists; to do so is

to make the same mistake against which the original complaint had

been lodged. It is really not possible to restore the true

function of the lay congregation in the Eucharist by unfrocking

the priest if the reason for so doing is that his performance is

a nullity in any event: what is left to be presided over? Are

women then to be ordained on the grounds that they are no more

futile than men?

The most immediately appealing objection to the restriction of

orders to men is that it is unjust, that it entails a religious

subjugation of women, and their ontological subordination: in

brief, that this practice, however time-honored, amounts to an

indignity. The charge is a serious one, but its correctness is

not self-evident, except on grounds of a cosmic egalitarianism.

These have been found wanting, not applicable to the human

reality; the good creation by whose goodness justice is given its

Christian meaning, is a rejection of the egalitarian cosmos in

which all differentiation is accounted unjust.(20) If we are to

take the charge of injustice with that seriousness which it

merits, we must place it in a Christian frame of reference, that

of the Eucharistic celebration.

This is the celebration of the definitive presence of the Lord of

history in his people, the liturgical promulgation of the Good

News of the definitively Good Creation whose goodness is by the

Trinitarian mission of the Son and the Spirit into the world.

This sending of the Son by the Father, and the Spirit by the

Father and the Son, is not distinct from the creation of the

world. If we are truly to understand what it is we celebrate, it

is necessary to rid our imaginations of the exaggerated reading

of Anselm which later theology accepted in the distinction

between a “natural” creation by the One God, and a subsequent

Trinitarian presence in the world simply “propter peccatum.”(21)

The mistake of this theology was that it made the Incarnation of

the Son merely incidental to the world of man and to his history,

and reduced the role of the Spirit to one of repair, rather than

admit the creativity the liturgy has affirmed of Him. But the

Christocentric theology which began with Scotus finds it

impossible to maintain the distinction which Thomas accepted

between a natural creation “ad imaginem,” and a supernatural

“recreatio”: the Creator and the Christ are one God: as

incarnate, Christ is also his Image, the adequate utterance into

creation of the truth of God. This truth is not information about

an abstract deity, but the truth of God’s relation to his

creation. This truth is the revelation, concretely uttered into

the world at the moment of Mary’s acceptance. But truth and

reality cannot be distinguished: if the truth of creation is

concrete in the Christ, so also is the reality of creation: His

lordship, His revelation and his creation are the some, his

headship and his imaging.

The good creation which is actual in Christ is not then to be

thought of as an object or thing “placed outside its causes” as

an older theology expressed it in quite nominalist terms. The

victory of Christocentrism is required by the doctrine of Mary’s

Immaculate Conception, in which Christ’s grace is understood to

be effective in history prior to the Incarnation, and effective

precisely as creative. His Lordship transcends all time, and all

time is meaningful, historical time only by that Lordship,

through which its discrete moments are unified and valorized. His

lordship is similarly transcendent to space, making it a world;

to humanity, making it the people, the Church; in all its

exercise, his transcendence is effective by his immanence. He is

the creator-redeemer, present in his creation as Image, by a

communication which is “ex nihilo,” without any antecedent

possibility. His presence is so total as to be in personal

identity with himself, not the suppression of any human being by

its subordination to his divinity, but the constitution of his

own humanity in the evocation of the integrally free affirmation

of it in that acme of worship which is Mary’s conception of her

Lord. Her affirmation is constitutive for his imaging; precisely,

it is the constitution of his masculinity, which was not imposed

upon her, but conceived by her in untrammelled freedom as the

total expression of the perfection of her worship, as her

femininity is that in which the Good creation worships, the

wisdom and loveliness by which it glorifies God in the joyful

celebration of the presence of the Lord.

It is this dialectic within creation, now a fallen creation, that

Ephesians 5:22ff describes. Christ’s lordship, his presence in

creation, is his submission to sin and death, and the sacrifice

of the Cross, at once the triumphant vindication of his creative

mission from the Father, of his obedience and of his Lordship,

and the pouring out of his Spirit upon his Bride, the second Eve,

the Church itself, “societas qua inhereamus Deo,” caused by the

offering of his body and his blood. As Mary is intelligible only

within the masculine-feminine polarity by which she is

“theotokos,” the Church is intelligible only through the polarity

by which she is “Sponsa Christi,” continually redeemed by his

sacrifice, continually rejoicing in, celebrating the Good News of

the Good Creation which is in his Image. The reality of his

presence is her food and drink, her daily bread. As Christ is the

Christ by his total self-giving, the Church is Church by her

response to the gift, the worship by which she mediates the more

abundant life he died to give us. In this mediation, the

distribution of the bread of life, she is the second Eve, taken

from the side of Jesus on the Cross, the second Adam. It is as

priest and as sacrifice that Christ is present to the Church; it

is by his sacrifice that the Church is designated the Body of

which he is the Head. The Eucharistic Body which the Church

distributes and by which it lives is the one flesh of her union

with her Lord. If we admit the historicity of this union, we must

admit the historicity of its polar elements, and recognize with

Paul that it is in this union that the full value of human

sexuality is to be found; this is what the sacramentality of

marriage means. Nothing in the relation between Christ and the

Church is unjust, for both exist by their total affirmation of

the other; in this mutuality the Good Creation is actual in its

imaging of God.

Does the Eucharistic worship in which this relation is concrete

require the altereity between Church and alter Christus which the

classical view of apostolicity supposes to be essential to the

Eucharist? Does it require a sacramental representative of the

Head, in order that his sacrifice be sacramentally offered, and

his,Body sanctified by communion in one flesh with him? The

affirmative response which the sacrificial and event-character of

the Eucharist requires does not at first glance force the

conclusion that women should not be ordained, however much it may

suggest it. If Christ’s masculinity is inseparable from his

relation to the Church, it is evidently appropriate that the

priest who stands in his place in the Eucharistic celebration

should be male. But is it necessary? Does masculinity enter into

the very sign-value of the Eucharistic consecration, of the words

of institution, by which the sacrifice of the Cross is

re-presented? To assert such an integration of masculinity with

the priesthood is to assert also that human sexuality, masculine

or feminine, is integral with the personal existence in Christ

which is personal participation in the Church’s worship. This

integration is the fundamental assertion of Eph 5:21-33, an

assertion not in tension with that of Gal 3:28.(22) The latter

speaks of the full equality of all human beings in Christ; to

construe this as removing all religious significance from

masculinity and femininity is to presuppose that our unity in

Christ is unqualified, undifferentiated, which Paul notoriously

denies. Whatever heretofore undiscovered meanings exegesis may

find in Gal 3:28, Paul’s enlistment in unisex will not be among

them. But it is in the Letter to the Ephesians that the

sacramentality of our sexual bipolarity is assured, by the

discovery of the meaning and significance of sexual love in the

relation between Christ and his Church. This Pauline

understanding of marriage is grounded in the ‘one flesh’ of Gen

2:24;(23) it does not at all depend upon the sentence passed on

the fallen Eve. For Paul, the full meaning of Gen 2:24 is found

in the relation of Christ to his Church; in this relation,

marriage has its ground, as from it masculinity and femininity

draw their value and significance. These are indispensable to the

New Testament as to the Old, to the good creation in the image of

God, and to the New Creation in Christ.

The citation of Gen 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31 establishes the

continuity of Paul’s theology of marriage with that of the Old

Testament, wherein it was seen to be holy with that holiness

which belongs to the unfallen condition of humanity: sexual

bipolarity belongs to the Good Creation.(24) Paul merely takes

this insight and adapts it to the New Creation in Christ: the

relation of Christ, the Head, to his Body which is the Church

reflects the Old Testament covenantal relation between Yahweh and

his people. What was there implicit is now explicit: the meaning

of marriage, in which the truth of sexuality is given its

concrete and historical expression, is a matter of mystery, to be

discovered in its wellspring, the mutuality of Christ and the

Church, in which the full meaning of masculinity and femininity

is given, and given in the Revelation whose truth is

appropriated, not by human cleverness, but only in worship. Only

thus is its mystery respected, and the full significance of human

sexuality realized into history.

Paul has no difficulty in expressing the sacrificial nucleus of

Christ’s marital relation to his Body, the Bridal Church. He has

no difficulty in asserting the full equality of husband and wife;

they are to be mutually submissive, each seeking the good of the

other, without any ontological superiority on either side. Nor is

there much difficulty today in seeing that the covenantal

relation which must govern the Church’s bridal response to the

Christ is also the norm for the wife in marriage; her virtue,

like her husband’s, is covenant virtue. Our whole problem lies in

language, in finding words responsive to the truth of the marital

relation thus derived. All our language is tainted by its cosmic

origins, and by our penchant for rationalization. Paul’s language

can be understood only when one keeps firmly in mind that its

meaning is governed not by ordinary usage or by ordinary common

sense; these are not in service of the revelation which he

serves. Paul’s use of such antagonistic words as fear, submission

and the like, to describe the appropriate reaction of the

Christian wife to her husband is entirely misunderstood when it

is forgotten that we do not know what this language means in any

adequate sense.(25) We do know that Paul is neither a dualist nor

a monistic egalitarian; he insists at once upon the full

equality, the full human dignity, of both sexes, and also insists

upon their difference and irreducibility. This is simply

incomprehensible to our ordinary and quite pagan way of thinking,

as the history of theology shows quite plainly. There is no room

here for an examination of the history in the Old and New

Testaments of Paul’s language; it is evident enough that such

words are used in relation to the old Israel and the New without

any consequent demonization of Yahweh or of his Messiah, although

this use involved a complete reassessment of their meaning. One

may then assert the real difference in the masculine and the

feminine modes of worship in the Church without placing a greater

ontological value in one than in the other; only in a cosmic

religious context does qualitative differentiation imply


Nor is this qualitative differentiation between man and woman of

only occasional significance; it characterizes our creation and

our existence. It is not simply by a violation of the marriage

bond that one profanes the sacramental significance of one’s

sexuality, but by whatever expression of sexuality that

contravenes the meaning which is revealed in Christ’s relation to

the Church, and the Church’s reciprocal relation to Christ. This

is the foundation of Paul’s condemnations of promiscuity; it

the “Pauline privilege” as well. We are members of the

Body as masculine or as feminine, not as members of a

qualitatively indifferent fellowship; there is no aspect of our

worship, or of our existence “in Christ” which is neuter, in

which our sexuality is without significance and sacramentality.

If it be true that masculinity and femininity are thus

sacramental, and that all human existence is engaged in this

signing, it must follow that the only paradigms by which the

mystery, the meaning, of masculinity and femininity may be

approached are those provided by the marital relation between

Christ and his Church, between the Head and the Body, a polarity

intrinsic to the New Covenant, to the New Creation, to the

imaging of God. The appropriation of this sacramental truth is

identical to the worship of the Church, for in and by this

worship the Good News which is preached and celebrated is no more

or less than the truth of humanity which is revealed in Christ.

No one can enter into this worship except as a man or as a woman,

as the bearer of an existential meaning which is holy, and whose

affirmation is inseparable from one’s prayer. The content of this

affirmation is the self, which is uttered, not to a neutral and

merely reciprocal Thou, but to another mystery by whom one’s own

is itself affirmed in an utterance which is not repetitive but

responsive to oneself. In this mutuality, that of the Covenant,

the meaning of masculinity is complete in Christ’s sacrificial

relation to the Church, and the sacramentality of every masculine

existence is tested by its conformity to that model. The meaning

of femininity is complete in the Church, and the sacramental

truth of all feminine existence and worship is tested by its

conformity to that model. There has been very little attention

paid to the historical content of this sacramentality, even in

Catholic theology, and it is evidently not possible to make up

for that neglect by any less strenuous device than a thorough

re-examination of the entirety of the Catholic tradition:

scriptural, patristic, liturgical, and also cultural. But short

of that endeavor, we are not entirely ignorant, not entirely

controlled by stereotypes. The Catholic insistence upon the

sacramentality of masculinity and femininity rests upon the

Catholic faith in the historical actuality of the Head-Body

relation of the sacrificing and sacrificed Christ to the Church

in the event of the Eucharistic worship. If this sacrificial

Head-Body relation is not actual in the here and now of our

worship, then the marital relation has nothing to signify, and

sexuality becomes religiously unimportant, deprived of

sacramentality, as all our worship is deprived. Reduced to faith,

no expression of our worship has any intrinsic historical

importance, and no problem exists with regard to the ordination

of women, or indeed with regard to anything else, insofar as

intrinsic structure and value are concerned. Much of contemporary

moral theology is already embarked upon this path. But if we

reject this nihilism, admit the transcendent importance of being

a man or a woman, then the other consequences of sacramental

realism “ex opere operato” also follow; they are in brief the

negatives of those which Kilmartin s drawn and to which we have

already referred. Particularly, the sacramentality of feminine

existence and worship is that of the historical Church, “alter

ecclesia,” which cannot be identified with or assimilated to the

worship of the consecrating and sacrificing priest, “alter

Christus,” in the Eucharistic celebration; the alternative is

that merger of Christ and his Church which would make of them one

nature, “mia physis.” But between this monophysitism and the “una

caro” of the marital symbolism which celebrates rather than

supresses the dignity of sexuality, there is all the difference

which separates the Judaeo-Christian faith in the goodness of the

historical creation from all its counterfeits and from their

devaluation of the humanity which God made in his image, as of

the history through which the good creation is redeemed. Many

voices now urge this devaluation, not least those advocating the

ordination of women to the priesthood. If as seems to be the

case, such a devaluation of human sexuality and human history is

integral to that advocacy, it must follow that such ordination

cannot take place within the Catholic Church.


1.   D. Keefe, “Biblical Symbolism and the Morality of “in vitro”

Fertilization,” Proceedings, ITEST Conference on Fabricated Man,

Oct., 1974; reprinted in “Theology Digest” (Winter, 1974)


2.   M. Barth, “Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters

4-6″ (Anchor Bible, vol. 34a) Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden

City, New York, 1977, 687.

3.   P. Tillich, “Systematic Theology,” 3 vols., University of

Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill., 1951-63, I, 23lff.

4.   Werner Jaeger, “Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture,” 3

vols., tr. Gilbert Highet, Oxford University Press, New York,

1965, 1, 237-2-85; Tillich, op. cit., III, 92.

5.   Werner Jaeger, Op. cit., 110, 156f wherein appears a

commentary upon Anaximander’s famous dictum, “It is necessary

that things should pass away into that from which they are born.

For things must pay one another the penalty and compensation for

their injustice according to the ordinance of time.”

Anaximander’s discovery of a cosmic order of justice is a

liberation from the mythic notion of fate by the substitution for

it of a no less fatal physical necessity, the remote anticipation

of the iron laws of thermodynamics.

6.   The universal solvent for all problems, difficulties, and

suffering, from this point of view, is always a return to the

lost primal unity; only thus is the spectre of injustice

exercised. This solution to the problems posed in contemporary

theology is well known in ecumenical circles; it seeks for the

primal unity of Christians in a least common denominator of

doctrine, liturgy and morality. The temptation posed to Catholic

participants in such discussions is considerable, for they also

are frequently against injustice. A fair example of the Catholic

discovery of injustice in the non-ordination of women is George

Tavard’s “Woman in Christian Tradition,” University of Notre Dame

Press, 1973, whose axial theme is the equation drawn between

injustice and the admission of religiously significant sexual

differentiation. This equation is founded upon an egalitarian –

and cosmic — reading of Gal 3:28, which, if taken seriously,

simply puts an end to the sacramental worship of Roman

Catholicism. See esp. pp. 77 and 96.

7.   M. Barth, Op. cit., 688.

8.   Ibid., 630, footnote 85, citing J. Pedersen’s “Israel, Its

Life and Culture,” 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1946, 1-11;

702, in which Barth expressly refers to God’s marital covenant

with Israel; Georges Azou, in “The Formation of the Bible,” tr.

Josepha Thornton, The B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis and London,

1963, proposes the same idea (60-61); John L. McKenzie’s “Aspects

of Old Testament Thought,” The Jerome Biblical Commentary,

Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968, 11,

752-753, para. 95-8 should be read in this connection. See also

K. Barth, “Church Dogmatics” III, The Doctrine of Creation,” Part

four, ed. G. Bromley and T. Torrance, Edinburgh, 1961, 197-198,

wherein Barth refers to marriage as the supreme manifestation of

God’s covenant.

9.   M. Barth, Op. cit., 707.

10.  Ibid., 615, 618, 669, 720.

11.  Ibid., 614, 618-19, 645, 723, 729ff.

12.  J. Munck, “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction,

Translation, and Notes.” Revised by William F. Albright and C.S.

Mann. (Anchor Bible, vol. 31); Doubleday and Company, Inc.,

Garden City, New York, 1967, 232. See also 0. Cullmann, “Early

Christian Worship, Studies in Biblical Theology” 10, tr. A.

Stewart Todd and James B. Torrance, S.C.M. Press, Ltd. 966, 21,

footnote 1.

13.  This meditation seems to have begun with Irenaeus, probably

in response to the gnostic use of Ephesians 5 alluded to by M.

Barth, (644-45,, op. cit.) Tavard, op. Cit., 69-70, provides an

interesting commentary upon Irenaeus’ development of these


14.  H. de Lubac, “Corpus Mysticum: L’Eucharistie et L’eglise au

Moyen Age. Etude Historique.” Revue et augmentee. Aubier,

Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1949, 139-209, provides an

indispensable account of the development of the “Una Caro”

terminology in its application to the Eucharist from Jerome

onward through the 12th century. Before Berengarius, its

dialectic served to unite the  three bodies’ of the Eucharistic

worship: The Church, the crucified and risen Lord, the Body of

the Eucharistic sacrifice. The interrelation of marriage and

Eucharist was again emphasized by Bossuet; see G. Bacon, “La

pensee de Bossuet sur l’Eucharistie, mystere d’unite,” Revue des

sciences religieuses xlv, (1971) 209-239. Most recently A.

Ambrosiano has returned to the topic in “Mariage et Eucharistie,”

Nouvelle revue theologique, 98 (1976) 289-305.

15.  E. Kilmartin, “Apostolic Office: Sacrament of Christ,”

Theological Studies 36:2 (1975) 243-264. Kilmartin’s

ecclesiology, while of an evident ecumenical interest, is not

essential to that interest; see Emmanuel Lanne’s “L’Eucharistie

dans la recherche oecumenique actuelle,” Irenikon, 1975, 48:2,

201-214. The controversy within Catholic theology which surrounds

views such as Kilmartin now proposes is well illustrated by C.J.

Vogel, “Die Eucharistie heute,” Zeitschrift fur Katholische

Theologie 97:4 (1975) 389-414, responded to by Alexander Gerken,

“Kann sich die Eucharistielehre „ndern?” in the same issue.

Joseph Finkenzeller has recently addressed the same questions as

Kilmartin: “Zur Diskussion uber das Verstandnis der apostolischen

Sukzession,” Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 123:4 (1975)

321-340, and “Das kirchliche Amt und die Eucharistie,”

Theologisch-praktische Quartalschrift 124:1 (1976) 3-14.

16.  Gunther Bornkamm, Luthers Auslegen der Galatersbrief, Walter

de Gruyter & Co., Berlin, 1963, 277-280, provides the radical

interpretation of Gal 3:28 upon which ecclesiologies such as

Kilmartin’s rest: insofar as our justification is concerned, we

are bound to no external work whatever (nulli prorsus uni externo

operi sumus alligati). And the consequence is accepted: the man

of faith is without a name, without species or difference,

without “persona” (homo sine nomine, sine specie, sine

differentia, sine persona). Luther himself of course refused to

deduce social revolutions from his doctrine, a point of view

which is entirely consistent with its dehistoricizing thrust. The

distinction between the “volkisch” and the “religios” sense of

Gal 3:28 is still controlling in D. Albrecht Oepke, “Der Brief des

Paulus an die Galater, 2nd ed., Evangelischer Verlagsanstalt,

Berlin, 1957, 90-91.

“Da das zweite Glied unmoglisch in Sinne der Sklaven, (I KR

7, 20ff) das dritte nicht in dem der Frauenmanzipation

gemeint sein kann (I Kr 11, 7ff; KI 3, 18; Eph 5:22ff) so

ware es ebenfalls verfehit, das erste in Sinne eines blassen

Internationalismus verstehen zu wolien.” Nonetheless: “Die

Glaubigen sind  in Christus’ zu einer Person verschmolzen.

The religious unity in Christ with which Galatians is concerned

has no particular social relevance: “non alligati sumus”; between

the sacred and the secular a disjunction is set which no “works”

can bridge, which no sacramental sign   can transcend.

17.  0. Cullmann, “Baptism in the New Testament (Studies in

Theology 4)”, S.C.M. Press, London, 1950, 30, uses Col

1:24, 2 Cor 1:5 and 1 Pet 4:13 to establish that the Body of

Christ into which we are baptized, the Church, is the crucified

and risen body of Jesus; this theme had been more particularly

developed in his “La delivrance anticipee du corps humain d’apres

le Nouveau Testament,” “Homage et Reconnaissance: Recueil de

travaux publie a l’occasion du 60e anniversaire de Karl Barth,

Cahiers Theologiques de l’Actualite Protestante, Hors Serie 2,”

Delachaux et Niestle, Neuchatel, 1946, 31-40, in which he also

makes some attempt to accommodate the “mysterious identity” of

Christ-Church to the marital symbolism of Eph 5:22ff. This

attempt requires a careful avoidance of the Head-Body language of

Ephesians and Colossians, by which the duality-in-unity of Christ

and the Church as the antitype of the marital ‘one flesh’ is

affirmed, for in Cullmann’s theology there is no Christ-Church

union to be symbolized by marriage: there is only an identity,

mysterious no doubt, but still identity. Thus he understands the

‘one flesh’ of Gen 2:24 and Eph 5:31, leaving quite unresolved

the difficulty of understanding how the inherent duality of

marriage can have any reference to the much-insisted-upon

identity of Christ and his Church. In this connection, see his

“Baptism in the N.T.,” 45, note 1. Cullmann’s reading of Gal 3:28

is consistent with his reading of  one flesh’; “every difference

between men and women here disappears.” (Baptism, 65.) For

Cullmann as for Kilmartin, the active role of the congregation in

worship excludes all “ex opere operato” sacramental efficacy. In

his controversy with K. Barth over infant baptism, Cullmann

insists upon the absolute passivity of all incorporation by

baptism into the Body, which knows no moment of free becoming,

“contra” the doctrine of Eph 5:21-33, in which the Body-Church is

in a relation of freedom to the Head who is Christ. Despite

Cullmann’s well-known stress upon salvation history, his

ecclesiology is finally reducible to an eschatology: between the

Cross and the Parousia, nothing of significance is effected

through the use of historical human freedom. The parallel between

Cullmann’s development and Kilmartin’s seems clear.

18.  Paul K. Jewett, “Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual

Relationships from a Theological Point of View,” William B.

Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1975, is a fair

illustration. He assumes the anti-sacramental stance proper to

Protestant theology from its inception, with the expected


19.  Luther’s insistence upon the objectivity of Christ’s

Eucharistic presence, as forced upon him by his loyalty to

Scripture, is in a considerable tension with the theological

account of that presence, which looked upon it as a special

instance of divine omnipresence. The event-character of the

Eucharistic worship having been abandoned with its sacrificial

character, the Eucharistic presence becomes accountable for only

in non-historic terms.

20.  P. Tavard, op. cit., 184, 191, 195; P. Jewett, op. cit., has

the same difficulty as Tavard in admitting that the “submission”

language with which Paul points to the paradigmatic relation of

the Church to her Head need not and cannot be understood as

demanding the ontological inferiority of the feminine. Karl

Barth’s explanation of “submission” as existence within the order

of creation (examined in pages 69-82) is also used by M. Barth,

op. cit. 709. This coincides with the phraseology used by

Voegelin and von Rad to which reference was made in the article

to which the present one is sequel. See footnote 1.

21.  M. Barth, op. cit., 654, 731.

22.  The interpretation of Gal 3:28 which Joseph Fitzmyer has

contributed to the Jerome Biblical Commentary (11, 242a) reads:

“Secondary differences vanish through the effects of this primary

incorporation of Christians into Christ’s body through “one

Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). This verse is really the climax of Paul’s

letter.” At first glance, this language has considerable

affinities with the Lutheran phraseology cited in note 16, as

with the contemporary views of Kilmartin and Tavard. The

implications which a literalist reading of e.g. Fitzmyer’s

summary statement has for Catholic sacramentalism have been

pointed out. It is curious that even after the 1965 endorsement

by Danielou (v. Tavard’s citation, op. cit., 217, note 10) and

its later popularization via the CTSA (v. vol. 24 (1969) of the

CTSA Proceedings) in this country and the works of Hans Kung

internationally, the recent commentaries on Galatians pay little

attention to the bearing of 3:28 upon women’s ordination. Pierre

Bonnard, “L’Epitre de Saint Paul aux Galates,” 2nd ed., revue et

augmentee, Delachaux et Niestle, 1972, writes, of the distinction

between male and female, “Depasse’es et non supprimees, ces

distinctions ne sont pas abolies dans l’eglise.” (78-79) John

Bligh, in “Galatians: A Discussion of St. Paul’s Epistle,”

Householder Commentaries, No. 1, St. Paul Publications, London,

1969, writes “St. Paul is discussing, Who are the heirs of

Abraham? His answer is that the distinctions between Jew and

Greek, slave and free, male and female are irrelevant here. All

Christians are equally heirs.” (327) Franz Mussner, in “Der

Galater Brief, Herder Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen

Testament,” ix, Herder, Freiberg, Basel, Wien, 1974, writes “Der

Apostel will domit seltstverstandlich nicht sagen, dass derartige

Unterschiede 5usserlich nicht mehr bestehen — Mann bleibt Mann

und Frau bleibt Frau, auch nach der Taufe –. aber sie haben

jegliche Heilsbedeutung vor Gott verloren.” Mussner does exclude

any identification of Christ ard the faithful, but when he tries

to elucidate further what the baptismal unity might be, he falls

back upon metaphor: “Diese  Heils-sprare’ noch naher zu

bezeichnen, ist sprachlich keim moglich.” (264, 265) “Im ubrigen

redet hier Paulus von einem Mysterium, das sich begrifflich nicht

vollkommen fassen lasst, am wenigsten mit Kategorien moderner

Existenialanalyse.” (266) The categories Paul uses in Ephesians

5:21-33 evidently do not occur to Mussner as applicable here. And

this is odd. Heinrich Schlier has been more sensitive to the

issues raised by Gal 3:28; in the 13th edition of “Der Brief an

der Galater, (Kritisch-Exegetischer Kommentar Uber das Neue

Testament Begrundet von Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Siebente

Abteilung),” Gottingen, 1965, 175, he remarks, albeit in a

footnote, “Erkennt man diese Enschranking der Aussage in V.28, so

hutet man sich, aus ihm direkte Folgerungen fur die Ordnung des

kirchlichen Amtes oder auch der politisehen (sic) Geselischaft zu

ziehen. Das kirchliche Amt beruht ja nicht direkt auf der Taufe,

sondern, auf der Sendung, und die politische Gesellschaft ist

niemals identisch mit dem Leibe Christi.” (Note 4)

23.  M. Barth, Op. cit., 734; see also 641, 703.

24.  Ibid., 645.

25.  Ibid., 630-715.

Evolution and Death: Reply from Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

Father Van Hove to Father Keefe:

April 10, 2012

A very fine young lady I met at campus ministry in Mt. Pleasant, MI, is a faithful Catholic, and I asked her to pose in her own words a question which I seemed to have failed to answer to her satisfaction.

If you would have a moment, would you be able to contribute a paragraph or two for her?

Here is the question:

Dear Father ………

Following up on last night’s discussion, here’s my question regarding the relationship between the Church’s doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution vis-a-vis death:

The Church permits members to accept any scientific theory as long as it does not contradict the dogmatic teachings of the Church. It is my understanding that the basic theory of evolution (that is, that evolution is the vehicle through which living things, including man, came to be) is compatible with a Catholic worldview. The Catechism tells us that “death entered the world on account of man’s sin” (CCC 1008; cf. Gen 2:17, 3:3, 3:19;Wisdom 1:13; Rom 5:12; Rom 6:23; DS 1511) and that “the account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man (CCC390, emphasis mine; cf. GS 13.1 and Council of Trent DS 1513), which would seem to indicate that death was not present in creation before man’s sin. However, the theory of evolution seems to necessitate the existence of death from the beginning of creation (rather than when man first sinned),in order that species might evolve via the process of natural selection/survival of the fittest. How then is the acceptance of the theory of evolution compatible with Church teaching?


Reply from Father Donald J. Keefe, S.J.

“The evolving world is the fallen world: its evolution is governed  by the laws of thermodynamics: summarily, by entropy.  It asymptotically approaches a head death, which it will never reach.  The fall was the refusal by the first Adam of an offered headship; since it is the office of headship to be the source of the free unity of the good creation, the refusal of headship is the refusal of free unity for the whole universe which, as absolute, has no mass, hence no intrinsic gravitational unity, of its own.  In brief, the fall is the detonation of the universe at an increasing velocity, a detonation which is consequent upon its lack of mass.  Mass is a relational value between bodies, but the universe, by definition, has no relation to anything at all.

The victory of Christ is his acceptance of headship: thus he is the second Adam, who offered nuptially-ordered headship to the first Adam.  He has restored, in sacrament, the free unity of the universe: the Kingdom of God is an accomplished fact, and the fact is the free reordering of the fallen universe: it is all fallen, and is all redeemed, become the habitable universe, the Kingdom.  We enter into its freedom by entering into the worship of the Church: this requires an intellectual conversion from the pagan flight from an unbearable history into that history of which Jesus Christ is Lord, its Beginning and its End.

This will support a sufficient conversation until I get around to more of the same.  The rudiments are here.”

April 11, 2012

again from Father Keefe, April 13

By way of further clarity and, no doubt, more confusion:

1.  Mass is a relative reality, proper to bodies in a gravitational field. 2. The physical universe by definitionis not in a gravitational field, and consequently has no mass. 3. According to Paul, the fall is dueto the first Adam’s refusal of the free, i.e., nuptial, unity proper tothe headship offered him in the first moment of creation. 4.  There is no other unity thanthis nuptial order; its rejection by the head issues in the detonationof the universe, governed by the laws of thermodynamics: roughly, entropy. 5.   The fallen universe, lackingunity from its first moment, the big bang, has been expanding at an increasingvelocity, now about 2.2 the velocity of light.  This entails a currentradius of the universe estimated at 46 billion light years, about 30 timesthe volume provided by the generally received estimate of 15 billion lightyears. 6.  The unimpeded, i.e., explosive expansion of the universe is an asymptotic drive toward its heat death; as asymptotic, that drive it will never end.  Current attempts to perceive the instant of the detonation are equally asymptotic; access tothe beginning moment is as impossible as access to its conclusion. 7.  The current quest for ‘darkmatter’ and ‘dark energy’ to explain this expansion supposes that the universehas mass, and that in principle it is static. 8.  This supposition is a relic of the era forty or fifty years ago when it was thought that the perceived expansion of the universe would be decelerated to the extent of the mass of the universe, and could be cyclic, given sufficient mass.  It has no foundation.  10.   Attempts to refer to the spiral galaxies as somehow constrained from continual expansion by “darkmatter’ and ‘dark force’ ignore the enormous gravitational effect of the black hole at the center of every spiral galaxy.  It is entirely likely, probably inevitable, that the black holes will absorb the massive bodies which the universe comprises, and then will proceed to coalesce, possibly to comprise the totality of gravitational bodies in the universe.  The universe will remain without mass, again by definition. 11. The victory of Christ is the restoration of the free, i.e., nuptial unity of the good creation, the transformation of the empirical universe into the Kingdom of God.  12.  Entry into the Kingdom is by free entry into salvation history, the only history there is, i.e., significant temporality whose significance is anagogic, a quest for theKingdom of God. 13.  This entry into the anagogic quest for the Kingdom is liturgical: personal participation in the Eucharistic worship of the Church.  14.  Jesus the Lord is the Alpha and the Omega: by his Eucharistic immanence in our fallen universe, he frees it from its immanent necessities (the laws of thermodynamics) bybestowing upon it the freedom whose full expression is the One Sacrifice, by whose Eucharistic immanence in salvation history He is its Lord, transcending all of time as its Alpha and Omega, its Beginning and its End.

To this it may be added that evolution, insofar as bearing on life forms, is anti-entropic (dystropic); inevitably submitted to the fall, it is subject to that dissolution which Paul describes as the dust of death, but the death of living things is never the last word; it is only seasonal, every generation is replaced by the next. . .  Insofar as evolution bears upon the universe itself, it bears upon the fallen universe and, insofar as a process, can only identify with the entropic quest for its heat death, its absolute disintegration.  Inasmuch as evolution looks to integration, not to disintegration, it has no relation to the universe as such: the laws of thermodynamics prevent it absolutely.

If Father…….. suggests the possibility of exceptions to the universality of the Fall.  He will find no ground for them in the Catholic tradition.

Father John Hardon SJ (1914–2000) on “Pentecostalism” [1971]


by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.  (1914–2000)
[Lecture given at the Annual Conference for the Clergy, Archdiocese of New York, April 20-21, 1971; Fr. Hardon had a Ph.D. in theology, taught graduate level theology for over 20 years, and worked for the Vatican for 29 years. He was the author of many influential catechetical works, including The Catholic Catechism (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), and he was the primary catechist for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity]


Before entering on the formal presentation, I think it will be useful to first clarify some possible sources of misunderstanding.

The immediate focus of this study is Pentecostalism. It is not directly concerned with the persons who call themselves Pentecostals or, as some prefer, Charismatics.

Moreover, the purpose here is to make an evaluation. It is not to impart information about Pentecostalism, since such information is fairly presumed, with all the literature by and about the movement and, for many people, either personal experience or direct observation of the movement in action.

Finally, though I seldom do this when speaking, in this case it may be useful to give a brief run-down of “references” about the speaker’s own qualifications in talking on the subject.

My professional work is teaching Comparative Religion. A phenomenon like Pentecostalism, I know, has for years been one of the characteristic features in other religious cultures, and not only in Protestantism or Roman Catholicism; in fact, not only in Christianity.

Since the first stirrings of Pentecostalism in Catholic circles, I have been asked to give some appraisal of it to leaders in the Church who sought counsel on the question, e.g., Bishop Zaleski as chairman of the American Bishops Doctrinal Commission and recently the Jesuit Provincial of the Southern Province, in a three-day private conference in New Orleans.

For several years I have been counseling persons dedicated to Pentecostalism, mainly priests, religious, and seminarians. And on Palm Sunday of this year I preached at the First Solemn Mass of a priest who is deeply involved in the movement.

My plan for today’s talk is to cover three areas of the subject, at uneven length, namely:

1. The Historical Background of the Pentecostal Movement, up to the present.

2. What are the principal elements of Pentecostalism, as viewed by Roman Catholics dedicated to the movement?

3. An Evaluation in the form of a Critical Analysis of Pentecostalism as a Phenomenon which has developed an Ideology.


The essentials of the Pentecostalism we know today began with the Reformation in the sixteenth century as a complement to Biblicism. The two together have formed an inseparable duality in historic Protestantism.

Where the Bible was canonized in the phrase, Sola Scriptura, as the sole repository of divine revelation; the indwelling Holy Spirit in the heart of every believer was invoked as the only criterion for interpreting the Scriptures or even for recognizing their authenticity. Thus Solo Spiritu became the basic principle of direction in the life of a Christian, in place of the professedly divine guidance by the Spirit residing in the papacy and the Catholic hierarchy.

Pentecostalism turned sectarian in the nineteenth century when groups like the Irvingites, Shakers, and Mormons broke away from their parent bodies over what they said was indifference in the established Protestant churches to external manifestations of the presence in converted believers of the Holy Spirit.

What gave these sectarian groups theological rootage was the parallel rise of the Holiness movement among Methodists. Experience of conversion and an awareness of the Spirit had always been prominent in Wesleyan thought. With the advent of biblical criticism and the solvent of rationalism, many followers of Wesley fall back almost exclusively on personal experience as a sign of God’s saving presence.

When some of these Holiness groups affiliated with the Irvingites and their counterparts, modern Pentecostalism was born.

Some would date the beginning with 1900, but more accurately, from 1900 on the Pentecostal movement began its denominational period. One after another, new congregations were formed or old ones changed to become Pentecostal in principle and policy. By 1971 some 200 distinct denominations in America qualified as Pentecostals. While total membership is uncertain, ten million in the United States is not too high a figure. Outside North America, the largest contingent is in South America, where Pentecostal missionaries from the States have successfully evangelized in every country below the Rio Grande. Brazil alone has four million, of whom 1,800,000 are communicants, mainly converts who were originally baptized Catholics.

The most recent development in Pentecostalism was the ecumenical collaboration with Catholic groups in the United States, at first cautious, then bolder and now becoming a pattern that gave rise to what some call “Catholic Pentecostalism”, but others prefer to say is “The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church.”

From this point on, my concern will be uniquely with this latest development, seen through the eyes of its dedicated followers and described by men and women who believe they are, and wish to remain, loyal Catholics but honestly believe that a new dimension should be added to the concept of Catholicism before it was touched by the present outpouring of the Pentecostal grace of the Spirit.


Although American Catholic involvement in the Pentecostal movement is hardly five years old, a growing body of literature is accumulating. Most of it is still descriptive or historical, but more than a score of monographs and half a dozen books are frankly theological. Their authors seriously try to come to grips with what they call the Charismatic Renewal, and their studies are couched in formal, even technical language.

There is no doubt that those who are professed Catholics, and at the same time, committed to Pentecostalism, want to span both shores. As they view the situation, it should be seen from two perspectives:

1) from the standpoint of Pentecostalism, defining what are its essential features; and

2) from the side of Catholicism, distinguishing what is different about Pentecostalism today, compared with other historical types of the same movement in former times.

Essentials of Pentecostalism

Writers of a Catholic persuasion isolate certain elements of Pentecostalism and identify them as trans-confessional. They are simply characteristic of this aspect of Christianity wherever it is occurs, whether among Catholics or Protestants or, in fact, whether before the Reformation or since.

1. The primary postulate also gives Pentecostalism its name. Just as on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem there was an extraordinary descent of the Holy Spirit and a marvelous effusion of spiritual gifts, so at different ages in the Church’s history a similar phenomenon occurs.

It is generally occasioned by a grave crisis or need in the Church. God raises certain charismatic persons to visit them with special graces and make them the heralds of His mission to the world. Such were Benedict and Bruno, Francis and Dominic, Ignatius and Teresa of Avila.

The present age is such a period, certainly of grave crisis in Christianity, during which the Holy Spirit has decided to enter history in a miraculous way, to raise up once again the leaders of renewal for the Church and, through the Church, for all mankind.

2. No less than on Pentecost Sunday, so now the descent of the Spirit becomes palpably perceptible. This perceptibility shows itself especially in three ways:

a) In a personally felt experience of the Spirit’s presence in the one who receives Him. The qualities of this coming are variously described; but they cover one or more of the following internal experiences: deep-felt peace of soul, joyousness of heart, shedding of worry and anxiety, strong conviction of belief, devotion to prayer, tranquility of emotions, sense of spiritual well-being, an ardent piety, and, in general, a feeling of intimacy with the divine which, it is said, had never or only for sporadic moments been experienced before.

b) Along with the internal phenomena, which themselves partake of the preternatural, are external manifestations that can be witnessed by others. Such are speaking in strange tongues, the gift of prophecy, the power of healing, and, it would seem, all the gamut of charismata enumerated in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul.

c) Capping the two sets of phenomena, of internal experience and external manifestations, is the inspiration given by the Spirit to communicate these gifts to others. Normally a Spirit-filled person is the channel of this communication; he becomes a messenger of the Spirit to others and his zeal to act in this missionary role is part of the change that the divine visitation effects in him.

3. The basic condition required to receive the charismatic outpouring is openness of faith. The only fundamental obstacle is diffidence or distrust of the Spirit to product today what He had done in ages past.

Distinctive Features

If the foregoing are typical of Pentecostalism in every critical period of Christianity and the common heritage in Protestant as well as Catholic experience, certain features are typical of Pentecostalism today.

1. Present-day charismatic experience is far wider than ever before. Where in former days only certain few people received the Pentecostal outpouring, it is now conferred on thousands. And the conferral has only started. It is nothing less than a deluge of preternatural visitation.

2. Consistent with the large numbers is the fact that Pentecostalism, otherwise than ever before, affects the lettered and unlettered, those obviously pursuing holiness and the most ordinary people. Indeed, one of the truly remarkable facts is that even quite unholy persons may now suddenly receive the Spirit, provided they open their hearts to Him in docile confidence and faith.

3. Also, unlike in previous times, this is a movement. It is not just a sporadic experience but a veritable dawn of a new era of the Spirit; such as Christianity had never known in ages past. It is destined, so it seems, to sweep whole countries and cultures, and promises to effect changes in so-called institutional Christianity – - not less dramatic than occurred in Jerusalem when Peter preached his first sermon in response to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

4. As might be expected, the Spirit is now to affect not only individuals or scattered groups here and there. His charismatic effusion will remake Christian society. His gifts are to recreate and, where needed, create new communities of believers, bound together by the powerful ties of a common religious experience and sustained by such solidarity as only a mutually shared contact with the divine can produce.

5. While there had been Pentecostal experiences in every stage of Christian history, generally they were characterized by public phenomena or at least their external manifestations were highlighted. Modern Pentecostalism includes these phenomena, indeed, but the stress is on the internal gifts received by the people. Their deep inside conviction of mind and joy of heart are paramount. These are, of course, no less phenomenal than the physical gifts of tongues or prophecy or healing of disease. They, too, partake of the miraculous. But they are the interior gifts from the Spirit in the spirit, and as such, are the main focus of Pentecostalism in today’s world of doubt and desperation.


So far I have given what might be called an overview of Pentecostalism, with emphasis on that form which professed Catholics have not only adopted but which their leaders, priests, religious and the laity, are defining and defending in a spate of books and periodicals.

I have witnessed the phenomena they describe, read the literature they have written, spent hours in conference and consultation with those deeply committed to the movement, conferred at length with specialists in the psychological sciences who dealt professionally with “Catholic Pentecostals”, and I have carefully watched the consequences of the movement for several years. My growing conclusion is that Pentecostalism in the Catholic Church is symptomatic of some grave needs among the faithful that should be met soon and by all affective means at our disposal. But I also think that Pentecostalism is an ideology is not the answer to these needs. In fact, it may be a serious obstacle, even a threat, to the authentic renewal in the Spirit inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council.

My reasons for this twofold judgment naturally suggest two sets of appraisal: one for considering Pentecostalism symptomatic and the other for believing it does not meet the felt needs of the Church today.

Pentecostalism As Symptomatic

It is not surprising that a phenomenon like Pentecostalism should have risen to the surface in Catholic circles just at this time. The Church’s history has seen similar, if less widely publicized, phenomena before.

1. The widespread confusion in theology has simmered down to the faithful and created in the minds of many uncertainty about even such fundamentals as God’s existence, the divinity of Christ, and the Real Presence.

Confusion seeks certitude, and certitude is sought in contact with God. When this contact is fostered and sustained by group prayer and joint witness to the ancient faith – - it answers to a deep-felt human need. Pentecostalism in its group prayer situations tries to respond to this often desperate need.

2. Among the critical causes of confusion, the Church’s authority is challenged and in some quarters openly derided. This creates the corresponding need for some base of religious security – - which Pentecostalism offers to give in the interior peace born of union with the Spirit.

3. Due to many factors, many not defensible, practices of piety and devotion – - from regular Novenas, to statues, to rosaries and religious articles – - have been dropped or phased out of use in the lives of thousands of the faithful. Pentecostalism serves to fill the devotional vacuum in a way that startles those who have, mistakenly, come to identify Christianity with theological cerebration or the bare minimum of external piety.

4. Ours is in a growing measure a prayerless culture. This has made inroads in Catholicism. It is a commentary on our age that millions have substituted work for prayer; and now the balance needs to redressed – - with Pentecostalism offering one means of restoring the spirit of prayer.

5. In the same way, religion for too many had become listless routine, and prayer a lip-service or almost vacuous attendance at the Liturgy. Religion as experience, knowing God and not only about Him; feeling His presence in one’s innermost being – - was thought either exotic, or psychotic, or presumptuous. Pentecostalism promises to give what Christians in our dehumanized Western society so strongly crave – - intimacy with the Divine.

All of this, and more, is part of the background which helps explain why such a movement as the Charismatic came into being. Its existence is both symptomatic and imperative that something be done – - and done well – - to satisfy the desire of millions of Christians for peace of mind, security of faith, devotion in prayer, and a felt realization of union with God.

Pentecostalism As Mistaken Ideology

The question that still remains, however, is whether the Pentecostal movement is a valid answer to these recognized needs. Notice I do not say that individuals who have entered the movement cannot find many of their spiritual needs satisfied. Nor am I saying that group prayer is not helpful for many people; nor, least of all, that the Holy Spirit has been inactive during these trying times to confer precisely an abundance of His seven- fold gifts on those who humbly and in faith invoke His sanctifying name.

What I must affirm is that Pentecostalism is not a mere movement; it is, as the ending “ism” indicates, an ideology. And as such it is creating more problems objectively than it solves subjectively. In other words, even when it gives symptomatic relief to some people, it produces a rash of new, and graver, issues touching on the Catholic faith and its authentic expression by the faithful.

1 The fundamental problem it creates is the absolute conviction of devoted Pentecostals that they have actually received a charismatic visitation of the Holy Spirit.

I am not here referring to such external phenomena as the gift of tongues, but of the deeply inward certitude that a person has been the object of a preternatural infusion, with stress on the infusion of preternatural insight, i.e., in the cognitive order.

This is an astounding assertion, and the only thing un- remarkable about it is that so many Pentecostals are now firmly convinced they have been so enlightened.

Their books and monographs, lectures and testimonials simply assume to be incontestable – - and beyond refutation – - that they have been specially illumined by a charism which, they say, is available to others who are equally disposed to receive it.

But repeated affirmation is not enough, and even the strongest subjective conviction is not proof – - where a person claims to have been the recipient of such extraordinary gifts – - notably of spiritual knowledge – - as God conferred in apostolic times or gave to His great mystics in different times.

The dilemma this raises can be easily stated:

- Either the Pentecostal experience really confers preternatural insight (at least among it’s leaders)

- Or the experience is quite natural, while certainly allowing for the normal operations of divine grace.

Everything which the Pentecostal leadership says suggests that they consider the experience – - and I quote their terms – - “preternatural, special, mystical, charismatic, extraordinary”.

2. It is irrelevant to discourse about the charismata in the New Testament, or theologies about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. No believing Christian denies either the charisms or the gifts. The question at stake is not of faith, but of fact.

Are the so-called charismata truly charismatic? If they are, then we stand in the presence of a cosmic miracle, more stupendous in proportion – -by reason of sheer numbers – - than anything the Church has seen, I would say, even in apostolic times.

But if the experiences are not authentically charismatic, then, again, we stand in the presence of a growing multitude of persons who believe themselves charismatically led by the Holy Spirit. They will make drastic decisions, institute revolutionary changes, or act in a host of other ways – - firmly convinced they are responding to a special divine impulse whereas in reality they are acting in response to quite ordinary, and certainly less infallible, motions of the human spirit.

3. At this point we could begin a completely separate analysis, namely, of the accumulating evidence that the impulses which the Pentecostal leaders consider charismatic are suspiciously very human. Their humanity, to use a mild word, is becoming increasingly clear from the attitudes being assumed toward established principles and practices in Catholicism.

Logically, it may be inferred, the Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself. We expect Him to support what Catholic Christianity believes is the fruit of His abiding presence in the Church of which He is the animating principle of ecclesiastical life.

What do we find? In the published statements, and therefore not the casual remarks of those who are guiding the destiny of the Pentecostal movement among Catholics, are too many disconcerting positions to be lightly dismissed by anyone who wants to make an objective appraisal of what is happening.

I limit myself to only a few crucial issues, each of which I am sure, will soon have a cluster of consequences in the practical order:

a) The Papacy If there is one doctrine of Catholic Christianity that is challenged today it is the Roman Primacy. Yet in hundreds of pages of professional writing about the charismatic gifts, we find a studied silence – - no doubt to avoid offense to other Pentecostals – - about the papacy; and a corresponding silence about a more loyal attachment to the Holy See.

It is painful to record but should be said that the pioneer of American Pentecostalism among Catholics and its prolific defender (Kevin Ranaghan) was among the first to publicly take issue with Pope Paul VI on Humanae Vitae.

b) The Priesthood and Episcopate Running as a thread through apologists for Catholic Pentecostalism is an almost instinctive contraposition of, and I quote, “charismatic” and “hierarchical”, or “spiritual” and “institutional”.

While some commentators state the dual aspects in the Church and even stress the importance of harmony between the two, others have began to opt for a theological position quite at variance with historic Catholicism. They suggest that in the New Testament there was essentially only one sacrament for conferring the gifts of the Spirit. Baptism gave a Christian all the essentials of what later on the “institutional church” developed into separate functions, namely the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate [1].

c) Catholic Apostolate The heaviest artillery of Pentecostals in the Catholic camp is leveled at the “ineffectual, irrelevant, and dispirited” form of Christianity prevalent in the Church.

Accordingly, under the impulse of the Spirit, radical changes are demanded in the Church’s apostolate. Old forms of trying to reach the people, especially the young, should be abandoned. The applies particularly to Catholic education. “In spite of the immense expenditure of money and human effort being put into parochial schools”, Pentecostals are saying, “how often do we not hear the complaint that a pitifully small proportion of the students emerge as deeply convinced and committed Christians? We can therefore well use some new life in the Church.” [2] Concretely this means to enter other kinds of work for the faithful, and not retain Catholic parochial schools – - as more than one teaching order, influenced by Pentecostalism, has already decided to carry into effect.

d) The New Spirituality Given the posture of Pentecostalism as a phenomenal downpour of charismatic grace, it is only natural that the human contribution to the divine effusion is minimized. Actually defendants of the movement are careful to explain that a new kind of spirituality was born with Pentecostalism.

As heretofore taught, persons aspiring to sanctity were told that recollection had to be worked at and cultivated. It meant painstaking effort to keep oneself in the presence of God and consciously fostering, perhaps through years of practice, prayerful awareness of God. The charismatic movement is actually a discovery that all of this propaedeutics is unnecessary. In view of its importance, it is worth quoting the new spiritual doctrine in full:

There is a subtle but very significant difference between what the presence of God means in the spiritual doctrine that has long been usual in novitiates, seminaries, and the like, and what it means for those who have shared the Pentecostal experience.

The difference can be put bluntly in the following terms: the former put the accent on the practice, whereas the latter put it on the presence. That is to say, the former regard the constant awareness of God’s presence as a goal to be striven for, but difficult to attain; hence they exert themselves in recalling over and over that God is here, and in frequently renewing their intention to turn their thoughts to him.

The latter, on the contrary, seem to start with the experiential awareness of God’s presence as the root which enlivens and gives its characteristic notes to all their prayer, love and spirituality. [3]

It is not too much to call this “instant mysticism”. And if some charismatics do not succeed as well (or as soon) as others in this sudden experience of God which dispenses with the laborious process of cultivating recollection, it must be put down to a lack of sufficient docility to the Spirit or, more simply, to the fact that the Holy Spirit remains master of His gifts and breathes when (and where) He wills.

But the essential dictum stands: those who charismatically experience God, and they are now numbered in thousands, came by the phenomenon without having to go through the hard school of mental and ascetical discipline still taught by an outmoded spirituality.

(e) Aggressive Defensiveness Having postulated what they call the “Pentecostal Spirituality”, its proponents defend it not only against present-day critics of such “cheap grace”, but they anticipate unspoken objections from the masters of mystical theology. Among their silent critics, whom they criticize, is St. John of the Cross.

As elsewhere, so here is offered a contraposition, the classical doctrine on the charisms (or extraordinary gifts of the Spirit) and the new doctrine of Pentecostalism. Again direct quotation will bring out the full confrontation:

On the practical level, the classical doctrine on the charisms has been formed chiefly by St. John of the Cross.

The stand that he takes is predominantly negative; i.e., a warning against the harm that comes from rejoicing excessively in the possession of such gifts. The one who does so, he says, leaves himself open to deception, either by the devil or by his own imagination; in relying on these charisms, he loses some of the merit of faith; and finally, he is tempted to vainglory.

Similarly when St. John discusses supernatural communications that come by way of visions or words, particularly those that are perceived by the imagination or the bodily senses, he is mainly concerned to warn against the dangers of deception and excessive attachment. He condemns the practice of seeking to obtain information from God through persons favored with such communications. Even when God answers the queries that are thus addressed to Him, He does so out of condescension for our weakness, and not because He is pleased to be thus questioned.

If there is anywhere that Pentecostal spirituality seems to conflict with the classical it is here. [4]

Then follow pages of a strong defense of the new positive approach to charismatic experience, admitting that where conflict exists between this and the teaching of such mystics as John of the Cross, the main reason is obvious. Men like John and women like Teresa of Avila lived in a former age, when charisms were rare and then given only to individuals. In our age they are literally an inundation and their recipients are countless multitudes.

(f) Religious Communities Not surprisingly, the Pentecostal movement has made some of its deepest effects on religious communities, of men, but especially of women.

All problems facing the Church at large affected the lives of those who, by prior commitment, dedicated themselves to the pursuit of holiness.

When the charismatic experience offered them release from anxiety and the hope of a strong sense of God’s presence – - in spite of the turmoil all around – - religious took to the movement on a scale that no one actually knows. But all estimates indicate that the number is large.

We are still on our final analysis and our approach has been to point up the ideology of Pentecostal leadership, to see whether (and if) it is at variance with historic Catholicism.

A recently, privately-bound study of religious who took to Pentecostalism reveals many things about convents and cloisters that is common knowledge among the initiated but still unknown among the faithful at large.

Thematic to this study is the firm belief that the bete noire of religious life is structure and institutionalism; that openness to the Spirit along Pentecostal lines gives best promise for religious in the future. A few sample statements indicate the general tenor:

We must remember that in order to choose religious life, you must be a misfit.

The danger is that a sacred institution tends to isolate man so he can stand back and deal with God. The institution tends to come between man and God.

Religious life is a human institution which God merely tolerates. God’s good pleasure is the one thing necessary, and God’s good pleasure is man’s total openness. It is in this openness that we find out true identity, but this takes courage.

Total openness takes faith. Awareness of our true identity implies a life of faith. But faith implies doubt. You can’t have faith without doubt. Doubt and faith are two sides of the same thing. We don’t pray right because we evade doubt. And we evade it by regularity and by activism. It is in these two ways . . . by which we justify the self-perpetuation of our institutions. [5]

While other factors have also been operative, it was sentiments like these that contributed to the growing tide in some communities with impatience at the slowness of the institutional Church to up-date religious life, make it truly open to the Spirit, and experience the rich depth of internal peace and joy that seemed to be so lacking in “structured community routine”.

It is not a coincidence that some spokesman for the charismatic approach to a life of the evangelical counsels have been most critical of such symbols of institutionalism as the Sacred Congregation for Religious. Nor is it surprising that some who feel that Rome is archaic or out of touch with the times should also be most enthusiastic about Pentecostalism.


There are those who say we should just allow the Pentecostal movement to go on and then see what happens. But that is not in the best tradition of Christian prudence. If, as I personally believe, latter-day Pentecostalism is in the same essential stream with Gnosticism, Montanism, and Illuminism, we do not pass moral judgment on people but prudential judgment on an ideology if we say all that I have said in this lecture.

There are grave needs in the Church today – - of which the gravest is the urgent recovery of prayer across the spectrum of Catholic living – - among bishops, priests, religious and the laity.

But if prayer and the experience of God’s presence are so urgently needed, we must use the means that centuries of Christian wisdom have shown are securely effective to satisfy this need. Pentecostalism is not one of these means.


1. Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, Catholic Pentecostals, New York; Paulist Press, 1969, p. 128. In context, the authors apply all the classic passages in St. Paul as conferring no special sacramental grace of orders. Their line of arguments the same as that of writers like Hans Kung, who claim that the apostolic Church did not recognize a unique sacrament; deriving from Christ’s ordination of the Apostles at the Last Supper, which confers the priestly powers, including the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

2. Edward D. O’Connor, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church, Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1971, p. 180.

3. O’Connor, p. 197.

4. O’Connor, pp. 210-211

5. “Hope ’69 In Immediate Retrospect”, part III, p. 3.

From a Venerable Correspondent on the “infallibility” of Vatican Council II

“Vatican II was not entirely infallible because it “ha evitato di pronunciare in modo straordinario dogmi dotati della nota di infallibilità [avoided pronouncing in an extraordinary way (new) dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility]” (Pope Paul VI audience, 12 January 1966) and “In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so,” which it never did (Council’s General Secretary, 16 November 1964).”

So there.

‘Spurious Vocation: The Problem and Suggestions for Solutions’ by Paul M. Quay, S.J. [1976]

‘Spurious Vocation: The Problem and Suggestions for Solutions’
Published in ‘Review for Religious,’ vol. 33 (1976): 1347-1391
At the writing of this article, Father Paul M. Quay, S.J. (1924-1994) was
associate professor in the Department of Physics and adjunct associate
professor of spirituality in the School of Divinity, St. Louis University,
221  North Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63103.

This article seeks, by means of principles discussed in an earlier article (Review for Religious, September 1974, p. 1062-99) entitled “God’s Call and Man’s Response” (hereafter GCMR) to find some practical ways to help those entangled in the problems generated by the various kinds of false vocation. No truly novel methods are possible, I think, for dealing with these problems. But a fresh view of them in the context of God’s own activity concerning them may make a more discriminating use of even the standard methods possible. The orientations indicated in the introduction to GCMR hold here also.

Part I of this article develops more or less descriptively the notions of “non-vocation,” “mistaken vocation,” and related categories. An extended treatment is given since, if these situations have often not been recognized for what they are,
that lack of recognition may result from insufficiently concrete and
experiential categories through which to grasp and understand them.

In Part II the complications introduced into all questions of God’s call and of
His will by the taking of vows are considered. Various practical situations are
dealt with. Particularly detailed attention is given to secularization (after
permanent vows) as a possible solution to vocational problems.

The last part considers in greater detail the social harm done to various religious
institutes by failure to face squarely these situations. Some suggestions are
offered on possible solutions and how these might be approached in practice. I
shall be concerned with concrete situations far more than with any purely
theological questions though, given the subject matter, these can never be
lacking. Even so and despite its length, this paper is still far too brief to
allow us to consider any topic exhaustively or even to mention many which are,
nonetheless, of considerable importance. The most notable omissions, perhaps,
are of discernment of spirits and of the ways to actually form a judgment as to
the presence or absence of a divine call. Nor is any attempt made to deal with
all problems growing from spurious vocation. For example, nothing has been said directly about the touchy but closely related topic of “temporary vocation.”

It is obviously impossible to include all the details pertinent to any particular
situation. Common sense and the standard procedures of the Church are presumed to be available except as otherwise indicated. All these matters, on the level of practice, require great delicacy of discernment, tact, and an unsentimental and faith­ful charity. In no way should what is suggested here be taken as a set of simple formulas capable of direct and immediate application.


The Case of Non-vocation

A. There are people whom, in fact, God has not called to any state of life but who
have, nonetheless, entered seriously upon some way of life as though they had
been called there. They vow themselves to God in this mode of life, yet God has
given them no invitation. This is the situation of “non­-vocation.” There are
three elements here: God has not called; the person attempts a particular way
of life; and this, under vow.i


Since not moved by God to any way of life, the person is acting, in this respect,
entirely on his own, independently of grace, perhaps contrary to it. The
motives can be various. In some cases, the person acts with a clear head and
knows well enough what is taking place; for example, a young woman enters the
convent to avoid an obnoxious marriage into which she is being forced by her
family; a young man enters the seminary because of the honor, financial
security, and gentleman-scholar’s life he thinks to obtain as a priest.

In other cases, the motives are obscure and deeply buried, arising from
psychological weaknesses or flaws, or from deeply embedded cultural factors.
Thus, a seminarian may be trying to escape from his mother or, conversely, he
may be seeking to win her love; or the intrinsic dignity of the priesthood may
be sought to compensate for deep humiliations suffered in childhood; or the
convent may seem the only mode of escape from an intolerable family situation
from which brothers and sisters have long since fled.

As an example of cultural factors, consider an attitude that is typical of
American Catholics. Not that we deny the grace of God. We admit our need of
light for our minds and strength for our wills to accomplish whatever it is we
want spiritually, but what we want is determined by ourselves. We do not easily
learn to listen so as to find out what God might be wanting of us. Rather, we
identify, according to temperament, what is reasonable, what is emotionally
satisfying, what others desire of us, and so forth, with the will or call of
God. Ultimately, it is we who decide what we are going to do in God’s service; it
is we who bear the responsibility of asking for the needed grace and for
cooperating properly with it when given and for carrying the whole enterprise
through to its conclusion. In the final analysis, it is God who responds to us,
not we to Him. It is we who are the initiators of good in our lives;
psychological mechanisms explain the bad; and, though we never say so, it is we
who receive the credit for making a success of our lives. The American cultural
ideal of the self-made man who takes the little he has and works with it, with
whatever aid he can get from outside, and strives and struggles perseveringly
until he has successfully done what he desired as his life’s work, is simply
transposed to the spiritual level.

It easily happens, then, that a young person can decide to become a priest or Religious without any least embarrassment at not having heard a call from God. Once he has decided, for whatever reasons, to live such a life, he sees nothing more required except to fill out his application papers and set to work.

The fact that God is not calling the people we have been speaking about does not
mean that He has no will in their regard. He very clearly wills their
repentance or maturation or the working through of their motivation in truth,
with professional aid where needed. That done, He will usually call them, in
what manner and in what directions we shall discuss later.

The Case of Mistaken Vocation

B. The situations, however, which are of primary interest to us here have a quite
different structure: God does indeed call and invite these people to some mode
of life; but they misinterpret His call and, as a result, vow themselves to Him
in a way of life other than that to which He is calling them. These are situations of “mistaken vocation.”ii

There are two broad classes of mistaken vocation which it is of considerable
practical importance to distinguish: the first, in which God’s call does not
have as its objective, directly at least, the choice of a’ specific way of life
at all, but is taken by the person called as if so directed, say, for example,
to the Dominicans; the second, in which God calls to one specific mode of life,
and His call is taken as if to some other specific mode.

No Call to a Specific Way of Life

A common example of the first of these classes results from erroneously
interpreting God’s invitation to an “interior life” as a call, say, to a
religious congregation; and many current vocational problems have no more
complex root than this confounding of a real call towards intimacy with the
Lord at an adult level with a call to some specific state of life.

Thus, ordinarily during adolescence, God begins to send His grace in a perceptible way to a youngster. The latter will already have become acutely conscious of growing up physically. With less reflex awareness he will have been growing also religiously. Religion is no longer just a question of delight in sacred
ceremonies or an attraction towards quiet reflection or a desire to do wondrous
things in strange lands like Father X the missionary. Rather, the adolescent is
becoming more aware of God’s commandments and their obligating power, is more conscious of an active with regard to social justice and “charity,” trying to
do in his life something of what adult Christians “ought to do,” to read some
of the things adult Catholics “ought to read.” But all this has remained
somewhat external.

Now begins an interiorization: he begins to savor the greatness of the Christian
heritage or the marvels of God’s works in nature or in history. There comes a certain sweetness in prayer, a realization of how good God is, a certain openness to Him, a sense of awe but not fright in His presence. God begins to make Himself known as personally present, as One who is interested in the young person for himself, not just as a warder-off of evil or a judge of his thoughts, as One who wants to be with him and with whom he deeply desires to remain. He comes to know, perhaps, the joy of being set truly free of his sins by Christ’s pure
love; and he may begin to know God personally, having certain relations with
Jesus and others with Jesus’ Father, now more manifestly his own.

However it takes place, it is something that, from God’s side, is much wanted, even if wholly ordinary, as He stirs the youngster up to desire the sort of
relationship which He would like to have with every Christian adult; for, the “interior life” is simply the inner life of any adult Christian.

The call to interiority is a sign of God’s initiating a more personal relationship
but implies the young person’s need to continue his overall growth. It is an
invitation to incorporate the spiritual more deliberately and consciously into
his life and personal development ‒ the success of which
incorporation is shown by its gradual inversion, so that the spiritual ceases
to be but an element in the young person’s maturation; and his further maturing
is caught up into and forgotten about in his ever developing relations of
knowledge, love, and service of God.

But greatly good as all this is, it need be no more than this. There need as yet be
no least indication of what state God may desire for him. Hence, these varied
graces of prayer or interiority should not be taken, simply as such, as signs
that God is calling this young person to any particular state in life. It is
essential that we allow the youngster to grow up in accord with this call to an
interior life, indeed, insist that he do so, and in no way allow that process
of maturation to be cut short or falsified, as it is only too likely to be if
taken as a “religious vocation.”

The common tendency to jump the gun in these cases seems to be correlative with our own lowering of ideals in the religious life ‒ thinking that any true signs of growth in prayer and closeness to God show an aptitude for the religious state,
or else with a great devaluing of the secular layman’s state, as if a personal
life in and for God was somehow a call away from a secular life. Either
attitude is destructive.

It may be well here to distinguish the situation we have just considered from
another with which it is easily confused: the case of premature response to a
vocation. In connection with non-vocation, we spoke of the person for whom God’s will is simply that he grow up. Clearly, God can will the same thing for a
person He has already called to some state of life. As seen in GCMR, p. 1072, a call by God to a particular state is temporally independent of this willing of maturity. He may call long before, while, or after the growth occurs which He wishes. Conversely, His will for growth is in no way mitigated or satisfied by even the most generous response to His call, whenever, at least, personal maturity is
necessary for implementing the call and reaching its objectives ‒ remember the
long interval of ripening and preparation needed to turn the newly called and
converted Saul into the Apostle Paul.

It is all too easy, then, to think that a call, truly heard, dispenses a youngster
from the pains and struggles of growing up that is required of him before he
enters upon the mode of life to which he is called. The good which God desires
for him can be short-circuited by attempting a mode of life for which, no
matter how truly called, he is not yet ready. For a person rightly to enter any
state of life, he must have matured in the varying manners and to those degrees
that are required by the threshold for that specific state (see GCMR, p. 1093). Otherwise, the life will be too much for him; his ability to live it will depend profoundly on the antecedent soundness of his further growth. It can be a serious error, then, to take the signs of a developing interior life as indications that the person is ready to engage himself actively in accord with his call. The failure to take seriously the threshold requirements of the different religious institutes ‒ or even to work out what these thresholds are in explicit detail ‒ has made this sort of error very common at present. 

Mistake in Identifying a Specific Call

2. The second broad class of mistaken vocations (in which an individual is truly called by God to a particular way of life but engages himself in some other, not by refusal of the call but by mistake in identifying it) is perhaps the more important practically. To a limited degree, it has long been recognized; hence, for
example, the provision in each diocese of a vicar for Religious who, among
other duties, is to assist those individuals who might need, for this reason,
to transfer from one Order or congregation to some other.iii

But most of these situations lay largely unrecognized until Vatican II turned its light not so much upon the problems as upon their sources and origins, thus moving towards their radical cures.iv The first such source we have discussed
already in some detail in GCMR, Section III: the loss of perception of the variety and specificity of the different ways of life, both lay potential candidates and by the religious institutes themselves. As there indicated, the Council set in motion the suitable means for remedying this evil.

A second source of mistakes lay in the neglect, since about the 1690s, of the power, depth, and beauty of secular, especially lay, spirituality, in the loss of the very notion, even, of a secular spirituality in any strong sense. Now, at least, it
is once more evident, as a result of the Council, that God calls people to
great intimacy with and outstanding service of Himself entirely within and as
part of a call to a secular layman’s life. The paradoxical effects of this
clarification we shall consider shortly.

A third source, the most deeply rooted perhaps, is a quasi-Lutheran attitude of mind which fails to take adequate account of natural religious growth and development, even when informed by grace. It is the mentality which is overly eager to treat young people as characteristically Christian in all aspects of their being, before they have had time to “recapitulate” the Old Testament. Hence, young Religious or, indeed, charismatically renewed laymen who are instructed and well versed in turning the other cheek before they have learned to experience the fiery anger of the prophets in the presence of social injustice. The principles for treating this disease are only implicit, it would seem, in Vatican II, evident chiefly in its sense of the dynamic nature of religious history and in the firmness of its stand against any supernaturalism which would bypass human growth and development, fallen or redeemed, or reduce the growth process to a
discontinuous transition from Law to Gospel.

Finally, we may put together the various, purely subjective difficulties: hidden psychological needs, fears, and compulsions; immaturity; poor listening to God; only partial hearing of His call; mistaken notions of what a vocation is or how it might be discerned; false or unbalanced theological opinions which obscure the true nature of the call’s objective. The interaction of these subjective factors
with the more objective ones previously mentioned make for the concrete
situations we shall be concerned to deal with and help.

Further Distinction between Mistaken and Non-existent Vocation

3. Before going on, it is worth pondering further the distinction between mistaken and non-existent vocation. The great difference, of course, is the matter of fact (obvious in theory though often very difficult to ascertain in an actual case): in one case God is calling the person ‒ with all that that implies of grace and promise and fidelity (see GCMR, pp. l074, 1084, 1098); in the other case, He is not.

Sometimes a person balks here: how can one speak of a mistaken vocation if the individual has followed out his supposed vocation in good faith and in accord with God’s will, who has let this happen, if superiors have approved and all the levels of ecclesiastical authority have acted to validate it? I agree that under these
circumstances, the individual has done nothing morally wrong; still, he has
made a mistake because God was actually inviting him to something else. God’s
permitting him to go off in another direction implies no anger at the man nor rejection. God permits the mistake and, in some sense, makes it possible by cooperating with the man who makes it, even as He does with much greater evils.

But if a call truly comes from God, it is other than merely the person called and his circumstances. It is something with its source elsewhere than in creation, and
is independent, in its source, of the person called. In this sense it is objective
‒ I do not wish to say that anyone, including the person called, can examine or
scrutinize it directly in the way in which we can scrutinize some object, or
that others can see it independently of the mind and heart of the person
called. But it does take place, by God’s own intervention, in the real order of
this world. God calls a person to one thing rather than another; thus, mistakes
are possible about that to which the call is directed, as about its other

Further, in the great majority of cases of both non-vocation and of mistaken vocation there will be found a fair amount of self-deception. Obscure psychological fears and cravings can be as active in the one case as in the other, though differing in their thrust and intensity. In non-vocation, they generally constitute the entire motive force; in mistaken vocation, they remain subordinate to God’s grace ‒ they deflect or modify what faith, hope, and love have set in motion. Hence, the role of other factors in the latter case: partial hearing; erroneous theology; incomplete or incorrect facts.

Now, it is true that the mere existence of a mistake is valid evidence for there having been some fault in the will, some affective defect of impatience, over-confidence, carelessness or neglect. Hence, some psychological factors are always at work in interaction with the objective ones. Even if, for example, a young person is directly misinformed about some way of life ‒ say, lied to by one he has every reason to trust ‒ yet if he were listening perfectly, he would recognize the Lord’s call as disagreeing and requiring further investigation or else ‘that the call was unspecific, not as yet complete, in need of further efforts or lapse of time’ (see GCMR, p. 1081-2).

On the other hand, mistakes can easily occur in which this element of affective fault lies far below the level at which human assessment of innocence or guilt can operate. Thus, it proves little or nothing to the point, in a case where this type of
mistake as to vocation is suspected, that the person is much in love with
Christ, desires ardently to serve Him well, and gives himself generously to
meet whatever demands are made upon him. Nor, if a mistake is ascertained, is
there any reason to doubt the person’s good faith, early or late. He may, like
most of us, have some tendency under pressure to cheat a bit, to state things
less openly or directly than he might. But bad faith—no.

Perdurance of the Mistake

4. Some, at this point, object strenuously that, while the initial mistake can be made in good faith, it strains credulity past breaking to pretend that a person could be a Religious for eight or ten years or more and still not be aware of the mistake, not just concretely sensing something wrong; to think that his initial good faith has not long since turned to bad.

I admit that, when dealing with human weakness and sinfulness, no lower bounds can be set. Our capacity for malice and dishonesty is both radical and unlimited. Yet such experience as I have had, directly or vicariously, convinces me that often the mistake perdures for many years in good faith.

Consider a group of Sisters in the technical sense, a group of women who may or may not take simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and live in community, but who joined together primarily for the sake of a work ‒ they form an apostolic group, a “pia associatio” aimed at some work among God’s people or to draw others closer to the source of their salvation. And they are not about to be tied down by a lot of regulations on cloister, hours of common prayer, habits, perpetual adoration, and so forth. They have nothing against those things; but they are not for them, since they would interfere with their work, which has a dynamic of its own that cuts athwart a mode of life built on the contemplative style.

Suppose you get women in some numbers into a community of this sort who are called by God to be contemplatives and who would desire nothing better than to have six or eight hours a day at some form of prayer and the rest of the time to clean the chapel or be recollected in other silent occupation around the house. These women will be interiorly at odds with the rest of the group. Note that, by assumption, they are not neurotics; nor are they copping out on a lot of tough work; they are not people who got into this and found the wear and tear of the life too much. It is a question of a genuine mistake: here is a woman who was truly called by God to a contemplative life; somehow she got the idea that it was ‘to be found and nurtured in this congregation’; and because the foundress was holy and said some things about the need to pray and to stay close to the Lord if one is to be effective in the apostolate, she screens out much of the rest and sets to work at the cultivation of a contemplative way of life.

Now, just these contemplatively inclined women will be the most likely, with time, to be put in positions of authority ‒ much at ease with reflection, not enthusiastic for energetic activity outside the community, desirous of regular hours, and able to work smoothly and competently in relative quiet. But of course, as superiors, they will tend to stress those elements of the life which they
regard as essential, and never notice, till conflicts arise, how at odds with
the others they are. 

Mistakes in the Opposite Sense

5. Mistakes can occur in the opposite sense as well. There is excellent evidence and in large quantities that God has called many a young person to be a good layman, with a strong and healthy secular spirituality after the model of Vatican II, who mistakenly thought he was being called one way or another to the life of a priest or of a Religious. For such a person it was either the life of the Religious or priest, or the life of the spiritual slob. The great stirring of the Council’s efforts at declericalizing the Church, the strong winds of renewal, charismatic and otherwise, had not yet had their effect. 

Mistaken Vocations and Departures from Religious Life

The great number of these mistaken vocations goes a long way towards explaining the not inconsiderable paradox that a Council which took as its chief goal the spiritual renewal of every part of the Church should appear to have been a more potent agent for the dissolution of religious life than all its declared
enemies of the past. It is fewer than fifteen years since Pope John first spoke
of convoking a Council; fewer than ten years since the Council’s decree On the Suitable Renovation of the Religious Life ‒ periods of time short, even in our impatient days, for any sort of fundamental renewal of complex and world-spanning institutions. Yet already in 1965, numerous Religious were leaving their institutes in the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” and the flood has not yet subsided.

Undoubtedly, some people, drained of spiritual strength by tepidity, left simply because it was now easy to do so. Others left, frustrated by ways of life, largely ossified, which their members seemed, in spite of the Council, unwilling or even unable to revivify in accord with the gospel. In greater numbers, people left under the influence of the many, currently popular, for the most part highly superficial theologies of religious life and ecclesiologies occasioned though not engendered by the Council, modes of thought which would render the religious life void of any fundamental significance to humanity at large or to the Church in

Undoubtedly, too, the Council’s careful noting of the elements of good contained in the cultures of our age, largely antithetical to a life of faith though these cultures are concretely, led the foolish to embrace their values en bloc and without distinction in a casual form of spiritual suicide now commonplace among would-be intellectuals. Largely concomitant with and partly caused by the Council, a social upheaval has occurred with regard to the clergy, though less important in the United States than in many other places. Once the social, intellectual, and political as well as spiritual leader of his people, the priest has now been “reduced” to his proper functions, a role dull and disappointing to many who saw him as the extension in space and time of an earthly and temporal messiah.

More basic, however, than these and similar grounds for departure and largely at the root of them, is the fact of mistaken vocation: great numbers largely at the root of them, is the fact of mistaken vocation: great numbers of Religious (and priests), perhaps even a majority, had been called elsewhere from the beginning and should never have been permitted to enter or to remain, despite their good
faith and generosity.

One of the major achievements of Vatican II was undoubtedly the magnificent vision it gave of the true role of the secular layman in the Church. It opened up the full dignity of his call, the spiritual depth of his mode of life, the spiritual
beauty of his familial relations, the power for Christ of his action in the world. More, it indicated uncompromisingly how many areas of the Church’s activity, long dominated in fact if not in principle by priests or Religious, rightly
belonged to the secular layman. In brief, it is the Church’s own greatest
manifesto against clericalism. Yet strangely, “clerics” (the quotation marks
indicate an extension of the word to include Religious of all types) seem more
intent today than at any time since the late Middle Ages at thrusting
themselves, for whatever reasons, into secular activity and positions of
temporal influence. Clericalism is more vigorous than it has been for

Now, suppose a young man or woman who has already spent several years in, say, a religious Order, drawn despite its strongly contemplative orientation by its equally salient apostolic effectiveness or manifest sense of Christian community. He picks up the documents of Vatican II, reads with ever growing interest of the restoration of the temporal order in Christ, of the secular’s call to perfection, and the like, and suddenly cries out in his inmost being, whether daring to admit it to
himself or not, “But that is what I have wanted all along! That’s my vocation!”
It is neither tepidity nor lack of generosity nor false theology that brings such
a reaction. The tragi-comedy of our day is that he is right.

Those elements in the life which run athwart his true vocation he tends to ignore as some sort of non-understandable, pious riddle or to reject as undue interference with his call to Christianize the secular. With all sincerity, following the call received, he works against such elements as antiquated, as contrary to Vatican II ‒ as indeed they would be in a secular layman’s context ‒ and, therefore, to be eliminated as soon as possible from the institute of which he is a member. To the extent that his efforts run aground, that the desired “reform” is frustrated, and that he experiences directly or vicariously the actuality of the secular life of the Church, he will be “tempted” to leave the Order.

Happy the man in his situation who is free to do so and does! Otherwise, apart from some special mercy of the Lord, there is only destruction ahead: his own, through increasing alienation and misunderstanding and conflict; or that of his institute, through spiritual hemorrhage, as through his influence and of those like him, it abandons one element after another of its spiritual inheritance and true spirit, “updating” in ironic contradiction to Vatican II’s insistence that it
is primarily in fidelity to its original and distinctive spirituality that its service to the Church lies.


The more difficult problems in practice arise when an error concerning vocation is complicated by the taking of vows. Hence, the present topic of how to help those whose vocation is not genuine divides naturally into considerations- touching the aid that one may bring to: (A.) those who have not yet taken permanent vows; (B.) those who are bound by permanent but not solemn vows; (C.) those with solemn vows. 

The Case of Those without Permanent Vows

The primary reason for including this group here at all is to have thereby a point of comparison and contrast to the remaining groups, and to develop a few useful
ideas free of the complications which the consideration of the vows would bring
in. Since even temporary vows are, at least in many institutes, meant to be seen as permanent from the point of view of the person who takes them, I explicitly omit any such aspects from this section, since they can be treated, mutatis mutandis, in section B. Thus, I am speaking here only of those as yet without vows or of those whose vows imply nothing more than that they are to be kept during a limited, relatively brief period.

The Case of Non-vocation

1. Consider first the case of non-vocation. In most instances, it is not hard to screen out such a person before entry. It should be a rarity that one ever reaches a novitiate or postulancy. If this is not the case, those who are doing the screening need better training or should be replaced. In any event, there will clearly be missing in all these people those positive indications of a true call which are essential before they can be allowed to bind themselves. That so many in fact have stayed on long years, been admitted to vows, and ordained, is something that will need further discussion in Part III.

The general approach here, despite the wide diversity of possible situations, is fairly clear and uniform. The director seeks to discover for himself the true situation, then to draw it as fully into the open and to as full clarity as is prudently possible with the young person concerned, and to assist him to repentance for whatever faults he may have committed in the process ‒ not, primarily, for particular ones but for such general sinful dispositions as, for example, willful blindness, to which he might half-knowingly have yielded. Then he should be sent away, with whatever follow-up advice or aid may seem suitable, to await, as he matures and works out his inner difficulties, his true call from God.

First Point of Special Difficulty

Two points of special difficulty are worth commenting on. The most common type of non-vocation does not involve deliberate choice ‒ certainly not fully ‒ but is based on psychological motivations well hidden from the person himself. Often, then, the person involved will lack the maturity or psychological freedom or insight to be able to easily face or understand his situation, as light is brought to bear upon it, all the more so if, as is ordinarily the case, he is well below the
pertinent threshold.vi

As a general practical norm, I think that the sooner such a person is sent away, the better. Certainly, charity and sensitivity to the youngster’s needs and feelings are called for. Simply to turn him out, once one has clear knowledge of his case, without effort. at explanation, with flat or impersonal rejection, saying in effect,
“You’re not up to our standards. You flunk. Get out!” would be a serious failure in charity. But to keep him around until one has worked through with him the problem to the point where he can see and accept his situation may well be even worse. There is no guarantee of success, and he might be there forever. If he is below threshold, the life will work against his maturation or equilibration, not for it. Nor is it charity to let a youngster strike roots where he cannot stay, to make friends with those he will unwittingly injure, to spend what remains of his years of most rapid change, of easiest adaptability, of greatest physical and intellectual vigor in a false situation.

To the objection that he will feel rejected if he cannot understand the reasons, I would point out that so the Lord treats all of us often. Life is not such that we will always know why this or that dream or desire is shattered or unfulfilled. If one makes clear that being sent away is not a rejection of him personally, not a matter of ill-will or of disinterest in him, the dismissal will help him, even if
painfully, to learn to face an admittedly not wholly comprehensible real and
introduce him to the unsentimental vigor that most humans today badly need.

Less commonly, the difficulty in understanding why his director should think he has no vocation comes from cultural factors as a result of which the young person does not realize that a divine call and, indeed, to this precise institute, is essential before entry. Though there may be some fairly crass ignorance present, he does not ordinarily need the attention of a psychiatrist. His difficulty can
sometimes be met by bringing him to see, as fully as he can, his own current
interior dispositions and then, in a further and separate step, the dispositions called for by the way of life he has chosen to enter. This is worth doing, as a matter of course, with all entrants, but it should be done as early as possible; otherwise the youngsters will have picked up the “right answers” by rote. Both sets of responses should be kept for future reference in written or taped form.

In either of the above situations, the person is likely to profit from further counseling ‒ spiritual direction is not usually his need as yet. But let him obtain it elsewhere or, if need be, in this same community but as a visitor from outside. The sooner the separation, the better.

Second Point of Difficulty

A second point of difficulty occurs with a person who has deliberately put himself in a life to which he knows he has no call. Here the director’s problem will be rather of discovery than of clarification. More common than the quasi-operatic situations mentioned earlier, are those of people who know (or think) that they have an insurmountable impediment (habit of masturbation; homosexual inclinations; insane parent) and yet, for reasons of economic security or psychological pressures, insist upon entering fraudulently, keeping their “impediment” secret and often doing nothing effective to remove or find out more about it in the years that follow.vii

Despite even a very consistent lying and covering up of such a situation, a competent director will quickly spot, if not the precise difficulty, at least clear indications that something is seriously wrong. The hardest case of this sort to detect (where the impediment is purely imaginary and based on the youngster’s having picked up false information) will still, as a situation of perpetual deception and opacity, show its signs before long. Further, as with the other sort of case, positive signs will be lacking, at least in any clarity and specificity. Again,
sending the person away need not wait on a complete untying of the knot; and
charity would urge it as soon as possible since true repentance is more likely
when he is perforce out from under the pressure to maintain his false stance.

Cases of Mistaken Vocation

2. Turning now to cases of mistaken vocation, if there is question merely of a mistake­ ‒ the threshold has been reached for his present way of life, but he is not where God invited him and invites him still ‒ then it is a matter of bringing his current situation as fully as possible into focus and sending him with encouragement on his way. Even if he is still below threshold for that life to which he is truly called, he can learn from his experience as he waits, aiding himself as he grows by his new-won clarity concerning God’s desires for him.

On the other hand, whatever the type of mistake, if the person falls substantially below the threshold of the particular institute in which he finds himself, much attention should be devoted to assisting his further spiritual and natural development. Since, by supposition, he is well below threshold, most such assistance can be offered effectively only after he has ceased trying to live the Religious life. Yet the institute can always do something for him, after his departure, ranging from prayer for his continued growth in the Lord, if he belonged to a strictly cloistered community which has no means of secular contact, to ongoing education, friendship, and spiritual direction with the more active Orders or congregations.

If, indeed, the young person being sent away has been called to this mode of life from which he is being dismissed, then all such means should be used. Even so, some care is needed that his growth be unimpeded. He should see that God is calling him and be made aware of the risks of falling away from his first response. Yet he should know, too, that he is free; that God, who did not desire this premature entrance, does want him to take that risk and to grow to adulthood (or to the threshold) before attempting to engage himself permanently. Obviously, too, he should be helped to understand why he made the mistake he did about entering, in order to learn from it to avoid others. And he should know that the doors of this institute remain open to him at any time, once he is ready.

The great evil, to avoid at all costs, is the desire to keep him in the institute, to say, “He can grow as well here as elsewhere.” There would be truth in this only if he had entered at the level of the threshold, which is not the case here by supposition. And the further the person is from the threshold, the greater the sin in permitting him or her to remain and the more serious the obligation on others to rectify the situation at the earliest moment possible.

If he was not called to this mode of life, however, he should know that he is leaving for good and know why. If indeed he mistook the call to adult intimacy with a call to religion, it is conceivable that when God does finally call him to a way of life it will be to this one. But it would be a mistake psychologically either to concede the possibility or to advert to it. The doors should be firmly shut behind him. He could as easily be called to an administrative position with General Motors. Any hidden desires on our own part to have him return, while they could in principle proceed from a grace-inspired hope, based on human assessment that he would serve God well with us and aid our institute should God call him here, seem far more likely, save in a great saint, to spring from some tainted source. Why not merely desire that our institute be as well or better served by whomever God does call, and devote our prayers and our longing to that? Otherwise, at best, we would seem to be sighing after mere possibles or to be mistaking this young person, only a symbol of what we rightly desire, for the

Evidently, if he has received a call, but elsewhere, the doors of the institute should not merely be closed but also locked behind him. Here, even more than in the other cases, help and aid should be given, in the measure of the institute’s ability, to help him clarify his situation as fully as compatible with his age and
disposition, before he leaves and after, his situation being more complex,
requiring both growth and a proper response to a true call somewhere else.

Cases of Those with Permanent Vows

B. As soon as one turns to situations the same in all respects as those just considered save for the intervention of permanent vows, one notes that the taking of vows effects a curious decoupling of questions concerning vocation (whether or whither God has called this person) from those concerning the possible modes of practical remedy. By the taking of permanent vows, by the making of permanent promises to God, invitation becomes mostly a thing of the past; God’s direct will is now in the forefront. The flexibility which inheres in a situation of invitation and response is replaced by the solidity and permanence of a covenant.

This recalls again that central and difficult problem of which I made mention at the very end of the previous article (GCMR, p. 1099): if God has not called this person to this state; if, in fact, He does not want him in it at all; if, even, it was a sin of presumption, say, or of cowardice for this person to take vows under these
circumstances, then how can such vows be valid?

Long before we have solved to general satisfaction that thorny and intricate theoretical problem, it has to be dealt with in practice, in people’s lives. The tradition of the Church, however, whether spelled with capital T or small t, stands strongly on the side of a presumption in favor of validity, a presumption, obviously, which may be overturned by the facts of a particular case. The same presumption also seems in far deeper accord than its opposite with the psychological data presently available. When people are honest, they know pretty well how freely they have acted and how fully they have engaged themselves. Hence, whenever conclusive evidence to the contrary is lacking, evidence, that is, of real unfreedom at the time of vows, whether arising from external coercion or inner psychological compulsion, it seems pastorally wiser to assume that such vows were valid.viii

Given, then, a Religious in permanent vows with no vocation or with a mistaken vocation whose vows seem, after due investigation, to have been freely, if wrongly taken, what can we do to assist him?

Evidently, one must be careful to work always from God’s present
call, if any, and present will for him. In many cases, through God’s continuing
goodness, people in these situations have in fact eventually received calls
from Him to the states in which they had earlier vowed themselves. Often, such
a call will have been accepted quietly, without enthusiasm, perhaps, but with a
high degree of free adherence. All kinds of painful problems, especially
emotional kinks and hang-ups of various kinds, may remain from the earlier
period. These can lead to a remarkable humility in the person’s life. So
attractive is this that we can be misled at times into being but slack and half­hearted in our efforts to avoid spurious vocations. When so tempted, let us recall that to seek to force God’s power to do what with His ordinary grace and the powers He gives us by nature we can well do, and should do, ourselves is tempting God.

Possible Solutions When the Person Is at Threshold

1.  This frequent gift of vocation in later years points to a key element in many of these problems, too often neglected or passed over lightly at present. According to a well ­nigh universal patristic tradition, God will call to the religious life anyone who perseveringly and with faith asks Him to. Since the diversity of religious lives was hardly visible in those days, I think that this doctrine can legitimately be extended to obtaining a call to any particular mode of religious life, especially when vows have already been taken therein. The basic argument, crudely put, was that, Christ having invited all His followers to the life of the counsels by public and external call, then, if the internal call was missing, it was
nonetheless available and could be had by prayer. The essential insight of this
reasoning, if updated somewhat, applies with even greater force to the
situations here considered. For those who, whatever their mistakes, are at
threshold level or higher in the institute of their vows, this offers an
effective solution. Repenting of whatever there may have been of fault in their
earlier choices, they accept lucidly and quietly in the Lord their present
condition and vigorously labor by persistent prayer, their own but also that of
their confreres and of members of other institutes, especially contemplatives,
to obtain the blessing of a true call to the way of life in which they have bound themselves. Sooner or later, that prayer will be heard.

Another alternative is sometimes possible where the person is free to transfer to “his own” group, to the place where God is calling him. This is the case spoken of earlier on as being one form of (rectification of) mistaken vocation long publicly
acknowledged by the Church. Thus, though the practical difficulties may be
great, in principle any Religious can move to any other Order or congregation
that will have him.

If, then, a person has mistakenly entered one religious institute rather than another, and if his motivation is now pure and he stands at roughly the threshold level of the institute to which he is transferring, then the problem will be solved by acceptance of God’s continuing call. According to the Code of Canon Law, even solemn vows can be “extinguished” as a result of such a transfer even if to an institute of only simple vows.

The Church has shown, as mentioned earlier, considerable reluctance in practice with regard to such transfers. The reasons are not hard to see. Firstly, there have always existed emotionally unstable people for whom a transfer seems, whenever a problem arises within their own communities or lives, the obvious and only solution. Further, it would be a grave abuse to let a person so move as to extinguish his solemn vows in the manner mentioned in order then to get his newly taken simple vows dispensed. The genuine diversity of types of religious life has, moreover, often been overlooked, especially among those thinking in the categories of the Code, who can regard the change as spiritually non-significant, hence not properly allowable, because the differences may not be as obvious, say, as between the Jesuits and the Trappists. Finally, there is the fact that no such
switch is trivial, even among those of a single religious tradition, for example,
from a more active Benedictine community to a more contemplative one, or vice-versa. There can be enough practical and emotional problems in such a change to make it a statistically poor bet, at least for an older religious. Hence, transfer
should be attempted only after full clarity as to God’s call has been reached.

In many cases of interest today, of course, the person is not free to follow what was his call, for example, if that was a call to marriage and he is now in permanent vows of religion.

Cases When the Person Is Below Threshold

2. If a Religious, on the other hand, is appreciably below the threshold of the state in which he is vowed, the problem becomes much more difficult. People who have spent many years in a way of life to which not only were they not called but to which no call to them has ever come (or, perhaps, come but been refused), whose threshold moreover was for a long time, possibly is even now, over their heads, are almost certainly going to need some highly competent psychiatric help. This should be taken for granted, although how and when to utilize it in each case requires some prudent pondering.

The following alternatives seem available: (a) to help the person transfer to another religious institute, one whose threshold is at approximately his level; (b) to let him remain where he is, but brought to clarity and a special status in that
institute; (c) to have the institute “secularize” him, that is, send him away
with complete dispensations from all obligations save those directly connected
with the priesthood, should such exist.ix

The Case of Transferring to Another Institute

(a.)  An example of what is envisaged here: a Jesuit priest in whom no perception of a call has ever been observed but who has long manifested by his inability to grow how far below the threshold of this life he is, transfers to the Trappists. This alternative has in our day nearly fallen from sight.x This is too bad, for it has much to recommend it. Evidently, it requires a certain minimum of cooperation on the part of the troubled Religious; but this cooperation is frequently not terribly hard to obtain, at least at a certain point in the person’s situation as it develops ‒ few people really like to go back on their word to God; most are willing to make some efforts, even if feeble ones, to extricate themselves from such a situation if they have suitable help and support in the process. The element of support is of particular importance in the sort of case we are here
considering. This alternative is particularly effective for those who, though
below threshold, are still fairly normal men or women, not yet badly damaged
psycholog­ically, people with whom a clear and direct discussion of their
problems and aspirations is possible, whatever the weakness of their flesh.

It should not be forgotten, in this context, that a Religious priest may relatively easily transfer to the diocesan clergy. Whether any of his vows will or ought to be
dispensed in such case is another matter; often not. Yet a much closer
approximation to secular life is thereby made possible, which can in certain
cases be of considerable assistance. However, some care is needed here, for the
diocesan priest’s threshold is often fairly high in a diocese in which he must
deal with people constantly concerning their spiritual lives and which cannot
afford to let a man withdraw into scholarly reflection and writing, say, or
into chiefly external social action.

It is important to take into account whatever history of call there may be for this Religious. Clearly, transfer would be an inept remedy for premature response. Transfer should also help a person, where possible, to move more in the direction of his most recent call, if any, than in some other. Great skill and prudence are called for in the proper balancing of all the factors. The healthier the person is psychologically, the more likely it is that the call can have the greater influence; if no recent calling has occurred, then it is largely the threshold relation which should govern action, This latter will always be the case in situations of continuing non-vocation. Because of the neurotic or pathological
aspects usually involved in these cases when inveterate, any seeking of God’s
concrete will through retreats and the like may prove extraordinarily difficult
if not truly impossible. Generally, skilled psychiatric help will be called for.

 Remaining in the Same Institute

(b.) This approach is often the only one that can be used. When directors and
superiors have for long years failed to take effective action in the type of
case we are considering, very often the person never does receive a call to the
life he is bound to, never does reach threshold, but instead decays and
crumbles spiritually and psychologically. Eventually, of course, age, perhaps
also illness, will make any solution through transfer or secularization
impossible, if even a semblance of charity and justice is to be preserved ‒ this
semblance seems all that is truly desired by some in authority. But, given some
change at higher levels and some effective desire to help these people at last,
can anything be done?

A whole program of action will be called for, usually long, always difficult,
hence often neglected. Since I suspect that harried superiors may, on occasion,
be too close to what seems a totally intractable situation to be able to figure
out how they might proceed, perhaps it will help to sketch out some basic lines
of approach. The goals of the program, while simple, should be clear to whoever
is responsible for its implementation. Perhaps the chief thing to note is that
the goal is composite. The Religious in question is to be helped so far as
possible, but the good, especially the long-range good, of the religious community must also be effectively guarded. Grave reasons of justice and charity may indeed require that these people stay. They may have to live in a community or house of the institute (though this should not be presumed without
investigation) and be provided for, sharing with the others the externals of
the life. But they cannot be allowed, as often happens, to subvert the inner
life of the community, to sap its vigor, to determine what matters shall or
shall not be discussed in public, or to take any part in its governance. Generically, then, the program of action must aim at truth, at repentance, and at public adjustment. Though I distinguish these three elements here, they are not always separable in the concrete.

It is helpful, in the long, often frustrating, difficult effort towards truth, to
keep the goal in mind: that this person come to that truth of his situation
which is the incredible and divine release from an insupportable burden of
tangled and matted falsehoods and half-truths. At last, he knows where he
stands! He is, perhaps for the first time in his life, facing in some fullness
the reality of himself, of his life, and of God, with defenses down. The
darkness is gone. What he does about his situation at this point does not
matter half so much as his recognition of it. Only now does serious and
persevering prayer for a vocation become a real possibility. This would be the
best solution.

But to bring such a Religious to face, in the Lord, the real truth of his situation
is not easy. Often, in fact, this point is not reached. Even with the best of
good will and competence, a superior or director may find here an obstacle that
cannot be budged. Either from psychological constraints or from his own
freedom, the person may not be able or willing to see or to accept the truth.
The power of God’s grace, however, which can draw us to desire a repentance we
did not wish and to seek the light when we preferred darkness, should not be
forgotten. Thus, the community as a whole, not just the individuals dealing
with the troubled person, is bound to much prayer and penance to obtain for him such grace. This aspect of public adjustment will also be, I think, a key
element in safeguarding the community from this person’s bad influence.

But if the effort to bring the person to full truth is not in the Lord, the result
is too likely to be genuine despair, even suicide. It is in this connection
that the best available psychiatric counseling is to be sought, if not always
for immediate treatment, at least for advice on how to proceed. Under the
circumstances supposed, it will evidently be extremely painful for the person. But much here depends on the manner.

From ignorance or embarrassment or “to get the thing over with,” or as a hidden mode of punishing those who have inconvenienced us, or who knows why, we can be terribly brutal about such matters; and brutality can make people come apart at the seams or withdraw beyond any further possibility of help. Even in far less delicate situations, to come at people head on is more likely to generate panic before such an undisguised display of hostility, especially if sudden and
unexpected, than to do good. It is quite insufficient that what has to be done
here be done with love; a very manifest love is essential, so manifest to the
troubled person, that is, that he cannot doubt it. Such love implies among
other things, a great respect for the person’s own freedom and his own “time.”
This is one great advantage of a good retreat, if the person is still
psychologically capable of making one and you can find a sufficiently skilled
director. For the Lord takes His time with them and brings things up in the
order of what He knows to be their true importance or in which alone they can be handled by this individual ‒ a knowledge, I think, He very rarely shares with
anyone. A superior may well be unable himself to carry through personally
discussions that can lead to truth but may have to handle the matter only via
an emissary, due to his poor relations with the person or inability to make sufficiently manifest his love for him.

The inner moral connection with “metanoia,” that change of heart which is true
repentance, is evident. Lucidity will be gained only insofar as there is an
openness to repentance. To suggest repentance today for anyone but one’s self
is to incur every sort of denunciation for being judgmental, for harshness, for
uncharity. Yet the New Testament, no less than the Old, makes it the foundation
of its message, the condition for perceiving and entering the kingdom, the
reason for the redemption and the mode of apprehending in faith its limits. It
is not without reason that the Council says: “The Church, always, in need of
purification, continually seeks after repentance and renewal” (Lumen gentium,
#8/3). There is no renewal except in virtue of and growing from profound
repentance and genuine penitence. Thus, the effort toward truth should be
accompanied by a quiet and gentle but still genuine call to repentance, a
continual reminder of God’s love for sinners of whatever kind and whatever the “monsters” in the dark chambers of their subconscious.

This call to repentance, however, is not the same as a call to live henceforward a
life of penance. Though penance is in place for all men always, one must keep
in mind that what culpability there is for situations of this sort often rests
rather on perhaps long dead superiors, novice masters, and others than on the
man who must live out the “penance.” In any case, whether he has much to do
penance for personally or little, when it comes to the painful and difficult
aspects of the life he must still live, I think a greater emphasis should be
placed on his sharing the sufferings of Christ for the Church’s good. A
knowledge of Carthusian spirituality with its admirable blending of these two aspects is very helpful: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis terrarum.

The third aim is that of public adjustment. The ill effects on the community of the individuals of whom we are speaking should not be underestimated. Psychological and spiritual decay are highly contagious on close contact and over a long time, but the contagion is not always easily perceptible. Such people,
surprisingly often, set a tone for a whole community by their carpings and
complaints, their slanders and not always petty calumnies. Cutting short such
evil talk by command or punishment is ineffective: it cannot touch most
instances; the person is often not fully responsible; and others in the
community will resist the superior’s action, not understanding its motivation.
Hence, while the details of his conscience obviously remain the person’s own
secret, his status as one who does not belong in heart or by call to the
community must be made known within the community.

Sometimes this is quite automatic, as when the community sets up a fund for him, so that he has a suitable income, and has him live elsewhere, not isolated but yet not taking any direct part in the life of the community, especially in what touches its religious spirit. Others times, the members of the community must be
informed privately that was not called here but is for good reasons remaining
among us. Obviously, if true clarity and conversion have been obtained, this
public adjustment will offer no problem to the Religious in question, and
probably little of it will then be needed. During the search for clarity, the
matter is obviously more delicate.xi Regular prayers and Masses for
this intention should be prescribed for all. Whatever the methods used, there
is an urgent need today to cut through the ever more exaggerated “right to
privacy.” Most rules contain some indication that the Religious gives up his
right to good name and reputation wherever considerations of his spiritual good
make it advisable. In any case, by entering a community, one agrees to whatever
shall prove necessary for the community’s good where this is not incompatible
with one’s own deepest and truest good.

A final note here. Suppose that the situation is clearly one of premature
response to a call to the very way of life in which the person lives. By
supposition, the situation has dragged on, the person still below threshold and
decaying, till secularization is no longer possible. The first two elements of
the above program will still be in place. But for the public adjustment, the
image I find most useful is of a clearing of a space in a woods ‒ make a space
around the person so that he can live with a certain freedom from the normal
restraints of the life and allow him to pause a bit, to catch his breath.
Meantime, help him see what his situation is and why it is as it is, supplying
all along encouragement in great doses (never out of place, I think) and give
him the room to maneuver as well as possible until he finds the strength to
move in the normal framework. What is essential is that the institute take its
responsibility to provide special attention to this person and see that
whatever spiritual and psychological assistance is necessary is in fact given.

Solution by Secularization

(c.) Recall that we are still speaking of the means of helping a Religious who has
taken permanent but not solemn vows in an institute to which he has not been
called and whose threshold lies substantially beyond his present psychological
and spiritual capabilities.xii The third alternative, then, is to
secularize this Religious, in the neutral sense of this word noted above. Quite
apart from grave crime, scandal, and the like, secularization seems to me the
instrument of choice in these situations. It is clear, I think, that reten­tion
of the sort discussed in (b) just above is merely making the best one can of a
bad situation, not an independently desirable alternative.xiii Since, unlike either transfer or retention on modified status, secularization involves, in itself, a complete dispensation from valid vows and a return to secular life and since, further, a suitable transfer would not only honor vows freely taken but meet, at least in part, the problem of the threshold and protect the institute mistakenly entered, a legitimate question can be raised as to why secularization should usually be preferred to transfer.

I should judge that secularization is to be preferred to transfer in direct
proportion to: (1) the degree of doubt that may exist as to the validity of the
person’s permanent vows; (2) the degree of psychological handicap or to be
expected in any carrying through on a permanent commitment; (3) the lack of
visibility of a call to any religious state; (4) the certainty of the problem’s
being one of premature response.

As to (1): The more probable it is that the vows are null, the less reason there
is for holding a person to them or to some quasi ­equivalent, since an alternative is possible.

As to (2): The greater the psychological warpings, actual or sure to arise, the
less likely it seems that the transfer can be effective ‒ the person falls
increasingly below any threshold. Further, as mentioned earlier, transfer calls
for an ability to discuss the situation with some degree of emotional
equilibrium or, at least, of intellectual clarity and for a true collaboration
Such clarity and collaboration are not easily obtainable in the cases being
considered. Dispense the person from his vows and he will more quickly respond
to psychological therapy, no longer held in a false position, free to wrestle
directly with his real problems, without having to master those coming from
living under what, for him, is a heavy but largely meaningless superstructure.

As to (3): This is deliberately stated negatively. The lack of positive evidence
of a call to any form of religious life militates also against the life lived in the institute of contemplated transfer. To have positive indications of a call to a secular life would, of course, increase the desirability of a “transfer” thither, that is, secularization.

As to (4): The question here is really whether secularization, at least for an
extended period, is preferable to retention. So far as I can judge, it is always better to send away the premature entrant who is still below threshold
unless incapacity, age, or ill health make it impossible for the person to make
his way at all anywhere else. This is not simply for the good of the community,
though that should be paramount. For such a person to remain in the religious
life is to be threatened, at best, with interior disintegration.

The common argument runs, of course: “It is clear that this person was called here. He does seem somewhat immature. But with just a little more good will and grace and hard work, he ought to be able to make the grade. Indeed, he “ought to”; but it is just that additional “little more” that he is incapable of giving. If given adequate psychological counseling (and spiritual direction, as needed), anyone in the situation we are speaking of will mature and “unkink” faster and more healthily outside the Religious state or seminary than in it. First set him free. Then help him all you want to grow further. Secularization is crucial for the youngster’s growth to a point where he can indeed accept the vocation that is his. The sooner he is sent away, the sooner he can return in full vigor. The Religious is not free to leave; but the institute is free to set him free, in a manner analogous to the parents’ right to nullify vows of their children when still minors.

Basic Reason for Preferring Secularization

But the most basic reason for preferring secularization to transfer or retention is
that every one of these cases results from a mistake made by the institute,
through its legitimate representatives, for which the institute is now fully
responsible before God, whether the original mistake was culpable or not. For,
the person who entered, whether without a call or mistaken as to the nature of
his call, was, save in cases of deception, rightly entrusting to the institute
definitive judgment as to his call and suitability for its mode of life.

More basically, old heads do not grow on young shoulders, The youngster who comes is responsible indeed for telling the truth as best he knows how about his inner life and history and also for having investigated carefully the natures of the
institutes of interest to him, Yet it is impossible for him to gauge precisely the threshold of a community or to know just how he stands in relation to that
threshold.  And, after all, “No man is a prudent judge in his own cause.” What judgment can any young person make, on his own, concerning the requirements for living properly an unknown mode of life? His responsibility is to respond to the movements of God’s grace as best he can. It is the task of interviewers, novice masters and other spiritual guides, and superiors to make the decisions as to the genuinity of his call and suitability for the life.

It is to them that the Church has entrusted the final say on accepting or sending
away the candidate, on admitting to vows or not, and the like. If, then,
culpably or not, these men make the wrong decision, all the more is it their
grave responsibility to rectify their error to whatever extent this is still
possible. Ultimately, then, the institute is responsible for the situation; it
bears the primary responsibility for rectifying it; and this rectification
should be as radical and as complete as possible, due account always being
taken of the present call and will of God, not simply seeking to return to the state
of things before the person’s first entrance or taking of vows.

But, apart from simple non-vocation, more is involved than mere mistake. In cases of mistaken vocation of the second kind (see above, I, B, 2), God has Himself called this person elsewhere. If He is still calling him, then, though He does not wish the vowed individual to back off from his mistaken commitment, yet there seems no good reason to think that He does not wish the institute to set
the person free to follow His call to him. Once the institute realizes the
situation, it is resisting God if it does not do all it can to bring about full

In cases of mistaken vocation of the first kind, though no such opposition to God’s call occurs, at least directly, yet the institute runs serious risk of blocking
or gravely hindering the psychological and spiritual maturation process which
God wills for this individual ‒ to say nothing of his hearing a true call when
it comes ‒ for the sake of a good whose chances of success are at best difficult to estimate, even were there better grounds for confidence than the institute’s antecedent series of errors. It is well to remember, too, whatever the type of mistaken or non-vocation, that a human life and destiny are at stake in each case. For an institute knowingly to let its own mistake continue uncorrected, to let a person spend his best days floundering in a mode of life not chosen for him by God and which he is unable to live well, while he wants to serve God well, is a serious crime of degradation of and contempt for the person. And, after all, if
secularization has traditionally been possible, it is that God, and the Church
acting in His name, wants this possibility to be open; we have no right to close it off except for conclusive reasons.

Consider, in contrast, St. Paul’s, “To peace has God called us.” Given as the ground for dissolving a valid though merely natural marriage, should the same reason not have some weight, at least, for this other dissolution? Admittedly, the natural marriage is not a covenant in the sense that Christian marriage is nor analogous to the religious vows. But I am not here arguing from that analogy; rather, the question is of the reasons for which the Church, through the religious
institute and its officials, is to exercise its already conceded power to
dissolve. The question of peace is important precisely because the person has
given up all freedom to alter his condition himself save by an internal growth
which his condition makes, if not impossible, so difficult that it can rarely
be conceived as a healthy and, therefore, truly peaceful process (“peace” here
being not a leisurely, lackadaisi­cal attitude but the vigorous tranquility of a dynamic setting in order).

Inhibiting Fear of Making a Mistake

The factor that most inhibits serious consideration of secularization in the minds
of superiors and spiritual directors is, I think, the definite risk of sending away someone who is truly capable of honoring his vows and profiting thereby, even if he is less than generous at the moment. Such risks are real. Yet the principle indicated above in the discussion of premature response, (II, B, 2, (c), (4)) can be extended to all these cases: in case of doubt, send the person away with full dispensation. A fortiori does this hold if the person has much contact with those outside the community or is likely to play a governing or advisory or other influential role, for example, teacher of theology, within the community.

For suppose the institute does mistakenly secularize a person whom God has truly called to that way of life and who is able, if he wishes, to live it well. This
person can always come back later and ask for reconsideration, once his own
dispositions are better or he has better evidence of being at threshold. Or he
may be able to apply to some similar institute, if there is one. But in any
event, there is nothing to prevent him from living a good, even a saintly
Christian life, serving God and his neighbor within the Church as a not-so­-secular priest or layman. On the other hand, if God has not called him and he is still well below threshold, then, if he is retained, he will be headed towards real
disaster, for himself, at least, and for the many others whom he misdirects,
scandalizes, or whose spirit he pulls down persistently. Neither aged nor ill,
his troubled spirit will breed nothing but trouble around it ‒ unnecessarily.
Obviously, God in His mercy may prevent such evil and even draw good from the situation; but to bank on that when the proper action lies at hand is the sin of tempting God; and to judge from the present situation in the Church, very often God does not intervene.

Hence, there is no parity, no balance between the two possible mistakes. A mistake of “severity” merely prevents a greater good; a mistake of “laxity” brings about an ever­ widening propagation of spiritual harm. Just as vocation, at the first entrance and during novitiate, if it is doubtful, should be regarded by the institute as nonexistent, so here. If there is a real doubt as to whether a person should be secularized, this is a certain argument that he should be; and the more
apostolic the group and the higher their threshold, the more important is it for all that the doubt be resolved in favor of secularization.

The Holy See has repeatedly made explicit, in regard to ordination, that a grave
obligation exists not to propose a man for ordination unless and until there is
clear and positive evidence of full suitability. If, then, there are positive
grounds for doubt, the case is certain: charity requires refusal of ordination
for as long as the doubt exists. But the living of many forms of Religious life
calls for at least equal grace and qualifications. It then, dismissal is
possible, the presumption should always be: If there is genuine doubt,

At times, however, one senses an attitude of horror towards secularization as if
it were a sort of spiritual euthanasia or, if not that, to be at least in total
contradiction to our Lord’s injunction to let wheat and cockle grow together
until the harvest. Well, for the person himself to break his covenant may be a
sort of spiritual suicide, though always open to repentance. But in what way
does the institute’s dissolving of an inappropriate bond deprive the individual
of any means of salvation? Its whole purpose is to make that salvation more
secure, to make his growth less trammeled. Secularization is not analogous even
to excommunication ‒ which is not intended as uprooting but as chastising
leading to repentance ‒ nor is laicization, however regrettable either may be.

One occasionally runs into the cruder error that secularization involves a sort of elitism. “By what right,” people will say, “may ‘we’ kick ‘them’ out as being less worthy and less suitable?” Such a question misses the entire point. There is no “kicking out” in question; there is no “we” or “they.” The whole effort is to acknowledge the demands of charity, often of justice, to help those in a false position to be set free, internally and externally, to serve God in greater closeness to what He desires for them.

Who Is to Initiate Secularization?

A further question concerning secularization of major practical importance is:
who is to initiate the secularization proceedings? Though I realize that my
position here is in opposition to much current practice, I would hold that the
person who ought to be secularized is not the one to initiate, even formally,
the process as such.

Firstly, the duty to initiate the correction rests primarily upon those responsible for making the authoritative mistakes that began the problem. The obligation to
initiate secularization would seem to reside where the sole power to secularize
and where the sole competence to decide the use of that power reside.

Secondly, it is precisely the young Religious’ immaturity or his lack of fundamental ability to live this life which make it necessary to send him away. These same qualities make it next to impossible for him to face squarely on his own and to deal responsibly with so difficult and psychologically distressing a matter, especially when those set over him have several times judged in the opposite sense. Nor, did he so face it, would he have the competence rightly to judge of it. Thus, for example, the real problem will often be completely different than he experiences it; for example, many think a problem of masturbation to be
basically one of impurity, whereas it is more likely to be one rather of self-pity, social isolation, or frustration.

Thirdly, by supposition his vows are valid and permanent or, if not so in God’s eyes, at least appear so to the individual at the most basic level of his self. For him, then, to ask for dispensation is itself to renege on his vows, at least in any
institute, for example, the religious Orders, in which the vows are meant to
engage God’s fidelity, as we have already discussed in GCMR, pages 1098-9. For, such permanent vows of religion are neither mutable promises to do this always or never to do that nor even abiding promises of the same, but are covenants in which not only God’s fidelity but that exigence for our own fidelity which constitutes that essential element of our being which we call our “honor” are both deliberately engaged. If the person is convinced that he did so pledge his honor, if there is even a solid probability that he is subconsciously so convinced, the institute has no right in either charity or justice to make him act in violation of that conviction. To use coercion or even persuasion to lead another to violate what he sees as his covenant with God is, I should think, a sin of scandalizing little ones, excused, perhaps, only by the unreflectiveness of our times and a wide­spread but abusive practice to the contrary.

It is sometimes pleaded, as an extenuating factor for such insistence by
authority, that requiring such requests for secularization from the individual
before any process is begun is a purely external and juridical formality and,
so, cannot stain a conscience. Yet, formality or not, if it is indeed a necessary first step, a condition without which nothing else will happen, it is hard to see how the troubled Religious can escape the realization that, but for his request, the covenant would stand. His conscience will be wounded, for he has interiorly ratified an action which does not merely indicate the problems he is facing and ask for a solution but which starts the precise process of abrogation of the covenant-relation as the desired solution and which involves his official statement of that desire and intent.

To urge this sort of taking of the initiative on one who has, as in so many of
these cases, an “overly developed” or “overly active” conscience which sees sin
everywhere, who may be in religion just because of fear of what God might do to
him otherwise, is to run the risk of making him sense, deep down and
ineradicably, that he has gone back on his word ‒ a far worse thing, for a man
at least, than any amount of unchastity or disobedience or squandering of the
community’s money. He has lost not merely his virtue but his honor, and that in
the deepest sense. He has been unfaithful at precisely the point where the
maximum of fidelity was required of him. It is the “mere formality” of asking
for a breaking and rupturing of the covenant, not simply a sinning against it.
That is a very dangerous thing to ask anyone to do, no matter how clear it may
be that God does not want the relationship to continue but that he should be
set free and leave.

To plead “conventional language,” analogous to that in which the child tells the
traveling salesman, “My mother isn’t home now,” or a corresponding kind of
mental reservation would seem to push such contrivances from their already
somewhat dubious Christian status into real abuse. For a chief ostensible
reason for requiring such formal petitions is precisely to stand in courts of law,
to prevent the person secularized from bringing civil suits for damages against
the institute by showing, in his own hand, that he initiated the process of
secularization. Now, no court will accept such a document if it is only to be
seen as pure formality, as “conventional language,” as concealing a mental
reservation. It seems much closer to forcing Socrates once again ‘and in more
serious matter to be his own executioner, for the sake of the convenience or
the squeamishness of some in authority, a practice on the part of authority of
which Christian moralists have consistently taken a rather dim view.

On the other hand, can there be any real difficulty in getting a lawyer to set up documentation to meet the same eventuality more honestly? A rough example: “I accept fully your decision in this matter, whatever it be. If you decide on whatever grounds to secularize me, I accept the secularization if not, I accept transfer or retention under what conditions seem best to you and your advisors.” This is, also, less likely to be broken in court by evidence brought in to show coercion and unfair persuasion, precisely because it states the truth, clearly saying what the situation was. Perhaps the commonest, if not the strongest argument urged against the approach suggested here is that one must wait to let the person make his own decision, that to send him away when he has not yet asked for dispensation of his own free will is to cut short his chances of ever making an adult choice.

The chief error there, of course, is thinking that any decision to leave or to stay
could be the individual’s own. His vows bind him never to decide to leave. Any
decision on his part to stay is personally redundant and, with respect to the
institute, not his to make.

The argument is psychologically fallacious as well. For one thing, the person is very likely to be aware, at least dimly or subconsciously, of these restrictions on
his freedom of choice. To inveigle him into a decision against his conscience,
whether well-formed or ill, is hardly a good way to assist his adult decision-making. The very fact that the institute let him take vows and stay this long with such poor results grounds little confidence that it is competent to judge the matter or that it offers very helpful surroundings for growth. Sometimes, too, it is the superior, not the subject, who has to learn to accept the responsibility for making decisions that affect other people’s lives.

Finally, it is God who created the world in its natural order and in the structures of its activity. That is the framework in which people will spontaneously grow
most easily in their natural powers and capacities, if by His grace and the
cooperation of the institute they can do so without sin or harm to even a false
or exaggerated conscience. But we have no right to presume that, above the
ordinary manner of nature, they will grow while in that religious state for
which they have not the grace which alone can make it possible for them.

How to Initiate Secularization

If, then, the individual is not to be permitted to ask for dispensation and free
departure, how can the process get started? In response, it seems to me that
the individual is obligated and, indeed, seriously obligated to make known his
situation to his spiritual director and superiors. If he has failed to do so
before or if those to whom he has spoken have done nothing helpful, there is
still time, and the obligation is no less great as the failure becomes more
dangerous. To put it negatively, I see no problem whatever in the person’s “taking the initiative,” if by that is meant merely that he manifest to those who bear responsibility for his spiritual welfare just how bad his situation is. There
is no reneging on vows in a simple declaration of truth.

It too often happens that the first real manifestation is made only at a time of
crisis ‒ for, this is one of the marks of gross immaturity, that a person does
not open up to those charged with his welfare but keeps everything stored up
inside himself lest “they use it against me” or think badly of him, or else
opens the matter up only with those he knows will see things just as he does.
The first effort, then, will have to be to get to know the person, past as well
as present, as fully as possible while also seeking to bring him to true indifference in the matter (for a mere declaration of willingness to honor his vows does not settle the matter) and to a genuine interior freedom. If genuine, he will be in contact with the full reality of his situation including all the commitments and engagements he has made. Ultimately he can say, in full truth, “So far as I can see, this is not the life for me. God does not seem to have called me to it, nor is there any sign He is so calling me now. There are many indications that He was not pleased with my entering and staying and taking vows. If it were my decision, I’d leave. But it is not in my hands. I took my vows in freedom ‒ imperfect but adequate. I’m quite willing to honor my commitment and stay forever, if that is really God’s will for me as manifested through the decision of you, my superiors; though if the decision is, ‘Stay,’ I may well feel obligated to seek to have the whole matter reviewed by higher superiors.”

It is, then, up to the institute itself to look at his evidence, to check into his past history, to have him examined psychologically and spiritually by others than those he has been dealing with all along, especially if there is any least doubt about their motivation, competence, or judgment concerning this particular person. Certainly, the institute may not simply take a person on his own terms since, as a result of emotional upsets and constraints, he can easily have the picture all distorted and involuntarily misrepresented. He may be quite capable of living the life if he really wants to. This is not rare, for example, in a sudden, sharp crisis, provoked by the piling up, all at one time, of grave difficulties; yet given adequate help, he can recover his balance and live the life well. If so, he
should be told to remain and have the matter carefully explained to him. This
is crucial; the knowledge of the necessity of making a go of it, knowing that
there is no other way out, is probably the strongest motivation for making a go
of it, as is very often quite obvious in marriage.

It is necessary, through other sources than the Religious himself, to ascertain
what has really happened in the past and whether he is truly incapable or
simply not willing to live the life. This judgment as to capability to live at
or rise to the threshold is a place where sound psychiatry and clinical
psychology can make a distinctive contribution. At the least, they can offer
sound advice and some otherwise not easily obtainable evidence.xv If
no convincing evidence turns up of a call by God, early or late, to this life,
nor moral certitude of the possibility of making something good out of it, and
if there is substantial evidence to the contrary, then the person should be
sent away as soon as possible.

Other Remarks on Procedure

A few other fairly obvious remarks as to procedure:

(i) The institute has always an obligation to step in and begin a full
investigation as soon as it is evident that someone is in difficulty, even if
he has said nothing about it to anyone.

(ii) Since secularization is not, at least of itself, punitive, the person should
depart without shame or dishonor. Indeed, since it is his good that is being
sought, he should go, so far as possible, with true consolation from the Lord
and such counsel, prayers, and other aid from the institute as seems called
for, and with every ground for abiding affection and charity towards those with
whom he spent so many years of his life.

(iii) The machinery for this sort of release from vows is not always, so I am told,
well set up to accord with the basic principle which is to govern its use. This
principle, stated rather generally, would be that the more demanding and difficult the threshold, especially as to the supernatural endowments of the entrants, and the higher the specificity of the institute, the greater the freedom and the initiative of the institute to secularize should be. For, given human
ignorance and weakness, mistakes will occur, the more easily and the graver in
their consequences as the spiritual requisites are higher at the start, when
the person is necessarily less well known, and the more profoundly doctrinal
and directly spiritual the institute’s mode of apostolic engagement.

There is a certain “non­-reciprocity” here, by which the individual, ordinarily, is bound to remain with the institute but the institute is not bound to keep him. It is clearly the individual’s good that is most helped by such non-­reciprocity. For
thus he is enabled to commit himself to God in this way of life as soon as
positive grounds exist, sufficient for moral certitude, of his call and fitness; yet he can still be set free, without sin on his own part, if some mistake has been made or, even, if his own laxness renders him unsuited for continuance in the life. What is strange today is to see this same non-reciprocity being demanded also for sacramental marriage at the very time that it is under attack among Religious, even in its chief proponent, the Society of Jesus. For this was one of the most original and significant insights of Ignatius Loyola, a far greater advance, in my judgment, than merely extending the time for and intensifying the preparation for vows: that the Society of Jesus, with the very high threshold it has, should also, given suitable cause, have the power of sending away (and dispensing from non­-solemn vows) on the Order’s own initiative any of its members at any time in their lives.xvi Manifestly, greater reason and more solid proof were required as the person had been longer in the life and more intimately attached to it by successively more stringent bonds, whether these be vows or not (Ignatius lists some six degrees of closeness of incorporation).xvii

In any case, the precise structures at law will perforce vary from one institute
to another. Institutes of high threshold should see to it that proportionate
power of dismissal rest with them. Even if no such structures are obtainable,
they have still the right to approach the Holy See to ask for each such desired
secularization. And a healthy climate and understanding of such cases will lead
Rome to respond more favorably.

If someone comes wanting to be dispensed, charity requires working with him as
long as may prove possible until he no longer wants it, that is, until he is
willing to abide as completely as he can with the decision finality to be
reached by the competent authorities, having made as many manifestations as may be needed to higher superiors, other spiritual guides, psychiatrists, and so
forth. But as soon as he is thus willing, all efforts should be undertaken to
have superiors dispense him and send him away unless clear evidence turns up of his real suitability. At all times, the person has to be helped to get to or
remain in a position where he is consciously honoring his word.

I know of one person to whom no one was able to break through. In no way could he be brought even to consider indifference. He was going to be secularized and laicized, and that was that. No matter what one talked about with him ‒ work, personal affairs, spiritual matters, or whatever ‒ after three or four minutes he would break it off and say, “I don’t want to discuss all this; I want to be laicized; I’m going to get married,” though in fact he had no woman in mind. In such a case, all you can do is to go ahead and fill out the papers from Rome. There is no way to prevent a person from demanding dispensation; ultimately; the matter is up to him. One can and ought to support his secularization, when asked by the competent authorities, for, clearly, he will do far more harm than good to the Church and those around him if he remains. Yet even so, it should be settled, in my judgment, as far as possible on the grounds, “You can’t resign; you’re fired.” Even if he has taken the initiative, we should seek to take it back from him, in hopes, however distant, that he can reach somehow that middle ground of balance and of openness to God’s will from which alone a solid growth can take place.

Admittedly, much current practice works against taking one’s obligations toward God this seriously. All concerned should do whatever they can to remedy abuse in this domain and to convince those able to determine policy that it is an abuse,
however well motivated. In the meantime, we can work with each person in such a way that it is clear to him, whatever letters and forms he must write or fill
out, that it is we, in the name of the institute, who are taking the real
initiative, wherever this is possible.

Cases of Those with Solemn Vows

C. In this section we consider what help can be given to those bound by solemn
vows in a religious Order. Much of what has been said already, with fairly
obvious modifications, can be applied here. The chief difference, of course, is
that the Order has no power to dispense from solemn vows even when it is able
to send the Religious away definitively.

Since the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law in 1918, it is true, the Church has ceased to recognize any totally indissoluble vows of religion. Thus, either the
ancient tradition of religious life as a marriage to Christ is denied or every
kind of Christian marriage is rendered dissoluble by the Church. The effort to
make the latter alternative prevail is the better publicized at present, but
the former has, in practice at least, been widely accepted in recent years, not
without a good bit of genuine scandal of the ordinary faithful.

My own surmise is that the Code’s provisions here were adopted without any deliberate intent to abolish the religious Orders as forms of Christian life. The failure to realize that this had in principle been done by the radical nature of the changes introduced by the Code was due to preoccupation with the urgent practical problems of the immediate postwar period, of the Depression, and of World War II, coupled with the lack of any visible practical consequences until the recent flood of departures began. There are now at least rumors circulating that this unsatisfactory situation is soon to be rectified. It is said most commonly that the reform will entrust to each institute the detailed specification of the
nature of its vows and also of whatever authority of dispensation the Church
may exercise over them, so that, in the case of the Orders, the Holy See would
never intervene to dispense from vows, and solemn vows would be fully indissoluble once again.

In the light of all this and of the call of Vatican II to return to the spirit and
original objectives of the founders of religious Orders ‒ all of whom, I
believe, saw strictly indissoluble vows as fundamental to their institute ‒ I
shall treat the problems of Religious with solemn vows without further
consideration of the possibility of dispensation by the Holy See, a matter in
any case best left to those who alone have power in such affairs. The only
situation that seems really to call for special comment here is that of a Religious
in solemn vows, called originally to some kind of secular life, and who is
living just that sort of life, spiritually speaking, in his Order.xviii Superiors complain that there is nothing they can do in such a case, nothing at least that will not stir up a hornet’s nest, hopelessly dividing the community. He is not living the life properly, but he is not committing any crimes and may indeed be outstanding in the secular virtues. Suffice it to say here ‒ I will return to other aspects in Part III ‒ that what can be done, and ought to be done, is very straightforward: require, in virtue of his vow of obedience wherever necessary, that he live as a Religious of that Order should and abandon his secular mode. This will fairly quickly bring about a clarification of just what his situation is; as always, such clarity and lucidity are the central and crucial elements in any manner of helping. For those neurotic people who cannot hear of anything involving pain and difficulty without interpreting it as punishment or entrapment, it is important to make clear, by actions even more than by words, that there is no such intent in this process.

Once a suitable clarity has been reached, two lines of approach are available. The
person may seek a closer approximation to the type of secular life to which he
was called, whether by transfer to the diocesan clergy, if he is a priest, or to some other institute (preferably, in my opinion, without “extinction” of the solemnity, that is, indissolubility, of his vows) or, less desirably, by living outside the communities of his own Order, as I believe Erasmus did. This could,
depending on circumstances, go as far as complete secularization though without
dispensation from vows. Professional canonists would have to work out the
details of transferring, for example, the right to command under obedience to
the local bishop, and so forth. The chief difficulty with these approaches is that rarely can they take sensitive and full account of the extent of the commitment by vow to the way of life itself, which as in marriage implies a particular partner and not just a set of vows hovering in the abstract waiting for any suitable place to alight. Hence, the odor of legalism too often detected here and the risk of a real infidelity hidden beneath the legal dressings. On the other hand, by any of these, the Order is well protected from loss of spirit.

But, I believe, far and away a better solution is to use the light and clarity
gained to help the Religious to repentance for whatever his contribution to the
bad situation may have been, to live the life in fidelity and suffering ‒ as so
many must do in unfortunate marriages ­and to pray perseveringly for a true
call to this way of life, so that they are able not merely to honor the basic
commitments of their vows, which God’s ordinary grace makes possible always,
but also to enter into the spirit of their institute and to achieve, by their
very difficulties, a greater openness for divine union.


So far, we have considered the effects of spurious vocation upon the individual
affected and the obligations resting upon the representatives of his institute
to assist him. We are now in a position to examine the social effects of spurious
vocations upon the institute itself, wherever these unfortunate situations are
not assiduously and continually straightened out.

Polarizations When There Is Basic Unity

An obvious place to start is with the polarizations, tensions, and conflicts
evident in many congregations and orders at present. Dissension, however, is
not attributable, of itself, to problems of vocation, but can arise from a
number of quite different factors. It can come, as has happened more than once
in history, from laxity on the part of some and strictness on the part of
others, even if most are truly called, at threshold, and so forth, as in some
of the early Franciscan struggles or in the Carmelites at the time of John of
the Cross.

Conflicts are also generated, even among saints, by divergent views on practical matters. Recall Paul and Barnabas quarreling about John Mark, or Paul and Peter at odds over table-fellowship. Perhaps a mode of this is found today in the not uncommon case of “renewal blues”: between those who declare, some sadly, some with joy, “This is no longer the group that I entered.” The remark is usually
true enough in that the organization has changed quite drastically in
externals. Whether its inner spirit has changed is a further question. Thus,
without necessity of genuine vocational difference, there can be real conflict,
some thinking that what the group used to be is what it ought to be, others
thinking that only if it is no longer what it used to be can it become what it
was meant to be.

There is also a sort of genuine and solid vocational diversity within any institute.
For God, having created each person with different talents and temperament,
calls each, within the framework of the one, basic vocation, to different
activity and insight for the building up of this “organ” of the Body of Christ.
The resultant interrelated functionings and complementary contributions may be marked in the very structure of the institute, as with “grades” in the Society
of Jesus, or only concretely in people’s different capabilities and ministries.
This diversity gives rise to tension and, given our perduring ignorance and
sinfulness, even sharp conflict at times. The very fact that one person sees
certain things far more clearly than others see them burdens the seer with, at
best, slowly communicable knowledge. The man­-of-action, in turn, wonders about the “sluggishness” or “indecision” of the others. And so on.

In all such types of dispute, a search for consensus through community meetings, group dynamics, Better World Retreats, workshops, and the like can be of great profit; and the use of some such means is essential if unity is to be
preserved. But there is a unity to preserve; there is a foundation in reality for solid agreement at the level of the dispute, since there is complete
agreement at the more basic level of vocation, a full sharing of the same call
from the Lord.

When Basic Unity Is Lacking

It is just this basic unity of call and of objective that is missing in institutes
which have been careless about false vocations Though the members are all one
at the level of the faith (though even this is, too often, not true), they have no ground for community of life at any further spiritual level though, of course, the natural grounds for friendship and communal life may flourish for a time. Conflicts in this context trace to basic divergences in vocation and represent genuine discord. These conflicts need not involve any particular laxity on the part of either group (see I.B.4 above). People trying to live as one are in fact being called by God to two or more quite disparate ways of life, necessarily interfering with some others’ full following of God’s call by seeking to follow their own. At least one group will be substantially out of harmony with the institute, though often without explicit advertence to that fact.

The commoner situation, of course, is what is politely called that is, a general
mixture: people called to the institute, of all degrees of tepidity and fervor;
those there in response to a mistake as to their true call; and an often
sizable number who have never had a call to anything except, perhaps, to
Christian adulthood.

Lack of Basic Unity and Presence of Mistaken Vocations

In situations colored chiefly by cases of mistaken vocation in the strong sense,
discord is the most obvious characteristic. Orders and congregations are being
torn apart by conflicts among those unwilling or unable to face their diversity
honestly. Whatever the members of the community are called to, to this institute
or elsewhere, the force of their life, their fullest and most developed
response of love and service to God through self engagement, is somehow at
stake. This is extremely threatening, to all parties, probably, to some extent
though more so to those who are in the wrong place. Genuine discussion, which
really touches the question of basic unity, tends to exacerbate the antagonisms
and reactions of defense as it becomes clear that some do not find the center of their life where others do, or not in recognizably the same manner, although they had given themselves as companions to one another on that basis.

Hence, those who are out of place will (as indicated for particular cases in Part I
above) be laboring vigorously to have the institute “renewed” and “modernized,”
by which they mean, in fact, changed into that mode of life to which God has
called them. They will, or at least should, be strenuously resisted by those whom God called to the original form of the institute. These may be as vigorous
as the others in working for certain restructurings and up-datings, to remedy
abuses and brush off the accidental accretions of “temporary” changes, long
since become permanent, but, “inconsistently” and confusingly for the others,
they will not budge on what they see as essential but which are as abusive and
outdated as any others in the minds of those mistakenly present.

Because a certain spontaneous separation of those not called there occurs over the years and because younger Religious who are truly called will ordinarily lack
that depth of knowledge of their institute which would enable them to understand the interactions between the legal structures and the spiritual vitality
of individuals or to grasp the functioning of elements of the life which seem to the uninformed eye wholly superfluous if not harmful, the discord can easily
take on the aspect of a conflict between young and old.

This tendency to divide along other lines than of vocation, even though vocation is the issue, is more extensive than indicated by this one example. Wherever there are large-sized groups in fundamental disaccord within an institute, especially where there are many of no vocation, who will be profoundly threatened by the whole matter, tensions mount in all directions as the discordant groups pull apart. But such tensions produce “jagged” splits, which do not follow the natural lines of cleavage generated by God’s action. Instead, the real issue gets all mixed up with very human passions and psychological disturbances, hardly a situation in which any sort of discernment, even just a using of one’s head, is possible. Thus, such splits occur and yet the problems are unresolved, since each fragment still contains people of different vocational status. Separation is obviously the answer; yet this sort of separation is not, but
only one that is carefully and voluntarily planned for and chosen.

Lack of Basic Unity and the Presence of Non-vocations

But mistaken vocations of this sort are not the only problem, socially speaking,
nor even the most dangerous, jarring and startling though the strife they stir
up may be. If uncomplicated by other problems, they can be relatively easily
resolved, even as in the case of an individual. But the usual situation is the “pluralistic” one, where every sort of mistake and immaturity and inadequacy to threshold have been, even if with the greatest reluctance, allowed or tolerated.

As may be inferred from what has already been said about the harm done to those straitened people themselves, the overall social effect is one of decay of the institute, of degeneration and frittering disintegration ‒ a far piece from the glories of renewal. Two closely related phenomena seem to form the central element in this decline: the lowering and distortion of the threshold; the loss of specificity of the spirituality of the institute.xix

Lowering and Distortion of the Threshold

A good part of the process of decay is fairly obvious just on the grounds of the
psychological threshold. If those who are moving along in the institute are
immature or psychologically damaged, whether called or not, but more so if not,
then one begins to find people of all ages in those communities who have
interiorly buckled under the effort required and have regressed to some earlier
level of maturity or who, while steadily growing at last, have not yet come
near to catching up with the calendar.

The sad consequence of this is that these people eventually wind up in positions of considerable influence as superiors, spiritual directors, professors of
theology, and the like, partly by accident, partly because the institute is short of manpower, often by their own efforts. Too insecure to allow God to do with them what He pleases in terms of call, so they will not wait for His action as to their works or positions or “careers.” Thus, even some major superiors are not only not at what Eriksen calls the integrative level ‒ they have not yet arrived at “generativity,” that level at which, being able to love others, whether loved in return or not, people are psychologically ready and mature enough to accept responsibility for the lives of others and, like St. Paul, can rebuke and even punish, as charity may require, though loving more, in this way, they are loved the less by those they love.

So one finds the person in authority who acts “by the book,” an evenhanded
treatment of all uniformly and without concern or even thought for individual
differences and differing spiritual needs. More commonly these days, one sees
those in authority (often exactly the same people) who are engagingly
permissive and “individually concerned” so long as, again, a direct and
genuinely personal confrontation with others is avoided. Under either sort of
regime, subjects who are immature will be encouraged by the circumstance to
remain so. Long years after high school, then, one finds Religious still
struggling with elementary “identity” or “intimacy.” And often these are the
spiritual fathers and retreat directors of those coming up, hoping to learn how
to deal with their own problems from what they discover in those they would
claim to guide. The blind lead the blind, and the ditches are still not filled.

Further, those who enter, even though truly called, still have many facets of that call which they can only learn by living it under wise direction. Instead,
inexperienced in the spiritual life, the young Religious will hear, from the
first, divergent interpretations and understandings of the life. Their concrete
picture of the life will be composed only partly of what their founder and the
Church put there; the rest is filled in with their own attitudes and half­-conscious
assumptions. Aware of the many opinions and attitudes within their group, they
will come to regard unity in spirituality as unimportant, losing, before they know of its existence, the basis of spiritual community, save at the generic level of the total Christian community. Those without a call will patch together what they can that seems helpful but are little likely to find what will help them out of their bad situation.

Perhaps the commonest source of difficulty in practice is that one admits those who are well below threshold or retains those who retrogress below it in hopes of
nursing them along. The effect of this is simply to lower and distort the
threshold. But the threshold is merely the institute itself seen from the
perspective of its dynamics of formation for those who enter (see the detailed
discussion of this in GCMR, pp. 1093-4). To lower or distort the threshold is to downgrade or distort the inner spirit of the institute.

It is not possible, of course, to limit the downgrading of a communal life to its
effects on the single individual by himself. To the extent that it is truly
communal, it is necessarily downgraded for many. The tone and the typical
activity of each stage of formation, of each style of apostolate, is shifted a bit in this one direction. Also, precedents are set. Others are admitted no worse than this one… and, often, no better.

Loss of An Institute’s Specificity

Specificity suffers, of course, from any lowering of the threshold, but it suffers more, perhaps, from the presence of those who still have no call and so are
necessarily restless, always open to something else. The lower the degree of
specificity of what was a highly specific mode of life and spirituality, drawn
into existence by the power of our Lord through His Spirit, the more vocations
are being lost in a very profound sense: calls from God of this specific type are no longer being heard in the Church or, if heard, have no institutional locus, “no place to go.” The institute sinks into the quicksand of its own irresponsibility ‒ even if it has thousands of members, its particular charism and function in the Church is being allowed to disappear. But an organ of the Church that is no longer serving the Body is Within a short step of beginning to damage the Body by letting its own sickness infect others, its own disquiet show itself through that aberrant doctrine and behavior which do not reflect new insight but only the inner discomforts of those who can thus ease to some extent their misery.

What then? If there are true differences as to vocation within a single institute,
some of its members being called by God in one direction, some in others, some
suffering the lack of any call or frustrated by a threshold too for them, then any real effort at consensus, any real laboring to bring everyone to basic
agreement ‒ save as to the fact and nature of their basic incompatibility ‒ seems
gravely sinful, not perhaps in subjective conscience but objectively. It is a
direct refusal to accept what God’s grace is calling people to; it attempts to
form a unity that is flatly contrary to His will, seeking to make all go in one
direction where He is clearly asking them to go in several. To insist upon or
attempt to force consensus in such situations is a type of coercion which,
insofar as it is “successful,” can only be destructive. To work at this sort of
contrived consensus is merely to skin over the sores, letting them fester all
the more deeply. Refusing the one truth we are called upon to see, we render
phony all other efforts at healing. Such consensus-seeking blocks out God’s
light by suppressing the truth and refuses God’s love because He desires to
heal our wounds, even if by surgery. Totally different is the common effort to
work through the other kinds of conflict, where all parties work on the basis
of genuinely common ground to become what they desire and are desired by God to be. (Here, too, of course, malice and freely chosen ignorance can enter in. If
they do, they must be faced and regarded as such; but often we can help one
another out of such ill will through appeals to that which is best in each, his
love of Christ in accord with our common call.)

Thus, the fact of false vocation strongly affects the means that can be used for
renewal. Those means that help towards manifestation of a fundamental, already
existing consensus are highly desirable, even essential, where all have been
similarly called. But in an institute where God is calling people to more than
one way of life or where many have no call at all, the first, undertaking must
be to resolve that discordance by separation, division, or splitting,
individually or collectively. Sad to say, in many groups today, the drive for
consensus is being vigorously furthered precisely to avoid having to look at
and delve into such threatening questions. Yet such divisions not only help the
individuals involved, but are a great good for the Church, permitting new
growths and modifications which can meet new needs without loss of function in
older and still necessary organs. Franciscans (black and brown) and Capuchins,
Calced and Discalced Carmelites, Cistercians and Trappists, and in our own days
the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and the hermits of the Sahara, the
Sisters of Loretto and the Missionaries of Charity all attest and bear witness
to ‘the vivifying power of God’s grace when allowed to lead individuals or
groups away from their life together in response to His call.

As already remarked, if there are appreciable numbers of spurious vocations in an institute, any division which comes just because people finally explode tears apart both people and institutions and does next to nothing to meet the vocational problem itself due to the jaggedness of the tear. But divisions can also be planned and carefully worked for. The precise manner of preparing for separation in accord with the calls God has given (or not given) depends on the actual situation. Still, a few remarks can be made which have a certain generality of application.

Remarks on Planning for Separation

The fundamental aims are the same here, I think, as when helping individuals: calm lucidity, genuine repentance, public adjustment. But how bring these about in a whole institute?

Getting It into the Open

There is much debate whether these things should be brought up in public, even when abstractly considered. Could it help, for example, to bring up in a community meeting the possibility that a fair number of the people there do not belong there? I incline to those who would say yes to this, but only with the proviso that the discussion of these problems could be kept at the level of theory
only. Even so, it could terrify some; perhaps, in some degree, all. But, at
least, it gets the matter out of the darkness, out where it can be looked at
and talked about, where assumptions and presuppositions can be debated. When
later the topic becomes more concrete, people will not be taken Wholly by
surprise. They can even begin to work their way through it a bit on their own.
It is no longer untouchable, unmention­able.

It will be a sort of dying, but of the sort, I think, that Jesus urged upon us.
But, like any death, it is going to stir our denials of all, then fierce anger,
bargaining, and great depression, and then, at last, serene acceptance of the
truth. As with death, there is no point in arguing the matter, once it becomes
concrete. Then one can only help the person to live through the situation and
support him in his struggling.

Others argue no, it is too bruising, too damaging. If it is brought out into the open it just stimulates the building of enormous walls of resistance and immures
people behind stronger defenses than ever.

One trouble with this latter argument is that it is never supplemented by effective proposals as to how else to deal with the problem; for it must be dealt with. Further, it must be worked through individually with each person so far as the central portion of the struggle is concerned. But if the problem is worked on
solely with individuals and not socially and publicly addressed, then there
seems no conceivable way around the problem that every director runs into again and again: the community as a whole is unprepared for what needs to be done, they fail to understand it, they resist it as soon as one or two have begun to
face it, and build up very active defenses, forcing everything to a halt. It is
hard to see how they could do otherwise. For they have no effective concepts or
thought structures, or else very inadequate ones, for trying to deal with such
serious and painful problems. Public discussion has the virtue of helping those
who are not psychologically impaired to the categories in which to begin to
make sense of their own and others’ problems.

High-level and Individual-level Discussion

I should guess that, to obtain lucidity, the problem must first be officially and
publicly admitted at the highest levels of government of the institute. Some
sort of public discussion of the situation and of apparently useful
possibilities of approach would be carried out at that same level, and expert
help brought in for suggestions. But then the problem would be remanded somehow to the local level, whatever further work may continue at the higher, so that individuals can be helped, by whatever social means seem suitable in the light of the high­1evel discussions as well as by the standard ways of helping individuals.

I do not think that this individual-level effort might ever be skipped or treated
negligently, however much has to be handled at other levels. For, ultimately,
the whole problem is just that of many individuals who are presently elsewhere
than God would have them. Especially for those of no vocation or those whose
only call was to Christian adulthood, the prospects of separation and division
will be terribly threatening; only much individual charity and support is going
to make it tolerable and, finally, fruitful for their lives.

I should think, too, that some sort of overall statement of the possibilities
should be made very early, so that even the most threatened can see that there
will be no ejection of some by others, that none will be unprovided for.
Especially must the old and sick be taken care of; neither materially nor
spiritually can they be neglected or deserted, whether during preparation for
the separation or afterwards. In most cases, even so, the process is likely to
be very hard for them.

But in my judgment this should not prevent the question of vocation from being
raised. So long as the person is compos mentis, it seems essential for his growth and peace of soul to face the truth of his situation ‒ it is not something, after all, with which he is wholly unacquainted. Only so will he be able to deal with it and come to solid, practical judgments. The social effort is to enable each person to live with his own and others’ situations, in peace and repentance, and to serve God in the best way still open for him in the days that remain for his earthly service of his Lord. To refuse this duty of charity is like refusing to discuss the need of the last sacraments with a dying person. It is small charity to let a person
go to his grave and to his God all muddled up and perhaps in bad faith, still
not facing the truth of what lies at the center of his life if, on prudent judgment, it is still possible to help him at all.

Working Together Toward the Separation

Obviously, the atmosphere should be one wholly free of recrimination. If any of our analysis is correct, there is more than enough to repent of on all hands; no
one is in a position to throw the stone. Official acceptance by the institute
of the basic responsibility for its mistakes would be a good first step to
clear the air. All must come to see that it is a bad situation and seek to
change it together. The moment the question of separation is raised,
unfortunately, hackles rise: “Who are they to decide who is a good Trappistine,
a good Vincentian, a good BVM?” But that is clearly a false question. The real
question is, “How can we work together to help all of us live according to our
real calls or situations before God, without obscuring things by pretending?”
If the truth is what we have assumed it to be here, those without vocation
will, with assistance, see it as well as anyone else, unless they are
psychologically too ill to function. Then they must be told, while continuing
to be helped. But, under no conditions should there be set up some group whose
task would be, all armed with criteria and standards, to eliminate and expel
those who do not fit their norms.

The Matter of Timing

What of timing? The public broaching of the subject, I think, should occur as soon as can be arranged. But that done, with the clear intimation to all that things are seriously underway, then my own surmise would be that the less of a prescribed timetable there is, the better. When individuals or groups are ready to separate, the common good would suggest that this not be permitted till it is fairly clear that the others, at least of those who will be directly affected by the division in question, are also adequately prepared for it. On the other hand, long delays and dilly-dallying can hardly be allowed without making the situation worse for everyone. As soon as it is clear that all can swim or that there are lifeguards enough to care for those who cannot as yet, then the best way into the cold water is to jump.

Prayer for a Christian Separation

None of the above efforts, nor any others, can be fruitful unless done in the Lord,
in His manner, for His love, according to His will. If acting in such fashion
can be so hard in easier circumstances, all the more will we have to call upon
His grace in today’s tangles of difficulties. Hence, the principal “method” of
working for a truly Christian separation must always remain that of prayer,
especially the whole Church’s prayer in the Mass and penance. Since our
problems are social, so should be much of our penance and prayer; and we should ask our friends for their Masses and prayers, often much better than our own.

With His grace, then, we will be able to subject our personal opinions to His truth. By close union with Him we can avoid discouragement, even if it seems that He would indeed have our institute dissolve like salt in water (see GCMR, p. 1095). Easy though it is ‒ as some of the above pages may indicate ‒ to slide into grimness if one attends more to the evils present than to the greatness of God’s love, yet if we stand close to Him upon the cross, He will show us the cure for that too: how to love one another in His own truth. If we surrender ourselves to Him, His Spirit will lead us and we will have nothing to fear in any separations He asks of us.

Let us pray, then, and offer ourselves with Him daily at Mass that whatever
separation is needed come about with His peace and quiet charity, with no more
drama than when brothers and sisters leave home for college, jobs, and
marriage, loving each other as always, even when not much taken with their
in-laws. lf it seems wholly natural and right to us that diversity of vocation
should separate the members of a family and lead them in different directions,
we should he neither shocked nor surprised that we, who have been so close to
one another till now in our institute should, by God’s call, correcting our
mistakes, have yet to walk such different roads and move so far apart in space
and mode of life, though remaining close in affection. If God brings forth good
for those who love Him even out of our sins, to which His response was Christ,
He will not be less concerned to draw good from the mistakes we have made in
our efforts to serve Him.


i  Only vowed engagements are considered since only these offer a serious problem practically. If the person has not committed himself by vow, he is not, ordinarily, obligated to continue the way of life chosen. Whenever his situation is clarified, he may simply leave and start to live as God wills for him at the time.

ii  The above elements constitute a definition of “mistaken vocation” as we shall be using the term. As we shall see before long, there are other types of mistakes that can be made with regard to vocation which are not included in “mistaken vocation,” for example, “premature response.”

iii  The proverbial difficulty of effecting such a transfer is not without its reasons which we will consider shortly.

iv The pain and harm resulting from these problems were, of course, evident; but the categories for dealing with them and making them visible and theologically graspable had been too badly melted down over the centuries and blunted to be of use.

v  In much current discussion, questions of vocation become insoluble since the call is seen as if with only two components: the sincerity and good faith of the individual and the (permissive) will of God.

vi  It will be taken for granted here and in all that follows that suitable psychological counseling, or psychiatric help when needed, will be begun as so0n as possible. Such psychological assistance, however, should never be permitted to delay dismissal, still less to avoid it.

vii Such duplicity can also render vows invalid so that much of what is said here will apply no matter how far along they have gone, save for the complications of the priesthood. Obviously, a canonist should be consulted to know what sort of evidence is needed for action in the external forum and what sort of steps to take. Usually there will also be rather serious psychological problems which call for psychiatric care.

viii One must, of course, have expended considerable effort to gather and assess all the available evidence. This pastoral assumption is only meant to avoid theological disputation and resultant inaction; ii cannot be used to avoid the hard labor of discovering the facts. The aid of skilled directors, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists is needed. The spiritual notes, if available, of the Religious
himself should be sought and his memory jogged, as also the memories of his
classmates, friends, directors, and superiors, for recollections from that
period-assuming that he gives whatever permissions may be needed. Nor should
his intervening history be neglected. A certain deliberateness in the process need not ordinarily be hurtful if the time is spent in continually recalling the man to his fundamental self.

ix “Dismissal” seems the only word we have in English for such a separation which does not necessarily imply, in common language at least, a personal antipathy, rejection, or punitive element which any technical term such as
“secularization” seems automatically to inject. Unfortunately, “dismissal,”
when used with regard to those whose vows are permanent, is taken by many to
imply full canonical trials with antecedent warnings, records of
incorrigibility, and the like, What has happened, I believe, is that the
canonical “dimissio”‒ better translated in this context by “expulsion”‒ was
replaced by its English cognate, this being, thus, so restricted as to make of it a purely technical term, leaving us no generic, common-language word at all.
Rather than risk confusing things further, I shall conform to such usage in this article–but under protest, with the insistence that “secularize,” at least, be taken as purely factual and emotionally neutral.

x  There was a time when it was a common method. It was, seemingly, the preferred method of St. Francis Xavier who permitted return of Jesuits to secular states only because this other possibility was not generally open to them in the scattered Christian settlements of Asia.

xi Care must be taken to prevent the busybodies and the gossips from doing harm; some orders under obedience to these people and some salutary punishments (themselves public) could go far to dampen in that line.

xii The judgment that someone is not at threshold should not be based simply on the statements of the person himself, but requires the sort of probative evidence needed for moral certitude, Pressed hard enough by circumstances, most Religious might seem, for a time, unable to live the life. I will discuss this in more detail later.

xiii Retention as a positive solution (cf. II, B. l) depends on the person’s being more or less at the threshold of his institute.

xiv If the person will not be sent away, then indeed he should be allowed to present his case: if need be, to use the canonical form of trial; to have the psychologists and the psychiatrists brought in; and the like.

xv Of course, any number of attitudes which militate directly against all that interests us in this area flourish among present-day psychologists, men for whom, often, freedom is meaningless, where a celibate life is automatically seen as harmful to anyone, where a vow of obedience is necessarily stultifying of maturity and growth. But if one can a psychologist who properly respects and takes account practically of the value and role of human liberty, he should be consulted in all these cases.

xvi Today, the Code requires a canonical trial for those bound by solemn vows in the Society of Jesus; and some form of trial is, I believe, required, outside the Society, for all with final vows. The canonical trial is needed primarily to protect people against overly severe or arbitrary action, to safeguard the Religious trying to live the rule in a lax community or, on occasion, to silence others of the
community who resent and oppose the move to dismiss. The trial has also a
coercive aspect as the only way an institute can force secularization upon the

xvii Canonical trials are out of place ordinarily in our present context. But a canonical requirement as to ascertaining the facts of a case by some sort of panel would seem advantageous so long as it is composed of people competent in the spirituality of that institute, especially as to its threshold, and in clinical psychology or psychiatry. One man, also, should be charged with assembling evidence concerning the person’s previous history.

xviii It is the interior quality of his activity and choices that is in question here. All
sorts of reasons, excellent from an order’s spiritual viewpoint, can call, in
particular circumstances, for an externally “secular” life style.

xix Just as all kinds of dissension arise which are only distantly, if at all, related to
problems of call, so, even more, are there factors of decay and decline of an
institute which are not provoked by vocational problems. Likewise, all modes of
long-standing dissension or of untreated decay, whatever their source, will
seriously damage the institute by generating, among other things, serious
problems for both the personal and the communal (or authoritative) discernment of God’s call. Space precludes treating these interesting topics here.

In German: