Sunday, 5 August 2018

St. Thomas More and Religious Liberty

Fr. Raymond de Suza points to the clarity of vision that St. Thomas More gives to us.  In a recent article in the Catholic Herald he illustrates:
Thomas More was executed on July 6, 1535. At that time the liturgical calendar marked July 6 as the octave day for Ss Peter and Paul. In his last letter, written on July 5, More hopes for a speedy death, and notes that it is already the “[vigil] of St Peter”. No doubt it brought him consolation to know that he was executed for his loyalty to the Successor of St Peter on a feast of Peter himself.
So we can agree that St Thomas died for the divine constitution of the Church and the Petrine office, and for the indissolubility of marriage. Yet to understand him as a martyr for conscience does not diminish that.
When the American bishops first proposed an annual campaign for religious liberty to begin with the feast of Fisher and More – now observed on June 22, the date of Fisher’s execution – the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made . . .  the point that Thomas More was not really a martyr for the rights of conscience.
But St John Paul II took a different view when in October 2000 he declared St Thomas the patron saint of statesmen and politicians, beginning his apostolic letter with the words: [The life and martyrdom of St Thomas More … speaks to people everywhere] of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience.
“What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality,” the Holy Father continued. “And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is ‘the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul’ [Veritatis Splendor, 58], even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.”
Certainly in the 16th century our concept of religious liberty was not held by St Thomas More, nor anyone else. He did believe strongly in the liberty of the Church, from which religious liberty of individuals developed. The understanding of state and sovereign, amid the upheaval of the Reformation, was radically changing, and would continue to change as the Christian concept of the state as a sacral actor gave way to the modern state as a rival, not ally, of the Christian faith.
Every martyr dies for a particular issue. But fidelity to that issue to the point of shedding of the blood is also a heroic exercise of conscience. The same is true today when the rights of conscience are denied. The issue may be marriage, or the sanctity of life, or the sacramental seal of Confession – but it is also a violation of conscience.
One final thing [the words of St Thomas at his execution]: “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” That’s the play A Man for All Seasons, not history. It’s a mistake I made until the recent exhibition on More in Washington revealed the truth – More said “and” not “but”. He died the king’s servant, and God’s. Just as he died for Catholic truth and conscience.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario.

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Sunday Obligation

Father Hunwicke has posted this very helpful quotation from the great Anglican Benedictine and mystagogue Dom Gregory Dix. It explains why every Christian is obliged to be at Mass every Sunday:

"To secure [the Sunday Corporate Eucharist] a whole congregation of obscure provincials at Abilinitina in Africa took the risk of almost certain detection by assembling at the height of the Diocletian persecution in their own town, where the authorities were on the watch for them, because, as they said in court, the eucharist had been lacking a long while through the apostasy of their bishop Fundanus, and they could no longer bear the lack of it. And so they called on a presbyter to celebrate - and paid the penalty of their faith to a man. ... 

"The christian came to the eucharist, not indeed 'to learn something', for faith was presupposed, but certainly not to seek a psychological thrill. He came simply to do something, which he conceived he had an overwhelming personal duty to do, come what may. 

"What brought him to the eucharist week by week, despite all dangers and inconveniences, was no thrill provoked by the service itself, which was bare and unimpressive to the point of dullness, and would soon lose any attraction of novelty. Nor yet was it a longing for personal communion with God, which he could and did fulfil otherwise in his his daily communion from the reserved sacrament at home. What brought him was an intense belief that in the eucharistic action of the Body of Christ, as in no other way, he himself took part in that act of sacrificial obedience to the will of God which was consummated on Calvary and which had redeemed the world, including himself. What brought him was the conviction that there rested on each of the redeemed an absolute necessity to take his own part in the self-offering of Christ, a necessity more binding even than the instinct of self-preservation.

"Simply as members of Christ's body, the church, all christians must do this, and they can do it in no other way than that which was the last command of Jesus to his own. That rule of the absolute obligation upon each of the faithful of presence at Sunday mass under pain of mortal sin,which seems so mechanical and formal to the protestant, is something which was burned into the corporate mind of historic christendom in the centuries between Nero and Diocletian, but it rests upon something more evangelical and more profound than historical memories. It expresses as nothing else can the whole new testament doctrine of redemption; of Jesus, God and Man, as the only saviour of mankind, who intends to draw all men to him by his sacrificial and atoning death; and of the church as the communion of redeemed sinnners, the body of Christ, corporately invested with his own mission of salvation to the world."

Friday, 8 June 2018


Friday, June 22 at 8:00 pm

Propers for the Feast of All Saints 
William Byrd
Missa "Gaudeamus" 
Ave Verum Corpus 
Music by Bruckner & Stanford.  

Peter Bishop, Director 
Aaron James, Guest Organist


Sunday, June 24 at 12:30 pm


Saturday, 12 May 2018

Pentecost Novena: May 12 - 20, A.D. 2018

As we prepare for Pentecost Sunday with the reception and Confirmation of members of  the Catholic Parish of St. Thomas More Church, Toronto, we ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we discern the way forward for our ministry in the city.

The following Novena to the Holy Spirit (nine days of prayer) is one of the first novenas composed.  The novena joins our prayers with those of Our Holy Mother and the apostles.


In the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Each day, the Novena begins with this prayer:

O HOLY SPIRIT, our Lord and our God, we adore thee and humbly acknowledge here in thy sacred presence that we are nothing, and can do nothing, without thine operation within us. Come, great Paraclete, thou Father of the poor, thou Comforter of the blest, fulfill the promise of our Saviour, who would not leave us orphans. Enter our minds and hearts as thou didst descend on the day of Pentecost upon the Holy Mother of Jesus and upon his first disciples. Grant that we may have a part in those gifts which thou didst so graciously bestow upon them.

Take from our hearts all that is not pleasing to thee and make of them a worthy dwelling-place for Jesus. Illumine our minds, that we may see and understand the things that are for our eternal welfare. Inflame our hearts with the pure love of the Father, that, cleansed from attachments to all unworthy objects, our lives may be hidden with Jesus in God. Strengthen our wills, that they may be conformed to the will of our Creator and guided by thy holy inspirations. Aid us to practice the heavenly virtues of humility, poverty, and obedience which are taught to us in the earthly life of Jesus.

Descend upon us, O mighty Spirit, that, inspired and encouraged by thee, we may faithfully fulfill the duties of our various states in life, carry our particular crosses with patience and courage, and accomplish the Father's will for us more perfectly. Make us, day by day, more holy and give to us that heavenly peace which the world cannot give.

O Holy Spirit, thou Giver of every good and perfect gift, grant to us the special intentions of this novena of prayer. May the Father's will be done in us and through us; and mayest thou, O mighty Spirit of the living God, be praised and glorified for ever and ever. Amen.

Here is said or sung the Veni Creator Spiritus: 

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,

and lighten with celestial fire,

thou the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Thy bless├ęd unction from above, 

is comfort, life, and fire of love,

enable with perpetual light

the dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face

with the abundance of thy grace.

Keep far our foes, give peace at home;

where thou art Guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,

and thee, of both, to be but One;

that through the ages all along,

this may be our endless song:

Praise to thine eternal merit,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

OUR FATHER, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

HAIL MARY, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Here is said the Proper Prayer for the Day:


Come, O Holy Ghost, the Lord and Lifegiver; take up thy dwelling within our souls, and make of them thy sacred home. Make us live by grace as adopted children of God. Pervade all the energies of our souls, and create in us fountains of living water, springing up unto eternal life.


Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to our souls the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, and power, and beauty. Teach us to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Show us the way by which we may be able to attain to them, and possess them, and hold them hereafter, our own forever.


Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation, and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have the clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.


Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide us in all our ways, that we may always do thy holy will. Incline our hearts to that which is good, turn them away from all that is evil, and direct us by the path of thy commandments to the goal of eternal life.


Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and give courage to our souls. Make our hearts strong in all trials and in all distress, pouring forth abundantly into them the gifts of strength, that we may be able to resist the attacks of the devil.


Come, O Spirit of Knowledge, and make us to understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give us grace to use the world only for thy glory and the salvation of thy creatures. May we always be faithful in putting thy rewards before every earthly gift.


Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess our hearts, and incline them to a true faith in thee, to a holy love of thee, our God. Give us thy grace, that we may seek thee and find thee, our best and our truest joy.


Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate our inmost hearts, that we may set thee, our Lord and God, before our faces forever; and shun all things that can offend thee, so that we may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens.


Come, O Holy Comforter, and grant us a desire for holy things. Produce in our souls the fruits of virtue, so that, being filled with all sweetness and joy in the pursuit of good, we may attain unto eternal blessedness.

The following prayer concludes the Novena each day:

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth with thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, 20 April 2018


Please pray for the healing of Murray O'Coin, chosen to be ordained Deacon for Christ the King, Tyendinaga.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Through the intercession of our Lady of Walsingham, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Thomas More and Blessed John Henry Newman we ask God to restore Murray O'Coin whom you have called to be a Deacon in the Catholic Church to health and strength to serve our Lord. 
Let us pray.

God our Father, you granted to your servant Blessed John Henry Newman wonderful gifts of nature and of grace, that he should be a spiritual light in the darkness of this world, an eloquent herald of the Gospel, and a devoted servant of the one Church of Christ.
With confidence in his heavenly intercession, we make the following petition for the healing of Murray and strength to serve his family and the mission of Christ the King, Tyendinaga.
We give thanks for the insight into the mysteries of the kingdom of Blessed JHN who was zealous in defense of the teachings of the Church, and in his priestly love for each of your children; we pray that he may soon be numbered among the Saints.We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our Father,   Hail Mary,   Glory be.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Ascension Day D.W. Sung Mass at Newman Centre, Toronto

The choir of the Catholic Parish of St. Thomas More, OCSP, will sing Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal - the (Anglican) Ordinariate rite in conformity with the norms of the Holy See.

The Newman Centre is at the corner of St. George and Harbord Streets on the campus of the University of Toronto.

Faith in the Public Square

Come and hear the Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett - Program Director for Cardus Law was
ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. 

Canada's first Ambassador for Religious Freedom and Head of the Office of Religious Freedom from 2013 - 2016.

For details click below.

Defending Faith in the Public Square

Friday, 6 April 2018

The Spiritual and Philosophical Roots of Social Insecurity in the West

Voters in the West are increasingly rejecting establishment parties despite warnings by the mainstream media and the liberal social elite. 

Brexit along with demands for less regulation from other European Union countries goes contrary to the narrative painted by the centre left for several generations. Yet these challenges have not led to famine, war, or depression. As with Climate Change, there are endless predictions of disasters from the “chattering classes.” 

Great Britain is forging its own fiscal, trade, immigration, and cultural policies while life on the ground suggests life goes on. The most likely result of Brexit will be a reshuffling of economic winners and losers in a British economy that remains deeply integrated into the global system, and a moderate cultural rebalancing in the direction of national solidarity and control of immigration so that newcomers may integrate more readily rather than hiving off into ghettos of resentment.

Why is there such hysteria amongst the media and elites then?  There are real problems in Western society but the elites do not discuss the roots of these problems. The decline in birthrates and life expectancy in most Western countries are fundamental problems.  Young people in Canada and the US have huge student loan debts. Polls show historically low levels of approval for political institutions in the West, and voters are looking for alternatives to liberal media nostrums.

In a recent article, Goodbye Heraclitus, Rusty Reno makes some important comments regarding the spiritual and philosophical roots of the present malaise stemming, as it does, from various sources including court decisions and political maneuvering that favours group rights for so-called distinct “communities” in Western countries which focus maniacally on identity and create the concomitant coercive identity politics while ignoring universal truths (supposedly deconstructed by Marxist post-modernists).

The elites in Britain, Canada, the US, Germany and other economically powerful nations appear increasingly disturbed by the development of populist alternatives but don’t seem to be able to address the situation successfully. 

Some public thinkers such as  Dr. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto are calling the bluff and seem to have hit a vein of powerful opposition to the materialist, deconstructionist identity extremists who want to shut down discussion on the university campuses and in public fora.

Reflecting upon the advent of the ideologies of globalism, diversity and "inclusivism", Reno highlights the fundamental principles at work. The article is excerpted (bolding is mine):

“. . . . We are not on the brink of becoming a police state or an ethno-nationalist monoculture; nor are we returning to 1930s isolationism or nineteenth-century protectionism. What ails our society is a loss of solidarity, stemming from the decline of a confident middle class and the ascendancy of an unaccountable, globalized oligarchy—a condition that goes unaddressed while our leaders direct our attention to nightmares. 

Their end-of-days mentality is worse than irrelevant. Our leaders have become hysterical because the postwar era is ending, and the political wisdom they took for granted is losing its salience.

The consensus forged in the decades after World War II emphasizes deconsolidation, openness, and fluidity. Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers refers to the postwar era as an “age of fracture,” an image taken up by Yuval Levin in his perceptive study of our current politics, The Fractured Republic. I prefer to call the last seventy years “the Heraclitean age,”recalling Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher who said, “All is flux.” For the postwar era has largely affirmed flux as the beneficial, even indispensable, source of economic, cultural, and moral advancement.

The Heraclitean affirmation of openness and fluidity has been the stable center of our political debates for seventy years, not just in the United States but in the West broadly. But now the settled political and cultural convictions of our leaders have become decadent. Liberals press for ever greater cultural openness—and we are frustrated by politically correct policing, set further adrift in a deregulated culture, and undermined in our already frayed solidarity. Conservatives give the Heraclitean consensus a different inflection, emphasizing economic deregulation—in a society already transformed, and often damaged, by globalization.

This historically conditioned consensus is dying, not our tolerant culture and commitment to freedom. A set of political priorities unique to the postwar era is in crisis, not our constitutional system and liberal democratic norms.

The symbolic beginning of our Heraclitean age was the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1943 case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Three years earlier, after a decadelong struggle against economic depression and on the eve of a global war, the Supreme Court had decided Minersville School District v. Gobitis, ruling that the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses could be forced to pledge allegiance to the flag at the beginning of the school day. That decision reflected the consensus of the time, which was one of consolidation, or as Justice Felix Frankfurter put it, encouraging the “cohesive sentiment,” which he held to be “the ultimate foundation of a free society.”

In the Barnette decision, the Court reversed itself, ruling that children should not be forced to salute the flag and recite the pledge. The majority opinion rejected the use of coercion to achieve social unity. With a totalitarian enemy clearly in view, the majority opinion explicitly warns against nationalism as a danger to be guarded against. 

As Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

This swing from worries about insufficient solidarity to the dangers of compelled unity was a harbinger of the consensus to come. The postwar consensus has a center-left and a center-right inflection, but in both instances it gives priority to deconsolidating, deregulating initiatives that loosen the constraints the body politic puts on us.

In the immediate postwar era, the United States remained highly consolidated. Roosevelt’s programs to combat the Great Depression and mobilize for World War II had transformed our economy into a system dominated by large companies that worked closely with government planners. The Cold War encouraged strong affirmations of American patriotism, a consolidating imperative, and the hot war in Korea kept many economic controls in place, justified by the demands of national security. Postwar consolidation was cultural, as well. Mass media came to focus on a narrow range of hit songs and popular TV shows. 

In this environment, Supreme Court justices weren’t the only ones worried about the dangers of over-consolidation. As World War II ended, Karl Popper published The Open Society and Its Enemies and Friedrich Hayek The Road to Serfdom. The two authors had different views on politics, but they were united in their anxiety about the threats posed by a superordinate, consolidating Leviathan. Liberal commentators of the 1950s wrote books such as The Lonely Crowd and The Organization Man, lamenting soul-sapping conformism. The 1950s also saw William F. Buckley Jr. contrast collectivism with individualism in God and Man at Yale—an indication of the breadth of the emerging consensus for deconsolidation.

The strongest deconsolidating imperative to emerge in this era was anti-discrimination. We are so thoroughly formed by the postwar consensus that we take this imperative for granted, yet it came to prominence for historical reasons. In the early twentieth century, many elites had regarded the exploitation of the working class as the most pressing assault on human dignity. The relatively stable partnership between labor and capital established by the New Deal made the problem of the exploitation of the working class less urgent. 

After World War II, the focus shifted to racial discrimination, and by the 1960s, anti-discrimination had become a priority of singular importance. Racism discredited America internationally and gave a propaganda advantage to the Soviet Union. Nonviolent protests put the brutality of racism in the public eye domestically, and riots in Watts and elsewhere threatened to tear the social fabric. These factors shuffled political priorities within America’s leadership class. Ending racial discrimination emerged as a central bipartisan imperative. Soon discrimination against women became a matter of concern as well, and later, discrimination against gays and lesbians. By the last decade of the twentieth century, anti-discrimination had become a dogma. The slightest heterodoxy brings severe condemnation.

. . . .efforts were made to promote equality between the sexes. Indeed, feminism required even greater cultural deconsolidation, for unlike race, the difference between men and women is assumed by long-standing traditional norms that regulate many areas of life, especially courtship, sex, and the household. These norms had to be made more plastic, if not removed altogether. The imperative of greater fluidity is more obvious still in campaigns for gay rights and transgender rights.

Cultural deregulation came to the fore in the 1960s, driven by the New Left.

. . . . Since 1945, our cultural politics has largely been about what, when, and how much to deconsolidate.

Economic deregulation has enjoyed a similar consensus. Reaganomics was a further stage of a process that had begun when the Truman administration released Detroit from its wartime quotas to return to building cars for consumers. Jimmy Carter authorized the deregulation of airlines and other government-guaranteed cartels. Then came welfare reform, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and NAFTA. Over the last generation, most center-right and center-left leaders have agreed that we need to break down barriers, expand choice, and reduce the interference of government in free-market exchanges.

As the last century ended, this consensus hardened into dogma. Just as “diversity” became a buzzword for describing the kind of culture we want, “innovation” became a buzzword for the economy. Both terms connote fluidity, openness, and beneficent change. Left and right have increasingly united around the ideal of a “borderless world,” with the left seeing this ideal in cultural terms and the right in economic terms. But even that distinction gets blurred. Addressing the United Nations after the fall of the Berlin Wall, George H. W. Bush envisioned “a world of open borders, open trade, and, most importantly, open minds.” Today, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reflect this globalist outlook, one in which the formerly closed and consolidated nations of the world evolve toward fluidity and inclusivity.

Within this Heraclitean consensus, intense political battles have been fought. The American left has tended to emphasize cultural deregulation, and the American right presses for economic deregulation. The left wants less rapid and more narrowly targeted economic deregulation, and the right wants less rapid and more narrowly targeted cultural deregulation. Despite their differences, both sides have assumed, all things considered, that flux is best. Our culture should become more welcoming and inclusive; our economy needs to be more innovative and dynamic. Most of us feel the power of the consensus. These affirmations seem normal, natural, and right.

A healthy society develops and sustains a deep consensus, one that stabilizes struggles for political power. So it is not surprising that the boni, the good people, affirm the Heraclitean consensus and its combination of cultural and economic openness. In this consensus, radical libertarians are considered clubbable . . . . Yale economics professor Robert Shiller can explain why national borders violate the proper universality of moral duty. Radical multiculturalists are also acceptable.The ultra-establishment Ford Foundation funds activists—the cultural mirror images of Shiller—who argue that traditional moral boundaries suppress diversity.

Our universities favor the left, but that’s not decisive [Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto is a notable exception]. Far more important is the fact that they are establishment institutions dominated by the Heraclitean consensus. Deregulatory conservatism may not be warmly welcomed by liberals who control the universities, but it is not anathematized. Meanwhile, positions that contradict the Heraclitean consensus are denounced as profound threats to human decency [Note Dr. Peterson’s challenge to the Marxist-inspired transgender and linguistic ideologies].

To speak against “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “openness” gets you in trouble.It’s quite simply impossible to get a job in mainstream academia if you are known to hold the view that sodomy is a sin.

It is inconvenient for today’s establishment to face the contradiction that they must exclude those who are not advocates of inclusion. But we make a mistake if we imagine this contradiction to be a serious flaw. A social consensus is not a political philosophy. It seeks to establish all-things-considered priorities, not first principles. The Heraclitean consensus has always admitted of exceptions. We need openness and diversity—except when we don’t. The inconsistencies in the postwar consensus were always there. The problem is that the consensus isn’t working well. What made sense in 1965 and 1980 no longer does. Efforts to create still greater openness and dynamism now undermine the common good.

. . . . A cultural chasm compounds the economic one. Charles Murray has documented shocking differences in rates of divorce, illegitimate births, churchgoing, civic involvement, labor participation, and other indicators of flourishing. Well-to-do and well-educated Americans manage reasonably well in our deregulated culture, while those at the bottom of the social scale increasingly live dysfunctional lives in dysfunctional communities. As data analyses by Anne Case and Angus Deaton show, white males with a high school diploma or less education are significantly more likely to die of drug overdose, suicide, or alcohol-related disease than those with four-year college degrees or more. The problems of working-class dysfunction and diminished solidarity were encouraged by the postwar consensus that has favored economic deregulation and cultural deregulation.

The main elements of the postwar consensus were not in themselves wrongheaded. Economic deregulation was a fitting imperative some decades ago. The same can be said for anti-discrimination and its efforts to deregulate culture. These efforts remain useful. We should continue to repeal bad regulations and work against unjust discrimination. But a political consensus establishes priorities, and the priorities of the postwar consensus are out of sync with present realities. Today, our problems almost all flow from too much flux and too little fixity.

For this reason, the preoccupations of liberal and conservative establishments are no longer plausible. Their blindness to reality now destabilizes our political culture. An atmosphere of unreality obtains when newspapers preoccupy themselves with stories about female representation in C-suites—as if the great social problem our society faces is whether already very rich women can get even richer.

. . . . Calls for trigger warnings and safe spaces, as well as denunciations of cultural appropriation, express a desire for security, repose, and an inheritance that cannot be taken away from us. Something similar is at work in white nationalism, which likewise seeks to recover a “safe space” and protect a heritage from appropriation. This odd convergence of extremes indicates that our main problems are not rigidity, over-consolidation, and a lack of openness. 2018 is not 1958. We are afflicted by insecurity, fears of homelessness, and the suspicion that we have nothing honorable to pass on to our children. These afflictions, fears, and suspicions give rise to perverse positions and movements on the extremes of public life.

Not a month goes by without the publication of an article warning about the rise of “illiberalism” or a book telling us how to resist the new fascism. But our liberal traditions are not failing. Democracy is not being overthrown. The main features of our market-based economy remain unquestioned by all but a few on the margins. Our disorientation has a more proximate cause.

Our elites are half-aware of truths that are too painful to admit. Asthe data pile up, can a serious conservative avoid the thought that free-market platitudes now serve the interests of technology monopolies like Google far more than aspiring entrepreneurs in Michigan? Surely the furor on some university campuses makes a serious liberal worry that multiculturalism has gone too far. And the same liberal must know that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s cynical use of its legacy shows how decadent the anti-racism imperative has become.

These suspicions implicate us, for we are among the boni, the “indispensables,” those who articulate and enforce the postwar consensus. As it is failing, we are failing. As it falls, we fall. This explains the anxiety, even hysteria, so evident among once sober-minded people who regard themselves as guardians of responsible politics and civic decency. The hysteria seeks to reinvigorate the Heraclitean consensus by conjuring old threats. Members of cultural and political establishments throughout the West want to believe the 1930s are returning. If this were true, it would vindicate our ongoing loyalty to openness, fluidity, and other motifs of deconsolidation. But we are not living in 1938. The Women’s March last winter was, in the strict sense of the term, conservative. It was organized not to advance any particular cause, but to defend the Heraclitean consensus. The puerile hats and vulgar language evoked an aging generation’s belief in the power of transgression to shatter limits and expand boundaries.

The rhetoric of crisis and calls for resistance emanate from the top of society, especially the center-left establishmentthat has set the cultural tone for the last seventy years, not from the middle or bottom of society. This is another sign that the ruling consensus is in trouble, not our fundamental institutions or norms.

We cannot continue to preach Heraclitus. The economic and social realities of our time call for a new consensus, one oriented to solidarity. This does not mean turning our backs on the achievements of the postwar era, which are substantial and should be cherished. Our more inclusive social consensus is a gain. Our more dynamic economy is worth celebrating. But in public life, successes often bring new problems. This is our situation. The time has come to shore up the symbols and institutions that unite us. This means relaxing the grip of Heraclitus on our political and cultural imaginations.

Outrage, denunciation, and warnings about impending political disaster have been constant for nearly two years, in an impressive display of bipartisan unity. But that unity within the ruling class has been shown to be politically impotent, and its impotence foretells the arrival of a new consensus. My wager is that it will be one that does justice to truths taught by Parmenides, who argued that permanence and changelessness undergird reality. To lash a society too closely to what is unchanging makes it rigid, unwelcoming, and unproductive. But to become unmoored makes us atomized, homeless, and insecure.

Whatever one thinks about particular candidates or policies, we as religious people should now welcome the end of the postwar era. In its present, decadent phase, the Heraclitean consensus erodes all claims of permanence.It redescribes the objectivity of moral truth as a source of discrimination and an enemy of human flourishing. To be “judgmental” is to sin against openness.

This consensus debilitates our religious communities from within, as well. The Heraclitean consensus has eroded biblical authority and doctrinal stability. As Matthew Rose has recounted, the Death of God theologians presented the Heraclitean renunciation of all lasting power, authority, and existence as the fulfillment, not the negation, of the gospel. Others have been less metaphysically ambitious, but the general tendency in the churches has been to sell doctrinal flexibility and moral “openness” as a fitting way to update Christianity for the modern age.

Let us seek our way forward with open eyes. The postwar consensus was formed to address real problems—yesterday’s problems. Now we must shore up what remains of lasting loyalty, trustworthy solidarity, and things that are solid and enduring. At the end of the age of Heraclitus, we need to recover the wisdom of Parmenides.”

R. R. Reno is the editor of First Things.

Friday, 30 March 2018


12:30 noon 
263 Roncesvalles, Toronto

Mass for Five Voices – William Byrd 

Regina caeli – Francesco Soriano
Terra tremuit – Byrd

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Holy Week and 50 years of Humanae Vitae

This Holy Week we  contemplate Mary Eberstadt’s compelling, hard-hitting analysis of the sterility and loneliness of Western societies in light of Humanae Vitae, the most controversial and disputed document of modern times. Her article includes, sadly, a devastating analysis of the decline and fall of the Anglican Communion.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute and author of : How the West Really Lost God and Adam and Eve After the Pill.

Previously on this blog we gave an excerpted version of her 2008 article on the 40th anniversary of the encyclical.  Following is an excerpted version of her 2018 article (5oth anniversary) in FIRST THINGS: 
(The bolding is ours.)

One recurring theme in Pope Francis’s teaching is that human realities trump scholarly abstractions: “La realidad es superior a la idea.” His signature phrase about pastors who have the “smell of the sheep” is the folk version of this maxim. Cautions about “rigidity,” “empty rhetoric,” and getting “stuck in pure ideas” appear often in his work, and in that of his inner circle, too. What matters most are “the realities people face in their daily lives,” as Blase Cardinal Cupich put it in a speech at Cambridge recently.

Attention to “reality” is especially fitting as we mark this fiftieth anniversary year of one of the most famous, and infamous, encyclicals in church history. Ten years ago, on its fortieth anniversary, FIRST THINGS published an essay of mine called “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae.” Citing contemporary evidence from many sources, including sociology, psychology, history, and contemporary women’s literature, I argued:

Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force, but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church.

Of course, to say that proof abounds is not to say that a valid argument falls always and everywhere on happy ears—not fifty years ago, not ten years ago, and not today. The promise of sex on demand, unencumbered by constraint, may be the strongest collective temptation humanity has ever encountered. That’s why, since the invention of the birth control pill, resistance to the traditional Christian code has been unremittingly ferocious, and why so many in the laity and clergy wish that this rule—among others—were less taxing. As the disciples of Jesus Christ complained upon hearing his teaching about marriage, these lessons are “hard.”

But to confuse “hard” with “wrong” is a fundamental error. If we are truly to lean into realidades, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from the mass of empirical evidence now out there. It’s the same conclusion that was visible ten years ago, and that will remain visible ten, or one hundred, or two hundred years from now. It’s simply this: The most globally reviled and widely misunderstood document of the last half century is also the most prophetic and explanatory of our time.

Let us set aside theology, philosophy, ideology, and other abstractions and count up the new realities vindicating Humanae Vitae, one by one.

1)  The first empirical reality is this: If we leave out individual intentions and assess nothing but uncontroversial facts, it is transparently clear that the increased use of contraception has also increased abortion. Fifty years ago, when contraception became commonplace, many people of good will defended it precisely for the reason that they thought it would render abortion obsolete. Reliable birth control, they reasoned, would prevent abortion. But the statistical record since the 1960s shows this commonly held logic to be wrong. Many studies have emanated from the social sciences during the past decades trying to explain what secular wisdom regards as a puzzling fact. Far from preventing abortion and unplanned pregnancies, contraception’s effects after the invention of the pill ran quite the other way: Rates of contraception usage, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births all exploded simultaneously.

Writing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics twenty-two years ago, economists George A. Akerlof, Janet L. Yellen, and Michael L. Katz summarized these unexpected connections:

Before the sexual revolution, women had less freedom, but men were expected to assume responsibility for their welfare. Today women are more free to choose, but men have afforded themselves the comparable option. “If she is not willing to have an abortion or use contraception,” the man can reason, “why should I sacrifice myself to get married?” By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.

In other words, contraception has led to more pregnancy and more abortion because it eroded the idea that men had equal responsibility in case of an unplanned pregnancy. Contraception, as these economists explain, sharply reduced the incentive for men to marry—including to marry their pregnant girlfriends. In the new, post-pill order, pregnancy became the woman’s responsibility—and if birth control “failed,” that was not the man’s problem.

2)  Then there is the fact that contraception and abortion are bound together juridically.

As Michael Pakaluk, among other scholars, has recently pointed out:

As regards jurisprudence, the fruit of contraception is abortion. Until the 1960s, Comstock Act laws were on the books in many states, making the sale of contraceptives illegal even to married couples. These laws were overturned in 1965 by the Supreme Court’s muddled Griswold decision. But by 1973—only eight years later—the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade had inferred from the right to contraception a right to abortion.

Putting that point differently: Legal reasoning justifying freedom to contracept has been used to justify freedom to abort—a linkage that undermines the claim that a hard-and-fast line can be drawn between the two. Or, we might say, freedom to contracept was not enough. People needed the added freedom to terminate a product of failed contraception. History connects the same causal dots. The push to liberalize abortion laws in countries around the world did not begin until the first third of the twentieth century, as birth control devices came into wider circulation, and American states did not start liberalizing abortion laws until after the federal approval of the birth control pill in 1960. Roe v. Wade comes after the pill, not before. As a matter of historical fact, the mass use of contraception called forth the demand for more abortion.

Writing in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly in 2015, researcher Scott Lloyd likewise concluded that contraception leads to abortion—not inevitably in individual cases, of course, but repeatedly and reliably as twinned social phenomena: “Because the lower risk perceived with contraceptives enables sexual encounters and relationships that would not occur otherwise, it invites pregnancies that occur in situations where women do not feel ready to become pregnant.”

As we review the record, mercy and forgiveness are patently in order—toward the postwar generation that championed contraception, that is. Who, back then, could have anticipated that contraception would lead to abortion on a scale never before seen? Would the uproar over Humanae Vitae have been much diminished had all critics known then what the ledger shows now? Might not some of those dissenting Catholics—and others—who publicly rebuked the Church have acted differently if they’d realized that embracing contraception would open the way to vastly more abortion? It is plain in hindsight that the “lowering of moral standards” foreseen by Humanae Vitae would come to include disrespect not only for women, but for the human fetus, too.

Reality since 1968 has made it impossible to pretend that contraception has not played a decisive role in the scourge of abortion. Pope Francis himself has called abortion “a very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The old defense of birth control as the alternative to abortion has been overruled by facts. The reality that it is an accelerant to abortion has been confirmed by time.

In part because fifty years of experience have established reality number one, a second reality has become evident. People outside the Catholic Church—most notably, though not only, some leading Protestants—have come to see Humanae Vitae in a new and more favorable light.

One of the least reported religious stories of our time, this potent trend may reconfigure Christianity, replacing disunity over birth control with a new unity. Observing what the sexual revolution has wrought, more and more Protestant voices now question yesterday’s nonchalance about contraception. This reconsideration is far from a majority view—yet, anyway. But it manifests what any minority view must have in order to win over others: evidence and moral energy. Consider the following examples from the last ten years.

Protestants have done themselves a disservice by ignoring Humanae Vitae’s substantial statement on human anthropology and sexuality. . . . Protestants would be well-served to study Paul VI’s encyclical and take heed of its warnings.

–Evan Lenow, professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Many evangelicals are joining the discussion about birth control and its meaning. Evangelicals arrived late to the issue of abortion, and we have arrived late to the issue of birth control, but we are here now.

 –Jenell Paris, anthropologist, Messiah College
Whenever current events touch on life issues, evangelicals like me become increasingly uncomfortable with the contraception culture. We realize we have much more in common with Catholics, who revere life, than the radical feminists who revere the rights of women above all else.

 –Julie Roys, evangelical author and blogger
“More Protestants Oppose Birth Control,” New York Times headline, 2012

These second thoughts among Protestants and other non-Catholics are less a radical break from Christian tradition than a return to it. Church teaching on contraception, including Protestant teaching, has followed an unbroken line through the centuries. Not until the Anglican Communion made the first exception to the prohibition at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 did Catholics and Protestants divide on this moral teaching. The famous Resolution 15 was intended for married couples only, and in carefully delineated circumstances; but it ushered in contraception for convenience. Its language matches the terminology deployed by would-be Catholic “reformers” today:

In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.

Then as now, Protestants who were not at ease with abandoning traditional teaching turned to Rome for authority. Charles Gore, the bishop of Oxford, objected to Resolution 15. He had “manifold reason to believe that in the case of Birth Prevention the ‘very strong tradition in the Catholic Church’ has been in the right, and has divine sanction.” The move by some Protestants toward Humanae Vitae today is in part a tacit declaration that, in retrospect, the bishop of Oxford’s side might have been the right one.

In Africa, both Protestants and Catholics lean toward traditionalism in Christian moral teaching. Here as elsewhere in history, the maxim delivered by sociologist Laurence R. Iannaccone holds: “Strict churches are strong”—and concomitantly, lax churches are weak. It is in tradition-minded Africa that Christianity has grown explosively in the years since Humanae Vitae—as opposed to those nations whose Christian leaders have struggled, and struggle still, to change the rulebook.

Nigerian-born Obianuju Ekeocha, author of the new book Target Africa: Ideological Neo-Colonialism of the Twenty-first Century, wrote an open letter to Melinda Gates, whose foundation dedicates impressive resources to spreading birth control among Africans: “I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children. . . . I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

. . . . There is also sound reason for the enduring fear that “public authorities” might “impose” these technologies on the citizenry—as Humanae Vitae also warned. This has happened, of course, in China, via its long-standing, barbaric “one child” policy, replete with forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations. A softer kind of coercion has appeared in the United States and other Western nations where efforts have been made to link desired outcomes with mandatory birth control. In the 1990s and beyond, for example, some U.S. judges backed state-imposed implantation of long-term contraceptives on women convicted of crimes. Such implied force has provoked criticism by (among others) the American Civil Liberties Union. “The recent attempts to coerce women to use Norplant represent a reversion to an era of overt racism and eugenics,” the ACLU explained.

3)  Reality number three concerns the state of modern women. Contraception, it was and is perennially asserted, will make them happier and freer than ever before. Has it? Evidence points to the contrary—from social science suggesting that female happiness across the United States and Europe has been declining over time, to the dolorous notes so often struck in academic and popular feminism, to the growing worry among secular women that marriage has become impossible and it is time to go it alone. A decade after I documented those trends, there is much more that could be added to the ledger suggesting that Humanae Vitae was right to spy an impending increase in divisiveness between the sexes. Consider in passing just two evocative snapshots.

In 2012, Amazon U.K. announced that E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey had replaced J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books as the bestselling volume in its history. This signals an extraordinary commercial demand by women for the tale of a rich and powerful man who humiliates, bullies, and commits violence against a woman, over and over.

Sadomasochism is a prominent theme elsewhere in popular culture—including, again, popular women’s culture. Concerning the fashion industry, John Leo observed, “I first noticed the porn-fashion connection in 1975, when Vogue magazine ran a seven-photo fashion spread featuring a man in a bathrobe battering a screaming model in a lovely pink jumpsuit ($140 from Saks, picture by Avedon).” Harper’s Bazaar has seconded the point: “Long before Fifty Shades fever hit, designers have been mining BDSM for sartorial inspiration. From literal crops to all forms of waist, wrist, and ankle ties—not to mention the sheer volume of leather—it’s clear Christian Grey would be proud.”

Implied and even overt violence against women saturates video games and, of course, pornography. The sadomasochistic look has become widespread in popular music, too; the number of globally recognized female singers who have not paid homage to pornography and sadomasochism is vanishingly small. Why are so many women subsidizing a self-image of subjugation and dejection at a time when their freedom is greater than ever before? Does the success of Fifty Shades tell us that men have become so hard to get that any means of finding one will do, no matter how degrading?

Joy does not abound in another post-pill reality: the continuing secular sex scandals of 2017 and 2018, and the #MeToo movement. It appears that the sexual revolution licensed predation. That is not a theological judgment, but an empirical one—foreseen in part by social scientist Francis Fukuyama. His 1999 book The Great Disruption made a point that echoes in Humanae Vitae, though based on a thoroughly secular analysis:

One of the greatest frauds perpetrated during the Great Disruption was the notion that the sexual revolution was gender-neutral, benefiting women and men equally. . . . In fact the sexual revolution served the interests of men, and in the end put sharp limits on the gains that women might otherwise have expected from their liberation from traditional roles.

Almost twenty years later, that point is irrefutable. The abuse scandals show that the revolution democratized sexual harassment. No longer does a man have to be a king or a master of the universe to abuse or prey upon women in unrelenting, serial fashion, and for a long time, with no punishment. One needs only a world in which women are assumed to use contraception—the world we’ve had since the 1960s, the world that Humanae Vitae foresaw.

This brings us to still another reality: Fifty years into the sexual revolution, one of the most pressing, and growing, issues for researchers is not overpopulation, but its opposite: under-population. Ten years ago, I reviewed evidence for the claim that the overpopulation scares of the late 1960s were just that: scares. They happened not so coincidentally to be ideologically useful to partisans who wanted the Church to change its moral teaching. As I noted in 2008:

So discredited has the overpopulation science become that this year Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly could publish Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population and garner a starred review in Publishers Weekly—all in service of what is probably the single best demolition of the population arguments that some hoped would undermine church teaching. This is all the more satisfying a ratification because Connelly is so conscientious in establishing his own personal antagonism toward the Catholic Church. . . . Fatal Misconception is decisive [secular] proof that the spectacle of overpopulation, which was used to browbeat the Vatican in the name of science, was a grotesque error all along.

. . . . Toward the end of last year, the New York Times published a harrowing story about the birth dearth.

4,000 lonely deaths a week. . . . Each year, some of [Japan’s elderly] died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell.
The first time it happened, or at least the first time it drew national attention, the corpse of a 69-year-old man living near Mrs. Ito had been lying on the floor for three years, without anyone noticing his absence. His monthly rent and utilities had been withdrawn automatically from his bank account. Finally, after his savings were depleted in 2000, the authorities came to the apartment and found his skeleton near the kitchen, its flesh picked clean by maggots and beetles, just a few feet away from his next-door neighbors . . . .

Japan is just one country facing post-pill demographic change. “Loneliness is becoming a common phenomenon in France,” Le Figaro reported several years ago. Citing a study on the “new solitudes” by the Fondation de France, the article names the prime driver of this loneliness: “family rupture,” especially divorce . . . .

The secular culture is taking note. In Sweden, a 2015 documentary on The Swedish Theory of Love questioned the dominance of “independence” in that country as an ideal. It seems more a curse than a blessing when one-half of Swedes now live in households of one. As a report put it,

A man is alone in his flat. He has been lying there dead for three weeks—people only noticing his demise when an awful smell appeared in the communal hallways. As the Swedish authorities scrutinise the case, they discover that the man has no close relatives or friends. It is highly likely that he lived lonely and alone for years, sitting solitary in front of his TV or computer. After a while, they discover that he has a daughter, but she proves impossible to locate. . . . It becomes apparent that he actually had quite a lot of money tucked away in the bank. But what does that help when he had no one to share with.

And then there’s Germany. In an article in Der Spiegel titled “Alone by the Millions: Isolation Crisis Threatens German Seniors,” the German Centre of Gerontology reports:

Over 20 percent of Germans over the age of 70 are in regular contact with only one person—or nobody. One in four receives a visit less than once a month from friends and acquaintances, and nearly one in 10 is not visited by anyone anymore. Many old people have no one who still addresses them by their first name or asks them how they are doing.

Such human poverty abounds in societies awash in material wealth. This, too, was not foreseen by those who argued for and against Humanae Vitae in 1968. Yet without doubt, what unites these tragic portraits is the sexual revolution, which by the 1970s was operating at full throttle in Western nations, driving up divorce rates, driving down marriage rates, and emptying cradles. It does not take a demographer to connect the dots; the evidence of our senses will do. As one victim poignantly summarized in Der Spiegel:

Aside from the birds, hardly anyone visits the elderly woman anymore.
Erna J. has white hair and black leg braces and, like many people her age,
 is suffering from extreme loneliness. She was born shortly after World War I
and moved into this apartment 50 years ago. Ten years later, her husband died. She has outlived all of her siblings and girlfriends. Her husband didn’t
want any children. “I should have insisted on it,” says the former cook,
“and then I perhaps wouldn’t be so lonely today”.

A further reality to ponder is historical, and worth reiterating at a time when hope burns eternal in some precincts that the Catholic Church will cease its intransigent insistence on supposedly retrograde points of doctrine. The churches that have accommodated themselves to the sexual revolution have imploded from within. As a headline in The Guardian put it simply in 2016, on the eve of a contentious conference at Lambeth where African representatives of the Anglican Communion dissented once more from changing moral teaching, “The Anglican schism over sexuality marks the end of a global church.”

In 1930, people would have been shocked if told that the doctrinal war over sex would shatter the Anglican Communion; that parts of the Communion would go to legal war over churches and jurisdictions as well as doctrine; that the separation of North and South, Episcopal and Anglican, Africa and Europe, would yield divisions and subdivisions, sorrow and acrimony, on a global scale.

In 1998, Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey, a leader of the Episcopalian Church who urged an embrace of the sexual revolution, published a book called Why Christianity Must Change or Die, agitating for still more dismantling of the tradition. The Christianity of which he spoke did change, exactly as he and others hoped. And now the retooled version they fought for is dying. According to David Goodhew, editor of the 2016 volume Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion: 1980 to the Present, research by Jeremy Bonner on the Episcopal Church shows that:

Around 2000 serious decline set in. . . . Average Sunday attendance dropped by nearly one third between 2000 and 2015. . . . The rate of baptism has been cut almost in half over a thirty-year period. . . . The most dramatic data is for marriages. . . . In 2015 the Episcopal Church married less than a quarter of the number it married in 1980.

The sad facts of religious history in favor of Paul VI’s prophetic stance make their own case. Disaster descended on the Anglican Communion for doing exactly what dissenters from Humanae Vitae want the Catholic Church to do: make exceptions to rules that people find difficult.

Surely anyone urging Rome to follow Lambeth’s lead today must first explain how Catholicism’s fate will be different. As David Goodhew also noted in his online piece “Facing Episcopal Church Decline”: “If we believe Christian faith is good news, we should be seeking its proliferation, and be worried when it shrinks.”

. . . . In this moment of watchfulness inside and outside the Church, a global fellowship knows the truths of Humanae Vitae and related teachings as truths, however unwanted or hard. They are among the latest pilgrims in a line stretching two thousand years back. They have sacrificed to stand where they do, and they sacrifice still—including by relinquishing the good opinion of a mocking world.

These cradle Catholics and converts and reverts, fellow-traveling non-Catholics, clergy and laity alike have the consolation of one final realidad, which may be the most important reality of all. Whatever the anxieties of the moment, however prominent or widespread the disgruntlement, the ever-growing empirical record continues to vindicate Paul VI’s encyclical: Humanae Vitae . . . .