Friday, August 31, 2012

Two reviews of "Adam and Eve after the Pill"

Mary Eberstadt's book, Adam and Eve after the Pill, published this spring by Ignatius Press, has been on my list of things to read.  It's also been making serious inroads into the Evangelical communities, many of whom are in the process of rediscovering Tradition.  Here's a review of the book from a Catholic source, which says obvious sorts of things about its content and Catholic teaching; but also notes that non-Catholics (specifically, Evangelicals) are also thinking hard about this book and this teaching.  Thus, here's a review from Christianity Today, which is also a very good review and says surprisingly positive things about the traditional teaching against contraception:

As Eberstadt sees it, the contraceptive pill has launched us into a new age in which responsibility has been divorced from sex. And while it is easy to point fingers at the secular world for embracing this reproductive technology, Christians are complicit in its hold on our culture. Most Christians do not want to be told what to do with their bodies any more than non-Christians, and the Pill has made that freedom possible.

Undeniable Data

Eberstadt's final chapter sheds a different kind of light on current evangelical conversations about sex. As often as these discussions are taking place, and as important as it is to affirm sex in marriage, there is a distinctly individualistic flavor to these teachings. While church leaders should encourage marital intimacy in the bedroom, married sex (and the teachings behind it) can still have negative social ramifications. Using contraception is not a private act, nor is it a neutral one. Eberstadt's book is Exhibit A of this reality.

Knowing this, pastors cannot address the widespread sexual brokenness in our culture simply by encouraging married sex. They must also address the ideology and theology behind the brokenness, and contraception is Ground Zero for those discussions.

One should recall (as this review does) that all Christian denominations held this teaching up until 1930.  All those denominations which have rejected this teaching have done so only in the last 80 years.  So I am greatly encouraged by Evangelicals reconsidering this rejection (brief round up in this article), and the possibility of their reclaiming this part of the apostolic deposit of faith.

There's a further ramification to this, of course.  The more the biblical and apostolic rejection of contraception is shared by Christian denominations, the more obvious it is that the HHS mandate is not merely an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty on its face, but also it, and the Affordable Care Act that it derives from, promote active harm for women, and families, and the common good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sacraments class follow-up: Pentecost and Confirmation

In our Sacraments class on Saturday, the question arose, Is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the institution by Christ of the Sacrament of Confirmation?  I said that it wasn't - or at least, as I emended later in the class, that one can't see Pentecost just by itself as that institution.  Here's some more information about Pentecost and Confirmation to help us better understand what I said, and implied, and didn't say.

We noted in class that the Holy Spirit is sent to the Church at several points: the Incarnation (Lk 1, see Lumen Gentium 59), the baptism of Jesus, the various promises of Jesus to the Apostles to send the Paraclete, the Easter morning appearance to the ten Apostles (Thomas being absent), and finally Pentecost.  The final coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marks a profound change for the Apostles (and the other members of the Church, it is clearly implied), moving them from fear and confusion to a dramatic embrace of mission, and from that point, the Church continuously lives and grows under the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Lumen Gentium 19 calls this culmination a "confirmation in mission" for the Apostles: And in this mission they [sc. the College of Apostles under Peter as head] were fully confirmed on the day of Pentecost in accordance with the Lord's promise: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and even to the very ends of the earth".

So certainly the power of confirming others, and the effects of Confirmation for the members of Church, taken generally, are implicitly represented in the chain of sending the Holy Spirit culminating in Pentecost.  So if we say, "Pentecost is Confirmation," that's not a false statement -- but it's also not a very precise one, as LG 19 shows.  So the institution of the Sacrament needs a more precise focus, which has traditionally been found in the way the Apostles then use this gift and power to confirm subsequent to baptism -- specifically in Acts 8.  For example:

Pope St. Innocent I, ep. #25 "Si instituta ecclesiastica" to Bp Decentius, 416: That this power [sc. to confirm] of a bishop, however, is due to the bishops alone, so that they either sign or give the Paraclete, the Spirit, not only ecclesiastical custom dictates, but also that reading in the Acts of the Apostles which declares that Peter and James were directed to give the Holy Spirit to those already baptized [by Philip: cf. Acts 8:14-7]. (Denzinger, #98)

Pope Innocent III, letter "Cum venisset" to Archbishop Basil, 1204: The imposition of hands is designated by the anointing of the forehead, which by another name is called confirmation, because through it the Holy Spirit is given for an increase of grace and strength.  Therefore... only the highest priest, that is the bishop, ought to confer [this anointing],because we read concerning the Apostles alone, which successors the bishops are, that through the imposition of hands the gave the Holy Spirit [cf. Acts 8:14ff] (Denzinger, #419)

First Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1245), cited in letter of Pope Innocent IV to his legate in Constantinople, 1254: Moreover, let bishops alone mark the baptized on the forehead with chrism, because the anointing is not to be given except by bishops, since the apostles alone, whose places the bishops take, are read [again, Acts 2 and 8] to have imparted the Holy Spirit by the imposition of hands, which confirmation... represents. (Denzinger, #450)

Almost identical wording is found in the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-45), in the 1439 document "Exultate Deo," on the seven sacraments, where the key passage of Acts 8:14-7 is cited in full.  (Here in this fuller treatment, we also see the possibility of a priest being properly delegated to confirm under some circumstances.)  (Denzinger, #697)  Trent didn't add anything to this; of the seven sacraments, Confirmation is the least treated by that council.  Vatican II makes the same point about bishops as ministers of Confirmation (e.g. LG 26), and treats the effects of Confirmation for the faithful elsewhere (e.g. LG 11), without direct reference either to Pentecost or Acts 8.

So the short answer to our original question is that Pentecost is not the institution by Christ of the Sacrament of Confirmation; the use of that power by the Apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and in fulfillment of the intention of Christ, is that institution, as clearly recorded (separate from baptism) in the case of Acts 8:14-17.  The longer answer, though, looks at the whole sequence of the sending of the Holy Spirit, and sees in Pentecost a potent confirming or empowering of the Apostles in their special mission of leading the Church, of which the power to confirm sacramentally is an explicit part.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Preaching conference resources available

This summer, Cecilia and I were able to attend a conference on preaching at our alma mater.  It was a very good conference, and most of the presentations have been posted on You-tube by the Institute for Church Life (search for "Notre Dame preaching conference we preach Christ crucified" for the full list).  Not all are of equal quality, of course, but here are a few among the best ones we heard:

Fr. Robert Barron

Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB

Dr. John Cavadini

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, CSB (homily)