26 May 2011


I. Unless missed, haven't seen one his columns at the Register in a while so, I reckon, its publication in Canada's preeminent Catholic newspaper means he's quite upset and has something important to say. That, and/or the editorial board is using Fr. Ron Rolheiser to indirectly communicate a message. Cannot really blame Rollie, to be honest. The last few years hasn't been happy time for liberal theo-pop peddlers. The Anglican Ordinariate, the emergence of Michael Voris, the blogger revolt and, to top it off, B16 just fulfilled the covenant of Summorum Pontificum with the issuance of Universae Ecclesiae. "Mr. Chekov, engage course correction and get us outta here. Warp Factor 9. Destination: Planet Orthodoxy". Goodbye Disco Duck, cheerio Annibale, farewell hippydom. It's been a pleasure.

II. Sounds triumphalist the aforementioned does, it is true. News like this makes me want to fire up a cigarillo and enjoy a nice, cold Heineken. But let's not get too complacent here. Before "the biological solution" comes into full effect there is still much SV2 Romper Room riff raff that requires attention. Let us not forget that the kiddie kareerists are still manipulating the levers even though they've been told time and again that playtime is over. Try as they might to delay and counterposition, the trending return to orthodox Catholicity is an unstoppable force. All that the kids can do now is scream, whine and complain. Accordingly, Rollie the unorthodox liberal provides us with a kind of emblematic reaction as he and his ilk deem the return to orthodoxy as an existential threat. Thus he must clear the canvas, start from the basics, and tell us what orthodoxy is "from the other side". Does that phrase seem ambiguous and logically inconsistent to you? Exactly. Anyway, he's definitely agitated:
There are more ways than one in which our belief system can be unbalanced so as to do harm to God and to the Church. What makes for a healthy, balanced, orthodox faith? The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines orthodoxy as "right belief as contrasted to heresy". That's accurate enough, but we tend to think of this in a very one-sided way.[1]
Why a Catholic priest would reference a Protestant book to define Catholic orthodoxy is beyond my capabilities of apprehension. That one reviewer remarked on its "Anglican bias" and "impress of critical Anglo-Catholic scholarship"[2], it would seem, is of minimal concern. Maybe I am being too "one-sided". After all, we should just accept the fact that Rollie has this compulsion to approvingly quote from any non-Catholic commentator with the exception of perhaps Larry Flynt.
For most people, heresy is conceived of as going too far, as crossing a dogmatic boundary, as stretching Christian truth further than it may be stretched. Orthodoxy, then, means staying within safe perimeters. This is true in so far as it goes, but it is a one-sided and reductionist understanding of orthodoxy.
So he presumes that "most people" think of heresy as a going beyond limits. Well, what "most people" think is irrelevant in this context. Here he's just putting words into other people's mouths. Sorry Rollie, the strawman routine only works with those poor people that attend your inner light seminars on the "Wisdom of the Elders". Etymologically, the word heresy is of Greek origin, meaning to choose, take or select. But let's get legalistic here and make the old boy squirm. Canon law defines heresy as "the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith" (Can. 751). So if one subalterns Christ in the Holy Trinity, he is a Subordinationist heretic; if he obstinately rejects the Old Testament, he is a Marcionite; if he doubts the Real Presence and more so favours a symbolic definition, then say hello to Berengar of Tours; if he says God dwells in the natural world, then he is a dime-a-dozen pantheist. Allllrighteee, then. Clear enough. Sounds good to me.

III. Note also how Rolheiser keeps running on about one-sidedness. This is a bad thing. So, for instance, when Chesterton wrote that "a convinced Catholic is easily the most hard-headed and logical person walking about the world today"[3], he was expressing a rigid, closed mindedness during olden times when the referent to orthodoxy was truth. The prefix is from the Greek orthos, meaning straight, right, true. Correct me if I'm wrong, truth is one-sided by nature and cannot be manifold. But, you see, this view is unhealthy and imbalanced. Instead orthodoxy, sayeth Rolheiser, must be "healthy, balanced" and its definition should be expanded to include two meanings:
Orthodoxy has a double function: It tells you how far you may go, but it also tells you how far you must go. And it’s the latter part that is often neglected. Heresies are dangerous, but the danger is two-sided: Faith beliefs that do not respect proper dogmatic boundaries invariably lead to bad religion and to bad moral practice. Real harm occurs.
Now we come to the fallacy. In addition to being mindful of "safe perimeters" (falsely/condescendingly implying a lack of inquisitiveness and imagination, easy comfort, no doctrinal development, etc.), orthodoxy "tells you how far you must go". Really? Obviously, this is code for "push the limit", to breach traditional boundaries into zones of danger, however slyly it is worded. Notice further: we "must" do this, as if by command. Where can one find justification for this in Catholic teaching? A reference? This is not orthodoxy at all. Rather, it's a subtle means of condoning/advocating heterodoxy with mercurial language, which we all know is Rollie's forte.
Dogmatic boundaries are important. But, equally important, we don't do God, faith, religion and the Church a favour when our beliefs are narrow, bigoted, legalistic or intolerant. Atheism is invariably a parasite that feeds off bad theism. Anti-religion is often simply a reaction to bad religion and thus narrowness and intolerance are perhaps more of an enemy to religion than is any transgressed dogmatic boundary.
Now he's really angry. Why else summon the normative retaliations of "narrow, bigoted, legalistic or intolerant"? As a Catholic, is it narrow minded to believe there is no salvation outside the Church? Okay. If by bigoted does he mean anyone who recognizes Mohammedism as a theocratic, anti-human, violent worldview? Fine. If quoting from the Code of Canon Law, does that make one legalistic? Uh huh. Indeed, Gratian was wasting his time when he compiled the Decretum and the boys on the Supreme Council of the Apostolic Signatura are a bunch of ambulance chasers in it for the bucks and prestige. Is the Catholic Church "intolerant"? A certain John Henry Newman thought so:
There is a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body; it is a sort of secret society, binding together its members by influences and by engagements which it is difficult for strangers to ascertain. It is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but is strong on the whole from its continuity; it may be smaller than other religious bodies together, but it is larger than each separately. It is a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day; it is frightful to the imagination of many. And there is but one communion such. Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guiznot. "Apparent diræ facies". Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it. One object, and only one, absorbs each item of the detail of the delineation.[4]
Newman wrote the abovementioned while still a Protestant. Unlike Rolheiser, he evidently saw these so-called "narrow, bigoted, legalistic or intolerant" characteristics of Catholic orthodoxy in a positive light. For just a short time later in October 1845 he was received by Fr. Barberi into the Catholic Church.

IV. Get the popcorn out and prepare some refreshments because the saga continues...
God, religion and the churches are, I suspect, more hurt by being associated with the narrowness and intolerance of some believers than they are by any theoretical dogmatic heresy. Right truth, proper faith and true fidelity to Jesus Christ demand too that our hearts are open and wide enough to radiate the universal love and compassion that Jesus incarnated. Purity of dogma alone doesn't make us disciples of Jesus.
Now notice how he sneakily shifts focus away from the Catholic Church specifically: "religion and the churches" are "hurt". Is not Catholic orthodoxy being addressed in the article? Seems not. Remember: we are here dealing with the Generalissimo of Generalization. And since when did matters pertaining to dogma become "theoretical"? According to the Catechism - and I apologize for the legalism - defined dogmas are "truths contained in divine Revelation or having a necessary connection with them, in a form obliging the Christian people to a irrevocable adherence of faith" (no. 88). Does that read as "theoretical"? What Rollie is doing in these sentences is the liberal trick of minimizing dogma and/or subtly attempting to disassociate it from "universal love and compassion", almost prioritizing the latter over the former, if not eliminating the "irrevocable" aspect of dogma. More legalism from the Catechism: "There is an organic connection between the spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate and make it secure... if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of the faith" (no. 89). It is important to note that the domination of immanentized, me-centred emotionalism that came in the wake of Vatican II - e.g. "religion and the churches" are "hurt" (feelings) - makes anyone who appeals to dogma (Revelation, Magisterium, reason) in whatever way as a heartless scoundrel preoccupied with legalisms. That old ruse just doesn't work anymore. Sidebar: The reader should know my feelings aren't squelched out whatsoever. Just recently, I leapt for joy after hearing about Oprah's final show.

V. Continuing... Keep a close eye on the last statement in the paragraph as this is where the situation gets dicey:
Suffice it to say that Jesus is clear about this. Anyone who reads the Gospels and misses Jesus' repeated warnings about legalism, narrowness and intolerance is reading selectively. Granted, Jesus does warn too about staying within the bounds of proper belief (monotheism and all that this implies) and proper morals (the commandments, love of our enemies, forgiveness), but He stresses too that we can miss the real demands of discipleship by not going far enough in letting ourselves be stretched by His teachings.
It would be really nice if Rollie would elaborate on what it means to let ourselves be "stretched" by Christ's teachings. That word has twice been mentioned so far. What does it mean in a specific sense? Is there a particular verse in the Gospels where it's described? Does it involve yoga? Lots of stretching in that activity... Scratch that. Obviously, our concern here isn't with Jane Fonda's Workout. Again, what he's getting at is this notion of "how far you must go". But notice: how far we "must" go is left undefined, the field is wide open without a moral compass, entering into a nebulous territory where (apparently) most anything and everything can happen. Is it, then, self-defined? Who knows? This is a hazard which Rolheiser either ignores or overlooks.

VI. Put those ribbons on and reduce your carbon footprint because now it's time to enter the realm of Political Correctness:
True orthodoxy asks us to hold a great tension, between real boundaries beyond which you may not go and real borders and frontiers to which you must go. You may not go too far, but you must also go far enough. And this can be a lonely road. If you carry this tension faithfully, without giving in to either side, you will no doubt find yourself with few allies on either side, that is, too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.
The minor point to note in that paragraph is its look-at-me-I'm-a-martyr complex. It is a "lonely road" with "few allies". Woe is me, it's a tragedy (cue Eric Carmen). Anyhow - irrespective of worldview, conservative or liberal, theist or atheist or whatever, most persons feel or are isolated and friendless for whatever time in their lives. It's a kind of spiritual suffering, whether one is aware of it or not. You might also note that the saints do not broadcast the fact. Chesterton: "All sanctity is secrecy".[5] This is not to say that there shouldn't be love, comfort and support from others. Only the principle of the matter is being addressed. To make this kind of suffering exclusive to indecisive borderline dwellers is plain wrong and, to borrow a word, "narrow".

VII. Major point: This maintaining of a so-called balanced "tension" between conservatives and liberals is, to quote Heine on Kant's Second Critique, "the farce after the tragedy". In reality, it shows an obstinate unwillingness to make both a reasoned and faith-inspired attempt at a firm choice of either "yes" or "no", right or wrong, good or evil. Lukewarm indecisiveness it is, and we recall what Christ said of such individuals: "Since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth".[6] It comes across as "balanced", but really isn't. Instead, it is a quasi-gnosticized, self-determined endeavour at false transcendence, to rise above everyone "without giving in to either side", i.e. a defiant/disguised relativism. Only the "I" is correct, there is no extraneous reference, no Really Other. In less abstract form, read the President's Message and see its social incarnation at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas - it's a real beauty:
...wide and inclusive Catholicity. We seek to be a place that heals rather than divides, a place where conservatives and liberals are equally at home, a place that respects everyone regardless of race, language, clerical status, or gender, a place that models how people can get along.
How lovely. I feel like a jiggly bowl of jell-o right now... Do not identify. Do not distinguish. No labels. These are untrue, man-made "structures" (as the mantra goes) that work to "divide" and "hurt" one another. We're all the same. Clearly, all this so-called "respect"/"equally at home"/"get along" nonsense, this false charity Rolheiser is advocating in his article, is not only a subterfuging denial of real, objective differences between persons and ideas; it is furthermore, ladies aside, an instrument that facilitates the emasculation of men. Scenario: a group of guys are out for a beer and debating the affairs of the day. Say, for example, the topic of religion comes up, commonly involving intense discussion. Now imagine, as they trudge through a particular subject where there is disagreement, John says that he "respects" Jim's position, and Tom says he hopes he didn't "hurt" Mark's feelings, and Paul says he wants a "healthy, balanced" discussion, and Luke suggests that they should "stretch" beyond their "safe perimeters" because they are all "equally at home", and Dave, seeing how the debate is starting to "divide" them into factions, wishes that they all would just "get along". Sheesh. This is pantywaist city. I'm outta here. TH2 has left the building.

VIII. In a rare occurrence, reference is made to an orthodox thinker further into the article:
... tension is an innate, healthy disquiet, something we are meant to live daily in our lives rather than something we can resolve once and for all. Indeed the deep root of this tension lies right within the human soul itself: The human soul, as Thomas Aquinas classically put it, has two principles and two functions: The soul is the principle of life, energy and fire inside of us, even as it is equally the principle of integration, unity and glue. The soul keeps us energized and on fire, even as it keeps us from dissipating and falling apart. A healthy soul therefore keeps us within healthy boundaries, to prevent us from disintegrating, even as it keeps us on fire, lest we petrify and become too hardened to fully enter life.
Perhaps it depends on preference of writing style, yet what we see above is, in my view, Rolheiser's classically verbose and mushy method of presentation. It has the shades of Teilhard's long-winded emotionalism. He takes a systematic, precise, even legalistic theologian like St. Thomas - a Doctor of the Church and one of its greatest minds - and goes about characterizing Tommy's Treatise on Man [7] with hazy descriptors like "fire inside of us", "energized and on fire", "keeps us on fire". Does "fire" represent the will? The appetites? The intellect? Emotions? Reason? It's hard to tell - and that is the tactic at work here. Orthodoxy as such, then, becomes lost in this confluence of linguistic imprecision. However, orthodoxy isn't poetry. It shuns inexact characterizations. Rather, orthodoxy points to specificity in thought, word and deed. It is specificity, so to speak. Recall: orthos = straight, right, true.

IX. Now we get to the danger of Rolheiser's shtick:
...the soul itself is a healthy principle of orthodoxy inside us. It keeps us within real limits even as it pushes us towards new frontiers. We live always in the face of two opposing dangers: disintegration and petrification. To stay healthy we need to know our limits and we also need to know how far we have to stretch ourselves. The conservative instinct warns us about the former. The liberal instinct warns us about the latter. Both instincts are healthy because both dangers are real.
As above, orthodoxy has a "double function": he speaks of keeping "within real limits" while telling us to concomitantly "stretch ourselves" (third time the word "stretch" is conjured). He also warns of dangers. He sees "most people" as clinging to "safe perimeters" which, from his perspective, is not orthodoxy in its fullness. In addition, we "must" be cognizant of orthodoxy "from the other side". Well, then, let's consider this "other side" as it can be assumed that Rolheiser believes what he preaches.

X. Last January Fr. Rolheiser and his friend Fr. Richard Rohr held a conference at the New Agey Center for Contemplation and Action (see my analysis here). Previous conferences at the CCA have covered the following bizarro topics: "Holding the Tension: Prague" and "Emerging Church / Naked Now". It appears that Rohr and Rolheiser have much in common with regard to "tension". Rohr: "I have found that a great deal of wisdom comes in the world through people who creatively hold the tension of opposites on difficult and complex issues".[8] Rohr is a notorious Pelagian heretic. Amongst other things, he advocates the Ennegram and homosexual activity. Not a heretic, you say? Then peruse what he blurted in 2001:
Everything the Catholic Church offers in the way of its sacramental rituals and moral and doctrinal teachings is an obstacle to having a relationship with God.[9]
Don't know about the reader, but that seems rather Protestant to me. You know, "I'm spiritual, not religious". Here's another disturbing tidbit from a report in 2006:
Father Rohr is well known for his "Wild Man Retreats" where men sometimes take their clothes off and touch each other in certain parts of their bodies - to release the demons.[10]
Not kosher methinks. Indeed, dangerous. So is this what is meant by "new frontiers"? Is this what is meant by "stretching Christian truth further than it may be stretched"? And why is someone that collaborates with a creepshow like Rohr lecturing us on Catholic orthodoxy? I don't know. I'm asking.


1. R. Rolheiser "Seeing the view from the other side of orthodoxy", Catholic Register, May 17, 2011.

2. G. Gould, "Book Review: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church", Theology, 1998, vol. 101, p. 58.

3. G.K. Chesterton, "Some of our Errors" in The Thing (London: Sheed and Ward, 1929), p. 192. Subnote that Chesterton wrote his classics Heretics (1905) and Orthodoxy (1908) well prior to becoming a Catholic in 1922.

4. J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pt. II, ch. VI, p. 208. First published in 1878.

5. G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, "The Dumb Ox" (New York: Doubleday, 1956), p. 139. First published in 1933.

6. Revelation 3:16.

7. Cf. Sum. theol., i, q. 75, art. 1.

8. Quoted in B.A. Sibley, "The Fr. Richard Rohr Phenomenon", New Oxford Review, March 2006, vol. LXXIII, no. 3.

9. M.C. Abbot, "Priest: 'The boy always gets naked...'", Renew America, January 23, 2006. LINK

10. Ibid.



AllenT said...

Decided to go over to Ronnie's website & read the whole piece of drivel. Just shook my head as I did. This is Rolheiser at what he would call his best & we know is his worst, undermining authentic Catholic teaching.
I am not at all surprized that he didn't use a Catholic source for his definition of orthodoxy.  Toi do so would lead to the definition from the Catechism of heresy that you brought up & would totally undermine everything he was trying to do. & that is to justify his totally throwing out authentic teaching & to justify continuing to proclaim what he clearly knows are heresies as being a valid part of Catholicism. 
As for Rohr's line "Everything the Catholic Church offers in the way of its sacramental rituals and moral and doctrinal teachings is an obstacle to having a relationship with God.", heresy is an understatement. But not surprizing coming from one who wants to cut people off from God, not lead them to him. 

TH2 said...

I highly doubt he is really so alone as he tries to make it sound given
the number of papers he is still carried in & how popular he is in
so many chanceries.

My experience/observations: Despite popularity in numbers, just one person criticizing their ideas and work is, to them, like an affront against their entire being. The fact that one person rises up to challenge is a kind of devastation. They cannot whatsoever fathom nor tolerate that "everybody" is not on their team.

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