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The comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one - that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.
Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.
But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.
Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:
“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”
The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.
The letter continues:
“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”
The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.
“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of the others Baptism?”
The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.
Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves
Photo credit:  ANP
Cardinal Eijk just can’t win. In an interview for the Reformatorisch Dagblad, which was published yesterday, he explained that the Council of Trent is still current. The statements of that Council, which aimed to put an end to certain practices which had caused the Reformation, but also wanted to emphasise the content of the faith and the consequences thereof in daily life for those who professed it, has not been scrapped in any way in the centuries after. What was said there still goes.
Protestant faith leaders in the Netherlands are none too happy with the cardinal’s clear and open explanation. The chair of the Protestant National Synod claimed that Cardinal Eijk “would give the faithful a burn-out some day”. “The claim that the church is always right is not in line with the Bible”, Gerrit de Fijter said. Well, that’s right, if you have a Protestant understanding of what a church is. The Catholic definition of the Church, the body of Christ which enjoys the promised inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can make certain dogmatic statements (which is not the same as saying she’s always right…). Former head of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Bas Plaisier (who himself is not too concerned with ecumenical respect for other churches) “does not understand what the cardinal is doing”, calling the statements “formal and hard”. Even Catholic professor Marcel Poorthuis had his reservations. While agreeing that Cardinal Eijk is correct in his statements about the Council and the heresies it addresses, he puts Pope emeritus Benedict XVI opposite to the cardinal, referring to the retired Pope’s statement that Martin Luther was a man of the Church. He even goes so far as to say that he expects Luther to be rehabilitated by the Church.
Cardinal Eijk called the Council of Trent a sign of the Catholic Church’s “capacity to purify herself” from errors and sinful practices. Examples of these are “the trade in offices, the unbiblical understanding of the priesthood en the lack of discipline in monasteries. In that regard, Trent has put things in order. The Council has also been very fruitful. When all the decrees had been implemented this led to a restoration of order in the Church.” The Council also delineated certain truths of the faith, which are still unchanged and valid.
The cardinal relates the anathemas that the Council issued to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, which says, “Anyone who preaches to you a gospel other than the one you were first given is to be under God’s curse” (1:9). “If someone does not share the faith of the Church in the Eucharist,” the cardinal explained, “he can’t receive it either. This curse or anathema essentially means you are blocked from receiving the sacraments, and in that sense it is still applicable.” But, the cardinal continues, these anathemas apply to people who refuse the truths of the Church “in full knowledge, aware of the truth and with free will”. “In a way that is a theoretical question. There are many people who have an incorrect image of the Catholic Church because they were raised that way, or they have another idea of God. You can not directly blame someone for that. You can therefore not understand the anathemas of Trent as being eternally damning for someone. God is the judge; you can and may not make that judgement as a human being.”
A clear explanation of what the Council taught about those who do not adhere to what they know to be the truth of the faith. Does this mean, as the critics I mentioned and quoted above assume, that modern Protestants are damned by the Catholic Church? No, it does not, because to be damned you must know and be aware that the Catholic Church teaches the truth and decide freely to not follow that truth. Clearly, that is not what most Protestants do: they do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches truth. If they did, why remain Protestant? Are they damned by the Council? No. Can they receive all the sacraments? Also no, but for different reason: the sacraments are also a profession of faith and an expression of the desire to belong to the community of faithful that is Christ’s Body. If you don’t share that faith, well…
Yes, all this may not be nice to hear, but it is certainly worthy of being taken seriously and read carefully before being commented on. But, seeing the cardinal as the big bully is perhaps the easier and more comfortable way…
In ecumenical relations with other church communities there is one thing that must always be at the centre: the truth. The truth that the Church, or any other community, claims, must not be hidden for the sake of “being nice to each other”. Cardinal Eijk’s explanation is not a nice one, but it is true. It is what the Catholic Church continues to profess and uphold as truth. Ecumenism is a good thing, but it can never be a reason to ignore who we are and what we hod to be true.
Yesterday, I wrote about Cardinal Wim Eijk sanctioning a Dominican priest for celebrating a Maundy Thursday Mass that was invalid because of the liberal approach to liturgy. Whereas the Archdiocese of Utrecht has remained silent after announcing the sanctions and the reasons for them, Fr. Huisintveld has not been idle, and the media have been eager to give him a stage.
Father Harry Huisintveld (pictured) has been rather unavoidable in Dutch Catholic (and some generally Christian and secular) media today, sharing the pain of the sanctions imposed upon him, as well as a seeming lack of understanding of what it means to be a Catholic priest. He showcases a highly Protestant view of liturgy and church: not the magisterium, but the individual is the deciding factor in form and content of worship. In an interview today he stated that he felt free to adapt the Maundy Thursday Mass to the perceived needs to the faithful.
By his own words, he has received much support, and that is not surprising. After all, he is curtailed in his freedom to do what he wants and that freedom is, in the eyes of modern man, the highest right of all people, one that trumps all others. By curtailing the exercise of this right, Cardinal Eijk is the legalistic bogey man wielding those mortal enemies of personal freedom: rules and regulations.
This attitude, especially when it is the attitude of an ordained Catholic priest, is a much greater affront than the strict sanctions imposed by the cardinal. Fr. Huisintveld has made himself the arbiter of what can and can not be done in and with the liturgy, thus removing all loyalty to, and even recognition of, the Magisterium of the Church. In essence, he is saying that he is under no obligation to maintain the Mass as it has been handed down for generations, and which has developed like that for good theological and pastoral reasons, when and if he perceives it is not necessary. He knows better.
If that is your attitude, that is bad enough. But to be surprised, even indignant, if the Church you belong to, but whose rules you disregard, calls you out on it (and not for the first time), is a whole other kettle of fish. That is nothing more than pandering to the superficial feelings of people who see a man’s freedom being curtailed. “Help, I’m being repressed, because I only want to be Catholic when it suits me.”
Fr. Huisintveld may be good with people, he may be a beloved priest and have many other skills which are not relevant here (although both he and the Dominican Order in the Netherlands disagree with that – “he is such a nice man, how can you do that to a nice fellow who means no harm?”), but he is a bad liturgist and a worse priest for it.
Priests are not priests for themselves. They are God’s priests for the people. They don’t get to decide what God should and should not desire in the worship that is His due.
As it was revealed today that the liturgy for Fr. Huisintveld’s Mass was drafted by a liturgy committee, I am reminded of a comment made years ago by my own parish priest: “”The first thing you should do as a priest is to get rid of the liturgy committee.” We already have a liturgy committee. It’s called the Roman Missal.
Photo credit: Fr. Harry Huisintveld
Pope Francis’ recent homily about salvation, and even more so Father Thomas Rosica’s comments about it, has led to much speculation, confusion and even anger about one of the most essential questions in the faith: the question of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe it’s good to shine a small light on this difficult theological topic.
First of all, let’s start with the words that Pope Francis spoke in his homily of 22 May:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
The Church has always upheld the universality of redemption in contrast to some Protestant communities, who have limited it to a certain group of predestined faithful. A glance on the Catholic Encyclopedia page about this topic points our attention to some Scripture passages which bear this out. I’ll quote a few, but do read the link above especially the subsection titled ‘Universality of Redemption’, to get an idea of traditional Catholic teaching about this subject.
1 John 2:2: “He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.”
1 Timothy 2:4: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “he is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers.”
2 Corinthians 5:19: “I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, by which He brought about redemption for humanity, was not in any way limited. It’s target audience, so to speak, included every human being in past, present and future. But in order to properly understand this, we must try and understand how redemption works.
Perhaps it can be best likened, for the purpose of this blog post, to some form of medication, a pill perhaps, which works for everyone. It can relieve everyone of the pain of some illness. But it doesn’t do so automatically: we must take the pill for it to work. It is no different in the case of redemption. In order for it to work in us, we must make the conscious decision to accept it. That is once again perfectly in accordance with the free will that God has created us with and which He always respects.
So, yes, Pope Francis is correct and in full agreement with Catholic teaching when he says that Christ also redeemed atheists. However, as is sort of their job description, they haven’t accepted it yet. They haven’t yet taken their medication, so it can’t do its work. But unlike a pill, redemption has no sell-by date. It doesn’t go bad if left on the shelf for too long.
Father Thomas Rosica, who is not the press chief of the Vatican as some media would have it, offers some answers to questions about the Pope’s homily. He does not relegate all atheists to Hell (nor to Heaven, for that matter), but presents some much-needed nuance to the discussion, based on several passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most important is that Christ is the final Judge: He will decide on the fate of everyone, based on how they have lived (and in that matter there can be no opposition between faith and works, as both are integral parts of a person’s life).
Also important in the discussion above is Paragraph 171 of the Catechism, which asks “What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?”
This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.
In short, if a person knows that the Church that Christ founded is necessary for salvation, and nonetheless refuses to be part of her, he or she can not be saved. So, is this true for atheists, then? I would say that it isn’t for the vast majority of them. Many people are atheist or agnostic out of ignorance, and generally not wilfully so. They do not know the Church as necessary for salvation, so it can’t be held against them if they refuse to be part of her.
In his homily of last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke much about “good works”. This lines up well with the above quote from the Catechism: “those who … sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
There is much more that may be said about this, but the post is getting overly long anyway, so I’ll leave it at this. But I will add an addendum:
Fr. Rosica’s explanations (and those of others) do not contradict what Pope Francis has said, and nor do they indicate some division in the Vatican between the Pope and the Curia. That many media do choose to present it as such, should serve as a warning to us to always remain vigilant when reading or hearing someone’s interpretation of Church affairs and teaching.
No April Fool’s joke, the announcement made by Father Leendert Spijkers on Easter Sunday: granted by Pope Benedict XVI back in February, the 15th century church of St. Peter in Oirschot, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch is to be elevated to the status of basilica minor. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will make the official declaration some time in the summer, making it his diocese’s fourth basilica.
The church of St. Peter in Oirschot dates from 1515, replacing its predecessor which had burned down in 1462. From 1648 to 1799 the church was Protestant, and it wasn’t until 1904 that the local parish regained full ownership of church and tower. In the war, the tower was severely damaged from Allied gunfire, and it took until 1952 for restorations to be completed. The church is one of the largest remaining Gothic village churches in the province of North Brabant. The furnishings are partly original and partly taken from demolished churches with the altars dating from around 1700 and 1766 respectively. The church has been a national monument since 1966.
Age and a certain esthetic value are but two elements which can make a church a basilica. Another, and certainly not the least important, is the presence of a certain devotion within an active parish community. In the case of St. Peter’s, that devotion is to the ‘Holy Oak’.
The story goes that, some time in the early 15th century, two shepherds found a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the banks of the Beerze stream. They placed it an oak, but inhabitants of nearby Middelbeers took the statue and put it in their church. The next morning, though, the statue was back in the oak. Villagers of Oirschot came to venerate the statue, and there were reports of miraculous healings.
A chapel was built on the place of the oak, and an annual procession developed to that spot. Oak and chapel were removed in 1649, but a new chapel (view of the interior pictured) was erected in 1854, on the foundations of the old one. The original statue resides in St. Peter’s, but a replica remains at the chapel. Some 250,000 pilgrims and visitors find their way to Mary of the Holy Oak every year.
Photo credit:  Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed,  Parish of St. Peter, Oirschot
In 1946 the archbishop of Utrecht became the first resident cardinal in the Netherlands since the Reformation. But Cardinal Jan de Jong need not have been the first.
Historical research indicates that in 1911 Pope Saint Pius X had his eyes on Archbishop Henricus van de Wetering as the first Dutch cardinal of modern times. But the publication of his encyclical Editae saepe, a year earlier, made that rather difficult, as that encyclical on Saint Charles Borromeo brought forth the fury of Queen Wilhelmina, who was less then pleased with the strong anti-Protestant language in the papal publication.
Making Archbishop van de Wetering, who headed the Archdiocese of Utrecht from 1895 to 1929, a cardinal would unnecessarily antagonise the queen and perhaps increase the anti-Catholic tendencies existing in Dutch society at that time.
Instead, Pius X went for a safer option: a Dutch cardinal, but one who was working in the Curia, on the Commission for the Codification of Canon Law and as general consultor of the Redemptorist order: Willem Marinus van Rossum.
After Cardinal de Jong, every archbishop of Utrecht was created a cardinal, if he wasn’t one already, such as Cardinal Willebrands.
Photo credit: Katholiek Documentatie Centrum, Nijmegen
Although it had long been expected, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands today announced that she intends to abdicate in favour of her son, who will become King William Alexander, on 30 April. Her Majesty announced so herself in a prerecorded television broadcast. And with the new king, we will also get a new queen, and she is Catholic.
Princess Máxima hails from Catholic Argentina and still seems to be practising her faith. Although she will not be head of state, she will be the first Catholic monarch in the Netherlands, member of a royal house which rose to prominence in the fight against Spanish Catholic rulers.
In reality this will not mean a whole lot. As consort of the king, Queen Máxima has no political power, nor will there be any measures that need to be taken to satisfy constitutional demands. Those that did exist were tackled when the royal couple married in 2002.
The one question that remains is whether there will be a Catholic contribution to the investiture. Although Protestant, the royal family has for years had close personal contacts with former Catholic priest Huub Oosterhuis, who still sometimes pretends to be Catholic. But what religious form the investiture will take remains to be seen. We can, however, be sure that there will be protests at the mentioning of God in the oath that the king (“by the grace of God”) will be taking…
Photo credit: Erwin Olaf
Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella looks back on the first 100 days of the Year of Faith:
“The first reactions revealed great enthusiasm and deep interest, tangible in the flurry of expressions of it on a small scale: in many pastoral letters – written by bishops to their dioceses – that in the programme are all dedicated to faith; in the parish projects for reflection on the various articles of the Creed; and in the widespread dissemination of the official logo of the Year of Faith. The logo shows a boat, a symbol of the Church, in a square bordered field with a boat that is sailing. The main mast of the boat is a cross on which are hoisted sails composing the trigram of Christ (IHS). The words “Year of Faith” that accompany it, alongside the calendar of “great events”, are translated into the major languages, but also into other languages, even Chinese. The Year of Faith has reached China where it is present in the communities and in the Churches which are likewise living this experience of the universal Church. This was mentioned to the Holy Father during the Roman Curia’s Audience for the exchange of Christmas greetings. And the Pope not only showed his great pleasure but he also told me that Protestant communities had shown interest too. In short, the whole world is in a state of great ferment, and I would say that we have got off on the right foot.”
An optimistic sound, although the enthusiasm and attention in the Catholic media has understandably died down after the spectacle of the Year’s opening. But that’s no reason to ignore the fact that we still have the major part of the Year of Faith ahead of us. What are you doing with it? That’s the question we must ask ourselves.
The Year of Faith is a twofold invitation: to increase and deepen our own faith, and to communicate it to others.
In a series of Tweets yesterday, the former secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (the de facto head of that church community), announced that he was “done with the pretense of the Catholic Church. I see her as a church among churches and freely take part in the Eucharist”.
Dr. Bas Plaisier, who today works as a teacher at a Lutheran seminary in Hong Kong, was the scriba of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands until 2008.
In his statement on Twitter, which was met with both praise and criticism, Dr. Plaisier presumably means to say that he attends Holy Mass (which he is of course very welcome to do) and also receives Communion. He supports this action by saying that many Catholics agree with him and that what matters is who you invite. “And in that respect teachings or church do not matter”.
The Catholic Church invites, to use Dr. Plaisier’s words, those to Communion who are not only in a state of grace, but who also live according to and agree with the faith of the Church. Part of that faith is the consecration: the bread and wine truly becoming the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Protestant churches generally do not share that faith and can therefore not receive Communion. For, in addition to building community in Christ, Communion is also a confession of our faith. By receiving the Body and Blood of Christ we basically express our faith in God, and our intention of following all His teachings that come to us via His Church.
In the Protestant Church of Dr. Plaisier, the Last Supper does share similarities with the Eucharist in that is a communal meal. But in the Protestant service, bread and wine remain bread and wine. That is something that Protestant agree with. Leftover bread can be fed to the ducks and leftover wine may be poured down the sink. That is unheard of in the Catholic Church, as any leftover bread and wine are the physical Lord and must therefore be treated with due reverence.
With his statements, Dr. Plaisier does a great disservice to ecumenism. He basically tells the Protestant Churches’ main partner in ecumenism, at least in the Netherlands, that her teachings and faith don’t matter to him. His own opinion and feeling becomes decisive. Dr. Plaisier is a Protestant, and very obviously does not believe in the transsubstation. But is that reason to take the most precious treasure of the Church, Our Lord Himself, and receive Him without agreeing with what He teaches us? That is tantamount to saying, “Lord, that’s all nice what you are saying, but I know better than you, and will simply do what I think is best.”
The Catholic Church is very emphatically not a church among churches. The Protestant church communities are not a church in the way that the Catholic Church is, and the faith the express and share differs in important ways from the faith that has been preserved through the ages in the Catholic Church. We can’t water that faith down by saying that important things, such as the Eucharist, do not really matter, that what matters is that people feel welcome. Of course people should feel welcome, and we should do our best to make them feel welcome. But does that mean that we should bend every which way to do so, to even ignore or change our very identity to make things easier?
People, Protestant or otherwise, are very welcome to come to a Catholic Church, to attend Mass, to pray with Catholics. They are not free to take Catholic teachings and faith and change them to suit their perceived needs. That is deeply insulting for the host (both human and divine) and makes the human person, not God, the decisive factor in such matters. And when it comes to God, we do not decide. He does.
Photo credit: Gerard van Rhoon