Monday, November 18, 2013

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: Our Lord Jesus Christ Uses St. Catherine of Siena to Bash the Homosexuals

In the National Catholic Reporter thread discussing Robert McClory's article about Bishop Paprocki's upcoming public exorcism ceremony, a reader called chrisinva invokes a doctor of the church, St. Catherine of Siena, against the gays (and for the devils and the casting out of gay devils):

Let us turn to a Doctor of the Church-- who wasn't one of those "old men in Rome"!
Saint Catherine of Siena, the great 14th century religious mystic, transmitted the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ about the sin of homosexuality, which contaminated some of the clergy in her time, the Renaissance. 

Referring to sacred ministers who committed this sin, He told her:
They [the homosexuals] not only fail from resisting the weakness [of fallen human nature] .... but they do even worse when they commit the cursed sin against nature. Like the blind and stupid, having dimmed the light of their understanding, they do not recognize the disease and misery in which they find themselves. For this not only causes Me nausea, but is disgusting even to the devils themselves whom these depraved creatures have chosen as their lords. 
For Me this sin against nature is so abominable that for it alone five cities were destroyed by virtue of the judgment of My Divine Justice, which could no longer bear their iniquity .... 
It is disgusting to the devils not because evil displeases them or because they find pleasure in good, but rather because their nature is angelic and flees upon seeing such a repulsive sin being committed. For while certainly it is the devil that first strikes the sinner with the poisoned arrow of concupiscence, nonetheless when a man actually carries out such a sinful act, the devil goes away. 
(St. Catherine of Siena, "El diálogo," 
in Obras de Santa Catalina de Siena, Madrid: BAC, 1991, p. 292).

Unfortunately, chrisinva appears not to have read the doctor of the church whose work he touts here. There are some glaring problems with his commentary on Catherine's text:

1. Though chrisinva says that the "Dialogue" is an account of a conversation between Catherine and "Our Lord Jesus Christ," Catherine herself says that she's speaking to God the Father.

2. That word "homosexuals" that chrisinva inserts into the 14th-century text? It didn't exist until the latter half of the 19th century--over a half millennium later than Catherine composed her text. Catherine nowhere mentions "homosexuals." She couldn't have done so, since the word was neither in her own vocabulary or that of any culture around her. Nor, for that matter, was the psychological concept that someone can have an innate predisposition to be erotically attracted to members of her own sex in her thoughts or the thoughts of anyone else in the 14th century.

3. The focus of Catherine's concern is the betrayal of the sacraments and sacramental life by loose-living priests who committed the sin of sodomy and thereby compromised the purity of the sacraments, as she believed.

4. Even if we might grant that Catherine's condemnation of priests who desecrate the sacraments are worth considering, we nonetheless have to confront the fact that there is no easy or automatic interface between any text written in a cultural context of the past, and the postmodern culture in which we now live--whether that text is a scriptural text of a world religion, the Declaration of Independence, Summa Theologiae, the Decameron, etc., etc.

5. As an astute reader here, Mary O'Grady, pointed out several days ago when I maintained that the open expression of vicious homophobia vitiates everything else an author has to say on any other topic she or he addresses, then we have problems knowing what to do with Thomas Jefferson, who defended and practiced slavery, or Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Jerome, who were deeply misogynistic. 

6. Is there an automatic interface between what a text written in a premodern culture different from our own says, and our own postmodern culture? Can we simply transpose to our own cultural context--with no hermeneutical or exegetical work--everything we find in ancient, authoritative religious texts? Just because the text happens to claim to speak with divine authority . . . ? Or because, as chrisinva goes on to say fatuously about Catherine in Siena: "She was taking dictation from God"? (Note to chrisinva: our church doesn't teach that even the authors of the bible itself were "taking dictation from God"--see Divino Afflante Spiritu.)

7. If that's the case, then why are we not stoning adulterers and rebellious children, executing witches, passing laws to regulate how men treat their harems of wives, ordering slaves to obey their masters, or imposing serious legal penalties on those who eat cheeseburgers, bacon, and shellfish, and wear clothes made of mixed fibers?

8. It seems to me far saner to look for what is central to the value system of a premodern text, as we apply that text to our postmodern cultural context, rather than to rip bits and pieces out of the text with no respect for the context in which they were written, simply because those bits and pieces happen to be useful to us in our culture wars today. It might, for instance, be saner to look for what's fundamental to the Judaeo-Christian scriptures as we assess their moral teaching for our world today, than to rip out of those scriptures the tiny handful of texts that we imagine to be condemnations of a group of human beings we happen to dislike. If we follow that approach, we'll find condemnations everywhere of greed, callousness towards the poor, widows, and orphans, of cruel judgmentalism and lack of mercy--but nary a mention of homosexuality, since that word and the psychological concept to which it points were not anywhere in the mind of the biblical writers. 

9. It seems better, that is, to wrestle with ancient texts and not pull snippets of them out of works we haven't even read to use as weapons to beat targeted minorities in the head with, while we glibly ignore the heavy weight of those very same texts in a direction entirely opposite to the unmerciful direction we have taken the texts.

10. And if we do wrestle with the texts that are foundational for our Judaeo-Christian tradition, the ones we may have the most difficulty wrestling with (and the most need to wrestle with) in our capitalism-as-God cultural context might be the ones that tell us nothing displeases God more than abuse of the poor and of the wretched of the earth. Or texts like John Chrysostom's statement (Hom. in Lazaro 2,5) that everything we own in excess of our needs belongs to those in need . . . . 

The passage of Catherine of Siena that chrisinva cites crops up at fringe-right Catholic websites all over the place. Strangely enough, I never see on those websites similar citations of St. Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor of the church, when he says, "Whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance" (Summa Theologiae II.II, Q 66, A 7).

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