Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Critical Investigation of Fr. Anthony Ruff and the "Pray Tell" Blog

I have recently visited the "Pray Tell" blog, which seems to be mostly run by a Benedictine priest, Fr. Anthony Ruff from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Yes my friends, the home of liturgical demolition. There are many other contributors to the blog, but I will be focusing on some of the statements made by Fr. Ruff. The blog claims the following, "a blog that gives practical wisdom about prayer, sacraments, and the community of the faithful – in short, worship. Created especially for pastors, liturgists, musicians, and scholars..." The blog in my opinion however, is a perfect illustration of everything that has gone wrong in the Church for the last 40 years. It espouses liberal slants on just about everything concerning Catholicism. I went on the blog and left a few comments, but most of them were deleted within hours of posting them because of my engaging opposition to Fr. Ruff's liberal opinions on matters such as liturgy, theology and Thomism. 

I want to point out that this is not a personal attack on Father, but only a critical look at his writing and thoughts concerning Catholicism.
The reason I think it is important to do this little investigation, is the fact that so many Catholics are influenced by what priests say, do and write. If they are publicly setting bad examples then we should note them, question them, and if possible refute them so that others will not be lead into error. I want to take a look at some of his comments and then give some responses to them, since he will not give me much of an opportunity to do so on his blog. At the same time I hope this will give readers an opportunity to see why there is a dire need for a Thomistic restoration in the Church today. 

First, I want to look at the post Fr. Ruff put up on August 25th called, "Summer "What We've Been Reading" Wednesday. Here Fr. Ruff tells his readers what he has been reading recently and why the books he has chosen to read interest him so much.  

Ivan Havener, Q: The Sayings of Jesus (Liturgical Press/Glazier, 1987).
Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time; The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith  (Harper Collins, 1994). 
John Bell, 10 Things They Never Told Me about Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to a Larger Christ (GIA, 2009).
I’ve become increasingly interested in the issue of what Jesus’s radical message really was (to the extent that we can ever get at least a bit closer to it), and in what ways the tradition of the Church both conveys and betrays his message. Hence my interest in these three books. Borg is somewhat of a classic, I think. Bell, better known for all is wonderful Scottish and other folk music, is delightful, conversational in style, in this collection of rather homiletic reflections, all of them with a good punch. Q is the scholarly reconstruction of a collection of sayings of Jesus thought to predate the Gospel of Mark, dating to the 40s or 50s, or perhaps partially to the 30s of the first century. Since everything in Q is in Luke and Matthew but not in Mark – i.e., it’s all New Testament material – I’m using Q for my daily lectio divina.

OK, so Fr. Ruff here is interested in learning what Jesus' radical message really was?  What is that supposed to mean? How does the tradition of the Church "betray" Jesus' message? I wish he would explain. One has to wonder what Fr. Ruff's definition of Church is, to make such a statement. How does his commentary on these books like that of Borg, help Catholics understand their faith any better? Should Catholics take his advice and go read Marcus J. Borg to figure out what Jesus' message really was, as if we as Catholics don't really know? It is worthy to note that Marcus J. Borg, one of the authors he is claiming to get Jesus' real message from, is not even a real Christian in any sense of the word. He espouses to a liberal, pantheistic form of religion and is a well known member of the Jesus Seminar. Just to give you an idea of how far out Borg is I want to quote few lines from him. "I am a committed Christian and a complete agnostic about the afterlife...I think that conventional Christianity’s emphasis on the afterlife for many centuries is one of its negative features. I have often said that if I were to make a list of Christianity’s ten worst contributions to religion, it would be its emphasis on an afterlife, for more than one reason." (Agnostic About the Afterlife- Marcus Borg Website) Here is one more to get my point across. "Rather, I see the grand statements about Jesus – that he is the Son of God, the Light of the World, and so forth – as the testimony of the early Christian movement. These are neither objectively true statements about Jesus nor, for example in this season, about his conception and birth. To speak of him as the Son of God does not mean that he was conceived by God and had no biological human father. Rather, this is the post-Easter conviction of his followers. (Yes and No- Marcus J. Borg website)

I am having flashbacks to Pope Pius X's condemnation of such nonsense when he said that the following statement was to be condemned, "19. Heterodox exegetes have expressed the true sense of the Scriptures more faithfully than Catholic exegetes." (Lamentabili Sane 19) In case you are wondering, Borg is not a Catholic, and he is not expressing the true message of Jesus as if the Catholic Church somehow missed it over the past 2000 years. Other authors on Fr. Ruff's list include the likes of Hans Kung. Should a Catholic priest be endorsing these books? I'll leave that to the real theologians. 

I also find it a bit disturbing that Father is using the "Q" source for his daily lectio divina. Should we all follow his example here as well? Does he know that there is no proof for the existence of such a document? Does he know there is really no reference to such a document from any of the Church Fathers? That all being said, lectio divina in the traditional sense, is usually a prayerful reading of the canonized Scriptures, maybe something from the Fathers of the Church or from the tradition of the fathers of a particular monastic order can be used as well, but it is not usually reading something that is not even known to have existed. The proposed Q source is not a substitution for the canonized Scriptures just because they contain some of them in part. The compilation of the Q source is all speculation, and it is a theory invented because of a perceived synoptic problem concerning the Gospels. What is wrong with reading the Scriptures as they have been given to us from the Church? Praying the canonized Scriptures is the foundation of Benedictine lectio divina, not praying an alleged "Q" source. The fact is there is no historical authority to authenticate there ever being a "Q" source. This is all a bit disturbing to me, to say the least.

The next book review that caught my attention is the one concerning Thomism.

Marie-Dominique Chenu, Aquinas and His Role in Theology (Liturgical Press/Glazier, 2002).
          I’m not a serious Thomas scholar but I enjoy dabbling, so this little book is just the thing for me. I’m especially interested in neo-Thomism and neo-Scholasticism, how they distorted the sources they thought they were following, and how the “new theology” from the 1920s and 1930s had to get out from under that. Chenu is important, and Paul Philibert’s translation is excellent. 

OK, so my question to Fr. Ruff is, what is is basis for this criticism of neo-Thomism and neo-Scholasticm? He makes reference to a "New Theology", which we know is nothing but modernism disguised under another name, and he apparently thinks it was good that they "got out from under" whatever corruption or distortion was supposedly embraced by neo-scholasticism. For not being an expert on the subject, this sure seems to be quite a rash statement. I made similar comments on his blog post and he simply deleted it. I guess he is not interested in backing up his claims. 

Next, I wanted to post up some of Fr. Ruff's statements that he has posted up in various places on his blog. You can further put together what types of theological positions he holds in regards to Catholic theology after reading a couple of them. I will post a few brief responses to them below each.

"No one knew how many sacraments there were in the 1st millennium, but theology contributed to the magisterial definition of 7 sacraments in the 13th c."
My thoughts are directed to Pope Pius X's opinion that the following statements be rejected, "39. The opinions concerning the origin of the Sacraments which the Fathers of Trent held and which certainly influenced their dogmatic canons are very different from those which now rightly exist among historians who examine Christianity." (Lamentabili Sane 39) Dogmas, Sacraments and hierarchy, both their notion and reality, are only interpretations and evolutions of the Christian intelligence which have increased and perfected by an external series of additions the little germ latent in the Gospel." (54) Finally I think that Canon 1 of Trent on the Sacraments is also a proper reminder of the falsehood that no one had any idea as to what the Sacraments were in the early Church, since they were all instituted by Christ Himself. 

CANON I.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema. Enough said there. 

The Following is a complete post put up on May 3rd by Fr. Ruff, concerning the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Below are his 7 Theses concerning what he feels should be the ground rules for discussion on the Real Presence. I have given brief response below each. 

1. Because the doctrine of the Real Presence is a mystery, all human explanations of it are inadequate. This includes those explanations falling under the larger umbrella of ‘transubstantiation.’
OK, I see a pie coming, what flavor will it be? Cover your face.
2. Contemporary theologians who point out the inadequacies of ‘transubstantiation’ and attempt other explanations are almost never (if ever) denying the doctrine of the Real Presence.
Who is he referring to? Heretical positions like Rahner and Schillebeeckx held? Would they possibly be those of Transfinalization and Transignification which were all condemned by the Church? If not, what other contemporary thoughts should we consider which point out these "inadequacies." What is so inadequate about the definition of Transubstantiation given by Trent? I would like to know. Should Catholics be worried that the definition that Trent gave them is misleading or is not allowing them to be fulfilled when receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist on Sunday at Mass? What message is Fr.Ruff sending here?

3. Those who criticize contemporary theologians and defend ‘transubstantiation’ (as they understand it) sometimes show that they do not understand what contemporary theologians are saying.
Well, if you can't understand what someone is saying, what good is it? It must be a great accomplishment to be so smart that no one can understand you but you. I thought the whole point of theology is to help one's relationship with God, and to better understand and love Him. How does the contemporary theologian help in this when no one can understand him? This reminds me of a favorite quote by the great theologian Fr. John Hardon when he made a reference to the liberal Karl Rahner, "Rahner’s language, not always so clear, I chose the clearest part that I could find."

4. A spiritually fruitful attitude toward various proposed explanations of the Real Presence, including contemporary ones, would be to draw inspiration from them all, though they are all inadequate.
Again, what is inadequate about the definition the Church gives on Transubstantiation? Sure there are mysteries still left unexplained pertaining to the Sacrament, but the infallible definition given at Trent is quite clear, and further expounding on the definition is not easily done since the Canons laid out by the Council are very clearly and very definitively explained. I would like to see what further explanations Fr. Ruff would like to include that was not included at Trent, or other documents of the Church. 
5. Overly strong personal attachment to any doctrine and any explanation of it, including Real Presence and ‘transubstantiation,’ is a form of idolatry. The best antidote to this is the Real Presence itself, which draws us out of human constructs and into the abiding, mysterious presence of God in Christ.

Oh, here is the pie in your face! I knew it was coming. How dare you have a personal attachment to any doctrine that Holy Mother Church-(Jesus)- has given to you! What idolatry! I could go on here, but I won't. Suffice to say, you've been pied.  
6. The magisterium of the Church offers guidance which is helpful but may well be superseded in subsequent eras. Radbertus’ understanding of the Real Presence was affirmed by church officials, for example, only to be roundly rejected by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas’ theology was condemned by church officials, only to be later rehabilitated and affirmed.
This is quite a simplistic and I might add, a distorted view of Church history here. Aquinas did not outrightly reject Radbertus' understanding of the Real Presence, and in fact Aquinas only built upon the foundation that Radbertus had formulated off the Church Fathers before him. It is more accurate to say that Aquinas more fully articulated what those like Radbertus and those before him had stated. Aquinas' theology on the Eucharist was not outrightly rejected by the Church Magisterium. Aquinas' general theology was only put under strict scrutiny because of the Aristotilian influence that Aquinas had adopted, which had yet to be fully scrutinized by the Magisterium. In fact the Dominicans and the Franciscans fought constantly over theological systems in the University of Paris for years. It was hardly a case of complete rejection and rehabilitation by the Church Magisterium. 
7. The conditions for an intellectually and spiritually fruitful discussion of the doctrine of the Real Presence all too often do not exist in the contemporary Catholic Church. Suspicion and misunderstanding are holding us back.
So what else needs to be discussed in reference to the Real Presence? What lacks in the understanding put forth in the Magisterial documents of the Church that are keeping us from a fruitful spiritual understanding? If Father wants to respond to any of these questions I am happy to post them up here.

This is only a small portion of what nonsense is available to read on the Pray Tell blog site. If I have more time I will post more on the things I see posted on there that are a cause for concern to orthodox Catholics. What a shame it is to see part of the great Saint Benedict's order reduced to this. Thanks be to God for the Benedictines of Clear Creek that are keeping the true spirit of Saint Benedict alive!


kkollwitz said...

Thanks for your careful attention to Fr. Ruff's site.

Ben Trovato said...

I too have had comments deleted from PrayTell presumably for the crime of offering an orthodox explanation...

Tancred said...

Ruff made a lot of hay about resisting the new translation, and is frequently in dissident We Are Church circles.

And people complain about how “Traditionalists” are mean.

Carol said...

Congratulations on a superb critique of Fr Ruff. I did not know that he was the main editor of the PrayTell blog. Recently, I contributed a comment to the blog dealing with Latin translations and, for my pains, I got a pie in the face! My only crime was to mention the teaching of Pope Pius XII on the priesthood, and out popped Fr Ruff like a jack-in-the box with a torrent of scolding comments about my being a neanderthal and not a proper Roman Catholic.