You will find Tom McMahon's commentary today fits easily with the series of commentaries by Dan Donovan over recent days. Tom's commentary today also has some focus on the Council of Trent and its legacy in the modern seminary system. Tom explores how the seminary system came about and what its purpose was – and still is in the eyes of some. What contribution does the seminary system make towards and understanding and development of mature personhood?
An old priest surveys his training in perfection...
A MINI-PREFACE: I was pleased as last week editor Brian remarked about my commentary on personhood, using these words "This is raw stuff and personal". Thanks, Brian, your use of raw and personal connect me to the historical Jesus, that Jewish person who walked the walk and spoke genuine human talk, raw and personal. These two words were silently anathema in my 12 years of seminary training.
This morning I pampered myself to an extra hour of sleep and two hours of History Channel watching. The history documentaries offer sobering reality as well as insight into a dark side of human conduct. I am addicted to WW2 investigations, this morning watching the sinking of the Leopoldville — a troop ship torpedoed in the English Channel in 1944 with the loss of 1500 lives. During ads I flicked back and forth to an Amtrak rail accident that killed 47 innocent sleeping people in 1987 near Mobile, Alabama. Watching I wonder how religion and God played into the lives of those who were lost as well as family survivors who are stunned by tragedy? There is a human impulse to turn to a higher power, one Amtrak employee trapped in a burning car crying out "Our Father who are in heaven...". The man's God seemed so distant from his tragic ending. Such was the God I worked with in seminary. As I think I slide deeper and deeper into the mystery of life. Along with Karl Rahner I accept the mystery of tragedy, not asking why ... and Rahner says it is ok to have doubts. I wonder what the concept of God will mean to me when my life end comes? My greatest loss came with the death of my father when I was two years old, a major factor of my life that is obviously unsolved to this day. Has Jesus anything to do with the God I learned in seminary?
Perhaps Judith said it best in the Catholica Forum: "Brian, this is one of the best commentaries you have given us. I wish that we could say it in the Church as it might shake some of the dead wood occupying the pews from force of habit into THINKING!!!!!" [Judith LINK referring to Vinnie Nauheirmer's "Litany" Commentary LINK.] Yes Judith, this is our primary job today to get people to think. Judith and Brian are beautifully raw and genuine. In younger days I might have said "they are talking turkey". For people this is a new and welcome approach, taking over from the old "Listen up as father speaks ... and says nothing meaningful". Raw voices of the people are so wonderful to hear.
Yes, Brian, and Tom, and Catholica's Helen and Judith, etc., etc., life and God are mystery. In early Christianity the word mystery meant "something to be investigated". O God, your ocean is so big and my boat so small! (My wise Mom gave me this plaque soon after I was ordained.) As I look out my office window at my wife's garden of colorful roses I silently say "I believe". …. And yet there is war, famine, destruction and human folly. What mystery! ... and again I repeat I hear John Chuchman saying "God is love". To understand anything of the Mystery we have made God a person.
NOW BACK TO PERSON and being perfect...
Let's start with Webster and the French word PREFECTURE which the dictionary tells us means OFFICE, AUTHORITY, TERRITORY, RESIDENCE OF A PREFECT... Also Webster has a long list of meanings for our next word PERFECT. It takes but a few hundred years, say from Constantine 425 c.e. to the Council of Trent in 1542 c.e. to move a letter, in this case an R, in various dialects and tribal languages of the Holy Roman Empire. The important part of the word is -fect, the Latin facere = to make. Constantine made Roman commanders, prefects or governors of provinces. Trentan bishops established seminaries to make perfect priests. The model is the same and literally redundant ... the perfect prefect or, in modern times, the perfect authority-pastor. The seminary model is a man-made image of God. Let's further follow the words.
In 4th Century isolated monasteries spiritual perfection was a standard according to a way of daily life focused around rules. The monastery had the educational tools to have its members conform (this word too has the root facere = loosely to make with others, conformity). The Dark Ages and the Black Plague wreaked havoc on the peoples of Charlemagne's Empire, yet the monastic life survived. The Plague was imperfection at its height. Death even today is the most imperfect moment of the human body.
Dark Ages (historiography), the concept of a period of intellectual darkness that supposedly occurred in Europe following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The European Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries AD), particularly:
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, it has been conclusively proven via analysis of ancient DNA from plague victims in northern and southern Europe that the pathogen responsible is the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Thought to have started in China or central Asia, it traveled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346.
Charlemagne (742-814) Latin: Carolus Magnus was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800 in Rome. His rule is also associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the European Middle Ages. [TMcM: Charlemagne was educated in a a monastery school.]
Perfection by education...
Perfection by education was the demanded goal after the Dark Ages and the Black Plague. Perfection began to blossom in the secular world of the Renaissance, e.g. Michelangelo, Galileo. John Dowland, known for his lute music in Europe and composed beautiful melancholic music. Perfection in the religious world continued as the goal of monastic life, while the secular clergy lay in ruin and ignorance until the formation of seminaries. Here is the key: When did seminaries start and what was their purpose? Is the seminary of today and yesteryear a monastic continuance? Is the goal of the seminary the perfect pastor?
AH HA! AS I SUSPECTED ... it's the best kept secret in Roman Catholic history...
When I browsed for "FIRST CATHOLIC SEMINARIES" I came up with zero, nothing ... yes, I can readily find that St. Patrick's Seminary, Maynouth, Ireland was built with English money in the 1800's to make priests who are English gentlemen but no mention of Trent's 1500's plan to re-create a dysfunctional secular clergy by founding seed plots, aka seminary systems, to educate a shattered medieval priesthood. (cf Chaucer's 12th century "shyty priest" and Follet's secretly married old clergyman who in poverty steals money from the deposed king's hunted children in World Without End). The bishops of the Council of Trent would take the bull by the horns, going deeply into the corruption of priesthood that had been driven underground and literally bankrupted of spirituality by the imposition of celibacy on an innocent and decent married clergy on 1147 c.e.. [Tom recommends Shattered Vows by David Rice (1991) for an in depth history of the mayhem that was caused in Europe for the next 900 years by imposing celibacy. Celibacy is an unnatural demand to live in the Creator's sensuous world while pretending to be immune to the powerful gifts of nature.] With communities of faith obliterated in the Fall of the Roman Empire and clerical family life destroyed by the destruction of clerical marriage there were no traditions passed on concerning religion in the non-monastic world. A leaderless clergy driven underground deteriorated into ignorance.
For further understanding check the following:
EUROPEAN HISTORY 1100-1159: Mandatory celibacy is imposed upon the Roman Church. Europe is evolving into feudal enclaves. 1100. Theoderic (1100-1102) is elected pope by the Pope... [www.telusplanet.net/dgarneau/euro50.htm]
The best kept secret in Roman Catholic history is the way seminaries came about and are run to this day. They are monastic in culture, separate from the world, anti-feminine, and completely controlled by Rome. Don't be fooled into thinking that the spirit of Vatican Two is taught at St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, a retreat from ordinary people and the world. Perhaps two modern stories will help understanding (with more next week)...
John Rafael Quinn, retired Archbishop of San Francisco lived in an old mansion, 100 feet from St. Patrick's Seminary built in 1890 c.e.. Tom having attended from 1948 to 1954. The report goes as follows: circa 2000 c.e. Archbishop William Levada surrounded by a group of seminarians in clerical attire shouts at Archbishop Quinn "you stay on your side of the street and stay away from my seminarians". [In 2012 Quinn who had suggested to John Paul 2 that the contraception issue be revisited no longer lives on seminary grounds.]
2nd story: Writer Tom is invited to the blessing of the new St. Patrick's library, a multi-million dollar papal enterprise, by the head librarian Cecil White, an ordained Baptist minister. Archbishop Levada is genially meeting a gathering of the wealthy and approaches Tom with smile and hand out. Levada says: "I have not met you before..." and Tom replies: "on the contrary, archbishop, we met this morning in the editorial page of the San Francisco Chronicle, your letter demanding party loyalty of Catholic educators and mine encouraging them to teach the truth". This possible future pope turned and walked away without a word. I turned to my friends and said: "personally, Scarlet, I don't give a damn".
(Cecil, the best experience to hit SPS is no longer librarian. Cecil is gay. I ran the commentary before him, seeking his ok and this is what I got back. "Tom, the only thing I would add is that I retired at age 73 after 21 years at the seminary, since the fact that I am gay is not directly related to my no longer being at the seminary. Thanks for running this by me. Interesting reading, for sure! Peace, Cecil.")
Tom McMahon, in San Jose with an imperfect ending. 20May2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?