Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Crosbyizing the Church: or The Church Anoetic

This post is deliberately contentious, but a recent editorial in National Catholic Reporter by Fr. Michael Crosby, a Capuchin Franciscan, needs to be contended in forceful terms.

In approaching this topic, I am deeply cognizant of the moral obligation in para 2478 of the Catholic Catechism that:
To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

In the essay, Fr. Crosby purports to teach us about the aptness of St. Paul's use of the word "stupid", which he suggests "has a religious meaning too." He posits that this word was applied (and by implication can be applied today) to those who would "undermine the power of the Spirit by an overstress on the law".

He then commences with a peculiar Scripture study of a supposedly Greek word - "anontos" (found in Gal 3:1-5, Luke 24:25, etc.) which he translates as "stupid", and implies that is appropriate for referring to "believers who have reverted to some "other gospel" or teaching that is undermining the integrity of the Spirit-grounded Gospel they once embraced."

Fr. Crosby calls such people "Romanizers" --apparently in reference to the See of Peter with its governmental and juridical structure necessary for the organization and continuity of that 2000-year old, transgenerational, global institution that Christ intended to reach to all humanity for all ages to come. How that might have happened without a governmental and juridical structure, while retaining her necessarily universal nature, is something that Fr. Crosby does not seem to concern himself with. Yet he is quite clear that these "Romanizers" commit the error of "overstress on the law." Playing on the sense of "Judaizers" in Gal 2:14, they are likewise too concerned with the Law to follow the "spirit". These are the ones, "who insist on another gospel for Catholics that is overly law-based rather than one committed to the creation of a new society through the power of belief in the Spirit at work in the community." These are the ones who, "still preach a God whose will it is that the church continue to be characterized by patriarchy", and who seek "to preserve laws around a priesthood that is only male and celibate (at least in the Latin Rite)".

All of this is, of course, in reference to a presupposed crisis in vocations, where some dioceses cannot attract enough solid and healthy young men to the priesthood: his solution is to ordain the permanent deacons by fiat, if the Church does not meet his demands within his stipulated timeframe:
First, I would take sufficient time to form all the people in good ecclesiology, especially eucharistic theology. Once all the stakeholders seem sufficiently formed and informed, I would notify the various ecclesiastical authorities involved that I am giving them one year to change church law to enable married men to be ordained priests. If they refuse, I would go ahead and ordain those existing deacons who are brought forward by the people and expand the candidates from there.

While he gives no explicit indication that he would not also ordain women, his accusations of patriarchy against the Church and his implication that "a priesthood that is only male and celibate" is "actually undermining the integrity of local churches" does not allow room for much doubt as to his intention if things were left up to his judgment. I trust that, in charity and fairness, even Fr. Crosby would see his argument honestly reflected back to him in what I have written above.

That said, it seems to me that Fr. Crosby's essay raises massive problems.

First, whereas he presumes to teach us all about the "anontoi" in the Church today (those who profess that the call to ministerial priesthood is vested in bishop whose authority is vested in him by the Successor of Peter whose authority is granted by Christ), it seems uncharitable to suggest that these are "stupid" people, let alone presuming that they are not obeying the Holy Spirit as Christ's guarantee of our Faith. 

But secondly, one must question how he presumes to teach us anything about Scripture or the Greek sense of the words when he does not even display a rudimentary grasp of the language.  There is no Greek word "anontos" or "anontoi" (as he cited Gal 3:1, 3). When I first read "anontos", a word I had never seen before, I tried to parse it as "an" (without) +  "ontos" (being, existence, reality, etc.), but that didn't make much sense. So trying to figure out what he was trying to talk about, I went back to the Greek in the passages he cited. The word is actually ἀνόητοσ -- anoetos -- from "a" (not, without) + "noetos" (perception, knowledge, sense).  Someone who is "a-noetic" would be someone who lacks thought, mind, sense, or knowledge. Fr. Crosby confuses the Greek η (eta) for the Latin "n".  It is a vowel, not a consonant, and thus he gives us an unintentional example of ἀνόητοσ.

Now this is hardly just a scrivener's error, he makes it numerous times and consistently.  But more importantly he also reveals a lack of understanding of what he is presuming to teach us.  In Fr. Crosby's curious exegesis, his acceptance of the English word "stupid" (common enough in some translations) is to claim that the those "Romanizers" are somehow not just stupid as ordinarily understood in common parlance but are actually obstructive of the will of God (presumably as privately revealed to Fr. Crosby).  They are "slow of heart", they do "not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness", in short they have abandoned the Gospel and "reverted to some "other gospel" or teaching that is undermining the integrity of the Spirit-grounded Gospel they once embraced."

Yet the clear sense from Gal 3 is simply "without thinking", or "mindless". It is interesting linguistically that this gets translated into Latin as something like "insensible" and "stultified" (indeed the Vulgate translates "ἀνόητοι" to insensati and stulti, among other terms) which then comes down to common English as "stupid".  "Stupid" is from stupere -- "to stun" -- which can suggest someone is rendered "insensate" by a blow, or "stultified" where someone has lost one's senses and appears foolish. The sense of "a-noetic" evokes a whole constellation of meaning around the root noe, whence we derive "know", "gnosis", "Gnostic", "diagnosis", "prognostication", and "nose".  The primitive sense of "know" seems to involve the sense of smell, as dogs do, so words like "nose", "nasal", "nostril", "schnoz" and even "snot" are related. It is not mere coincidence that we speak of being "nosey" or "sticking your nose into other people's business" -- these are derived from the primal sense of noe. Yet in an effort to make a theological point, Fr. Crosby decides that the common English "stupid" works for his agenda, and yet he must insist that "stupid" means not merely idiocy, but working against the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it would be "stupid" to work against the Holy Spirit, but it is a massive stretch to posit that Paul or Jesus use this word theologically to refer to those who would oppose the Spirit. Of course, anoetos can also have the meaning of "unwise" (ἀνοήτοις in Rom 1:14).  Which raises the question of whether it is not ἀνόητοσ to pontificate about priestly ordination by starting with Greek gibberish? Fr. Crosby certainly "stuns" his readers.

Third, and most significantly, is Fr. Crosby's own presumption of "good ecclesiology", the sort of thing he wants to form others in. The order of the Church, from the NT onward, and shown in the earliest post-Apostolic writings (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Firmilian, etc), displays some obvious sense of apostolic succession and order to the Church through the authority of the bishop by which men were elevated to the priesthood. The vox populi, or sensus fidelium no doubt raised potential candidates to the attention of the bishop. However, there is no solid evidence of valid ordination apart from the episcopacy, and no solid evidence for an episcopacy apart from apostolic succession. Certainly, while the exact development of the organizational order of the Church remains somewhat cloaked in the dim light of history, where we can reasonably rely on the NT and the Church Fathers to give some glimpse of the primitive Church's practices and self understanding in first few centuries, we see nothing to critically undermine the conventional understanding of apostolic succession, with the authority to govern, to teach, to minister, and to ordain as particularly vested in the office of the bishop. Conversely, among the early Gnostics, the Montanists would ordain women as priests and bishops, eventually came to regard the episcopacy as redundant, and as the final arbiter of the Spirit in introducing novelties as appendages to the Gospel thus presumed to usurp the role of the bishop. (see Ronald Knox's chapter on Montanism in his Enthusiasm).

In fact, we should note that Fr. Crosby's own priesthood has no meaning or validity apart from the apostolic succession through his ordaining bishop who was in turn vested by the Successor of Peter and the apostles.  It is not his, nor his community's, to decide that a deacon can be ordained a priest, even if the "various ecclesiastical authorities" would not yield to his petulant demand to change the canon law within one year. That "vocation" to the priesthood is only properly and objectively heard as the voice of Christ speaking through the bishop who is able to ordain by virtue of his own apostolic authority.

So where Fr. Crosby claims that the "Romanizers"  are overly concerned with laws, he is also staking a claim quite against the deep traditions of our faith. He is advancing quite a different and essentially communitarian ecclesiology, which requires that he overlooks that no Christian community can ever be self contained and self sufficient. In this he implicitly rejects that the body of Christ is an organic, formal, hierarchical, transgenerational and universal reality wherein the authority of Christ is passed on or handed down (traditio) by the laying on of hands, back to the apostles who received their office from Christ. Fr. Crosby's community of the Spirit, which apparently exists apart from the visible and hierarchical Church, is what he holds to be the true Church, while what we see as the organized, institutional Catholic Church is false and errant: ""fathers" who are giving us stones and scorpions rather than the Holy Spirit."  False, because if the visible Catholic Church cannot objectively and inerrantly transmit the truth of Christ in matters of faith and morals, then none of us have any use for it.

While trying in vain to read his words "insofar as possible .. in a favorable way", I am now in the position of asking "How does Fr. Crosby understand his own position such that it can accord with the Church's magisterial teaching?"  Does he, as seems apparent by his plain language, really deny that Christ has provided for his Church throughout all generations by the sure method of apostolic succession vested in the episcopacy? Does this not include ordination through the laying on hands, and the safeguarding of the deposit of faith, all by the operation of the Holy Spirit as promised and guaranteed by Christ? How can he imply a stupidity -- whether of idiocy or lack of knowledge or unwise or (worst of all) being obstructive of the will of God -- to the See of Peter?

We should ask then, if "Romanizers" would be Fr. Crosby's term for those who commit the error of "overstress on the law" (a term which I, of course, reject), then what would we call those who commit the error of overstress on their own capacity to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in opposition and contradiction to the Apostolic See?  Gnostics? Protestants? Crosbyizers?


  1. Well documented, well argued and enjoyable to read, but as I stated in response to your challenge of my blurb in the NCR: "I'd rather be WRONG with Crosby, than 'RIGHT' with Ratzinger, Rode, Burke, Levada and Law."
    Craig B. McKee, Hong Kong

  2. How sad, Mr. McKee, and pathetically stiff-necked.