Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis: The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

August 26th, 2013, Promulgated by b a

You might remember the name Dr. Ralph Martin from a recent series on Cleansing Fire reviewing his book, “Will Many Be Saved?”. More recently he has published a sobering a article titled, “The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis: The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas”. You can download it directly here or by going to the free literature page of his organization’s site – The whole article is definitely worth the read, but here’s some snippets.

When the eternal consequences that flow from what we choose to believe and how we choose to act are not spoken of for long periods of time, the silence on these dimensions of the gospel is often taken to mean that they are no longer important, true, or relevant. As one Australian commentator has pointed out, when the eternal consequences of believing and obeying, or not believing and obeying, are left fuzzy, “the essential faith of Catholics will then amount to no more than a vague theism with little specific moral content; just what it is for a large proportion of Catholics today.”6

The collapse of doctrinal clarity is certainly a major contributor to the general indifference to the call to evangelization which has so insistently come from the Magisterium since Vatican II. Cardinal Ratzinger called it a “catastrophic collapse” of catechetics.

The Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has interviewed tens of thousands of Catholics and their pastors and makes the point that even among the minority of Catholics who come to Church somewhat regularly fewer than 10 percent could be considered “intentional disciples” who have consciously made Christ the center of their lives.10 Cardinal Ratzinger remarked on a strange phenomenon he observed in conjunction with the collapse of the Church in the Netherlands after Vatican II. He pointed out that by every statistical measure the Church in the Netherlands was collapsing and yet, strangely, at the same time an atmosphere of “general optimism” was prevalent that seemed blind to the actual situation.

I thought to myself: what would one say of a businessman whose accounts were completely in the red but who, instead of recognizing this evil, finding out its reasons, and courageously taking steps against it, wanted to commend himself to his creditors solely through optimism? What should one’s attitude be to an optimism that was quite simply opposed to reality?11

In the United States, “official optimism” has been quite strong in the midst of radical decline. When the American bishops greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit, they spoke of our “vibrant” Church. Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, Russell Shaw, a respected author and former spokesman for the American bishops, urged the American bishops to stop pretending everything was fine.12

Dr. Martin’s article provides statistics from a “large midwestern diocese”. The numbers are nothing shocking for us here in Rochester. However, the article is, for the most part, about the US (and the Western world) in general. My speculation is that there are a few strongly orthodox dioceses in the US (eg Lincoln), a few strongly progressive dioceses (eg Rochester), and then a majority of not-so-bad-but-not-so-great dioceses in the US. It got me thinking that God often uses situations like we have here in Rochester to actually work for his greater glory. Not that he wills or appreciates dissent or disobedience, but rather that he can use all things to work for His good. I started wondering what my spiritual life would be like if I lived in a typical parish and a typical diocese. Would I have been pushed to search for the truth and battle for my own soul as I have here in Rochester? Or would I have been content to be a minimalist Catholic who isn’t all that bad, but who doesn’t make Jesus Christ the center around which his whole life revolves? I’m not sure, but I am sure that God is here working, right here, right now, begging you and I to lay down our lives for Him… to offer everything we have to Him… to not have a complaining spirit… because ultimately who are we complaining to?

Pray that our next bishop acknowledges just how bad things are and doesn’t bring a false optimism. Continuing with the status quo is no longer an option. Well, it never was an option when you consider the sake of souls, but what really seems to be getting attention is institutions collapsing.

Revelation 3:15-22

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Once again, I will fall back to Scupoli’s “The Spiritual Combat”


(perhaps this a more reader friendly link, but I’m not entirely sure it works)

If you find that chapter helpful, continue on to Chapter 38. Or rather just get the whole book.



8 Responses to “The Post-Christendom Sacramental Crisis: The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas”

  1. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Brother Ben, thank you for this most important promulgation
    on CF.

    I look forward to reading Dr. Martin’s article in its
    entirety and to reading at least chapter 37 & 38 of
    Scrupoli’s book.

    Reminded of Sheen’s prophetic utterance that the laity
    will save the Church, I am convinced that Martin’s article
    and your quoting the above excerpts, Ben, are apt examples of
    laity reminding priests to be priests and bishops to be bishops.

    Lastly, how interesting is the discernment that the desert like Diocese
    of Rochester ultimately can still bring glory to the Lord if for no other
    reason than providing the starving conditions in which those who
    recognize the deadly famine here make the effort to search and
    find the spiritual nourishment necessary for survival.

    Thanks again, Ben, and thanks for helping all of us remember
    to surrender to the LORD by making Jesus Christ the center
    of our lives.

    May Jesus Christ be praised as we strive to become his
    intentional disciples.

  2. Richard Thomas says:

    One thing about the situation here is that I am proud of the people here in the DOR who remained faithful. Theirs is a spiritual warfare that didn’t fade when things got steadily worse. They persevered. Hopefully they can use their experiences when the new bishop arrives, whenever he arrives!

  3. Diane Harris says:

    I have now read the entire 14 page article, and I must say that I find the conclusion disturbing, that someone would need to be “re-baptized”. Clearly, if all the elements for a valid baptism are not there (see CF discussion, e.g. on butt baptism), it has simply not been a baptism. If the exorcism aspects (short-cut or eliminated in contemporary baptisms) must be fully included for validity, then the Church can require that, just as JP II required “re-baptism” for those who had been baptized in the feminized trilogy. Marriages have been annuled where there was a documented intent to block procreation. But what troubles me most, and on which the pages are silent, is the possibility of invalidity of ordination, on which the sacraments so depend. Once that can of worms is opened, can anyone be sure he or she is receiving the Body of Christ, e.g.? There would seem to be a wide-open door for doubt and for scrupulosity opened in this article.

  4. Richard Thomas says:

    We have to be so careful as to what we read.

  5. militia says:

    Richar Thomas, you are so right. The devil attacks by creating doubt so even the faithful may be led astray.

  6. Ben Anderson says:

    I thought the article mostly dealt with valid, but unfruitful sacraments. The only place I see in the article where invalidity is mentioned is when there is a “defect of willing the intention”. I would suspect that this is much more common in the sacrament of baptism than in sacrament of holy orders. I would guess the “defect of willing the intention” could be caused by 1) ignorace or 2) willful deception. I can’t imagine either of these happening very frequently in the case of holy orders. #1 would be practially impossible and #2 would take a serious dedication to do evil. It would require someone going through the 6-10 year (or however long) process of being trained to become a priest all the while deceiving those entrusted to ensure his readiness. Then when the sacrament was being conferred, the person being fake-ordained would have to think in their heart, “I do not will that I become a priest”. At least that’s my mostly ignorant take on the article. I suppose it’s possible, but I have a hard time imagining that person would then go on to deceive an entire congregation into worshipping bread and wine.

    The way I read it the exorcisms, though not required for validity, would help to remove the possibility of the “defect of willing the intention”

    As to being careful about what we read… is the allegation that St. Thomas is wrong or that Dr. Martin is misreading St. Thomas?

  7. Diane Harris says:

    Ben, I do agree with much of the article. I should have made that clear. Also, I wrote fast from memory and have now checked — it was Pope Benedict who declared the feminist formula (creator, redeemer, sanctifier) to invalidate a baptism, not Pope John Paul II. I apologize for that error.

    Now, to the point at hand, the part that disturbs me is the quote regarding Baptism: “If an adult lack the intention of receiving the sacrament, he must be rebaptized.” First, I’d like to understand the ST quote better, in context, and in the accuracy of the translation, which I am not able to do at this point. I would, however, point out that “lacking the intention” and “intending not” are two different things. “Intending not” to be baptized would relate to holding someone down, doing a ‘valid’ baptismal rite but against their will. I do believe that is not a baptism at all.

    But if someone is poorly catechized not through his or her own deliberate fault, if they don’t fully comprehend the complexity and dimensionality of what they are entering into (and does anyone, really?) while I can see that interferes with the fruitfulness of the sacrament, I have a hard time seeing the need for rebaptism. Yes, they may well have not intended all that Baptism will demand of them. Rather, I rely on the Catechism quote regarding the mark or character of Baptism: “No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.” It seems to me that even a sin of poor preparation will impede the fruitfulness of the sacrament, but not invalidate it. Probably this problem is most commonly incurred when the non-Catholic member of a couple says “Sure, honey, I’ll convert for you and we’ll raise the kids Catholic (read: I don’t have any religion anyway, and if it makes you happy, sure I’ll do it.) I would think there would be little fruitfulness, but not a need for rebaptism if and as they began to awaken in faith.

    I am not claiming to be any authority, but just responding to how this part of the article struck me.

  8. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    I still am convinced that layman Dr. Ralph Martin, President of Renewal Ministries, is helping to save the Church. His heartfelt exhortations are one of the ways in which our Catholic brother Martin is helping to save the Church. (Don’t exhortations remind priests to be priests, bishops to be bishops and laity to be converted, committed persevering laity?)

    Enjoy these excerpts from his September Newsletter:

    “I’d like to recall for us the well-known saying: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Indeed! No matter how much darkness we see around us Christ remains the one true light of the world and he is living in us! So, let’s continue to let our Light shine in suffering love,in prayer, in deeds of kindness and in words of truth lovingly spoken…

    “Summer is a busy time for missions and we have had teams all over the world helping people discover the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the wounds that come from sin, and the great hope of Jesus Christ, the same: yesterday, today and forever…

    “Until next month let’s just keep getting up every day and as best we can, do what he’s given each of us to do in loving, serving, suffering and praying until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead…

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