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Dignitas Infinita: Lowering the Bar

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In my study of the current crisis in the Church, I have learned that it can all be summed up by one core problem: a collective lowering of the bar.

Every parent, teacher, coach, manager, supervisor, or babysitter knows that children are overachievers. They will do anything they can to meet your expectations, no matter where they are set. So where you set them is of critical importance. We carry that childlike desire (and ability) to meet high standards into adulthood as we enter our careers or vocations.

This has always been true in the life of the Church as well. Christ set the bar for how to love unfathomably high in His passion, death, and resurrection, but He also explicitly called us to a high standard many times in the gospels:

You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Following Christ’s example, the Church has always encouraged giving our best and setting the bar high both practically and spiritually. This is why our physical churches, our music, our art work, our liturgy, our scholarship, our hospitals, our universities, and every other aspect of Catholic culture is – no, was – the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the standard on which the West was built.

This is why we look to the saints as examples – sometimes the life of a saint, especially a martyr, seems like an impossibly high bar to strive for, yet that is our call.

When did we lose sight of this principle? When did we quit striving to give to God our absolute best in all that we do? Not only should we strive for that, the virtue of religion – giving to God what He is due – demands it!

It is hard to pinpoint an exact date and time, but many would point to the “spirit” of Vatican II as the culmination of this bar lowering. The very reason the council was called seems to be a reaction to a changing world, but unlike previous councils where the Church held firm while the world changed, this time it was reversed. Instead of calling the world to the Church’s standards, the sin and corruption of modernity was allowed to corrupt the Church at every level. Altars and architecture were physically decimated, beautiful art was removed or plastered over, the rites of all the Sacraments were gutted beyond recognition, our musical patrimony all but suffocated under the grasp of 60s folk hymns. You know the story.

Instead of reaching upward, grasping to understand the majesty and mystery of a glorious High Mass, we were told we need a Mass that is simpler, easier to understand. How has that turned out?

And now, under the pontificate of Francis, the bar is so low that if a document is not filled to the brim with heretical ambiguities, it gets praised! “Give three cheers for this document, it does not completely undermine 2,000 years of tradition!”

That brings us to today, to the release of Dignitas Infinita.

Our society has forgotten basic truths like what a woman is, and our Church has forgotten basic teachings like the death penalty, communion for the divorced and remarried, and now we have forgotten that there is more to salvation than being nice.

There are some things in this document that are good and a few that are down right heretical. But I see many commentators saying that because this document is not as bad as they thought, it is a relief. When did the bar for Church documents get so low?

To illustrate my point, I will focus on just one problem area that occurs early on. Paragraph 12 of the document states:

The glorious Christ will judge by the love of neighbor that consists in ministering to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, with whom he identifies (cf. Mt. 25:34-36). For Jesus, the good done to every human being, regardless of the ties of blood or religion, is the single criterion of judgment. [emphasis mine]

A charitable interpretation of this might be that the language is sort of ambiguous and does not clearly reiterate Church teaching on the matter. But come on people, the authors and approvers of these documents are the theologians, bishops, and cardinals (princes of the Church!) at the highest level. Why is the bar for their writing, which affects the universal Church, that if you interpret it with maximum charity and understanding it does not rise to the level of total heresy? This is simply madness.

This passage, as written, implies that:

  1. Your religion has no bearing on your salvation.
  2. There is only one criterion for salvation.
  3. You have power over your own salvation simply by your works.

Commenting on the same passage, Fr. Dave Nix notes:

[M]odernist heretics are correct that we will be judged on how we treated the poor but it is a total heresy to say that the corporal works of mercy are the “single criterion” [as the quote says above] at our particular judgment. In fact, such an assertion is the same as the ancient heresy of Pelagianism which holds we can be saved by good works without grace.

There may be some good passages in the new document, but I think we do ourselves and our hierarchy a disservice by continuing to accept such low expectations from the highest of places. These documents should: heavily cite our two thousand year history of excellent scholarship and theological writing; clearly address the madness ensnaring the world today; destroy heresies with clarity and, where possible, brevity; and, above all, use truth in reasoning and teaching to point to Jesus, Who is Truth itself.

The Church should set a high bar for her members, as Christ Himself did, and we should set a high bar for our clergy. Anything less is unacceptable.

Photo credit: LifeSite.

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