There is an old Turkish folk tale about a man charged with the job of bringing nine donkeys to their owner. While on his way, it occurred to him to make sure that he still had all nine donkeys with him, so he counted them. There were only eight. In a panic he dismounted and began looking all about for the ninth donkey, checking all about in the trees and the woods all up and down the path he and the donkeys had been taking, but he found no other donkey. He then returned to the donkeys, which had waited patiently together as a small herd, and counted them again. Now there were nine!
Relieved, he mounted and the herd continued along the path. Some distance further down the path he again grew concerned and counted them again. Once again, there were only eight! And as before, he sought the ninth, did not find it, but then found nine donkeys waiting for him. Continuing yet further he encountered his friend and asked him about this.
"Friend, my donkeys seem to be bewitched! I am to bring nine donkeys to their owner, but sometimes I count only eight and other times I count all nine, and I am afraid, for if I bring only eight donkeys to their owner he will be angry with me and have me beaten or jailed. Can you help me?"
His friend recommended that he try counting them right then. Once again there were only eight! He looked to his friend with panic. "What will I tell their owner now?"
But his friend doubled over with laughter, having seen at once what had happened. With annoyance and confusion the man watched his friend laugh until he could explain himself. Finally, he did.
"You forgot to count the donkey you are riding!"
It seems to be part of the human condition to make mistakes, even such utterly boneheaded mistakes as to make us want to exclaim "D'oh" like Homer Simpson at how stupid our mistakes are. Picture a man looking for his car keys, and he even finds them and has them in his hand, yet somehow, perhaps because he is expecting them to look different (say, by being on a different-looking keychain), he doesn't realize he has them but continues looking for them while the key is already in his hand. Or maybe they've been in his hand so long that he no longer notices he is holding them. The search cannot end until he stops to take another look at what is in his hand more closely, or better still, tries the keys in his hand on the car. This kind of stuff happens to all of us all the time, does it not?
Just this morning, as I write this, I had something kind of similar happen to me. Every morning my wife sets out some warm water in a yellow plastic cup on the kitchen counter to use for washing out the mouth, swallowing morning pills (if any) and so forth. But this morning, events followed a slightly different sequence such that I was to the kitchen unexpectedly early. A quick glance showed no water being heated and no yellow plastic cup in its accustomed place, so I asked her for some warm water.
With the faintest amount of exasperation she said "It's right there in front of you." And so it was! How hadn't I seen it? There are several reasons, none of them substantive reasons as logic would have it, but all of them pertinent to the detailed mechanisms of our thought processes and perceptions. For one thing, it was not in the usual yellow plastic cup, but rather a blue one. For another, it was not in its usual accustomed place in the center of the kitchen counter. For still another, the place that it was instead was on a part of the counter so close to me that as I stood next to it, looking over it into the rest of the kitchen, it was so close to me as to be practically at my belly and not in my direct field of view. Finally, as I had made it to the kitchen more quickly than usual it seemed reasonable to expect that the warm water would not be ready so soon.
In fact, aware of the rush, she had accelerated things a bit, so as to save time instead of washing out and rinsing the usual yellow cup she had instead put it aside and grabbed another, which happened to be blue. As to the different location it was placed, perhaps that was to save me a couple steps in retrieving it. All was perfectly reasonable and natural, in hindsight. Yet at the time, standing at the edge of the counter with the blue cup of warm water only inches from my belly, it had seemed perfectly reasonable to ask for the water to be prepared, as if it weren't so already.
While many associate Alfred Hitchcock with his typically macabre "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television shows and his Psycho movie with its famous "shower scene" his original emphasis as a producer had been humor rather than blood and murder. A very early movie of his, from the silent era, happens to be a personal favorite of both my wife and mine. The movie is titled "The Farmer's Wife" and it tells the story of a prosperous but newly-widowed farmer, named Farmer Sweetland (played then by Jameson Thomas) whose only child, a daughter, has just married, and now, alone in the house (except for the servants, principally Churdles Ash his Coachman and general handyman (played by Gordon Harker), and Araminta or "Minta" his housekeeper and maid (portrayed by Lilian Hall-Davis), he decides that he should remarry.
Pacing the room, and with Minta sitting down and serving as secretary, he has her list the eligible women in the community that he is aware of as possible prospects for marriage. He lists first of all Louisa, a widow herself who is quite fond of horseback riding, Thirza, a socially respectable and proper spinster, and Mary, a younger and stronger girl quite capable of bearing quite a flock of children. At the end, he adds Mercy, the local barmaid, "just for luck!" Surely within such a formidable list of eligible women he should be able to find his next wife.
Much of the movie is then devoted to his attempts to woo each of these women in turn, and with his ever more dramatic failures with each. Louisa is strong and independent, mannish enough for the both of them, and hence in no need of anything he can bring to her life. Thirza, repulsed at the very thought of any man's embrace, panics and withdraws. Mary dismisses him as way too old for her as she contemplates only the younger boys her own age as marriage prospects. Fed up with his bad experiences the farmer let Mary have it, telling her everything he thinks of her, and she breaks down into a histrionically comic form of hysterics.
He finally approaches Mercy the barmaid, not having expected that things should ever come to such a pass, but even she turns him down, not wanting to abandon her post at the bar. From all of this he returns home in utter dejection and despair, now resigned to the fate of a lonely old widower.
Throughout all of this however Minta has been quite professionally fulfilling all the duties of a wife (but one), running the entire household quite efficiently, organizing social occasions, and keeping the farmer looking quite well turned-out. She loves him in fact, having seen what an honorable man he is and how well he had always treated his wife and everyone else, and finds him attractive despite being obviously well into his forties. Minta, for her part, also outdistances the other women for sheer attractiveness on top of her industriousness, helpfulness, and honesty. And yet somehow, until almost the very end, he utterly fails to notice this truly most eminently qualified woman already living under his roof and performing well all the hard work that could ever fall to a wife.
Once again, one has to ask how didn't he see her (as a prospective wife) when she was standing right in front of him, and with her qualifications quite known to him? One can only guess, but perhaps it might be something along these lines. As an honorable man, determined to be utterly faithful to his wife (the wife that passed away at the start of the story), he had long disciplined himself to tune out the evident feminine charms of their housekeeper and appraise her strictly in accordance with professional criteria, namely the quality of work she performed as maid and housekeeper. Another barrier might be how things were back in the times portrayed (and, for that matter, when it was filmed), in which owners were masters, of a higher class of society, and servants were merely "the help," belonging to a lower class, and one did not customarily marry outside one's own class.
Once again, neither of these "reasons" constituted a logical reason to exclude Minta from his considerations, but as part of his thought patterns, they would well enough explain it. So there really was no good reason he couldn't marry Minta. His wife was now dead (and had even, in her dying words, rather cryptically recommended Minta to him), and even when marriage between different classes of society were not common, they were nevertheless sometimes tolerated, especially where the man came from a higher class of society than the woman, and the woman particularly known for her outstanding merits or accomplishments.
I present yet one more example from the celluloid realm, but (I think) more directly relevant to our present case, namely the classic original Star Trek series episode, "Bread and Circuses." They visit a planet looking for survivors from a wreck, and landing in the wild hills just outside a city. Before long they encounter and win the confidence of a small group of runaway slaves living in a cave. This planet is, in nearly all aspects, a duplicate of earth, but with the one exception that ancient and imperial Rome never fell, but continued to thrive, with all manner of Emperors, gladiatorial games, slavery, and even the Roman gods (now incorporated in various product names such as Mars toothpaste, Neptune bath salts, or a rather snazzy looking car called the Jupiter 8).
This group of runaway slaves, led by a man named Septimus, referred to themselves as "children of the sun," believed in only one God and in the universal brotherhood of all men, and whose ways are peace. Septimus described his life story in response to a mention of the various Roman god product names: "Taken from the names of false gods. When I was a senator I worshipped them, too. But I heard the words of the sun. I became a brother. For that, they made me a slave." At one point, Dr. McCoy even muses, "Odd that these people should worship the sun. It is illogical. Rome had no sun worshippers. Why should they parallel Rome in every way except one?"
Their help is requested in entering the city, and one of them is sent to go along with the Enterprise crew into the city. But almost immediately the action begins and we are given little further chance to ponder the mystery of these "children of the sun," and as events unfold they seem to have little to do with the overall story, other than to supply an air of mystery about what the planet's history must have been.
Only at the very end, with our familiar characters having barely escaped the planet with their lives, do we get that brief chance to learn what these "sun-worshippers" were all about:
Spock: "I wished we could have examined that belief of his more closely. It seems illogical for a sun-worshiper to develop a philosophy of total brotherhood. Sun-worship is usually a primitive superstition-religion."
Uhura: "I'm afraid you have it all wrong, Mr. Spock. All of you. I've been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves. The Empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion, but he couldn't. But, don't you understand? It's not the sun up in the sky, it's the Son of God."
Kirk: "Caesar and Christ, they had them both. And the word is spreading only now."
McCoy: "A philosophy of total love, and total brotherhood."
Note, a rather interesting description, leaves an awful lot out. Still, the parts about total love and brotherhood are part of it, and perhaps sometimes it is a good thing to be reminded of that. The dialog continues:
Spock: "It will replace their Imperial Rome, but it will happen in their 20th century."
Kirk: "Wouldn't it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen all over again."
Wow, truer than he knew. It all started back then with 11 men and the Holy Ghost, and now happens all over again, starting again with something just the same as originally.
But note how well, despite some rather obvious hints (as seen in retrospect), the nature of these "children of the sun" manages to be concealed until that revelation at the very end, long after any further chance to learn any more about them (safely keeping the show inoffensive without being disrespectful). All the way through, we are kept thinking that it is the sun in the sky which was worshipped, wonderfully reinforced with the part where Septimus says "May the blessings of the sun be upon you" and with the word "sun" the picture goes to a view of the sun in the sky and our characters walking past, a most splendid misdirection to throw us all off the track.
In each of the above scenarios, the concerned person fails to see what is right before them. Today, even with the Church (more or less) right in front of us, how many recognize it for what it is? True, we have not the vast numbers we had in times of living memory. We have not the vast, ancient buildings (apart from the barest handful), and nowhere near the nearly a billion members and thousands of bishops that we once had sufficient to fill all those churches and cathedrals. We truly are, in every real sense, a remnant Church.
It is tempting at times for me to suppose that those who oppose my findings of where the Church necessarily must be might be doing so out of some sort of malice against the Church. While anything is possible, in all charity I must also consider more innocent motives and mechanisms by which individuals might fail to recognize the Church in her few remaining true clerics today, and especially the psychological ones. Not long ago I wrote that "Their problem isn't really theological. Neither is it doctrinal or canonical, no matter how much they may protest to the contrary. No, their problem is psychological, in their cognitive failure to see the obvious truth." I felt a moral obligation to explore the meaning of that a bit more, hence this piece. After all, the failure of any truly sincere Catholic to recognize the authority of the traditional Catholic clergy is exactly nothing more than this sort of psychological glitch I have been illustrating here, writ large. They fail to recognize the authority of our traditional clergy because they are in the blue cup instead of the yellow one.
It has always been acknowledged that in the end times, there would be a great apostasy, meaning that only a few would be left, spread widely but thinly throughout the whole world, and the ranks of the clergy (priestly and episcopal) would also be few and far between, proportionately speaking. The one thing not known is whether such a scenario would only occur one time, at the end of the days, or one or more additional times before then. Even with the situation upon us now this remains something of a question. If it only happens once, then this really is the end days, but if this is not the end days, then the proposition that it could happen more than once in all of Church history graduates from the status of theological speculation to historical fact.
Either way, has anyone ever thought seriously about what structural nature the Church would possess in such a time in which it exists only as a remnant? As it is doctrinally established that such a thing must happen at least once, at the end of time (and possibly at additional times prior to the end), might any theologian or ecclesiologist or canonist or Doctor of the Church ever discussed what the hierarchical nature of the Church might be in such a time? Perhaps someone more well-read than I might know of a work that addresses such a topic. I don't know of any.
I have, however encountered the brief mention by Msgr. G. Van Noort regarding how even in such final times the Church could not be confined to some single region or part of the world: "Still, theologians usually reject the hypothesis the Church might ever be so besieged with heresy that it would, even for a brief period, be restricted to just one region. Neither should one interpret the Scriptural prophecies about the great defection at the end of the world in such a sense." Beyond that, I will have to venture what could be known, and would likely be discussed as possible scenarios. While discussing the loss of many, or even most clergy to apostasy, some must nevertheless remain. Have any of the theological writers considered the rather obvious fact that, if you had (let us say) a thousand bishops leading a thousand dioceses, and then a great apostasy drags, let us say, 99 percent of them into apostasy and loss of their office, then perhaps about 10 truly faithful bishops would remain. Now, what about the 990 or so dioceses which are effectively without a bishop? Would the jurisdiction of the remaining bishops still be confined to what few fortunate dioceses they formerly belonged to?
That would be tantamount to saying that the Church exists legitimately and hierarchically only in what 10 or so dioceses still have a faithful bishop, or whatever few individual parishes still have a faithful priest, but that the rest of the world has no real right to any Catholic leadership. That seems to me to contradict the statement of Van Noort that the Church could not be limited to some few or one small region. Therefore in such a case of the Church being abruptly reduced to a remnant size, would have to be some canonical mechanism by which the few remaining bishops would have their jurisdiction extended at least as necessary to encompass all souls in all places. In such a case, the old diocesan boundaries would have to be, at least for the most part, rendered entirely moot and inapplicable.
Now what about the pope in such a time? Obviously no theological sources could ever have accepted the notion that a pope could be among those who fall into apostasy, but on the other hand how better to lead so very many into apostasy than by having a non-pope be widely mistaken for a pope? How better for the "False Prophet" of the end times to deceive many into worshipping the Beast, than with simulating the papacy? And even with a pope, say, "Peter the Roman" for example, it would be easy for the Antichrist of prophecy to bump him off, or else at least confine him, holding him incommunicado from the Church, and thus forcing virtually all Catholics to function without such communication with the pope in operation. Bishops would be forced to select their successors without consulting the pope, and would be forced to sort out among themselves how such a large planet is to be divvied among them, now that the former dioceses are at least practically moot.
Is it all that hard to foresee that even confusion, rivalries, and worse might even exist among them? Or that priests and faithful may have some difficulty discerning the true from the false? If any of the real experts as may have addressed the scenario of the final apostasy in bygone days might have drilled down into such details, can they not have concluded that these very things might all be possible?
There is another blogger, perhaps representing the viewpoint of some number of persons, who commendably understands that the Novus Ordo cannot be the Church, and that the real hierarchy absolutely must exist, and truly ought to be sought (oh, they're so close!), but sadly still cannot see the canonical founding and visible legitimacy of our only known traditional clerics. Apparently they still posit either some "bishop in the woods" (or perhaps quite an army of them, though where they would come from I cannot imagine), or else some secretive papal succession going on somewhere.
I think the chances of either of these things existing (at least as expected by such persons) is about on par with the chances of there being somewhere a secret staircase to the moon. Certainly if those who take this position really believed it, they truly ought to devote every energy to pursuing it. In Arthurian legend, the Knights of the Round Table scoured the earth in search of the Holy Grail. It took years, but as the legend has it, the Grail is found. But no one goes to anywhere near such lengths to seek any such secretive Church hierarchy, though so very much more would be riding on that, if it were the truth. Why? Because however much any of us protest to the contrary, I think we all know it doesn't exist. No one bothers to waste any time looking for it for the same reason no one wastes any time looking for a staircase to the moon.
Yet even so, let us be generous and posit that despite all, "something" or "someone" somehow "yet more official" than our known clerics might exist somewhere. Why do they not reveal themselves? Even a total media blackout cannot conceal them. After all, the Gospel spread originally without the benefit of any media support as we know it today, all spreading by word of mouth. Certainly the same could be attained today even with a total and perfect media blackout in force.
"But," they might say, "they must be quiet and conceal themselves, for otherwise they shall be promptly killed off and the Church would then be truly exterminated." Let us even grant that for a moment. But then let us couple this with another observation some have made that they think poses a problem for my thesis. Namely some have asked why it is that our traditional clergy have not been more assertive regarding their canonical authority and jurisdiction. (Some, lying, have even claimed that our Catholic clergy have actually denied having such authority, but no such claim on the part of any of them has ever been actually documented.) Those who like to press that point, or worse still, pass along (or invent) the lie that our traditional clergy even actually and formally would deny their authority seem to take that as evidence of their not possessing it. Could it not just as easily be that they dare not admit it too publicly, for otherwise they shall be promptly killed off and the Church would then be truly exterminated?
Really, could the hierarchy so completely abandon the whole flock all around the world (apart from some completely secretive and tiny elite) and do nothing? Can they really avoid being blessings to the flock? Would they not, of their own nature as the Church's true leaders, nevertheless continue to do all that they can to bless and feed the Church with the true Sacraments and teaching? And who does that? The only ones who can, the true hierarchy of the remnant Church. Even were someone to exist out there of greater dignity or status successfully concealed somewhere, is it not the same vineyard that is served by all Catholic clerics, known and unknown? Is it not the same Gospel, the same Sacraments, and the same Church which is provided by each and all for all the Faithful and the whole of Creation? How could any such unknown persons of greater dignity or status not recognize with all gratitude and honor (once they are free and able to do so) those who kept the Church going throughout their long exile or captivity?
Griff L. Ruby
Note: For those who may have missed other parts of Griff's series, below are the links: