No Longer a Channel
Brethren: “All that is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory over the world, our Faith.” — 1 John 5:4
It was Low Sunday when I finished reading Christopher Ferrara’s exposition of the errors broadcast by the Eternal Word Television Network, and it was good that the strong and hopeful words of that day’s epistle still resonated in my thoughts or I might have given ear to the devil of despair, whose whisperings are more or less constant in this age of ecclesial disintegration.
Thomas Merton once observed, with seeming unconscious irony, that all that is public in our age is patently false. In that EWTN purports to carry the banner of orthodox Catholicism, its public persona falls under Merton’s condemnation. As Mr. Ferrara demonstrates through the marshalling of incontestable facts, EWTN has become the agent of New Church, a term he uses to denote that collection of modernist propositions, liturgical aberrations and disciplinary lapses that counterfeits the Faith, yet enjoys the benediction of the hierarchy.
How an enterprise that might have become a force for the restoration of Catholic Tradition devolved into a media mouthpiece for “moderate modernism” makes for an instructive story about the dangers of compromise. The foundress of EWTN, Mother Angelica, had angered the Catholic hierarchy in the United States by her criticism of Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles and, by extension, all who have an affinity for Mahony’s heterodoxy, which is to say almost the entire national episcopacy and the heads of some Roman dicasteries.
Details of the hierarchical machinations that led Mother Angelica to resign control of the network to a lay board in order to save it from church authorities are ably narrated by Mr. Ferrara. He demonstrates that Mother Angelica’s decision was to have disastrous results, but it was a decision that kept her and the network’s canonical skirts clean, so to speak. The debacle that followed illustrates the terrible price New Church exacts from those who prefer its grant of respectability to the truth.
My First Impression of EWTN
I recall the first time I tuned in to EWTN, late at night and quite by accident, back in the (relatively) good old days when Mother was at the helm. The first image on the screen was that of a layman — I forget his name — holding a Bible in his lap and expounding some meaning he had extracted from the text.
I did not then know of the existence of a “Catholic” network and assumed the program to be a Protestant religious broadcast, an assumption based not only on the preaching of a layman, a former Protestant minister who had yet to surrender the pulpit, but on the ethos of the scene. It lacked the sensus catholicus.
My imminent changing of the channel was arrested, however, by a program break during which a picture of the Pope flashed on the screen accompanied by some adulatory words. This surprised me, as did the subsequent appearance of a Franciscan who was hosting the next segment.
He had a long white beard — too long, I thought — that lent him an air of studied eccentricity, and a supercilious expression in his large, sad eyes, as though he were wearied by his own words and impatient of the necessity of having to speak them.
His topic was the meaning of Faith. He explained, with mild irritation, that Christendom had once been rent down the middle by a dispute over whether we are saved by Faith alone, or Faith joined to works. His manner suggested that we had, thankfully and at long last, overcome our penchant for such quibbles and adopted a more mature and tolerant view of the matter. But the substance of that view was not made plain. I found his manner condescending and could not forbear indicting him for either gross ignorance or intellectual dishonesty, so I turned off the tube. I was later to learn that the ecumenical Franciscan was Father Benedict Groeschel, an ubiquitous personality on EWTN.
Fr. Groeschel Attacks Catholic Dogma
Mr. Ferrara catalogues some of Father Groeschel’s televised statements repudiating the defined dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. Not only does Father Groeschel say he has never accepted this dogma, he more or less boasts of his early and constant rejection of this Catholic teaching as a testament to his commonsensical grasp of the fact that not all nice people are Catholic, and nice people don’t go to Hell.
Leaving aside the fact that Our Lord did not say, “He who seems nice to Father Groeschel shall be saved,” the hard fact of the matter is that all Catholics are bound to accept the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church under the pain of anathema. In a saner and better age, Father Groeschel would be required either to recant his heresy or face excommunication. Now, in what Mr. Ferrara so accurately describes as “the anomic landscape” of the post-conciliar Church, Father Groeschel propagates his errors with impunity.
EWTN Promotes Paganism
As I said, I first saw Father Groeschel in EWTN’s better days, but even then there was a great deal of temporizing and much that was unsound. The network has, for instance, promoted from its inception the cult of John Paul II. As Mr. Ferrara shows, fidelity to the cult has required the suppression of all criticism of the late Pope’s words and actions; what is worse, it has required that papal behavior which can only be described as scandalous be made the measure of orthodoxy.
The network has been far less concerned about defending the Faith than it has been about defending the vagaries of John Paul II.
The network has praised the introduction of pagan rites into papal Masses, such as the use of Aztec dancers during the beatification Mass for Juan Diego in Mexico City and the Pope’s cleansing by sacred smoke and feathers by a female Indian during his beatification of the martyrs Juan Bautista and Jacinto de Los Angeles.
Nothing the late Pope ever said or did has evoked a censorious response from EWTN’s sycophantic commentators: not his kissing of the Koran, nor his syncretistic World Day of Prayer celebrations, nor joint liturgies with pro-abortion heretics claiming episcopal status, nor his turning over Catholic churches to schismatic sects. All that could not be tortuously interpreted as acceptable was glossed over or completely ignored.
It may be that moral precept and social etiquette counsel refrain from lightly criticizing those placed in authority over us, and this would apply supremely to the Pope, but as Mr. Ferrara demonstrates by appealing to St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena, even the Pope is subject to the reprimand of his inferiors when his conduct gives scandal or harms the Faith.
Whether the idolatry of the papal personality will continue under Benedict XVI remains to be seen, but the precedent is there and likely to be followed, with the result that de fide teachings will be subordinated to the public gestures and personal opinions of the Pope. It’s papal infallibility turned upside down.
Other EWTN Errors
Mr. Ferrara is an attorney and he prepares the case against EWTN with a painstaking attention to provable fact. With meticulous documentation and careful analysis, aided by a gift for writing lucid and vigorous prose, Mr. Ferrara leads us through the labyrinth of doctrinal errors and lamentable sacrileges that EWTN’s programming promotes.
In chapter after chapter, he details the network’s attempts to destroy the traditional Rosary, jettison the Fatima Message, paganize the liturgy, cooperate in creating a new “Hebrew” branch of the Church, discredit those who uphold the traditional Faith, and pander to modern decadence with a ridiculous “cool Catholicism.”
The latter project is especially distressing, as it strips the Church of her dignity and pants after youth like an old woman donning the latest fashions in a futile and fatuous attempt to be hip. No effort at ingratiation could be more effective in inciting the contempt of the young than New Church’s “cool Catholicism.”
The most distressing chapter in the book, for me, at least, is that which deals with sexual Gnosticism. Mr. Ferrara first examines the bizarre notions put forth by EWTN’s resident sexologist Greg Popcak, who reveres sex as a sacrament and has abandoned all sense of Catholic modesty — and all sense, period — in his hyperbolic hymns to Eros. Popcak even makes sexual analogies to the godhead in words so shockingly indecent that it is painful to read them. Yet, it is not the unthinkable and unspeakable aberrations of Popcak that most disturb me, but the feminization of the Holy Ghost promoted by Scott Hahn, the former Protestant minister turned chief preacher and theologian of EWTN.
EWTN’s Attack Against
the Most Holy Trinity
The Trinity is the fount and origin of our Faith, the principal mystery of the Catholic religion. All heresies have either begun as a denial of the Trinity or eventually resolved themselves into an attack upon the Church’s Trinitarian doctrine. It is perhaps not too much to say that one should only approach this great mystery on one’s knees. Yet, Hahn has granted himself the license to put forth a Trinitarian analogy that contradicts the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and the Magisterium through the millennia.
Hahn would have it that the Holy Ghost is “bridal/maternal” and “wife/mother,” although he disingenuously cautions that one should not address God as “Mother.” But if the Holy Ghost is the maternal aspect of God, one fails to see any reason for the admonition, other than the duplicity that Mr. Ferrara points out as usual in modernist tactics: the promotion of heterodoxy alongside the insincere affirmation of the undermined orthodoxy.
Hahn’s likening of the role of the Holy Ghost in the Trinity to that of his wife Kimberly in their home descends to a level of bathos that should embarrass a man reputed to possess some intellect and learning. But Hahn presses the point, even devising a schema that contrasts the supposed juridical role of the “husband/father” Son to the sanctifying role of the “wife/mother” Holy Ghost.
As Mr. Ferrara points out, this schema involves a disjunction of sanctifying grace into two types, as though he who is sanctified by grace is not also justified by the same grace: Such a gratuitous bifurcation finds no place in the Church’s theology of grace. Also, the schema necessarily suggests that the Son, being “husband/father,” is the spouse of the “wife/mother” Holy Ghost. Where does this leave the Father? Has He become the child of this analogy? And what sort of monstrous Oedipal images does it evoke?
The intrinsic absurdities of Hahn’s analogy are detailed by Mr. Ferrara with some assistance from commentators of New Oxford Review, including one of Hahn’s admirers who nevertheless cannot condone his theological freelancing.
Mr. Ferrara’s critique of Hahn’s attempt to feminize the Holy Ghost is logical and rooted in traditional doctrine, but I must dissent from him on one point: he refers to Hahn’s idea as a novelty. It is hardly that.
St. Augustine Refutes Scott Hahn
It so happens that during this past year I was drawn to read St. Augustine’s De Trinitate — On the Trinity. As is the case with all of St. Augustine’s writings, this work must be read slowly and meditatively, with frequent revisiting of passages that are especially rich in meaning. When I read of Hahn’s likening the Trinity to a family, I recalled that St. Augustine devoted some chapters to refuting this notion. In Book 12, Chapter 5, Augustine writes:
“They do not seem to me to offer a probable opinion to believe that, with regard to human nature, the trinity of the image of God in three persons can so be found as to be completed in the marriage of man and woman and their offspring … they say, the third person, as it were of the Spirit, would be the woman who so proceeded from the man as to be neither his son nor his daughter …”
St. Augustine then goes on to explore the “errors” to which this faulty and unseemly analogy lead, and they are much the same as those detailed by Mr. Ferrara. St. Augustine characterizes this analogy as “absurd” and “easily refuted,” yet he says he does not reject it ultimately on the grounds of its unsound logic and gross tendencies, “… but because the Divine Scripture clearly shows it to be false. For God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness.’ ”
St. Augustine then goes on to specify the Scriptural basis for the distinction he makes between “sapientia” (wisdom) and “scientia” (knowledge). This distinction is crucial in Augustine’s thinking. He says that the image of God in man, the Trinitarian impress, can only be found in the human mind as it contemplates the changeless truth — sapientia — and not as it orders temporal matters — scientia. He refers to the passage in the Letter to the Galatians (3:26-28) in which St. Paul says that for those who have been renewed in Christ there is neither male nor female. This is so, says St. Augustine, “Because they are renewed there to the image of God, where there is no sex … namely, in the spirit of the mind.”
St. Augustine also notes that although one may posit a trinity in man, woman and child, it can in no way be likened to the Trinity of Divine Persons, and he speaks with no little disdain of the attempt by some to do so.
Now, the question arises: if one with my limited learning knows of St. Augustine’s condemnation of Hahn’s analogy some 16 centuries before EWTN provided a vehicle for its dissemination, why don’t the theological lights of this putatively Catholic network possess this knowledge? Has Hahn really read St. Augustine? He holds academic titles and a teaching position; he presents himself as a Catholic theologian. He publishes books. Is it not reasonable to expect him to be familiar with the most famous treatise ever written on the Trinity? And if he departs from St. Augustine, hasn’t he an obligation to say in what way he finds this Doctor of the Church’s theology inadequate or in need of correction?
Mr. Ferrara scrupulously adheres to holy charity in his refusal to engage in ad hominem attacks and in his acknowledgment that he is only dealing with objective errors, not subjective dispositions. I would hope to do the same in this review. Yet, I cannot countenance the sort of effrontery shown by Hahn as less than culpable, and I will further say that such temerity in reference to Catholic Tradition, whether it be in matters of theology or liturgy or defined doctrine, has become characteristic of New Church.
What strikes me as odd is that Hahn should seek a mother in the Holy Ghost when Our Lord has given us His Mother as our own. In seeking the spiritual ideal of the “bridal/maternal,” why does Hahn not avail himself of the Blessed Mother and the rich tradition of devotion to Her that is so integral to Catholic spirituality? The proper teaching of spiritual motherhood put forth by many Catholic writers through the centuries is that as Mary cooperated with the Holy Ghost to give birth to Jesus, She continues to cooperate with the Holy Ghost to give birth to Christ in souls. She begets children of God in the Mystical Body as the mediatrix of those graces merited by Her Son.
Yet, Hahn pursues spiritual maternity in the recrudescence of an ancient error refuted in the 4th Century by St. Augustine.
EWTN a Pulpit of Protestant Preachers
Mr. Ferrara may have given us the key to this mystery in noting that many of the EWTN personalities are former Protestant ministers who entered the Church after Vatican II, when the entire Catholic ethos was being lost amid the disorder of the post-conciliar reforms. In an earlier age, such converts would have taken their places in the pews and grown in their knowledge and love of the Faith as devout laymen. Now, they continue to occupy their pulpits, relocated to Irondale, Alabama, and feel free to make themselves the equals and even the antagonists of the greatest theological lights God has given us. On one side of the scale, we have Augustine and Aquinas and the Magisterium, on the other, Hahn, Popcak, et al. The disproportion is extreme.
T.S. Eliot once delivered some lectures on Christian civilization in which he detailed the process of cultural disintegration. He said that when a culture is strong, it assimilates the foreign elements with which it comes into contact. This has been the case with the Catholic Church through most of her history. From a small band of disciples in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, the Faith swept over the world and transformed it into Christendom. But that process has come to an end. Since Vatican II, the Church has suffered a rapid and radical breakdown. Eliot noted that a culture can become so weakened that it loses the power of assimilation; then, when it comes into contact with foreign elements, instead of absorbing and transforming them, it is itself absorbed and transformed.
EWTN features several converted Protestant ministers who feel free, as Mr. Ferrara notes, to “do theology.” The network provides them with an electronic pulpit and a huge congregation. They represent a new phenomenon in the Catholic Church: the lay preacher. These lay preachers have absorbed and transformed EWTN into the Protestant ethos from which they have supposedly departed. They demote magisterial doctrine to “traditional models” that one can adhere to or not, according to one’s private judgment. Hahn’s Trinitarian tinkering is symptomatic of the cultural disintegration of the Catholic Church. EWTN, far from promoting the Faith, chronicles its demise.
We Cannot Compromise with EWTN
In his conclusion, Mr. Ferrara advises those who support EWTN to cease doing so, for the network has become the compromised agent of the modernist New Church. He encourages all who would be true to the Faith to seek out the Traditional Latin Mass and sound priests and teachers; to adhere to the defined dogmas of the Faith and not be seduced by novelties.
He also regards the diabolical disorientation of New Church in the light of Fatima. The blessings that would have resulted from the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary have become the curse brought upon us by a disobedient hierarchy. It is precisely EWTN’s compromise with that hierarchy that has made the network the vehicle for an adulterated Faith. “The Church can never be restored by a compromise with Modernism,” Mr. Ferrara writes. This sentence should become the ruling precept in all our dealings with church authorities in these perilous times.
Compromise may seem reasonable, even advisable in some instances, and in many areas of life, so it is. But our adherence to the Catholic Faith must be absolute or we will lose it.
Use Your Catholic Faith
or You May Lose It
When I was a young man, I traveled widely, and my wanderings once brought me to a small island off the coast of northern Spain. Not much grew in its sandy soil and rocky mounds, but a great many goats grazed within its low rock-wall enclosures. Some had strings tied to them, joining their front legs to their back legs with only a little slack in between; others were unencumbered. This aroused my curiosity and I asked a farmer, through an interpreter, why some goats were bound and others free. He told me that the strings prevented the young goats from extending their legs, so that they could not run and leap over the walls. After a while, he explained, the goats no longer tried to run and leap, so the strings could be removed.
Compromise with Modernism is the string that will keep us within the enclosure of New Church. After a while, we will forget the truth that would make us free and remain forever bound.
In EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong, Mr. Ferrara counsels us to recall the power of our Faith and leap over the wall.
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EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong
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