Friday, July 22, 2011

A Wretched Man am I: A Lesson in Latin, Music and Theology for Michael Voris

Michael Voris, the self proclaimed measure of all that is orthodox Catholicism recently took a swing at the church hymn "Amazing Grace."  He calls for an end of the singing of this song at the Catholic Mass for the simple fact that is was written by a protestant.  Mark P. Shea already did a number on the Voris video, posted at the end.

First He has issues with the word "wretched" and assumes that the word "wretched" can only mean fully deprived of Grace (yet the song is about the saving power of grace and that it is grace that moves the speaker).  More on "wretchedness" farther down.  

Grace, She Passed Away 30 Years Ago

Second he takes issue with the lines "How precious did that Grace appear / The hour I first believed."  Voris does not like this line because he (in his misreading of the lyrics)  thinks the song to be saying that grace only appears  when and after a person starts to believe.  The speaker in the song is not implying what Voris wrongly assumes -- that grace only apear after you believe.  The speaker in the song is saying that when he finally believed, he saw that the appearance of Grace was precious to him.  This can be likend to a man who walked past a beautiful work of art for 15 years and never once noticing the precious and beautiful work of art so close to him as he walked.  Then one day, he turns his head slightly while walking the same street he has walked for the previous 15 years and notices that beautiful art for the first time.  He might call this new found work of art "precious" and "sweet" and "beautiful," for though the art was always there it is only now that he sees it and it makes, from his own perspective, its first appearance into his life.  In other words, grace has always been there, but relative to the speaker's current state of life, he was unaware of it.  Then one day, the hour he first believed, it was as if the grace that was always there had suddenly appeared.

Back to wretchedness:

The Latin word "miser, misera, miserum" can be translated into English as "wretched."  The Latin word "misereor, misereri, miseritus sum" is translated commonly as "pity" when it is in the genative case.  Both words are of a similar root (miser) and complement each other in the logic behind them. 

In the liturgy we say "miserere nobis."  "Miserere" is the second person, singular, passive, genative of "misereor", and "nobis" is the dative, plural of the personal pronoun "I"/"we" which is translated as "us."  The full phrase is translated in the Mass as "have mercy on us." Here Catholics ask for the mercy of God.  Why do Catholics ask for the mercy of God?  Remember there is a logical relation between the Latin words for the English "wretched" and "pity/mercy".  Because humanity is wretched.  You don't ask for Mercy unless you are wretched.  You don't ask for pity unless you are pitiful.  In the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Catholics imply that they are indeed wretched, and it is for that reason they pray "Lord, 'have mercy on us.'"  So, "yes," the Catholic view of man is that man is a wretch in the same manner that Saint Paul calls himself a wretch.

Catholics who have any kind of basic theological training know that the assumption is not that man is completely void of grace and goodness and is completely corrupt.  Though, one certainly can go too far with the wretchedness of man and wrongly assume that man is only a wretch, which was the case with Luthers and other Protestants sects that popped up over the years.  However, the author of the hymn was Anglican, which has different views on wretchedness than does Luther.  Though perhaps the author was influenced by John Calvin's view of the wretchedness of man.  Voris makes the gravest sin in talking about non-catholics by assuming they all have the same theology, when in fact they do not.  

It's a Song, Not an Essay

Furthermore, Voris, as well as MANY other well intentioned Catholics, fail to realize that what he is critiquing is a song and not an exhaustive theological treatise.  Amazing Grace would not be the song we know it as today if the author wrote "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a man who has fallen into sin and had become, like Saint Paul, a wretched man." That is, the author was not trying to write an essay on his experience of Grace but a sweet lyrical poem and hymn.  When a work of literature or music is critiqued, it helps to place it into the proper category in which it belongs before critiquing it.

Words, Words, Words, 

Words have meaning.  Words have multiple meanings.  The same word may have different meanings for different cultures.  For instance if an American said "Let us go have supper."  The American is saying that he is going to have his final meal for the day.  If an Australian said "Let us go have supper." The Australian is saying something completely different from  the American's definition of "supper."  In Australia "supper" is not the final meal of the day, but it is a late evening snack that comes after the final meal of the day.  Apparently when working on his S.T.B. that he so proudly touts at the end of his name, Voris never learned to use a dictionary.  What certain protestants mean by "wretch" and "grace" Catholics might, and often do, mean something different.


Voris must think church goers to be compete dolts capable of having only the wrong thoughts.  The lyrics of "Amazing Grace" can easily be reconciled with Catholic teaching based upon the proper understanding of man (wretchedness) and grace.  With the proper understanding a once non-catholic hymn is converted into a beautiful Catholic hymn.  How to help others get to this understanding?  One way is to not tear down something that is dear to many Christians that is not heretical and not anti-catholic as Voris thinks.  In what way could Voris have done this better? Simple: catechesis.  Use the song, which is a very popular church hymn, as a vehicle for doing catechesis to teach Catholics the Catholic understanding of man and grace.  By doing so, the Catholic cult will have then transformed the culture that Voris so adamantly expresses as being evil.

Lastly, I don't know how people can watch this Voris guy.  It is like he is trying to be the Catholic version of Beck or Rush.  Something the Church needs not.


Deacon Dean said...

Hi, Paul. Excellent post!

I find Michael Voris to be interesting, often making good points, but also, often unnecessarily negative in his approach. As you said, he missed an opportunity for catechesis.

Keep up the great work!!

The Ironic Catholic said...

yep, yep, yep.

Jeff Miller said...

It's a Song, Not an Essay -- great essay and a great point and it even made me rethink some of my objections to the lyrics.

Though I would not go so far to say definitively what the speaker is saying. The writer was speaking from a Protestant understanding and so it can not be surprising if that theology informed his understanding and that there are certainly nuanced diferences concerning grace and the sacraments.

Jeff Miller said...

Now as to Voris I watched a couple of his videos so my opinion of him is not exhaustive. But what in those few videos I watched I found he stretched the evidence for his conclusions a bit far. You often see his videos posted with intriguing headlines and I found the substance not as credible as I would want.

Paul Cat said...

No doubt when the original writer wrote the hymn he was influenced by his faith and the theology of the faith he professed.

However, I do think it is an easy song to reinterpret from a Catholic perspective.

If Voris wants to really complain about a song he should look at some of the hymns written by Luther where he calls the Pope the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church children of Satan that are sung in Catholic Churches today.

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