DEC 26, 2016 BROTHER ANDRÉ MARIE
The first of January is the Octave Day of Christmas. In the
traditional Roman rite, it is the Feast of the Circumcision of Our
Lord. Among other gems, this feast gives us the sublimely beautiful
Benedictus antiphon, Mirabile mysterium, which has been wonderfully
set to music and commented upon by great liturgical writers like
Blessed Columba Marmion. The feast has also long had a Marian
character to it, which fact gives some pretext to the new rite’s
Solemnity of the Mother of God on that day.
The feast of the Circumcision shows us Mary and Joseph’s humble
fidelity to the covenant made between God and Abraham, with its
peculiar sign that “would be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant”
(Gen. 17:13). In this rite, we see a sort of anticipation of the
Passion, for Our Lord’s Precious Blood was shed for the first time on
that day. The Octave of the Nativity also marks the occasion when the
Holy Infant received the name “Jesus,” which means Savior, and the
Church stretches this particular mystery out another day, giving us
the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. The connection between the
Precious Blood and our salvation are thus made quite clear.
Surely, with such a Biblical pedigree, the ceremony of circumcision is
a good thing and something that ought to be practiced by Christians, no?
No! The Apostle tells us “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision
availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by
charity” (Gal. 5:6). And: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision
availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Gal.
6:15). Lastly: “Is any man called in uncircumcision? let him not be
circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing:
but the observance of the commandments of God” (I Cor. 7:18-19).
In case the abrogation of this covenant was not obvious enough from
Holy Scripture, the Church has multiple times reasserted, and very
vigorously, that the religious ritual of circumcision is forbidden. It
is one of those observances of the Old Law which is “both dead and
deadly” according to the Church, which declared in the Council of
All, therefore, who after that time [that is “after the promulgation
of the Gospel”] observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other
requirements of the [Mosaic] law, it [The Catholic Church] declares
alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate
in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors.”
Religious ritual circumcision is clearly off limits for Christians.
But what about the modern medical practice? That’s good, right? It’s
healthy, hygienic, aesthetic, and all those other wonderful things
that many in the medical profession assure us it is, right?
What is done in modern American hospitals goes back to a Victorian
obsession with physical hygiene and (believe it or not) a moral
crusade to prevent what is delicately called “the solitary sin.” This
is quite documented, and not just on Wikipedia. Circumcision, of
course, does not help that moral disorder, the correction of which is
reserved solely to the practice of virtue. Most of the Anglosphere
stopped (or drastically curtailed) the practice of elective medical
infant circumcision, but not the United States! We kept right on with
it, due to a number of strange reasons, some cultural, and one of
which is wickedly capitalist, for the American medical profession
collects enormous sums from the sale of foreskins for medical
research, skin grafts, and as ingredients in cosmetics (no, this is
not… fake… news!).
What is done in American hospitals is not what was done to Abraham,
Isaac, or Jacob. Aside from its not having the same spiritual
significance, it is not the same physical operation. In the modern
practice, much more perfectly healthy tissue is amputated. The Old
Testament practice, called in Hebrew brit milah, accomplished the
removal of a small tip of the prepuce, leaving the glans covered. But
the procedure for ritual circumcision was vastly altered by the rabbis
around 140 A.D. into a much more intrusive procedure which amputates
the entire prepuce, with its complex network of skin folds that cover
the glans, as well as thousands of nerve endings, sebaceous glands,
blood vessels, and even muscle tissue — all of which is part of the
bodily integrity of that organ as God created it. This procedure,
called in Hebrew brit periah, is much more painful, and is not what
was mandated by God in the covenant with Abraham. (This article at
Fisheaters documents the difference between brit milah and brit periah
from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.)
The reasons the rabbis made this change have been documented, but are
a bit too indelicate for me to go into here. A clinically modest black
and white series of illustrations will allow the reader a rapid glance
at the considerable difference between the two practices.
The alleged health benefits that accrue to the victim of this
barbarity have been debunked. But even if sexually transmitted
diseases and AIDS were actually statistically lowered by infant
circumcision, there are other ways of preventing those diseases — most
notably living a virtuous life. We need not mutilate every boy because
he might become a lecher one day and expose himself to those diseases.
As for cancer, there are more chances that other organs will become
cancerous (female breasts and the male prostate), and we don’t go
mutilating them in newborns to prevent disease from happening decades
later. If the excuse of disease prevention were consistently applied
across the human anatomy, we would become a society of cripples with
(potentially) fewer diseases.
There are Catholic moralists, like Father John J. Dietzen, Dr. David
Lang, and (in the 1950’s) Father Edwin F. Healy, S.J., who teach that
elective male infant circumcision not only violates the proper
application of the time-honored principle of totality, but even fits
the ethical definition of mutilation, which is gravely sinful. Indeed,
if what we are talking about is a procedure that removes healthy
tissue without any therapeutic reason at all, with only questionable
(at best) or spurious prophylactic justifications, and that has
serious risks of its own — including complications like hemorrhage,
infection, ulceration, partial or total disfigurement, and even death
— then there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Catholic moral
principles would oppose it.
Information on the issue abounds. Besides Catholics against
Circumcision, whom I contacted while doing my own research, there are
organizations like Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Mothers against
Circumcision, and the National Organization of Circumcision
Information Resource Centers. There are also books on the subject like
Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern
America by Leonard B. Glick, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About
Circumcision by Paul M. Fleiss and Frederick Hodges, and Circumcision,
The Hidden Trauma by Ronald Goldman.
Dr. David Lang, who teaches systematic Thomistic philosophy at Our
Lady of Grace Seminary in Boston, has published scholarly articles on
the subject. He will discuss this issue with me on the next Reconquest.
Updates: See below for a new book by Dr. David Lang and a YouTube
video of my interview with him.
Dr. David P. Lang’s, important work on the subject, The ‘Circumcision’
Decision: A Catholic Critique is available at IndieBound.org: