Tuesday, November 18, 2014





Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hutton on Feingold and Milbank - "Thomism goes Old School"

[Cross-posted from Henri De Lubac, Thomas Aquinas and the debate over "Pure Nature", a blog specifically devoted to logging reading notes and chronicling my explorations into this particular Thomistic debate].

Writing in Nova et Vetera ("Desiderium Naturale Visionis Dei -- Est autem duplex hominis beatitudo sive felicitas: Some Observations about Lawrence Feingold’s and John Milbank’s Recent Interventions in the Debate over the Natural Desire to See God", pp. 81-131) Reinhard Hütter bristles at Milbank's sharply polemical criticism of Feingold:

In his recent opuscule, The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate concerning the Supernatural, John Milbank characterizes Feingold’s work as “arch-reactionary,”“written to reinstate a Garrigou-Lagrange type position,” and his exegetical method as “much like that of the proof-texting of a Protestant fundamentalist,” hence representing the “die-hard,” “palaeolithic” neo-Thomism. Moreover, in a less than subtle form of invective, Milbank denies his interlocutor the honor of being named correctly by consistently misnaming him throughout as “Feinberg.” The readers of Milbank’s treatise -- most of whom in all likelihood are neither experts in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Henri de Lubac, or Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in particular nor of Catholic theology in general -- are thus invited to entertain the suspicion of some sinister right-wing ecclesiastical conspiracy. And since Feingold’s tome is, quite unfortunately, virtually impossible to lay hands on [not anymore? -- Christopher] as well as (should one succeed in getting hold of it) a much more demanding read than Milbank’s opuscule, very few of Milbank’s readers will be able to double-check the all too quick dismissal of a serious piece of theological scholarship the implications of which are, however, unsurprisingly, less than supportive of Milbank’s own project. But why should anyone care about the truth of the charge if one of the presently leading opinion formers of contemporary Anglo-American Protestant theology has sent out such weighty signals as “arch-reactionary, die-hard, palaeolithic neo-Thomism”?

On Milbank's embarassing mispelling of Feingold as "Feinberg", Hütter further adds: "The possibility, however, that the consistent use of the misnomer “Feinberg” simply reflects a neglect of contingent details, cannot be definitively excluded, since, after all, the reader has to recognize behind “Jacques Maintain” the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain (25, note 9)." If John Milbank were to ever release a new edition of The Suspended Middle, it would undoubtedly benefit from a proofreader.

* * *

Hütter's lengthy review of Feingold and Milbank is well recommended. Like Hütter, I cannot say the same for The Suspended Middle, although with the caveat that I have personally only made my way through the first several chapters before deciding -- at least for the time being -- that it would be preferable to postpone Milbank and complete my objective of finishing Feingold's immensely more satisfying (and immensely more lucid) opus by the close of this year. Indeed, I found my subjective experience of reading Feingold contra Milbank to be in part aesthetically-motivated: the pleasure of reading the former as contrasted with the painful drudgery of the latter.

Feingold surveys the entire history of Catholic theology and the Thomist commentorial tradition on this particular subject, with the position of each author clearly formulated, substantially documented and laid out in detail such that one can grasp with relative ease where each stands on any given question: Scotus, Cajetan, Suarez, De Lubac, and a host of other Thomists, not to mention Aquinas himself. Feingold's text contains copious quotations from his source materials, and is exhaustively referenced and footnoted. Nothing is left to question. One cannot but be awed by the herculean effort it must have taken to read through, understand, meticulously assemble and publish this body of work. To call it a "magisterial" treatment in scope and substance is not an understatement.

Unfortunately, my experience of navigating Milbank's Suspended Middle is much akin to groping my way through a London fog after a night of pub-hopping. His work is as sparse on direct quotations as Feingold is indulgent, leaving the reader thirsty for validation beyond purported claims and wishing Milbank would deign to engage in what he denigrates as "Protestant proof-texting". For example, consider Milbank's blithe assertion that:

"Cajetan and neo-scholasticism, by contrast [to De Lubac's ontological revisionism], leave philosophical ontology alone in its immanence: the being of human nature, as of everything else, can be specified without reference to God, or only God as ultimate efficient cause. On the other hand, cosmic and human beings in no way (as it does for De Lubac) anticipates grace. The structures of grace are without precedent: yet in practice scholasticism will have to speak of them in terms of analogues taken from an immanent univocal ontology. Since nothing in 'purely natural' being of itself participates in divine esse or by analogical ascent negates its own non-self-sufficiency, these analogues will be purely in terms of the quantitative extension of the range of an adequately "given" meaning. And what natural analogues to grace will be available in these terms save those of an anonymous and overwhelming force? or a nominal and invisible raising of status which yet commands visible jurisdiction? [p. 30]
How's that for a single paragraph? -- and I assure you it's characteristic of the whole lot. I'm embarrassed to say that, having read several hundred pages of Feingold (and in this year alone, reams of academic articles and book reviews on Aquinas) I've never experienced the cognitive difficulty I've encountered with Milbank. Does anybody else find him as impenetrable as I do? (Rhetorical question -- googling "John Milbank" and "dense" turns up 10,600 results with such descriptions of his works as "a dense read"; "Impressively dense"; "dense but quite profound"; "dense and exquisite"; "splendidly dense"; "characteristically dense"; "poetically dense"; "painfully dense"; "dense and difficult"; "dense, heady and bewildering"; "impossibly dense"; "dense, challenging and elusive"; "dense, frequently heady and inclined toward ornately convoluted prose"; "a dark, pith pit of dense propositions" -- and possessing a "dense, intellectual style that has prompted charges of elitism." I may not be traveling alone.

Moving on ... Hütter also offers the following intuition of why Milbank finds "Feinberg" -- sorry, Feingold -- so exasperating:

While Milbank’s project is neither guided nor framed by the norms and criteria of Catholic theology, his reaction is nevertheless indicative of how not a few contemporary Catholic theologians might react to Feingold’s book as well. For Feingold indeed challenges numerous assumptions received and settled in the first three decades after Vatican II. The first is methodological: In the wake of neo-Marxist sociology, the linguistic turn in Anglo-Saxon philosophy, and the hermeneutical and poststructuralist developments in continental philosophy, theology for many a contemporary Catholic theologian can only be conceived as defensible and intelligible in a thoroughly historical-contextualist and constructivist mode. Every theological claim must needs be advanced, read, and assessed in light of the historical, communal, and political context in which it is produced and to which it is addressed. The only way to forward arguments is by situating and out-narrating opponents as well as offering rhetorical and aesthetic appeals leading to the volitional as well as conceptual conversion of the interlocutor. Propositional discourse as informed by metaphysical realism and discursive, conceptual argumentation is therefore at present widely dismissed as a suspiciously disembodied and philosophically outdated mode of speculative theology, oblivious to the historical, pragmatic, and practice oriented nature of theology itself and thus vulnerable to being constantly co-opted by deeply entrenched as well as concealed discourses of power and interest. This wholesale rejection of what was seen as the ossified discourse of textbook neo-scholasticism was accompanied -- in the wake of Heidegger as well as Wittgenstein -- by hailing the "end of metaphysics" in general and the Aristotelian Thomist metaphysics in particular. And since -- on the basis of Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris -- Thomas Aquinas had again been instantiated as the loadstar of a renewed Catholic philosophy, according to an understanding that interpreted Vatican II as the license to break with that very tradition, he had to be put aside as outmoded too.

According to Hütter, Feingold distinguishes himself in that his mode of writing circumvents the "historical-contexualist and constructivist" expectations of postmodern scholarship by "entering into" the scholastic commentorial tradition, focusing exclusively on Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus (as well as some Scotists), the Thomist commentators (including Suárez) up to Garrigou-Lagrange and Henri de Lubac.

Feingold provokes by operating in a mode of discourse very unfamiliar to theological readers by now largely unaccustomed to the conceptual precision and rigor once cultivated by the “schoolmen.” Differently put, Feingold’s mode of discourse is highly mimetic of the virtually forgotten tradition of Thomist commentators. ...

What makes Feingold so provocative is that the form of his discourse -- in stark contrast to de Lubac’s way of reading the commentators -- is shaped not by a historical hermeneutic but by reconstructing and thus entering their own way of conducting a speculative theological enquiry, a mimetic exercise reconstructing and thus continuing the commentators’ discursive mimesis of Aquinas.

As Hütter points out, this distinction also applies to Feingold's critical engagement with De Lubac himself -- whereas De Lubac's writing "transposes the speculative theological discourse of the commentators into a historical-hermeneutical frame of inquiry", Feingold "[enters into] the commentatorial tradition with its propositional-discursive mode of operation" which is distinguished by its metaphysical realism (dismissed by Milbank as a "Garrigou-Langrange type position" p. 24 Suspended Middle). Thus:
Feingold provokes by returning to and, by implication, rehabilitating an older discursive tradition and submitting de Lubac’s theology to the conceptual rigor of this tradition. Feingold is so irritating because he picks up the ball where it was dropped -- with the broad acceptance of the theological approach advanced by Henri de Lubac and other representatives of the nouvelle théologie -- without signaling awareness of what has happened in Catholic theology since. [Hütter, pp. 93-94]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There is no escape.

... The air of paradox resulted from the fact that those theologians who defended the view that revelation provided the only knowledge of God and that reason, in the form of philosophical enquiry, was insufficient in all those areas in which revelation was authoritative, found themselves making use of philosophical argument in order to rebut the claims of the philosophers. And, insofar as they were aware of this, they had therefore to distinguish that in philosophy which can serve in the defense of revelation by providing grounds for this rebuttal and that which must be rejected. And in so doing they too became philosophers.

Alasdair MacIntyre, God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition p. 44.

2014 Synod of Bishops on the Family

2014-2015 Synods Of Bishops On The Family

Final Report

The Proposals of Cardinal Walter Kasper

  • Kasper Changes the Paradigm, Bergoglio Applauds, by Sandro Magister. 03/01/14. "The no-longer-secret text of the bombshell talk that opened the consistory on the family. With the indication of two paths of readmission to communion for the divorced and remarried."
  • Recent Proposals for the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried: A Theological Assessment Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 12, No. 3 (2014): 601-630. [PDF]
  • Merciful God, Merciful Church: An Interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper Commonweal 05/07/14. During his first Angelus address, Pope Francis recommended a work of theology that “has done me so much good” because it “says that mercy changes everything; it changes the world by making it less cold and more fair.” That book is Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Cardinal Walter Kasper, which was recently published in English by Paulist Press.
  • Kasper, German Bishops, and the Church Tax 10/04/14 (Thanks to Amy Welborn, for doing some real homework on this issue):
    Obviously, there is a lot of discussion regarding the Synod, much of that discussion being driven by Cardinal Kasper of Germany, who is just going on and on and on about compassion and mercy and such.

    Plenty of people are talking about all of that. What hardly anyone is doing, however is even trying to move beyond the ideological narratives, and raising questions about the German church tax.

    For that is really the most pressing issue facing the German Catholic Church. And I really wonder why any of our highly-praised religion journalists are completely ignoring this issue and don’t even seem interested in connecting the dots or even asking Cardinal Kasper directly about how the Catholic Church in Germany understands and practices issues related to Church membership and the sacraments. And taxes.

  • “These Africans!”: Kasper Reverses Progressive Dogma, by Elizabeth Scalia. The Anchoress 10/15/14. "Breathtaking condescension from a Western Bishop, whose German church is dwindling and headed for financial ruin, toward the African bishops whose pews and seminaries are indisputably overflowing and joyous."
  • Card. Kasper denies he gave interview. Journalist posts recording of interview Catholic World Report 10/16/14. The German prelate insists, "I never said such a thing about Africans..." But the evidence says otherwise. [See: Statement on Cardinal Kasper Interview Edward Pentin].
  • A Critique of Cardinal Kasper's Latest Arguments, by Monica Migliorino Miller. Crisis 10/20/14. "This article responds to two recently articulated arguments in favor of admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. It is clear that Cardinal Walter Kasper, joined by a majority of German bishops and other European prelates, did all he could to facilitate this major pastoral change."

The relatio

  • Synod Report: A Bizarre Document and Process, by Robert Royal. The Catholic Thing 10/14/14. "I have been in Rome, by my rough count, 100 times during my adult life.... But I think I can say without the slightest doubt that yesterday was the strangest day I’ve ever passed in the Eternal City."
  • How an incorrect translation of the synod report created chaos, by Andrea Gagliarducci. Catholic News Agency. 10/15/14.
  • Controversy prompts Vatican to clarify synod midterm , by Andrea Gagliarducci. Catholic News Agency 10/14/14. After a media frenzy and lively internal debate were both raised by the publication of the midterm relatio of the Synod of Bishops, its secretariat issued a statement clarifying its merely provisional nature.

  • John Thavis: A pastoral earthquake at the synod:
    In pastoral terms, the document published today by the Synod of Bishops represents an earthquake, the “big one” that hit after months of smaller tremors.

    The relatio post disceptationem read aloud in the synod hall, while defending fundamental doctrine, calls for the church to build on positive values in unions that the church has always considered “irregular,” including cohabitating couples, second marriages undertaken without annulments and even homosexual unions.

  • Cardinal Burke: Synod's mid-term report "lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium" Catholic World Report 10/14/14:
    While the document in question (Relatio post disceptationem) purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable.

    The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has a very rich and clear teaching, it gives the impression of inventing a totally new, what one Synod Father called “revolutionary,”teaching on marriage and the family ...

  • At the Vatican, a Shift in Tone Toward Gays and Divorce, by Elisabetta Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein. 10/13/14.
  • Evidence Emerges of an Engineered Synod, by Edward Pentin. 10/15/14. "More and more there is talk in Rome that this synod is being engineered by groups intent on steering the Church in a heterodox direction, and increasingly evidence is coming to light that points to it."

On "Gradualism"

  • Pondering “Gradualism” and the “Midterm” Report, by Msgr. Charles Pope, Diocese of Washington. 10/13/14.
    "A governing principle that seems to permeate the report’s reflections is one that some refer to as “gradualism.” As a pastoral strategy, gradualism can be an effective, even necessary approach in order to lead people more deeply into the moral and spiritual life of the Church. However, as with any pastoral strategy, there are serious concerns and pitfalls to avoid. ...

    Our modern culture is not usually going to understand these “outreaches” as an invitation to come to Christ, but rather as a capitulation by the Church to the status quo. The subtle approach of gradualism does not translate well to a culture that takes a mile when the Church offers an inch.

    The better approach is that reputed of St. John Vianney: the Church should be clear in the pulpit and work quietly and in stages with people who struggle to meet the norms (and that is all of us, really). Let the norms and teachings of the Church be clear. Let local pastors and clergy work carefully within guidelines to clear obstacles, apply canonical remedies, and draw people (gradually) through preaching and teaching to a deeper adherence to the true and clear teaching of Christ and His Church.

    Gradualism has its place: as a local and very personalized strategy under the direction of Church norms. I do not think it is viable as a worldwide pastoral strategy, one which will surely be misunderstood and likely misapplied.

    Read the whole thing. I think it's important to recognize that he does not dismiss "gradualism" outright -- indeed, it can be an effective pastoral strategy. But in terms of of embracing "gradualism" as the general tone of the Church, or one might say of this Pontificate -- for those who have had misgivings one might have about the proceedings of the Synod to date, Msgr. Pope has aptly presented their concerns.

  • Family Synod: Gradualism and Truth DarwinCatholic 10/13/14:
    Gradualism must be a gradualism towards something, towards abandoning sin. It cannot be allowed to mean simply accepting sin. Depending on the person and the situation, that abandoning of sin may take a long time. People may take the risk of waiting until their attachment to it attenuates for other reasons. There's a scene in Zola's Nana where the title character, a high class courtesan, sees one of the famous courtesans of the era before, who managed to save enough money to retire in luxury to a country house where she is now a respected landowner and support of the local church. Nana yearns for this kind of respectability in retirement (though she lacks the self discipline to save for it), and in the spiritual sense we see that in the prayer for "Lord, make me good, but not yet." And yet, there is a serious moral danger to getting too comfortable even with that kind of delay, though it at least recognizes the current evil even if it fails to reject it yet. While God will accept our conversion, no matter how late, in the interim that person is essentially saying, "I am more attached to the benefits I believe I get from sin than I am to God." That is, however conditional, a rejection of God. And rejection of God leads us to hell.

* * *

Nostalgic? - Address of his holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the ecclesial diocesan convention of Rome Basilica of St John Lateran. Monday, 6 June 2005.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Remaining in the Truth of Christ"

Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church
Ignatius Press (October 7, 2014).

In this volume five Cardinals of the Church, and four other scholars, respond to the call issued by Cardinal Walter Kasper for the Church to harmonize "fidelity and mercy in its pastoral practice with civilly remarried, divorced people".

Beginning with a concise introduction, the first part of the book is dedicated to the primary biblical texts pertaining to divorce and remarriage, and the second part is an examination of the teaching and practice prevalent in the early Church. In neither of these cases, biblical or patristic, do these scholars find support for the kind of "toleration" of civil marriages following divorce advocated by Cardinal Kasper. This book also examines the Eastern Orthodox practice of oikonomia (understood as "mercy" implying "toleration") in cases of remarriage after divorce and in the context of the vexed question of Eucharistic communion. It traces the centuries long history of Catholic resistance to this convention, revealing serious theological and canonical difficulties inherent in past and current Orthodox Church practice.

Thus, in the second part of the book, the authors argue in favor of retaining the theological and canonical rationale for the intrinsic connection between traditional Catholic doctrine and sacramental discipline concerning marriage and communion.

The various studies in this book lead to the conclusion that the Church's longstanding fidelity to the truth of marriage constitutes the irrevocable foundation of its merciful and loving response to the individual who is civilly divorced and remarried. The book therefore challenges the premise that traditional Catholic doctrine and contemporary pastoral practice are in contradiction.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

EWTN Interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke

Burke makes the kind of comment that resonates with every good lawyer: when asked how he felt about being removed from the Congregation of Bishops, Burke replies, No one has a right to be on such a body. Brilliant, go right to the heart of the law (cc. 331, 360-361, and ap. con. Pastor bonus) and defend the pope’s authority over his own dicastery. Whether Burke’s is a voice that Pope Francis wants to hear is entirely the pope’s call to make. Opinions may differ on the wisdom of such a removal, but it is not for this group or that, for the media, or for any one else to impose their preferences in such matters on the pope.

Burke the lawyer upholds that papal authority.

Dr. Ed Peters, Some notes on Cdl. Burke’s EWTN interview In the Light of the Law 10/12/14.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Henri De Lubac on the Spirit of the Age

The Christian thinkers of the past are looked down upon as if they no longer had anything to say; the traditional formulations of faith are stated in such a way as to appear ridiculous, so as to hasten their replacement. And under the pretext of merely changing this or that word or phrase, it is the very essence of our faith which runs the risk of being sifted away. . . .

Whatever is recriminatory, whatever excites, is declared prophetic, even if it is evident that it stems from ignorance, or from concessions made to what is currently in vogue—and this is the exact opposite of what we mean by prophetic! . . .

We must not be afraid to say so: there is nothing in all of this that is promising. A faith which dissolves itself is unable to engender anything whatever. A community which breaks up is incapable of radiating or of attracting others. Agitation is not synonymous with life. That last hatched slogan is not necessarily a new thought. The noisiest critics are frequently the most sterile.

-- Edward D. Lubac. “ The Church in Crisis,” Theology Digest 17 (1969): 312–25; here 317. As relayed by Edward T. Oakes ("The Surnaturel Controversy: A Survey and a Response" Nova et Vetera 9:3), who notes that "most secondary scholarship on de Lubac, both pro and con, largely ignores his criticism of liberal Catholicism in the wake of Vatican II".

(Oh, the irony).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ralph McInerny, on Continental and Analytic Philosophy

From Ralph McInerney's Students Guide To Philosophy (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1999) -- a hilarious accounting of the development of philosophy, and how we got into the mess we are in today. Suffice to say he doesn't mince any words, and I'm sure he had as much fun writing it as I did reading it).
From its beginning, medieval education sought to establish a modus vivendi between faith and reason. This remained true in the thirteenth century. The recovery of philosophy had to be accommodated to the theology based on Scripture. For one brief shining century everything cohered. Faith and reason fully complemented one another. The range of reason was what Plato and Aristotle thought it was. The human mind could know the divine and know that the soul was immortal. Christianity had an ally in the life of reason, and vice versa. It did not last.

Soon thinkers in the name of faith began to devalue reason and eventually the mind had only language to play with. Nominalism and the Reformation effectively dismantled the medieval synthesis, paving the way for modernity. Descartes spoke of a tree of knowledge and the quest for method sought a new systematic integration of the different sciences, but philosophy became progressively more isolated from the natural sciences and mathematics. The turn from the world to the mind as the primary concern of the philosopher led to a succession of theories purporting to establish the a priori conditions for thinking. But the distinction between being and being known blurred to the point where to be and to be thought were identical. What would unify the enterprise of human thought was no longer a connection among the sciences, but an understanding of why we think as we do.

The last great effort of idealism is phenomenology. The return “to the things themselves” disappointingly became a concern with the constituting acts whereby objects become objects (i.e., the conditions of presence), and what had seemed a realism became one more effort to tease from the structure of our mind the character of its objects, to anticipate experience, to turn thinking into a kind of thing-ing that generates its own object. This alteration of the program of phenomenology caused the recently canonized Edith Stein to part company with Edmund Husserl.

Phenomenology, like drugs, is addictive. Imagine finding sentences like the following meaningful: “In fact, after Nietzsche had brought to an end and completed all the possibilities—even inverted—of metaphysics, phenomenology, more than any other theoretical initiative, undertook a new beginning.” (Jean-Luc Marion) It would be more accurate to say that philosophy, both Continental and analytic, succumbed to Teutonic gurus who uttered gnomic pronunciamentos. The influence of a Heidegger and a Wittgenstein can be difficult to comprehend, yet these are the two most influential philosophers of our century. Each proclaimed himself to be a new beginning. Ezra Pound, in his Cantos, sought to produce lines like the uneven ones in the remnants of Sappho’s verse. Some modern philosophers aspired to write pre-Socratic fragments. The style was aphoristic, arguments were scarce to nonexistent, a mood was induced or an attitude produced which ruled out questioning. Nietzsche was tolerable because the madness had no method. In Heidegger, Nietzsche is given credit for having brought metaphysics to an end, whatever that might mean. Heidegger is the first post-metaphysical thinker. He must be; he tells us so. Wittgenstein sought to redefine philosophy, yet boasted in old age that he was a professor of philosophy who had never read Aristotle. One would have bet on it.

There is little sign that the influence of Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian gnosticism is abating. Like a fever, it will have to work itself out. Meanwhile, academic philosophy is in the doldrums, light-years distant from the questions that alone can justify it. If one could make sense of the claim that all -- all! -- the possibilities, inverted or not, of metaphysics had been brought to an end and completed by mad Nietzsche, one might agree or disagree. But what would either mean? It is best to heed Jeeves’s remark to Bertie Wooster. “You would not like Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”

It may seem a relief to turn to analytic philosophy from the polysyllabic breathlessness of Continental philosophy. But this is to turn from Heidegger to Wittgenstein, the one as enigmatic as the other. The linguistic turn, like the transcendental turn, aims at putting philosophy /in any traditional sense out of business. The seemingly straightforward desire to establish the meaning of meaning has not met with success. So we are back at the beginning; philosophy in the twentieth century, like philosophy in the sixteenth, is still trying to get started.

Its present state is obscure, its past nonexistent, and its future nothing worth waiting for. To say that modern philosophy has abandoned classical and medieval philosophy is simply to accept its self-description. Since this has still not led to anything, perhaps it is time to question the wisdom of the abandonment.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Here and There

  • Interviewing Ikons: Fr Aidan Kimel - Interview with Fr. Kimel - one-time Catholic convert from Episcopalianism, now Orthodox and living "a tranquil retired existence in the foothills of Roanoke, Virginia, where he writes articles no one reads (or so he thinks) for his blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy." Kimel's post-conversion experience as a Catholic in contemporary times is, alas, may ring all too familiar to some readers: "My conversion to Catholicism had largely occurred in my head with my books. I knew very little about the Catholic Church on the ground level. Speaking only for myself, I increasingly came to realize that I could not spiritually survive in the Catholic Church."

  • 'The Classical Moment': Author Q&A with Father James Schall, S.J. Sean Salai, S.J. interviews the prolific Fr. James V. Schall on his latest book, The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures (America 07/14/14):
    When you write, you write among both friends and antagonists. Of the latter, you want, as Aquinas would advise, to find the truth in what they are trying to say. Of the former, you are grateful that someone else has seen a truth before you did, or explained to you why it was so. So to “mix” these references is simply to be honest. Someone else really did guide you to some truth or insight that you might have otherwise never noticed.

  • Cultural-warrior Ryan T. Anderson in action (+ Q&A). Methinks this is how debates of this nature should be conducted, sans vitriol from either side.

  • How Husserl changed Catholic attitudes toward Judaism - Artur Rosman (Cosmos in the Lost) traces connections between phenomenology and Catholicism.

  • "A Word in Favor of Ideology" Throne and Alter 08/28/14,the author expresses his affinity with the Marxists' historical perspective, in an age where "libertarianism is not an ideology in the old sense. It is a dogma," (Mark Lilla), the blogger explains his affinity for the Communists of yore.

  • Recently published and translated by David Bentley Hart, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics- Original Structure and Universal Rhythm (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. February 2014)| Reviewed by Christopher J. Malloy (Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews):
    Although Erich Przywara (1889–1972) was one of the preeminent Catholic theologians of his time and a profound influence on such people as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, he has remained virtually unknown in North America. This volume includes Przywara’s groundbreaking Analogia Entis, originally published in 1932, and his subsequent essays on the concept analogia entis -- the analogy between God and creation -- which has currency in philosophical and theological circles today.
  • In "The Rock Star of One First Street", Stephen Presser suggests that Bruce Allen Murphy's recent intellectual biography of Justice Antonin Scalia makes him out to be more honorable than the author may have intended, whose "jurisprudence is not really cherished by Professor Murphy, but he does a creditable job in explaining it and offering it a grudging respect."

  • "A Secular Age 2.0" - Matthew J. Milliner reviews Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge (Books and Culture):
    ... like Charles Taylor (A Secular Age) and Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation), Pfau is a man equipped for the enormous cartographic task of remapping the rise of modernity. Sweeping narrative retellings such as Pfau's are frequently accused of being unfocused, tangential, historically selective, or insufficiently edited. Pfau, however, deftly avoids dilettantism by never quite leaving his realm of professional training even while he ranges widely beyond it. Which is to say, Minding the Modern is no history, nor is Pfau a historian. Instead, it is an extended, historically grounded close reading of texts that an accomplished literature professor is well equipped to provide. As he puts it, "any account of competing or intersecting intellectual traditions has to rest on the kind of close, textual analysis that, at its best, has always been the bread and butter of literary studies." Such an approach enables Pfau to seamlessly move, for example, between Shaftsbury and Heidegger, Augustine and Arendt, Levinas and Cardinal Newman, or Marion and Aquinas, on the same page. This stems not from indecision but from a premeditated attempt to intertwine historical and philosophical, or horizontal and vertical, approaches with a sustained argument. In addition, Pfau focuses his wide-ranging account by choosing the (admittedly enormous) category of human personhood, and its corollaries of will and agency, as the vehicle in which he takes his tour of the ages. His express aim is "to capture the intrinsic idea of will and person through a series of forensic readings of representative arguments."
  • Lastly, why am I just now hearing about this?!? -- The Grand Inquisitor, a comic book from the fevered imagination of Catholic blogger John Zmirak:
    The tale is simple, but all its permutations are profound. Sometime in the near future, a papal conclave drags on as the College of Cardinals finds itself at a deadlock. Tension mounts outside the Vatican walls. The liberals stage a walkout and hurl their scarlet robes to the crowd below in protest. The few remaining electors choose a complete unknown as the next pontiff, an African monk from a forgotten Traditionalist order. (Think Hadrian the Seventh, but with real saints and real sinners facing off rather than an empty conflict of aesthete poseurs and vulgar bureacrats). Unfortunately, one prince of the Church, possessing his own strange and alarming agenda, arranges a mix-up at the new pontiff's airport pickup. The vast bulk of the story deals with the confrontation between the cardinal--incidentally, a dead ringer for Teilhard de Chardin--and the simple priest, now imprisoned in the mental ward of a Roman hospital along with a dozen or so deranged papal claimants of a less legitimate nature. What happens next will decide the fate of the Church, and with it, the world.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Walker Percy, On Bourbon.

Not only should connoisseurs of Bourbon not read this article, neither should persons preoccupied with the perils of alcoholism, cirrhosis, esophageal hemorrhage, cancer of the palate, and so forth--all real dangers. I, too, deplore these afflications. But, as between these evils and the aesthetic of Bourbon drinking, that is, the use of Bourbon to warm the heart, to reduce the anomie of the late twentieth century, to cut the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons, I choose the aesthetic. ...

If I should appear to be suggesting that such a man proceed as quickly as possible to anesthetize his cerebral cortex by ingesting ethyl alcohol, the point is being missed. Or part of the point. The joy of Bourbon drinking is not the pharmacological effect of C(2)H(5)OH on the cortex but rather the instant of the whiskey being knocked back and the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime -- aesthetic considerations to which the effect of the alcohol is, if not dispensable, at least secondary. ...

The pleasure of knocking back Bourbon lies in the plain [sic; plane?] of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship. My preference for the former is or is not deplorable depending on one's value system--that is to say, how one balances out the Epicurean virtues of cultivating one's sensory end organs with the greatest discrimination and at least cost to one's health, against the virtue of evocation of time and memory and of the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world. In Kierkegaardian terms, the use of Bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence, whereas connoisseurship, the discriminating but single-minded stimulation of sensory end organs, is the aesthetic of damnation.

Excerpt from Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies"

Interesting ... I did not realize this was published but have just come across its existence:
Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies

Encounter Books (September 27, 2011)

The intellectual and political elite of the West is nowadays taking for granted that religion, in particular Christianity, is a cultural vestige, a primitive form of knowledge, a consolation for the poor minded, an obstacle to coexistence. In all influential environments, the widespread watchword is “We are all secular” or “We are all post-religious.” As a consequence, we are told that states must be independent of religious creed, politics must take a neutral stance regarding religious values, and societies must hold together without any reference to religious bonds. Liberalism, which in some form or another is the prevailing view in the West, is considered to be “free-standing,” and the Western, liberal, open society is taken to be “self-sufficient.”

Not only is anti-Christian secularism wrong, it is also risky. It's wrong because the very ideas on which liberal societies are based and in terms of which they can be justified—the concept of the dignity of the human person, the moral priority of the individual, the view that man is a “crooked timber” inclined to prevarication, the limited confidence in the power of the state to render him virtuous—are typical Christian or, more precisely, Judeo-Christian ideas. Take them away and the open society will collapse. Anti-Christian secularism is risky because it jeopardizes the identity of the West, leaves it with no self-conscience, and deprives people of their sense of belonging. The Founding Fathers of America, as well as major intellectual European figures such as Locke, Kant, and Tocqueville, knew how much our civilization depends on Christianity. Today, American and European culture is shaking the pillars of that civilization.

Written from a secular and liberal, but not anti-Christian, point of view, this book explains why the Christian culture is still the best antidote to the crisis and decline of the West. Pera proposes that we should call ourselves Christians if we want to maintain our liberal freedoms, to embark on such projects as the political unification of Europe as well as the special relationship between Europe and America, and to avoid the relativistic trend that affects our public ethics. “The challenges of our particular historical moment”, as Pope Benedict XVI calls them in the Preface to the book, can be faced only if we stress the historical and conceptual link between Christianity and free society.

Marcello Pera is an Italian philosopher and politian, president of the Italian Senate from 2001-06. Readers may recall his co-authoring with Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, published a few years into his pontificate.

Reviews

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Vatican (re)discovers Humanitarian Intervention

In today's news, the Vatican seems to be entertaining the notion of condoning military force in Iraq to stem the tide of Christian persecution at the hands of "The Islamic State" ["IS"], (formerly known as "ISIS"). John Allen Jr. explains:
For anyone familiar with the Vatican’s recent history of bitter opposition to any US use of military force in the Middle East, Rome’s increasingly vocal support for the recent American airstrikes in Iraq may seem, to say the least, a little disorienting.

On Monday, the Vatican’s previously tacit approval for the American intervention turned explicit, as two senior officials offered what amounts to a blessing through official communications channels.

Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the pope’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Vatican radio that the American strikes are “something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State forces] could not be stopped.” ...

In a similar vein, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio that “military action in this moment is probably necessary.

Coming from the Vatican's prior adoption of a functionally-pacifist and "abolitionist" stance on military action in modern times, this is huge. Compare the above with Cardinal Martino (of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace)'s declaration in the National Catholic Register, circa 2003:
Question: "Are you suggesting there is no such thing as a just war anymore?"

Archbishop Martino: "Absolutely. I think with modern weaponry, there is no proportionality between the offense and the reply. It makes much more damage. War is so destructive now. It is not just a fight between one person and another."

But what's the reason for this sudden "about face"? -- John Allen Jr. explains:
The face-value way to read Monday’s comments from Lingua and Tomasi, however, is as a recognition that there are times when the situation is sufficiently urgent that anyone who steps in, with or without a formal U.N. resolution, can claim the moral high ground.

Even if full legitimacy under international law remains the ideal, in other words, there’s now an exception on the record in favor of “unilateral” action.

Second, the emerging Vatican line clearly establishes a limit to pacifism as an option within Catholic social teaching. In effect, the take-away is that there are times when the use of force is the only option left to serve the greater good.

Third, and most basically, what’s different about 2014 with respect to 2003 isn’t so much the theory but the facts on the ground.

One core reason the Vatican opposed the two Gulf Wars, as well as any expansion of the conflict in Syria, was fear that the fall of a police state in the Middle East would lead to the rise of a radical Islamic theocracy in which Christians and other minorities would find themselves in the firing line.

That’s no longer a theoretical anxiety. It’s the lived reality of the new caliphate proclaimed by the Islamic State ...

Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Where have I heard that before? -- seems to me the rationale for military action being posited by Allen (or rather, Lingua and Tomasi):
"there are times when the situation is sufficiently urgent that anyone who steps in, with or without a formal U.N. resolution, can claim the moral high ground";

"there’s now an exception on the record in favor of “unilateral” action";

"there are times when the use of force is the only option left to serve the greater good"

... sounds awfully similar to that bandied about by the dreaded neocons of yore.

And yet, while I can understand the reasoning for the Vatican's opposition to U.S. military intervention in Iraq in Gulf Wars I & II -- "fear that the fall of a police state in the Middle East would lead to the rise of a radical Islamic theocracy [contributing to the persecution of Christians]" -- I confess that I've also found this kind of reasoning a little too "tribal" (for lack of a better term) for my taste.

What I mean is this -- considering all that Iraqis had to endure under life under Saddam Hussein, just to hit a few high points:

  • The gas attacks by Saddam on the Kurdish town of Halabja (4,000-5,000 casualties);
  • The Al-Anfal campaign of Saddam against the Kurds in Northern Iraq 1988 (reported deaths of 50,000-182,000 people, many women and children);
  • Saddam's brutal crackdown on his own people in June 1994 following Bush Sr.'s pull-out of U.S. forces in Gulf War I with full scale massacres of Kurds (20,000-100,000) and (60,000-130,000) Shiites. (Perhaps it was his father's (perceived) abandonment of the Iraqis to their fate under Saddam through a policy of "non-intervention" -- a move that Bush Senior perpetually regretted -- that in part compelled Bush Jr. by conscience to desire to "finish the job"; as well as the development of "The Bush Doctrine").
  • Lastly, you have the persecution, rape and torture of his own people throughout the reign of Saddam and his two sons. See Michael Totten's account tour of Iraq's "genocide museum" in the old headquarters of the mukhabarat
    The hardest thing to see was the cell used to hold children before they were murdered. My translator read some of the messages carved into the wall.

    "I was ten years old. But they changed my age to 18 for execution."

    "Dear Mom and Dad. I am going to be executed by the Baath. I will not see you again."

There are testimonies of life under Saddam I could relay that are just as blood-curdling and noxious as any you would read today under ISIS. And yet, what comes to my mind with respect to the Church's predominant stance vis-a-vis Saddam is not one of clear moral condemnation of Hussein's regime at the time (did I miss it?), but rather the mental image of the smug, cigar-chomping Taraq Aziz, Saddam's Deputy Prime Minister -- shaking the elderly Pope John Paul II's hand after receiving "red carpet treatment"; the latter's resounding declaration of "NO TO WAR". No doubt the Holy Father was genuine in his intentions, but I couldn't help but think Saddam got the better of that particular photo-op, or what those persecuted Iraqis under him might have felt.

To clarify: I do not wish to absolve or dispute the United States' own complicity in the aftermath of Saddam's overthrow, its incompetency and mismanagement of affairs in the course of helping to establish the new Iraqi state; the collapse of military discipline that resulted in the human rights abuses of Abu Ghraib and elsewhere (thus challenging Bush's claim that "one thing is for certain … "there won't be any more torture rooms or rape rooms").

Nor am I opposed to the United States taking an armed response against IS[IS]. What is happening over there is horrible and forceful reaction on our part is merited. . . . in fact, I am very much in favor of a "you broke it, you fix it" policy with respect to Iraq, and am persuaded that the United States (perhaps at Obama's wish to have another item to tack onto his post-presidential resume), pulled our troops out of there much too soon.

But to those in Rome who are so emphatic about acting NOW, I am moved to inquire:

Yes, humanitarian intervention NOW . . . but what about THEN?

What I find especially disconcerting about the Vatican's sudden "about face" is the impression given that it's only due to Rome's identification of, and proclaimed solidarity with, the present victims of persecution (= Christians) that they are now urging military action for humanitarian reasons, when humanitarian reasons for intervening on behalf of persecuted minorities strike me to be just as pertinent when said minorities were other than Christian.

Related

  • Saddam Hussein massacres Shiite Muslims, and the Vatican looks away, by Sandro Magister. 11/27/02. "Deafening silence from the heads of the Catholic Church regarding religious persecution underway in Iraq. But it´s fully documented. Here are the complete links to the condemning evidence."

  • "No religion can justify such barbarity" - Statement of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue:
    the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation; -the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places; -the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of a tax (jizya) or forced exile; -the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of people, including children, elderly, pregnant women and the sick; -the abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as spoils of war (sabaya); -the imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation; -the destruction of places of worship and Christian and Muslim burial places; -the forced occupation or desecration of churches and monasteries; -the removal of crucifixes and other Christian religious symbols as well as those of other religious communities; -the destruction of a priceless Christian religious and cultural heritage; -indiscriminate violence aimed at terrorizing people to force them to surrender or flee. No cause, and certainly no religion, can justify such barbarity.
  • DarwinCatholic on Vatican Middle Eastern Realpolitik? - Some questions for John Allen, Jr.:
    This certainly seems like a plausible ex post rationale, but is there any evidence that in 1991, 2003, and 2013 Vatican thinking was indeed driven by the idea that it was better to keep Middle Eastern police states in place in order to prevent radical Islamist regimes from coming to power? I remember vague discussion about violence never solving anything, but I don't recall anything specifically making this argument and in some ways it seems out of character. ...

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Islamic State and The End(?) of Christianity in Iraq -- 2007-2014: Timeline

Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. But my community is still alive.

Please, try to understand us. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles. You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.

Archbishop Amel Nona
Chaldean Catholic Archeparch of Mosul, now exiled in Erbil
Corriere della Sera
August 14, 2014

Armenian Orthodox church in Raqqa, Syria, now an ISIS office

Statement of Fr Federico Lombardi SJ regarding the situation of Christians in Iraq Vatican Radio 08/08/14:

The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region.

At the Angelus prayer on July 20th, Pope Francis cried with pain: “[O]ur brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are pushed out, forced to leave their homes without the opportunity to take anything with them. To these families and to these people I would like to express my closeness and my steadfast prayer. Dearest brothers and sisters so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are deprived of everything. I am with you in your faith in Him who conquered evil!”

In light of these terrible developments, the Holy Father renews his spiritual closeness to all those who are suffering through this painful trial, and makes the impassioned appeals of the local bishops his own, asking together with them in behalf of their sorely tried communities, that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace.

His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.

The Pope also appeals to the conscience of all people, and to each and every believer he repeats: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace! Let us pray in silence, asking for peace; everyone, in silence.... Mary Queen of peace, pray for us! (Angelus, July 20, 2014)”

  • Islamic State Torches 1200 Rare Christian Manuscripts 08/10/14:
    Members of the Islamic State, the new “caliphate,” recently seized as many as 1,200 rare, Christian manuscripts, and set them aflame.

    The manuscripts were seized from the churches of Mosul, which are under the control of the Islamic State. Many of these churches have stood in Mosul since the times of the apostles of Christ. ...

    The Islamic State also took over and destroyed the Museum of Antiquities in Mosul, the second most important museum of ancient history in Iraq, which once housed some of the most important artifacts of early human history.

  • U.S. Approves Airstrikes on Iraq, Airdrops Aid Wall Street Journal 08/08/14.

  • Iraq's largest Christian town falls to Islamic State Long War Journal 08/07/14:
    "Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants," Joseph Thomas, the archbishop of the Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP. Qaraqosh (or Bakhdida on the map) has a Chaldean Christian population estimated at 50,000. ...

    The Islamic State previously issued an ultimatum to Christians in Mosul that they convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed. Thousands of Christian families fled Iraq's second largest city after the Islamic State issued their directive. The Islamic State has also been destroying Christian, Jewish, and Muslim shrines, churches, and mosques in Mosul. Among the religious sites destroyed by the jihadist group are the tomb of Jonah and an accompanying mosque, and the tomb of George.

  • Islamic State pulls down church crosses in northern Iraq as 200,000 flee The Telegraph UK. 08/07/14. "Islamic State, the jihadist group formerly known as Isis, have occupied churches in Iraq, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts, witnesses report, having overrun Kurdish troops forcing 200,000 to flee."

  • World's top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians Vatican Radio / Reuters. 07/25/13:
    Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State.

    The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims.

    In a statement, he officially denounced the "forced deportation under the threat of execution” of Christians, calling it a "crime that cannot be tolerated.” The Secretary General also distanced Islam from the actions of the militant group known as ISIS, saying they "have nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, kindness, fairness, freedom of faith and coexistence.”

  • Islamic State destroys tombs, mosques in Mosul Long War Journal 07/26/14:
    On July 24 the Islamic State destroyed the Nabi Yunus Mosque, which had housed the Tomb of Jonah, after destroying the tomb itself earlier this month. Islamic State fighters wired the mosque with explosives and detonated the religious site in broad daylight.

    Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his tomb was visited and revered by members of all three religions.

  • Muslims in Baghdad Express Solidarity With Christians Aleteia. 07/21/14:
    A group of about 200 Muslims joined Christians in solidarity in front of the Chaldean Church of St. George Sunday to condemn the attacks on the Christian community in Mosul carried out by the Islamic State.

    Some Muslims held up signs or wore shirts with the words "I am Iraqi, I am Christian," written on them. Others marked themselves with a “nun,” the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, "Nasrani" or Nazarene. The Islamic State has been putting “nuns” on Christian property marked out for seizure.

    The Chaldean faithful who joined them after Mass sang the national anthem along with them, as Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I Sako thanked them.

  • Iraqi Police: Abu Risha, head of Ramadi Awakening Council, killed [by Islamic State of Iraq] CNN. 06/03/14.
    The head of the Ramadi Awakening Council was killed Tuesday in a suicide bombing in Iraq's Anbar province, police officials told CNN. Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha was on a joint patrol with Awakening Council members and Iraqi security forces when he was killed by a suicide bomber ...

    Abu Risha has been among those leading the fight in Ramadi against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a rogue al Qaeda group know by the acronym ISIS. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But ISIS has claimed to have carried out several failed assassination attempts against him in recent months.

    Abu Risha is the nephew of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening Council -- a group composed primarily of Sunni Arab fighters who turned on al Qaeda in Iraq in late 2006 and joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition.

    The sheikh took over as head of the province's Awakening Council after his brother Sheikh Abdul Sattar was assassinated [by Al Qaeda] in 2007.

  • Iraqi Sheik to Obama: We Miss You! The Daily Beast 09/06/12:
    A little more than four years ago in western Iraq, then-senator Barack Obama met for 90 minutes with a group of Arab sheiks, allies of the U.S. military in the war against al Qaeda. Known as the Anbar Awakening, the tribal leaders are credited by the Marine Corps’ own official historian with helping turn the tide of the Iraq War and creating the conditions on the ground for the country’s fragile government to survive. During the meeting the future president assured the group that there would be a long-term partnership between America and Iraq, according to two of the sheikhs who were there and a U.S. translator in the meeting. ... Four years later, one of those sheiks, Ahmad Abu-Risha, says he feels betrayed.
  • Leaving the Sunni Awakening in Limbo New York Times 12/14/11.
    Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha is seen as America’s staunchest ally in Iraq. An article in Wednesday’s Times reports on how the withdrawal of the United States will leave Mr. Abu Risha and the militia units he commands, known broadly as the Sunni Awakening, to navigate increasingly troublesome relations with the central Shiite-led government of Iraq.
  • Anbar Awakening Leader questions Obama's plan of withdrawal 07/22/08. "In the present, we do not have an army that can protect the country after the US forces leave. This army is not capable enough."

  • FLASHBACK: The Vatican, The Anbar Awakening, and the "Protector of the Chaldean Catholics" 05/01/08.
    After hearing Sheikh Iyad's account of the suffering that the Chaldean Catholics have endured in Iraq, Sheikh Ahmad publicly declared that from this time forward they would be under his protection, that anyone who killed a Chaldean will be regarded as one who has killed in a member of his tribe (under the medieval Islamic concept of qisas this is a capital offense), and money will be provided from the Sahawa al-Iraq treasury to rebuild the churches and cemeteries that al-Qaeda destroyed. He justified this by quoting from the Qu'ran and stating that there should be no compulsion in matters of religion because truth stands free from error.
  • FLASHBACK: Reunion of Iraqi Christians and Muslims 12/15/07:
    On November 19, 2007, Most Reverend Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in Iraq officiated at a mass in St. John’s Church in Baghdad. He was welcomed home by a crowd of locals and American soldiers, who had fought hard to cleanse the streets of Al Qaeda. ... According to [reporter] Michael Yon, the front pews of the Mass were filled with Muslims, to express their solidarity with their Christian neighbors and invite them back to Iraq.
  • FLASHBACK: "Thanks and Praise": The rebuilding of St. John's Church in Baghdad 11/08/07:
    "I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John's Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome. A Muslim man had invited the American soldiers from 'Chosen' Company 2-12 Cavalry to the church, where I videotaped as Muslims and Christians worked and rejoiced at the reopening of St John's, an occasion all viewed as a sign of hope. The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. 'Thank you, thank you,' the people were saying. One man said, 'Thank you for peace.' Another man, a Muslim, said 'All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.' The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Edward Feser: Scholastic Metaphysics

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction
By Edward Feser.

Editions Scholasticae (April 1, 2014). 290 pgs.

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy. The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.

Reviews

NOTE: This post will be updated with further reviews and information as it becomes available on the web.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stratford Caldecott, R.I.P.

From Kathy Schiffer comes the news that Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott died July 17, at 60 years old, after a long battle with cancer.

“Strat” Caldecott, FRSA, was the editor of the international journal Second Spring, co-director of Second Spring Oxford Ltd., co-editor of the UK and Ireland edition of Magnificat, and editor of the online book review journal of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, HumanumReview.com. He was a commissioning editor for the Catholic Truth Society in London and served on the editorial boards of Communio, The Chesterton Review, and Oasis.

His many books include, most recently, Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice (Second Spring Books, 2014); a two-part study of the meaning and purpose of the Liberal Arts: Beauty for Truth’s Sake (Brazos, 2009) and Beauty in the Word (Angelico Press, 2012); The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity (Angelico Press, 2013) and All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ (Angelico Press, 2011).

Besides his other online projects, Stratford also maintained the blog The Economy Project (a blog dedicated to Catholic Social Teaching). He also contributed to the Imaginative Conservative, and on May 21, 2014, left us with is last post, "Search for the Secret of Life and Death".

I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but we would correspond on occasion regarding the writings of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) and the Christian-Muslim dialogue. He was, as so many have attested, a true Catholic gentleman. He will be sorely missed.

For those in the UK, the funeral requiem Mass will be at the Oxford Oratory Thursday 31st at 10.00 am.

Tributes and Remembrances

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4, 2014.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hobby Lobby - A Roundup

Required Reading

  • What Hobby Lobby Means: How We Got Here, Where We're Headed, by Robert P. George. First Things 07/01/14:
    Hobby Lobby and the Greens, represented by attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argued that the abortifacient mandates (1) substantially burden the practice of their faith; (2) are not supported by a compelling interest; and (3) do not represent the least restrictive means of pursuing the government’s objective of supplying these products to women. The Obama administration contested these claims and denied that RFRA protections apply at all to for-profit businesses (as opposed to religious organizations).

    The decision’s most important feature is its rejection of that contention. The five justices in the majority—Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy—explicitly reject it, thus establishing as a matter of law the proposition that RFRA protections can apply to for-profit businesses, and do apply to closely held corporations. It leaves open the question, which is probably purely theoretical, whether RFRA protections apply to large, publicly traded companies. Two of the four dissenting justices—Breyer and Kagan—decline to reach or opine on the question of whether RFRA protects for-profit businesses—pointedly refusing to join this aspect of the dissent filed by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor who, alone, contend that for-profit businesses do not enjoy RFRA protections.

  • Ashley Macguire on Five False Perceptions About The Hobby Lobby Case (The Federalist 07/01/14).

  • The Republic of Gilead is Not Nigh, by Julian Sanchez. Cato.org. 06/30/14 -- offering a libertarian perspective on the ruling, and the possible motives of those disappointed in it:
    In light of this, the outraged reaction to the ruling ought to seem a bit puzzling. If what you are fundamentally concerned about is whether women have access to no-copay contraception, then there’s no obvious reason to invest such deep significance in the precise accounting details of the mechanism by which it is provided. [Cut the hysterics already]. You might even be heartened by a ruling that so centrally turns on the premise that accomodation for religious objectors is required when no women will lack such coverage who would have enjoyed it under a mandate.

    The outrage does make sense, of course, if what one fundamentally cares about—or at least, additionally cares about—is the symbolic speech act embedded in the compulsion itself. In other words, if the purpose of the mandate is not merely to achieve a certain practical result, but to declare the qualms of believers with religious objections so utterly underserving of respect that they may be forced to act against their convictions regardless of whether this makes any real difference to the outcome. And something like that does indeed seem to be lurking just beneath—if not at—the surface of many reactions. The ruling seems to provoke anger, not because it will result in women having to pay more for birth control (as it won’t), but at least in part because it fails to send the appropriate cultural signal. Or, at any rate, because it allows religious employers to continue sending the wrong cultural signal—disapproval of certain forms of contraception—when sending that signal does not impede the achievement of the government’s ends in any way.

  • About that matter of companies "denying contraception" to their employees... There has been plenty a-wailing and gnashing of teeth about companies "denying contraception", but it ain't necessarily so. Even Hobby Lobby "lavishes contraception coverage on its employees", covering 16 different types in its health plan.

    (Catholics may object to the offering of contraceptives in principle, but this is a Protestant organization -- and Protestants have generally been open to a wide range of contraception since the 1930's). What (some) Protestant and Catholic Christians share is the belief that life is sacred, and life begins at conception (the latter being not so much a "belief" as sound biological fact).

    So what Hobby Lobby (and seventy one other companies are actually objecting to paying for four specific contraceptives that are deemed abortifacients due to their capacity to either kill human beings when they are fertilized eggs, or prevent them from implanting themselves in utero, whereupon they die. This is what they deem morally objectionable on religious grounds.

    Functionally speaking, no employee of Hobby Lobby would be denied the normal range of contraceptives under their health plan, and Hobby Lobby employees are free to purchase emergency contraception of their own accord, just not on the company's dime.

  • Yes, but isn't it hypocritical that Hobby Lobby "invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans–products they believe cause abortions?" -- This is the counterargument advanced by Rick Ungar (Forbes.com), Grant Gallicho (Commonweal) and Molly Redden (Mother Jones). To this it may be rightfully objected that . Ryan Ellis (Forbes.com) makes short work of Ungar and Redden's criticism here, by pointing out that 401k plans are made by employees, not employers:
    Plan administrators contract with select mutual fund companies to provide basic investment products diversified by sector, asset class, duration, risk, etc. This is the primary goal of diversification of fund choices, not socially-conscious investing. Besides, it’s the employees who call the shots. They may not share the same values as the Hobby Lobby owners, and might have a very different idea of what a “socially responsible” fund would invest in…

    What does Mother Jones’ or Mercury Public Affairs’ 401(k) plan look like? Those are the employers of Redden and Ungar, respectively. Surely those 401(k) plans invest in stocks of oil and gas companies, defense contractors, private equity firms, and other evil conservative power bastions. Have Redden and/or Ungar done a forensic investigation of the mutual funds they are invested in? Should I call them hypocrites for daring to invest in a 401(k) which invests in a mutual fund which invests in a multinational company which happens to own an oil company? If not, consider that the Hobby Lobby employers have one more degree of separation even from Redden and Ungar. Our two intrepid reporters affirmatively chose to invest in merchants of death when they picked out their 401(k) choices. All Hobby Lobby is doing is providing the platform for employees to make those same choices themselves in partnership with plan administrators.

    Ben Domenech, The Federalist poses the challenge:
    The secular left needs to think bigger than just driving Christians out of the ability to practice their faith as business owners or allow their employees to invest in the stock market. They should start by noting it’s impossible for those who claim to be “pro-life” to live and work in certain states without being a hypocrite. Since the Hyde Amendment applies only to federal funds, states like New York, New Jersey, and California use state taxpayer dollars – a not insignificant amount of them – to pay directly for abortions. What this effectively means is that any of Ungar’s colleagues at Fox News who live in New York are thorough hypocrites if they pay their taxes. And yet they continue to do so! It is almost as if they are willing to render unto Caesar, even as they fight in courts and in the public square to change Caesar’s policies. Heck, Hobby Lobby itself even pays taxes in these states, where it does business! How stunning that these people are even allowed to be Americans, a country which was built by slaveowners and racists.
  • Lastly, I concur with Bonchamps (The American Catholic), that this decision is something of a pyrrhic victory:
    [In the event of a Hobby Lobby win] my celebration will be muted and limited, however, because a legal victory will not address the underlying philosophical and cultural divide that brought this case before the court to begin with. Contrary to what some may believe, law is not the foundation upon which society rests; it is rather the adhesive we use to patch up broken pieces of society. The more laws, precedents, mandates, rulings and decisions we require to defend our basic interests and assert our rights, the greater indication we have of a society that is almost literally tearing itself apart.