Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The people who feel driven today to turn their backs on the Church are not only the ones who have become alienated from the Church's faith or who regard the Church as too old-fashioned, too medieval, to hostile to the world and life, but also those who loved the historical form of the Church: her worship, her timelessness, and the reflection of the eternal in her. It seem sto them that the Church is in the process of betraying what is most characteristic of her, that she is selling herself to the current fashion and thus losing her soul: they are disappointed like a lover who has to experience the betrayal of a great love and must seriously consider turning his back on her.

Conversely, however, there are also quite conflicting reasons to stay in the Church: the ones who remain are not only those who steadfastly adhere to their faith in her mission or whose who are unwilling to sever their ties to a dear old habit (even though they make little use of that habit). Also remaining in the Church today, quite emphatically, are those who reject her entire historical character and passionately fight against the meaning that her officials try to give her or uphold. Although they want to do away with what the Church was and is, they are determined not to be ousted, so that they can make of her what, in their opinion, she is supposed to become. [p. 134]

* * *
"The death of God" is a very real process, which today extends deep into the interior of the Church. God is dying in Christendom, so it seems. For when resurrection becomes an experience of a commission perceived in outmoded imagery, then God is not at work. Is he at work at all? That is the question that immediately follows. But who wants to be so reactionary as to insist on a realistic "he is risen"? Thus what one person necessarily considers unbelief is progress to another, and what was hitherto unthinkable becomes normal: that men who long ago abandoned the Church's Creed should in good conscience regard themselves as the truly progressive Christians. For them, however, the only standard by which to measure the Church is the expediency with which she functions; of course, the question remains as to what is expedient and for what purpose the whole thing is actually supposed to function. For social criticism, for developmental aid, for revolution? Or for community celebrations? [p. 139]

Joseph Ratzinger, on "Why I am still in the Church", circa 1970. From Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades].

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Hart-Feser Debate over Natural Law, Revisited

In "Reason's Faith", David Bentley Hart revisits a series of exchanges in First Things circa 2013, in which he argued (his words):
not that natural-law theory is inherently futile, but rather that its proponents often fail to grasp just how nihilistic the late modern view of reality has become, or how far our culture has gone toward losing any coherent sense of “nature” at all, let alone of any realm of moral meanings to which nature might afford access.
Hart's original post provoked a storm of controversy, with a number of prominent authors rallying to his defense (Michael Potemra, Rod Dreher, Alan Jacobs) as well as bracing rebuttals from the more philosophically inclined, most notably Edward Feser, as rounded-up and chronicled here.

Edward Feser too, revisits the debate in Reasons of the Hart (03/13/15):

... the focus of Hart’s latest piece is the question of the relationship between faith and reason. Hart objects to the charge that he is a fideist, arguing that both fideism and rationalism of the seventeenth-century sort are errors that would have been rejected by the mainstream of the ancient and medieval traditions with which he sympathizes. With that much I agree. I agree too with his claim that the use of reason rests on the “metaphysical presupposition” that there is a natural fit between the intellect and that which the intellect grasps -- an “orientation of truth to the mind and of the mind to truth.” I agree with him when he argues that naturalism cannot account for this fit, that the best it can attribute to our rational faculties is survival value but not capacity to grasp truth, and that this makes it impossible for the naturalist rationally to justify his own position. And I agree with him when he argues that idealism in its various forms also cannot account for this fit -- that if naturalism emphasizes mind-independent truth to such an extent that it cannot account for the mind itself, idealism emphasizes mind to such an extent that it cannot account for mind-independent truth.

All well and good, and indeed a set of points whose importance cannot be overemphasized. What puzzles me, though, is the way Hart characterizes the position he would put in place of these errors -- a way that at least lends itself to a fideist reading, his rejection of the “fideist” label notwithstanding. [Read the whole thing].

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square, by Randy Boyagoda

Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square
by Randy Boyagoda.
Image (February 10, 2015). 480 pgs.

Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was one of the most influential figures in American public life from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror. His writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history. William F. Buckley, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith are comparable -- willing controversialists and prodigious writers adept at cultivating or castigating the powerful, while advancing lively arguments for the virtues and vices of the ongoing American experiment. But unlike Buckley and Galbraith, who have always been identified with singular political positions on the right and left, respectively, Neuhaus' life and ideas placed him at the vanguard of events and debates across the political and cultural spectrum. For instance, alongside Abraham Heschel and Daniel Berrigan, Neuhaus co-founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, in 1965. Forty years later, Neuhaus was the subject of a New York Review of Books article by Garry Wills, which cast him as a Rasputin of the far right, exerting dangerous influence in both the Vatican and the Bush White House. This book looks to examine Neuhaus's multi-faceted life and reveal to the public what made him tick and why.

"Boyagoda dispassionately describes this fascinating and active life, and he manages to blend skills as a folksy storyteller, researcher and unbiased historian, providing a biography that is balanced, interesting and relevant. A useful, provocative spotlight on one of the leading lights of the 20th century." – Kirkus

“Faith, it is correctly observed, while intensely personal, is never private. In North America, nobody recently has more effectively defended and encouraged bringing religion into the public square than Richard John Neuhaus. And up until now, no one has offered a more credible, careful, and colorful biography of this convert to Catholicism—in the line of Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker and Thomas Merton—than Randy Boyagoda.” – Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, author of True Freedom

"A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, labeled sometimes as liberal and other times as conservative, Neuhaus was truly a "sign of contradiction" in our times, a man whose constant affiliation in life was of belonging to God and striving to draw ever nearer to Him. Thorough, vivid, and keenly understanding of the interplay of personality, faith, and cultural context, Boyagoda's biography of Neuhaus does justice to this man of faith who became a type of "grace to be reckoned with," becoming a culture-altering tour de force. As Americans continue to explore the challenge of living one's faith in the public square, this book is an enriching testament to a man who blazed that trail in his own lifetime, fearless of everything but God Himself." – Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

Interviews

Reviews

  • The Vision of Father Neuhaus, by William Doino Jr. First Things 3/23/15:
    ... Because Neuhaus was such a prominent figure, and so involved in the major political debates of his time, he is often criticized for having compromised his faith. But those who say Neuhaus was more politician than priest miss the mark. Fr. Neuhaus always saw himself—first and foremost—as a pastor and parish priest. The source and summit of his life was celebrating the Mass, hearing confessions, and attending to the needs of his flock. He loved to write, yes, but he did so in hopes that people would espouse the good—and by doing so, to turn toward their Savior.
  • Understanding Father Neuhaus, by Alan Jacobs. Snakes and Ladders 03/13/15:
    ... here’s (a simplified version of) my reading of Neuhaus’s political transformation: Over time he came to believe that the American left had effectively abandoned its commitment to “the least of these,” had decided that, in Boyagoda’s clear formulation, “private rights — made possible by and indeed protecting implicit race and class privileges — trumped responsibilities for others.” The moral language that he had learned from his Christian upbringing and pastoral training and experience simply had no purchase in a party dominated by a commitment solely to the “private rights” of self-expression, especially sexual self-expression. He turned to those who showed a willingness to hear commitments expressed in that moral language, who appeared to be open to being convinced. In return he gave them his loyalty, his public support, for the rest of his life.

    It may well be that this was a devil’s bargain, one that Neuhaus should never have made. ...

    But I think we have strong documentary evidence that Father Neuhaus made his bargain out of a genuine and deeply compassionate love — a love that pulled him all his life — for those whom the world deems worthless. In trying to realize this love in the medium of politics, that cesspool of vainglory and vanity, he sometimes befouled himself. But we all befoul ourselves; few of us do it in such a noble cause.

  • How Father Neuhaus Found GOP, by Geoffrey Kabaservice. The American Conservative 03/17/15.
  • Neuhaus in his time, by George W. Rutler. National Review 03/09/15.
  • New biography captures spirit of the of the great Catholic intellectual, by Russel Saltzman. Aleteia. 02/19/15. "Boyagoda found the Neuhaus I knew, complete with all the man’s winsome qualities and not a few of his contradictions. Not surprisingly, he also revealed facets of the man I could never guess. ... Boyagoda has given us a meat-and-potatoes biography. I regard that as a good thing to say."
  • Preaching to the White House, by Phillip Marchand. National Post 02/25/15:
    Boyagoda makes no sweeping pronouncements on this unresolved issue of Neuhaus’s legacy. Certainly things were not as they once were when Neuhaus could claim intimacy with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II. But Boyagoda’s luminously intelligent study of the man makes clear that Richard John Neuhaus — however one regards his politics — deserved his place in a long line of memorable American preacher politicians.
  • The story of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, an extraordinary Christian man, by Gregory J. Sullivan. Catholic World Report 03/13/15. "a reliable and readable biography."
  • The American Life of Richard John Neuhaus, by Matthew Walther. The Washington Beacon 03/14/15.
  • Richard John Neuhaus and the perils of theologically motivated hyper-partisanship, by Damon Linker. The Week 03/13/15.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Contra Stoker Bruenig. On Pope Francis and His Critics

Francis Agonistes, by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. The New Republic 03/01/15. "The Pope is engaged in a struggle to bring the Church into the modern age. And American conservatives are fighting him every step of the way."

Responses

Sunday, March 8, 2015

But no man is without sin, and although every sin is the denial and betrayal of Chris, yet in his mercy and our true contrition and confession of our sins with meekness and humility and the long suffering desire of amendment brings us forgiveness.

Nowadays the utterances of confessions on paper bears the stigma of hypocrisy, for it is too easy to cry out for our sins without true contrition, and to proclaim them without ourselves believing them to be sins. And those who read them also do not believe these things to be sins.

- Thomas Merton, 09/13/39 [Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation [The Journal of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941]. ].

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Here and There

  • Discussing or Ignoring Thomas Pink’s Interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae Rorate Caeli 01/05/15:
    One of the most difficult of the doctrinal points at issue between the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) and the Holy See is the question of religious liberty. The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this point in Dignitatis Humanae seems to be in clear opposition to the traditional teaching. In 2011 [Rorate Caeli] posted an intervention on the question by Prof. Thomas Pink, in which Pink proposed a reading of Dignitatis Humanae in accord with tradition. At the time, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, Joseph Shaw, now a Rorate contributor, hailed Pink’s intervention as “truly important article,” and a blogger well acquainted with the SSPX called it a “a game-changing intervention,” that reframed the debate.

    Prof. Pink has since developed his argument further in a number of papers (most of which are available here). But what effect has Pink’s thesis actually had on the debate?

  • Thomas Aquinas in China, by William Carroll. Public Discourse 12/11/14. "Thomas Aquinas’s commitment to the importance of reason and its universal role in defining what it means to be human makes him an attractive thinker for contemporary Chinese scholars."

  • The Philosopher Who Defied Hitler: Q&A with Alice von Hildebrand, by Sean Salai, S.J. (and in America magazine, of all places!):
    Before her husband [Dietrich von Hildrebrand] died in 1977, she persuaded him to write an autobiographical account of his life. This memoir includes the story of his persecution under the Nazis, who had blacklisted him in 1921 and eventually forced him to flee Europe for the United States during World War II. A portion of the manuscript, newly compiled and translated into English by John Henry Crosby under the title “My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich," was published Oct. 21 by Image Books.

    On Oct. 21, I conducted the following email interview with Lady Alice on her career and on the newly translated autobiography of her husband ...

  • 'First Things' vs. 'Communio', "Murrayites" and "MacIntyrians"; The Paradox of the "Catholic Libertarian" and Another Kind of Illiberal Catholicism -- A roundup of relevant reading in 2014 - Taking a look back at last year's skirmishes. The Catholic Church and the Liberal Tradition 12/20/14.

  • Dr. Ed Peters on antinomianism, moved by the observation that Francis has appointed five more papal electors than Church law authorizes:
    Let me be clear: it does not make a fig’s worth of difference whether 120 or 125 cardinals vote in the next papal conclave, but it does make a fig’s worth of difference, I suggest, if yet another ecclesiastical rule, set out in a major legislative document using terminology indistinguishable from that which conveys many other considerably more important rules, is ignored because this leader or that doesn’t feel like abiding by it. We have processes to reform law in the Church; looking the other way isn’t one of them—at the very least, it’s a very dangerous way to change laws.

    Antinomianism has been a long time spreading, and we are going to be a long, long time repairing the damage it has done to the Church (and the State). Where to start, then, except with the first step: recognizing that antinomianism is the default setting today.

    (HT: Pertinacious Papist, see comments for further discussion).

  • Torture: Historical and Ethical Perspectives Unam Catholicam Sanctitam brings refreshing analysis to the torture debate, renewed once more within the Catholic blogging world by the release of . Drawing upon prior historical research from Fr. Harrison, the authors to the following conclusion:
    Understanding these distinctions [between punitive torture, torture for purpose of extraction and extrajudicial torture] means that one could also simultaneously affirm the permissibility of certain kinds of torture (punitive) while uniformly condemning the practices of the CIA, which are extrajudicial.

    The long and short of it is that attempts to make blanket statements about torture qua torture are misguided and prone to end up in contradiction for the simple reason that Tradition does not address torture qua torture, just like we cannot make blanket statements about violence qua violence but only violence under a variety of categories (war, assault, corporal punishment, self-defense, etc.) In the eyes of tradition, putting a man on the rack to extract information, branding a convicted thief with a hot iron, flogging a prisoner, and executing a man in an extremely painful manner (e.g., burning) were all totally different things. To moderns, these are all simply "torture" without disinction, but the Tradition did not view it this way; their distinctions were real distinctions, not mere semantics, and if we hope to understand what the Tradition says to us, we have to accept its distinctions.

    Incidentally, the attempt to ground opposition to all forms of torture in "the dignity of the human person" was not an argument known to tradition and leads to various difficulties. As we have mentioned above in our discussion of Ad Extirpanda and Ad Consulta Vestra, it was only because objections to torture were not grounded in the dignity of the human person that any development of thought here was possible. The argument that all forms of torture are intrinsically evil because they are offenses against the human person is not tenable, at least if we take the Church's tradition seriously.

  • Peter J. Leithart and Robert P. George spar over the proper understanding of religion as a "basic human good" worthy of being (freely) pursued - "Basic Goods" (First Things 8/27/14; Reply to Leithart (8/28/14), to which Dr. Mark Latkovick remarks:
    I simply want to add the point – moral rather than anthropological – that contrary to what Leithart implies, the “basic human goods” are not moral directives for choice. This is why, according to the “new natural law” theory (of Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, W.E. May, George, and others), moral principles and moral norms are necessary to guide our free choices so that we choose the various basic goods wisely. The latter are practical in nature, the former are moral in nature.

  • How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton, John Derbyshire. Prospect Magazine. 09/12/14.

  • Raising the Tone: An Interview With Renowned Composer James MacMillan Regina (09/05/14). Mr. MacMillan was Composer/Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000-2009 and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie until 2013. He is also an outspoken critic of much contemporary Catholic church music, and recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Regina Magazine to discuss his point of view.

  • "Ruined by books: My Top 10 Philosophy List", by Artur Rosman (Cosmos In The Lost).

  • Lastly, OnePeterFive's "Drunk Catholic History" series covers my spirit of choice: bourbon.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thomas Merton, on Heresy

I've posted this excerpt before -- some ten years ago (have I been blogging that long? -- but even now as we draw near to Merton's 100th birthday on January 31st, 2015, it seems most appropos:
In the climate of the Second Vatican Council, of ecumenism, of openness, the word "heretic" has become not only unpopular but unspeakable -- except, of course, among integralists, who often deconstruct their own identity on accusations of heresy directed at others.

But has the concept of heresy become completely irrelevant? Has our awareness of the duty of tolerance and charity toward the sincere conscience of others absolved us from the danger of the error ourselves? Or is error something we no longer consider dangerous?

I think a Catholic is bound to remember that his faith is directed to the grasp of truths revealed by God, which are not mere opinions or "manners of speaking," mere viewpoints which can be adopted and rejected at will -- for otherwise the commitment of faith would lack not only totality but even seriousness. The Catholic is one who stakes his life on certain truths revealed by God. If these truths cease to apply, his life ceases to have meaning.

A heretic is first of all a believer. Today the ideas of "heretic" and "unbeliever" are generally confused. In point of fact the mass of "post-Christian" men in Western society can no longer be considered heretics and heresy is, for them, no problem. It is, however, a problem for the believer who is too eager to identify himself with their unbelief in order to "win them for Christ."

Where the real danger of heresy exists for the Catholic today is precisely in that "believing" zeal which, eager to open up new aspects and new dimensions of the faith, thoughtlessly or carelessly sacrifices something essential to Christian truth, on the grounds that this is no longer comprehensible to modern man. Heresy is precisely a "choice" which, for human motives . . . selects and prefers an opinion contrary to revealed truth as held and understood by the Church.

I think, then, that in our eagerness to go out to modern man and meet him on his own ground, accepting him as he is, we must also be truly what we are. If we come to him as Christians we can certainly understand and have compassion for his unbelief -- his apparent incapacity to believe. But it would seem a bit absurd for us, precisely as Christians, to pat him on the arm and say "As a matter of fact I don't find the Incarnation credible myself. Let's just consider that Christ was a nice man who devoted himself to helping others!"

This would, of course, be heresy in a Catholic whose faith is a radical and total commitment to the truth of the Incarnation and Redemption as revealed by God and taught by the Church. . . . What is the use of coming to modern man with the claim that you have a Christian mission -- that you are sent in the name of Christ -- if in the same breath you deny Him by whom you claim to be sent?

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Related Links

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Some notes occasioned by some "contemporary Christian rocker" named George Perdikis announcing he's left the faith and embraced atheism ("I Co-Founded One of the Most Popular Christian Rock Bands Ever… and I’m Now An Atheist" Friendly Atheist Patheos.com 01/21/15):
I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was create and play rock and roll… and yet most of the attention I received was focused on how well I maintained the impossible standards of religion. I wanted my life to be measured by my music, not by my ability to resist temptation. ...

As I carved out a life for myself away from the church, I began my own voyage of inquiry into what I believed. My perceptions started to transform when I became interested in cosmology in 1992. I soon found myself fascinated by the works of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Cox, and Richard Dawkins. I learned so much and was blown away by all the amazing scientific discoveries and facts. When my marriage dissolved in 2003, I turned my attention to human psychology.

By 2007, I renounced Christianity once and for all and declared myself an atheist.

I find it interesting how Perdikis, like most "contemporary Christian" rock stars, have backgrounds in American evangelical Christianity or something they would describe as stereotypically "fundamentalist", which is to say heavy on rules, heavy on the dogma, notoriously lacking in intellectual foundation ("The scandal of the evangelical mind ... is that there is not much of an evangelical mind" - Mark Knoll, 1995).

Also a kind of religious environment where one's faith is expected to be perpetually worn on one's sleeve - where doubt in and questioning of religious convictions is never admitted, and when experienced is understood as a sign of intolerable weakness, "backsliding". Also, where curiosity and intellectual investigation into the broader tradition of Christianity (never mind other religious traditions outside of Christianity) is generally frowned upon, especially where they might challenge or conflict.

* * *

Because of said standard of moral perfection, of unbreakable faith, etc. the perception of deviation from such in a parent or authority figure can be an impetus for questioning and a loss of faith.

This can range from the familial -- parents who 'say one thing, but do another'; a discovery of infidelity, divorce … to the more egregious and perverse (ex. a pastor who admits to marital infidelities before his congregation; sexual abuse amongst teachers and/or priests). If you grow up regarding somebody as an exemplar of moral perfection and purveyor of spiritual truth, such displays of human frailty and outright sin can be disillusioning, even life-shattering.

* * *

Or, if you happen to be in a particular type of industry in which you are materially invested in being "a good Christian" and your livelihood essentially depends on such -- say, "contemporary Christian music" -- maintaining that outward standard of perfection becomes all the more imperative, especially with thousands of adoring fans looking up to YOU as an exemplar of Christian discipleship.

In such a context, to experience questioning or signs of doubt (either in yourself, or witnessing fellow bandmates straying from the path) -- and with the outward admission to such doubts potentially fatal to your brand -- the disjuncture between ideal and reality can be too much to bear. It only becomes a matter of time before something gives: the ability to maintain the illusion of faith on stage OR "coming clean" to one's doubts, at which point the erstwhile fans might well accuse you of never being a Christian in the first place.

In this manner, George Perdikis of the Newsboys is simply one of a long line of "contemporary Christian" performers who have left the faith, joining the ranks of Tim Lambesis ("As I Lay Dying"); David Bazan (Pedro the Lion); Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay); Clay Scott (Circle of Dust; Celldweller); Roger Martinez (Vengeance Rising, the first ever "Christian thrash" band). I'm not necessarily familiar with all of these musicians (really the latter two) but I'm interested by the similarities in their confessions of how they've left the faith.

Tangential note -- the repudiation of CCM by former participants in CCM is rather common, with new bands, whose members perhaps "personally subscribing to" Christian beliefs, vehemently disavowing any relationship to CCM. The exact phrase "we are not a christian band" has 15,100 results in Google at this time.

* * *

It's one thing to simply proclaim one's agnosticism or ambivalence toward the greater metaphysical questions, quite another to pronounce judgement on them.

Certain types of lapsed believers, at one time "evangelistic" about Christianity, readily embrace and can even get quite "evangelical" about atheism -- which if you think about it, carries its own set of concrete metaphysical-philosophical convictions (scientific materialism), and whose advocates get downright "fundamentalist" themselves -- Ed Feser chronicles this in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism with respect to the religion of Hawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens.

Such converts from Christian fundamentalism rarely just lapse into quiet agnosticism, but often move to the other extreme in rebellion: they become "outspoken atheists", trading in one belief-system for another.

* * *

To be sure, Latin or Orthodox Christianity has its own scandals, and isn't necessarily a reliable antidote to the curious phenomenon of "militant evangelicals leaving the faith to embrace a (sometimes even more militant and evangelical) atheism".

But still, you have to wonder if things might have been different.

For example, those growing up with a fideistic mindset (believing that faith and reason are independent of and hostile to each other), assuming that religious belief can only be maintained by the suppression of rational inquiry might have concluded differently were they exposed to the riches of Christian scholastic philosophy?

Or those assuming that science is inimical to Christianity -- would they be surprised at the number of Catholic scientists in history who would find such a view ludicrous?

Or those who by their background were led to assume the admission and experience of religious doubt as inherently detrimental to faith and indicative of a renunciation of faith ... would they have considered otherwise, if they were exposed to a tradition where even those who are proclaimed saints by the Church and held up for emulation experienced what is called the "the dark knight of the soul" (St. Therese of Lisieux or even, more recently and in our own time: Mother Theresa):

Where existential doubt and belief in a Christian's life go hand in hand (see: "Joseph Ratzinger on Uncertainty and Doubt", an excerpt and one of my favorite passages from his Introduction to Christianity).

Where even the current Pope himself can confess to having "doubts along the way" without his flock being overtly scandalized?

* * *
Musings from one who experienced his own loss of faith while young (and finding his way back).



Happy Feast Day to Thomas Aquinas - Image Source: Found on Facebook


Monday, January 19, 2015

Robert Tracy McKenzie on Matthew Stewart's "Nature's God"

In America's Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn't Anti-Christian, Robert Tracy McKenzie, chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College, reviews Matthew Stewart's Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. (Christianity Today 07/03/14):
... I'll leave it to the philosophers to evaluate whether Stewart has exaggerated the underlying atheism of this cast of characters. (His portrayal of Locke, at least, is sure to arouse controversy.) As a historian, I am more concerned by his utter failure to establish the influence of atheistic belief on America's founding. Historians believe that our most important task is to explain what we see, basing our statements of cause and effect on evidence. Stewart takes a different approach. He concludes that radical philosophy was widespread among common Americans after discovering it in the writings of two individuals, Vermont's backwoods leader Ethan Allen and a Boston physician named Thomas Young. In like manner, he finds that atheistic presuppositions determined the political philosophy of the most prominent Founders by ruthlessly disregarding all competing influences. This is pronouncement, not demonstration.
McKenzie comments further, on his own blog, Faith and American History:
Although Stewart cloaks his argument in a 400-page narrative, the heart of his reasoning boils down to a simple syllogism: The ideas that matter in history are the ones that are true. Religious beliefs are, by definition, false. Ergo (philosophers say ergo a lot), religious beliefs couldn’t have mattered in the American founding. If lots of colonists back in ’76 thought otherwise, that’s because they weren’t as enlightened as the author. Too bad for them.

The thrust of my review was to call attention to Stewart’s a priori assumptions and to remind readers of historians’ quaint belief that historical assertions should be grounded in historical evidence. Stewart is correct to point out that the religious beliefs of many of the leading Founders were unorthodox, David Barton’s wish-dreams to the contrary notwithstanding. But Stewart errs badly in equating the views of the leading Founders with atheism, and he provides almost no evidence at all for his insistence that radical philosophy was widespread among the rank and file of colonial patriots. In short, the emperor has no clothes.

Matthew Stewart, a self-identified atheist, professed in an interview with the Boston Globe that he'd "like the United States to become what it was always meant to be, which is a secular nation — more publicly committed to reason, to improving understanding, and promoting education", sans traditional orthodox religiosity of any kind. Curiously, notes McKenzie,
for a study that is so determined to discredit orthodox Christianity, the author is curiously averse to engaging Christian scholars, whether historians or theologians. When it comes to the religious beliefs of the revolutionary generation, quite a number of Christian historians have anticipated much of Stewart’s findings, albeit with vastly greater nuance and balance, but you’d never know it from his account.
Elsewhere, Baron Swaim (Wall Street Journal) deems that "Mr. Stewart's learning in philosophical radicalism is impressive; what undermines his work is his contempt for everyone but the few radicals he esteems." And Charles W. Cooke (National Review) corrects Stewart's mistaken charge that "the first Tea-Partier was an atheist."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Most of these authors of course do not believe their own postmodern tenets. They criticize capitalism because it pays financial dividends [but] none wish to share their salary with the dispossessed or live among the muscular classes. They advocate multiculturalism [because] it promotes them out of the classroom and away from the lower undergraduates -- the very people their curriculum is supposed to liberate.

They say there are no facts, but are outraged when their research is criticized. They pile up the frequent-flier mileage on gravity-defying jets that whisk them to the latest conference on the social construction and relativism of the scientific method. They hate the West, but demand the freedom of speech, material prosperity, lack of religious interference, respect for diversity and competitive merit-based rewards that the West alone ensures. … They insist that nothing can be known, that knowledge is a mere construct of unreliable language, that linear thinking is phallocentric, imperialistic and oppressive, and then, without a hint of irony, write heavily-footnoted book after book to tell us so. They say that truth is relative, yet condemn opposing theories as being less valid than their own.

They reject "narrow" disciplines in favor of "inclusive" cultural studies -- and then rigorously exclude anything that does not support their tendentious political agenda. They denounce an imagined world governed exclusively by issues of power even as they spend their time handing out curriculum vitiate, applying for the next job, and running for office in professional organizations. They proclaim the death of the author, and then sign their names to their books and wear nametags at conventions. They advocate the overthrow of hierarchical privilege while clutching desperately an outdated system of tenure that guarantees their own power and privilege. […] They profess radical skepticism in their scholarship but use inductive logic to plan every second of their personal and professional lives: what car to buy, what neighborhood to live in, what schools to send their children to, what articles to write and classes to teach (or not to teach).

The contradictions of the medieval Church or eighteenth-century French letters to do not match the hypocrisy of contemporary American academic culture.

-- Introduction, Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath and Bruce S. Thornton.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pre-emptive Critics of Francis' Encyclical - Look to his Predecessor

Apparently there are some who are venturing into vehement criticism of Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on ecology ... an encyclical we might add that has yet to even be released.

Perhaps it may be of benefit to point out that Pope Francis, in writing this encyclical, might even be taking SOME queues in this regard from his predecessor, who didn't earn the nickname "The Green Pope" for nothing. As National Geographic reminds us, among the actions of his pontificate:

... He approved a plan to cover the Vatican's Paul VI hall with solar panels, enough to power the lighting, heating, and cooling of a portion of the entire country (which covers, of course, a mere one-fifth of a square mile). He authorized the Vatican's bank to purchase carbon credits by funding a Hungarian forest that would make the Catholic city-state the only country fully carbon neutral. And several years later, he unveiled a new hybrid Popemobile that would be partially electric. (How Green Was the 'Green Pope'? National Geographic (02/28/13).

And on the topic of climate change, we might recall that Benedict himself specifically weighed in on the subject, :

Pope Benedict XVI appealed for the success of a UN climate change conference [...] in Durban, South Africa. Speaking to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that “all members of the international community might reach agreement on a responsible, credible response,” to the phenomenon of climate change, which he described as “complex” and “disturbing”. [Vatican Radio 11/27/11].
In fact, if he had not resigned in 2013, we could reasonably suggest that Pope Benedict might have at some point devoted greater length to this particular topic in some formal manner.

Perhaps the best position present critics of Pope Francis can adopt (and this author is by no means wholly enthusiastic about the present pontiff) is to cultivate the virtue of patience and mindful silence -- and refrain from what is largely speculative criticism until the content of the encyclical is actually released, and we've all had opportunity to read it.

* * *

Further reading on the Pope Emeritus' thinking on the environment.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States
Lexington Books (November 21, 2013). 322 pgs.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI's Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States explores four key areas in connection with Benedict XVI’s teachings: human and natural ecology/human life and dignity; solidarity, justice, poverty and the common good; sacramentality of creation; and our Catholic faith in action. The product of mutual collaboration by bishops, scholars and staff, this anthology provides the most thorough treatment of Benedict XVI’s contributions to ecological teaching and offers fruitful directions for advancing concern among Catholics in the United States about ongoing threats to the integrity of Earth.
Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice
Ave Maria Press (June 1, 2009) 162 pgs.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker skillfully weaves together Pope Benedicts key statements on environmental justice into one volume. Additionally, she offers commentary that helps to unpack the "Ten Commandments for the Environment," which were recently released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Koenig-Bricker helps us understand an environmentally responsible lifestyle as a moral responsibility to protect the poor, who suffer most when climate change creates a shortage of resources. With practical, everyday ideas for reducing ones ecological footprint, this book is a must-read for those seeking the inspiration that the Holy Father radiates to a new generation of Catholics.
The Garden of God: Toward a Human Ecology
The Catholic University of America Press (March 18, 2014) 232pgs.
This book gathers together the audiences, addresses, letters, and homilies of Benedict on a wide-ranging set of topics that deal with the world about us. The major themes and connections he explores are creation and the natural world; the environment, science, and technology; and hunger, poverty, and the earth's resources.

See also:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does)

Another year, another holiday season. Here is a book that has crossed my path and which I am reading -- and which may be of help to those (self included) who have found it challenging at times to ready my heart and orient my mind in anticipation of the birth of our Savior. From Scott Hahn: Joy to the World: How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does)
Q.In the 20+ years that you’ve been writing books, this is the first one that focuses entirely on the Christmas story. What inspired you to write about this topic? Why now?

A. Christmas arrives with a powerful effect on small children and on older folks. In between childhood and grandparenthood, we can temporarily lose our capacity for wonder. But maybe the second wave is hitting me now, as I'm experiencing Christmas with my grandchildren as they grow. Going back to the story in recent years, I've discovered complexities, convergences, and moments of stunning beauty that I had not appreciated before. I'm not the first one to notice these things. In fact, I'm learning from the early Fathers and the most recent scholars. But I can't help but want to share them with everyone—everyone who's celebrating Christmas.

Q. In Joy to the World, you write, "The events of Christmas challenge us, just as they challenged the original characters—the family—whose history they tell." What do you see as the biggest challenge of Christmas?

A. To welcome Jesus. That's always the challenge. We think our lives are full, and we don't really trust him to come in and mess with our plans. Even after all these thousands of years, we hang a "no vacancy" sign at the inn. We've built a culture on the illusion of control, and Christ is a threat to that illusion. Maybe that's why he came as a little baby. In my own experience, however, it's been my babies—my children—who taught me what little control I really have. If we're open to life, if we're open to Christ, we come to trust God's providential plan. That's a lesson of the Christmas story. Just ask Zechariah. Just ask Joseph.

Stepping out in trust is scary, and the Christmas story confirms that at every turn. But what's the alternative? To cling to the illusion of control just because it's our familiar illusion? Herod is the Christmas character most like our modern-day control freaks; and his life is completely out of control. Joseph, on the other hand, entrusts himself to the angels and goes from one trial to another. Yet today we can see Joseph's life as heroic and true, and Herod's as just plain crazy.

Q. How did you come up with the title Joy to the World?

A. I've been thinking a lot about joy—ever since Pope Benedict declared the Year of Saint Paul. I remember I was in Jerusalem that summer and reading the Letter to the Philippians, and I was overwhelmed by his exhortation to joy. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). Go read that letter and count the number of times you see the words "joy" and "rejoice." Well, Paul's words took hold of me and wouldn't let go. Now we have a pope, our beloved Pope Francis, who speaks to us of the "Joy of the Gospel." Joy is a quality that belongs to Christmas. We sing it in our Christmas carols because in Christmas we celebrate the reason for Paul's rejoicing: the advent of the Messiah, the salvation of the whole world. We have good reasons to celebrate. We have good reasons for our joy.

Q. What is your favorite part of the Christmas story?

A. It depends on the day you ask me. Today I'm caught up in thinking about the angels, and how different they appear after the advent of our savior. In the Old Testament, they are frightening and intimidating to human beings. Think of the Prophet Daniel, who falls on his face in dumbstruck fear. In the Christmas story, however, they appear as guides and companions. Jesus changes everything in the order of the universe. He changes the way heaven relates to earth and the way people relate to angels. I marvel as I consider what else has been changed so profoundly—what else have I missed?

And from Joseph Bottum, two traditional Christmas carols: Songs of Grace and Gladness. According to Jody, "I’ve been exploring lyrics as a species of poetry for a couple years now (including in my last poetry book), and a studio down in Nashville has just released this weekend two of the songs about Christmas, with a beautiful young woman named Mallory Reaves doing the vocals."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bad Religion's "Christmas Songs"

Christmas Songs is truly fascinating. Reading through a number of band interviews promoting this album, Bad Religion strive very hard to save face and maintain their punk credibility by describing it as "tongue in cheek," and noting the irony. Vice magazine took note of the confusion:
The band isn’t really putting out a Christmas album. Well technically, they are. But they’re a bunch of anti-capitalistic atheists, so it’s just a joke! Ha! Ha! Laugh along, stupid!

But wait, is Bad Religion’s Christmas album really an ironic joke though? Because releasing an album is a lot of work. Almost too much work for a joke ...

In the end, the joke seems to be on them. The lyrical meaning inherent in the traditional songs trumps the attempt at satire -- and transforms it. For a moment, at least to this ear, it almost sounds like Bad Religion has "gotten religion."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"A riot is the language of the unheard." - Understanding Martin Luther King in context

"Riot is the language of the unheard." The quote by Martin Luther King is currently being bandied about -- as it has been trotted out before -- to justify the burning, looting and pillaging of Ferguson, Missouri. To the historically ignorant and to those who would enlist Martin Luther King in justification of their actions, it may be helpful to revisit the full context of the quote.

The phrase itself, from what I can tell, seems to be derived from two sources -- the first being an interview with Mike Wallace in 1966:

MIKE WALLACE: There's an increasingly vocal minority who disagree totally with your tactics, Dr. King.

KING: There's no doubt about that. I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don't think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of "black power" is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.

King employed the same phrase on a later occasion, in a speech on "The Other America", given at Grosse Pointe High School - March 14, 1968:
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I'm absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.
Martin Luther King Jr. recognized rioting as a symptom of racial frustration -- but I do not believe he would have ever endorsed such either as a strategy or as a solution.

In the Wallace interview, he also condemned such actions "because riots are self-defeating and socially destructive" -- professing his personal Christian commitment to "militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view." We would do well to heed his example.

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.