Friday, October 31, 2008

The bishop of Bend, OR, tells it straight.

The text of his column is represented below, in full:

Once again, a tip of my hat to Fr. Zuhlsdorf o WDTPRS.f Go here for his gloss.

Bishops are, laudetur, being bishops again. This sort of thing is water in the desert for the faithful, and more importantly, for those who would be faithful. God bless bishop Robert Vasa, the author of what follows:

Note that Eleazar has no illusion about the practical value of his fidelity. It would not cause the king to change the law, it would not cause his friends to convert, it would not result in a miraculous intervention by God. In worldly terms, his death is useless, his resistance futile. Yet, Eleazar states the hope implicit in his willingness to die: “I will prove myself worthy of my old age and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” This is what it means to be a witness, a martyr. It means leaving a noble example for the encouragement, the emboldening of one’s successors.

Another example is found in the chapter immediately following the story of Eleazar. It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers speaking for the others said, “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” Then follows a description of a whole series of the most horrendous tortures which these brothers endured. All the while the mother watched and encouraged her sons. The Scriptures then rightfully recognize the dignity of the mother: Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who saw her seven sons perish in a single day yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers. The mother was the last to die after all her sons. None of these family members was given a name. In purely secular terms we could come up with all kinds of reasons why the mother and her sons should have feigned eating pork in order to spare their lives. These seven sons could have been valuable resistance fighters. They could have raised up faithful sons and daughters to assure the survival of Israel. It could be argued that their faithfulness, which led to the destruction of the entire family, was an exercise in complete futility and even foolhardiness. Was their witness foolhardiness or was it courage?

These Old Testament examples manifested wonderful and exemplary courage. Saint Thomas positions the Cardinal Virtue of fortitude or courage between fear and daring. Courage, he says, curbs fear and moderates daring. We would be more inclined to say that courage stands between cowardice and foolhardiness. A secularist looking at martyrdom would, almost of necessity, conclude that the death is the result of foolhardiness. Such bold actions, in our current, “can’t we all just get along” mentality, will always be viewed as imprudent, politically incorrect, and misguided. Such a disdain for martyrdom and for holy boldness is nothing other than a disdain for faith; a disdain for a hope in the Lord. It is perhaps, also a symptom of the hopelessness of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks in, Spe Salvi. In the case of these Old Testament examples it is clear that each was confronted with a very definitive choice. None of us have ever been confronted with such a dramatic choice but for these Old Testament heroes it came down to this, “Your faith or your life.” In a positive sense, using Pope Benedict’s words, the question would be: “In what do you hope?” We are edified, in the best sense of that word, by the witness, the martyrdom, the courage of Eleazar and companions. We could cite many such examples from the early years of Christianity. Even in our own day, the numerous saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, many of them martyrs, is a testimony to the fact that faith-filled courage is not dead. It is a testimony that hope is not dead.
When I consider the courage of these Old Testament figures and the firm witness of other saints and martyrs I would honestly have to say of myself, “I am a coward!” There are many times when fear impedes me from acting with what could be called holy boldness. The nature of that fear which impedes is perhaps different for each of us but I hope that each of us acknowledges such fear, grapples with it and even occasionally overcomes it, at least for a time.

Unfortunately, for me, the nature of the perceived threat is so paltry that allowing it to impede correct acting can only be the result of profound cowardice. The most serious threat to my well being for acting with greater boldness has been an intimation that I will be rejected, hated, ridiculed, rendered ineffective, deprived of financial support, judged to be insensitive, misunderstood, or verbally vilified. In other words the threats, all things considered, are quite innocuous and yet these things generate within me a variety of fears and doubts and misgivings. At times they even paralyze me into a state of cowardly inaction.

It might be the perception of some that the issuance of my 2004 document, Giving Testimony to the Truth, was a courageous act. Others would classify it as foolhardiness. This is the document which required that individuals serving in a variety of Diocesan Ministries must affirm some basic tenets of the Church in order to continue to serve. It is, however, very difficult for me to see how the simple fulfillment of the episcopal duty which I have to teach could be considered an act of courage. In that I would turn to the Gospel of Saint Luke, 17:10: “When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” It is a rather sad commentary for our age that a simple fulfillment of duty is mistaken for a courageous act.

It might be a perception that my boldness regarding pro-abortion politicians is courageous but in truth I only follow the lead of those who exemplify a boldness far greater than my own. The bold speaking out on the part of Archbishop Raymond Burke regarding the contentious issue of Catholic pro-abortion politicians and Holy communion emboldens cowards like me to follow his example. The firm and measured response of Cardinal Egan and a variety of other Archbishops and Bishops to misleading statements of the Speaker of the House emboldens others, like myself, to shake off the shackles of fear and to stand with them.

Petition to UN in Favor of the Rights of the UNborn

See this petition: hat tip to the Weight of Glory. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights has already been weakened. Let it not be deleted entirely.

This is Certainly Neat, and Probably Useful

Archaeologists working in the Valley of Elah have made an interesting find.

Pax and Salaam: are they the same thing?

After Magdi Cristiano Allam's open letter, I thought it might be useful to take a piece of my own out of mothball, and present it to the readership.

The following is the first in a projected series of pieces for the Stamford Advocate newspaper, written and published in 2005.

“Peace and Islam: a Catholic Perplexity”

Does Islam promote peace? As a Catholic, I cannot claim authority to answer the question. My limited knowledge of Islam can, however, serve to set the problem posed by such a query in relief. I propose to do this.

First, it is a loaded question. When English authors employ the word, “peace” they are more or less consciously wording a concept represented by the Christian political and theological authors with the Latin, pax, around which there are extensive symbolization and clarification.

Arabic is the language of Islam. The Arabic word most often translated to English as “peace” is salaam. Now, salaam has something in common with pax, to wit: each term has a specific juridical denotation.

In the millenary Christian tradition to which pax belongs (and through it, “peace”), peace is the presence of “justice”. “Justice”, in its turn, is “the condition of concord in society” achieved through the “rule of law”. “Law” is a “dictate of reason promulgated by competent authority and ordered to the common good”. “Reason” is a peculiarly human faculty, by the proper exercise of which human nature may attain to an understanding of Divine ordinance.

Here is where things begin to get hairy for me. As far as I understand the matter (and I beg the reader to remember that my understanding is very limited), salaam refers to the state of absolute submission to the manifest will of the one God. Now, “submission” in this case renders the Arabic islam, from which the Muslim religion has its proper name; the Arabic for “one God is Allah, and the Arabic for “manifest will” is qur’an. Qur’an is also the word that, in most other contexts, can take the English, “law”. Qur’an, however, is a slightly more orthodox transliteration of the name of Muslims’ holy book, a name that is more often given in English as Koran.

Reformulating accordingly, I obtain the following diction:

Peace, according to the Muslim religion, is the absolute rule of Islam, or absolute submission to the will of Allah, as made manifest through His revelation, which is Law.

The upshot of this is that there is no salaam where there is no islam, i.e. no “peace” outside the “complete subjection of each and every living person’s will, to the will of Allah as made manifest in the Koran”. Said positively, there will be “peace” only when everyone living has submitted to the dictates of the Muslim religion. More to this, to refrain from an act of submission is, quite literally, to place oneself outside the law, i.e. to be an outlaw.

If we remember that in the Christian tradition, peace (pax) is the presence of justice, which is the condition of social concord through rule of law, and that law is the perfection of reason, by which human nature participates in the Divine order, then there will be precious little to justify translating both the Christian pax and the Islamic salaam with the English “peace”.

“Law”, after all, is for Christians the participation of human reason in the Divine order, while for Muslims, “Law” is Qur’an, or the expression of Divine will, which one cannot hope to understand and to which one must only submit.

In sum, the question is loaded because it is based on an inappropriate use of a single word in English to translate two different words from two different languages, words that function as technical terms in disparate and conflicting cultural systems.

These considerations do not foreclose the question of peace in Christianity and Islam, respectively. The reflections I have shared were inadequate, even as preliminaries, though I can do no better than I have without the assistance of a Muslim interlocutor who is learned and sincere in the practice and profession of his religion, as I hope to be in the practice and profession of my own.

Let these be, therefore, the first words of a dialogue to be conducted in these pages, for the benefit of our community.

Convert to Catholicism Criticizes Cardinal President of PCpDI

The prominent Egyptian-born Italian jounralist and convert to Catholicism, Magdi Cristiano Allam, has criticized recent remarks made by the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Jean Louis CARD. Tauran, saying:
Islamic extremism and terrorism are the mature fruit of Islam [and not, as Cardinal Tauran has stated, a perversion of a basically "peaceful religion"].
For more, see the CNS story by Cindy Wooden. Readers of Italian can go straight to the source: the full text of the letter is published at this website (amici di Magdi Allam, lit. "Friends of Magdi Allam").

A tip of the hat to my home diocese in the States, the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Look for updates throughout the day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bishop Finn of KC Gets Just About Everything Right

His Excellency, Bishop Robert William Finn of Kansas City, Mo., has written a column that is without doubt to be counted among the finest statements of episcopal mission in recent memory.

Hat tip to the impossibly well informed Fr. Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS.

Some Excerpts... full text to be found at The KC diocese blog, The Catholic Key

Warriors with Our Eyes Fixed on Heaven

Last Saturday I had the privilege of consecrating the restored church of Old St. Patrick. This is the oldest existing Catholic church in Kansas City. It will serve as the Oratory for the Latin Mass community which first began here under Bishop John Sullivan, and for many years has shared the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows.

One of the beauties of the Traditional Latin High Mass that I celebrated is that it highlights a most profound aspect of the Mass, namely our participation with the Communion of Saints. The high altar, multiple candles, incense and Gregorian chant, collectively give us a striking image of the Heavenly Jerusalem which is our ultimate home. Every Mass celebrates this reality, but I must admit that the traditional Mass captured this magnificent expression of the ultimate hope and goal of Christians in a powerful way. We should reflect on this often, because the ultimate goal of everything we do is to get ourselves to heaven and bring with us as many as we can.

What is at stake in this battle is our immortal soul, our salvation...

My responsibility as bishop is with the eternal destiny of those entrusted to my care. My total energies must be directed to the well being of those who otherwise may come under the spell of a radically flawed and fundamentally distorted moral sense, at odds with what our Mother the Church teaches...

...[L]et us resolve to be warriors of the Church militant; warriors with our eyes fixed on heaven. Let us ask God's mercy and strength to persevere in our call - individual and collective - to holiness. Mary, Mother of the Church, Pray for us!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Emeritus of Corpus Christi Makes Sweeping Pro-Life Appeal

Christian Newswire is reporting on the emeritus bishop of Corpus Christi's radio ad, the text of which says:

This is Bishop Rene H. Gracida, reminding all Catholics that they must vote in this election with an informed conscience. A Catholic cannot be said to have voted in this election with a good conscience if they have voted for a pro-abortion candidate. Barack Hussein Obama is a pro-abortion candidate.

I am very sorry to have to say that Bishop Gracida has done the Pro-Life cause a grave disservice. Bishop Gracida's statement is false in fact, and an excellent example of the non sequitur, and probably stems from an improper application of the principles of Catholic moral reasoning. It is simply not impossible that a Catholic, voting with an informed conscience, should, according to his rightly-formed conscience, decide to vote for Obama. I would strongly disagree with that Catholic's decision, and have arguments to hand in order to engage that Catholic.

It seems that the quest for "moral clarity" has led many well-intentioned and intelligent Christians in prominent positions within the Church and within civil society to forget that prudential reasoning is not a binary science.

The cause of life is not well served when bishops, and retired bishops no less, presume to impose their own judgments on the dictates of the consciences of the faithful - and this is especuially the case when the bishops' judgments are the right ones.

A faithful Catholic, in order to be such, must believe his bishop when his bishop tells him that Holy Mother Church has always taught that reason shows all human life to be created in the image and likeness of God, and that the right to life inheres in every human person from the moment of conception, and that the right to life may not be abridged, and must be protected inviolate in all innocent persons until natural death.

No bishop has power to bind the faithful to a certain course of action - a fortiori no bishop without a flock to shepherd, and Bishop Gracida's pretense of binding Catholics in conscience - to the extent that this is Bishop Gracida's intention- is entirely vacuous and without effect.

It may be that Bishop Gracida was aware that he was merely giving public expression to his private opinion about a matter interesting the common weal. If so, his discretion is doubtful.

The very best statements from bishops have been that of Edward CARD. Egan of New York, and that drafted by Justin CARD. Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport , in response to the mendacious idiocy of Rep. Pelosi. I reproduce them here for persual:

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

This is From Cardinal Egan:


Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York

August 26, 2008

Compare the calm didactic tone of the first statement and the Spartan power and clarity of Cardinal Egan's polemical prose, with the silly pseudo-syllogistic construction of bishop Gracida, and know the disservice Bishop Gracida has done the cause of life in America, through his failure to learn from the example of his truly gifted and inspired brothers in the Episcopacy, and, failing that, next failing to keep his mouth shut.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

K of C with New Ad Campaign

The Knights of Columbus (find the Council nearest you) have a new ad campaign, featuring the heartbeat of a ten week-old nasciturn. Supreme Knight, H.E. Carl A. Anderson, in launching the radio spot, states:
"We believe that it is vital that America’s pro-life community make it clear that they will reserve their votes for candidates of either party who are committed to protecting life from conception to natural death."
Let me preface this by saying that I am a lifelong admirer of the K of C, and am fully supportive of the ad: it ought to be played as often as possible on as many different stations as possible. I also agree with what seems to be the sentiment behind S.K. Anderson's statement, i.e. that pro-life voters are committed to supporting candidates who advocate policies and make laws that tend to lead to the flourishing of life, rather than its destruction.

That said, I am concerned with one aspect of this, something I have sensed in several recent statements, most especially in the letter from the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth. I mean the implications of language such as , "pro-life voters will reserve [emphasis mine] their votes, etc.," or "No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these [opinable] issues, it does not outweigh a candidate's unacceptable position, etc." This sounds like Knights and Bishops either telling people how to vote, or going beyond the teaching of the principles of moral reasoning according the the Faith of the Church of Christ, and imposing a specific application of those principles.

While it is true that error in basic things is in principle gravior, I can also countenance a situation in which voting for, say, Rudy Giuliani would be preferable to voting for his staunchly pro-life opponent - if, for example, his opponent's staunchly pro-life positions were to stem from the candidate's commitment to the imposition of Shar'i'a. We are called to build a civilization of love, and our commitment to life is within the context of this vocation: there are basic civilizational issues that are paramount to life issues, for without a certain kind of civilization, the bases for our commitment to the dignity of all life, the transcendent ground of the order of being in God, if you will, are darkened to our view.

In the zealous pursuit of forceful witness, certain prominent Catholics have created the appearance of having forgotten that, while the essence of government is appropriate knowledge of how the common good is informed and perfected in the divine, the essence of governance is prudence, and there are so many infinte varieties of experience and combinations of circumstances under heaven, that words like "never" and sweeping generalizations like "...will reserve their votes..." will meet with at least conceivable circumstances in which they do not obtain or cannot be applied. When this happens, the moral authority of the offices held by those who make such pronouncements is more or less diminished.

NB, I say, "sounds like." I do not think that this is what is going on. I am also anxious to make it superabundantly clear that I agree with the substance of S.K. Anderson's position and am in substantial agreement with the bishops of Dallas and Forth Worth, as well.

It is precisely in light of these substantial agreements that I invite Catholics in leadership positions within the civil and ecclesial communities to take care in their formulations: do not seek to be merely forceful; be cogent.

For the story, a tip of my hat to Fr. Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Some thoughts on Cardinal Egan and Obama

Just briefly:

  • As you all know by now, Barack Obama was one of the guests of honor at a New York Archdiocese charity function last week (the Al Smith Dinner). The host of the evening, His Eminence, Edward CARD. Egan (who confirmed the proprietor of this weblog), has been strongly criticized for his warm and even jovial hospitality. A few observations are in order, to wit (as SLC used to say): there is a long-standing tradition of inviting presidential candidates to the Al Smith dinner, which has always been a light-hearted and, ahem, convivial affair; it would have been extremely bad manners on the part of His Eminence to have been anything but the most gracious and even obliging of hosts. That is how the game is played. How can you expect people to listen with attention, let alone deference, to the moral pronouncements of a man who is incapable of good manners?

In the meantime, election year politics

The American Papist has a piece posted that breaks down the US bishops' positions regarding the relative importance of abortion in this year's election. I'll be taking it apart later on.

On Many Things

There are roughly 426,397,228 things to address, and, clearly, no time to address them. Bear with me. The main points are:

  1. I have read Fidelity by Wendell Berry, and will be blogging about it in the near future. The first words I spoke to another soul regarding the collection of short stories were, "Brother, there were words in those stories that seared my soul."
  2. I have a gazillion photos from my brother's wedding to upload, and will be doing so in the future. Anyone who would like may send favorites marked for posting.
  3. I am wondering whether, and if so, how to include the spiritual thought of the day as a regular feature. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unitatis redintigratio

Fr Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS has this wonderful news... the Church rejoices!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life in the Republic

The bishops of Dallas and Ft. Worth have issued a statement regarding responsible citizenship in an election year. I'll be commenting shortly. Already, their remarks are troublesome for two reasons:

  1. They seem to make the same methodological error as bishop Zubick of Pittsburg's letter of a few days ago, namely: it treats the USCCB "Faithful Citizenship" document as though it were a teaching document.
  2. It goes too far in directing the moral reasoning of individual Catholic faithful.
With this last, mind you, I do not mean to say the bishops are in error, or that they come down on the wrong side of things. Their claim, to the effect that a given candidate's posititons on questions requiring prudential judgment can never outweigh that same candidate's erroneous position on basic life issues, goes beyond the statement of moral principle, and slides perceptibly into the proposition of one possible application of the principle.

THis is a very serious matter, about which I will have more to say later.

Posting Will Be Difficult

Off to the USA tomorrow, with a million and one things to do before departure, including a stint in the office. Will post as practicable...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


This is from John Allen at NCR, with thanks to Amy Welborn for her gentle reminder that John is there and to be read:

Synod: For the first time, the pope speaks

Created Oct 14 2008 - 08:37


For anyone with a spare dollar looking to make a wager about the Synod of Bishops, here’s the safest bet in the world, in the wake of this morning’s session: There will be a proposition on the relationship between exegesis and theology among the final recommendations presented to Pope Benedict XVI.

Truth to be told, the relationship between Biblical interpretation and other areas of Catholic theology had already emerged as a major concern. This morning, however, Pope Benedict himself took the unusual – indeed, quite possibly unprecedented – step of explicitly recommending that the bishops adopt a proposition on how exegetes and theologians can better inform each other’s work.

The recommendation was delivered viva voce, as Benedict XVI took the microphone at the synod for the first time. He spoke immediately after the customary 10:30 am coffee break; Archbishop Nikola Eterovich, secretary of the synod, informed the group that they would have to interrupt their normal program “because our president wishes to address us.”

Technically, the pope is also president of the Synod of Bishops.

The Vatican is expected to release a transcript of the pope’s remarks either later today or tomorrow. For now, the official Vatican bulletin has simply reported: "Starting from the consideration of the work for his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father dwelt upon the fundamental criteria of Biblical exegesis, upon the dangers of a secularized and positivistic approach to the Sacred Scriptures and upon the need for a closer relationship between exegesis and theology."

Synod sources said that he spoke for a little less than ten minutes, drawing upon notes that he had apparently made in a small notebook.

In broad terms, those sources said, his topic was the need for historical-critical interpretation of the Bible to take Christian faith as its point of departure, because otherwise its risks treating the Bible as simply a “book of the past.” In that regard, the pope apparently suggested that exegesis needs to be better integrated into theology, so that it is seen less as a self-standing enterprise, and more as part of a broad effort to combine reason and faith.

As part of his reflection, Benedict reportedly suggested to the bishops that a proposition on the relationship between exegesis and theology would be helpful – making it all but a foregone conclusion that at least one such proposition will be offered.

Since the propositions are addressed to the pope in any event, as suggestions for whatever document he may eventually issue on the topic of the synod, it’s also a safe bet that Benedict XVI will discuss the need to treat scripture as “the soul of theology” in that text.

Sources said that the pope was greeted by a hearty round of applause at the close of his remarks.

This is the second Synod of Bishops under Benedict XVI, and the second time the pope has chosen to address the bishops towards the end of the initial round of speech-making, as the agenda for the synod’s final documents is beginning to take shape. In each case, Benedict has reflected briefly on what had emerged as a central concern during those opening speeches. During the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005, Benedict spoke about the relationship between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Mass, meaning the twin images of the Mass as a meal and as a sacrifice – suggesting they need to held together rather than put in tension.

The pope appears to have struck a similar note this time around about the relationship between exegesis and theology – suggesting that offering both/and solutions to seemingly either/or problems may be emerging as what one might call the "synodal specialty" of Benedict XVI.

Benedict has been present for most of the synod’s deliberations thus far, including the hour set aside for “free discussion” at the end of each day. That hour was set aside at Benedict’s request for the 2005 synod, and has now become a part of the event’s formal structure.

Fr. Bryan Massingale of Marquette University, President-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America, acknowledged that sometimes exegetes and theologians struggle to stay on the same page -- not, for the most part, because of ill will or intellectual disagreements, but rather the compartmentalized nature of the academy these days.

"As theology becomes more and more specialized, we need to create opportunities in which theologians and exegetes can pursue collaborative projects," Massingale said in a telephone interview this afternoon.

Massingale said one such initiative is already underway at Marquette: a new inter-disciplinary seminar titled "Theological Interpretation of Scripture."

"We may still run into disagreements over what constitutes theological interpretation of the Bible," Massingale said, "but at least there's the beginnings of a conversation."

  • The Holy Father has called on his brother bishops to address one of the thorniest intellectual issues within the Church. This may be a sign of great confidence; it may be more of the Holy Father expecting the bishops to...bishop; in any case, his own theological work in recent years has turned largely on this question. If you want to know at least one way of doing theological scripture interpretation, read Jesus of Nazareth. I think I remember Fr. Neuhaus at First Things writing to the effect that the book was clearly written by an author whose theological floruit wasin the middle of the 20th century. I further remember wondering at the time why this was important. The author was engaged with others of a certain period, it is true, but they were talking about something entirely current. It does not strike me that there have been other voices in theology saying the same things that PBXVI said in JvN vol.1.

Judicial Tyranny in Connecticut

There is so much wrong with the Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion in Kerrigan, that I know not where to start.

One thing must be said for it: the legal analysis is better than that in either Goodridge or In re Marriage Cases. This may mean that the justices in Ct. have learned from the "mistakes" of their counterparts in Massachusetts and California.

In any case, the Kerrigan opinion is still very flawed. For the moment, I shall illustrate only two errors of fact and interpretation on which the Ct. court's rationale depends: the conflation of "same-sex attraction" with being "gay"; the uncritical acceptance of historical concern for public morality as essentially rooted in prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

I am aware that this is a diffuse, indeed almost the default position. An error, however, is an error, even (and sometimes especially) when the vast majority hold the erroneous position as true. Just ask Athanasius, who had the world against him. The point is that being attracted to a person of the same sex is a determinate libidinal condition. Being "gay" is a lifestyle choice. The law does plenty to influence lifestyle choices, always has and always will. It may be that the law must remain "neutral" with respect to this particular lifestyle, though the case must be made - it cannot be presupposed.

The second issue needs no elucidation.

Finally, the court in Kerrigan commits the same basic error as the SJC in Goodridge, namely, to assume that the state creates, and therefore has it in its power to redefine the institution of marriage.

Marriage is a natural social institution that is logically, temporally and ontologically prior to the state. When a state, through one of its organs, arrogates the power to alter the structure of marriage, the state in principle declares itself to have power over the basic structure of nature. If the state has such power, in principle, the state is not naturally limited in the scope of its power. A state that is not naturally limited in the scope of its power is a total state.

NB the issue is not one of structural, constitutional limitations on the power of government. The issue is, as Hamilton has placed the matter, that "[E]very power vested in a Government is sovereign, and includes by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite, and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power; and which are not precluded by restrictions & exceptions specified in the constitution; or not immoral, or not contrary to the essential ends of political society." Hamilton was addressing the question of the constitutionality of a national bank under the federal constitution of 1789. Nevertheless, his discussion touches the general science of government.

When government is not really so limited, we live under a regime of absolute tyrrany. The Supreme COurt of Connecticut, hiding behind a contentious question involving the entire citizenry, and in the name of civil rights, has made all citizens supine servants of the court's whimsy.
This story is upsetting to me for a number of reasons, beyond or in a peculiar way related to the objectively disturbing aspects of it. Say a prayer for this young man:
requiem aeternam dona ei et lux perpetua Christi luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Beyond the Wafer Watch

“Beyond the Wafer Watch”
Some thoughts on the broader issues raised by Joe Biden’s Comments
on the Beginning
Human Life
Chris Altieri
© by the author, 2008, all rights reserved

“I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, Sunday, Aug. 24th, 2008

“I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my Church… I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.” – Sen. Joseph Biden on Meet the Press, Sun., Sept. 7th, 2008

The recent statements of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca), and Senator Joseph Biden (D- De), have occasioned ample discussion in Catholic spheres regarding a series of issues, most importantly: the role of the Church in forming the political positions – i.e. policy and lawmaking – of public figures who profess Catholic Faith; the question whether Catholics may support candidates and office-holders whose positions are discordant with the Church’s teaching on fundamental issues of the nature of human life and the constitution of society, and if so to what extent and under what circumstances they may with right conscience give such support; whether the Church may welcome politicians to the sacrament of her communion, who not only advocate policy and support laws basically destructive of human life, personality and social soundness, but knowingly and willfully misrepresent Church teaching in defense and supposed justification of their positions. The Catholic bishops of the United States, corporately and individually, have led the way in clarifying the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and the nature of her communion. In this, the bishops are to be lauded, and it is the hope of all Catholics that they continue to provide such resolute leadership.
The aforementioned issues, however, are largely internal to the Catholic membership of our political society. They are, if you will, ad intra discussions. They are issues internal to a group, the membership of which runs into the tens of millions, and so that group’s discussion of them is rightly carried out in the presence and under the scrutiny of the larger public. Senator Biden’s recent comments on Meet the Press, however, raise a number of broad questions that the House Speaker’s comments did not. The Speaker’s statements only grossly misrepresented Catholic teaching on abortion, while Senator Biden explicitly and unequivocally subscribed personally to the teaching of the Church regarding the precise moment at which human life begins. In so clearly expressing himself, Senator Biden has brought his profound personal convictions into the public square, and invited the critical attention of the general public.
First and foremost, the Senator’s statements invite us to engage in a consideration of their consistency. He says he accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the beginning of human life. Since the Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at the moment of conception, it follows that Senator Biden believes that a newly conceived embryo is a human being. From this, it follows by rigid logical necessity that Senator Biden believes every procured abortion to be the destruction of a human life. Now, unless Senator Biden is prepared to say that there are circumstances in which a newly conceived embryo is fully culpable for a capital crime, he must be convinced that every procured abortion is, as a matter of rigid logical necessity, the taking of an innocent life.
Stated simply, Senator Biden is logically constrained to admit that he believes the law of our country protects the willful taking of innocent human life, and this is a position to which no reasonable person may responsibly consent, for the willful taking of innocent human life is murder.
Senator Biden has a rejoinder, which he happened to offer during the course of his Meet the Press interview. He said, “For me to impose [my] judgment on everyone else…is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.” Here, Senator Biden misrepresents, perhaps because he does not understand, the nature of pluralistic society, or at least, its American incarnation. American law has no power to turn facts into opinions, and the best angels of American culture have no desire to. The beginning of human life is a matter of fact: either it begins at conception, or it does not. If human life begins at conception, then procured abortion is the destruction of human life, and conscientious legislators could not reasonably permit it. If abortion does not begin at conception, legislators would still be duty-bound to make laws providing the greatest possible protection of human life, and so could reasonably, as an act of prudence, ban all procured abortion. The individual citizen’s opinion in the matter is therefore entirely irrelevant, unless the citizen happens to be a legislator, and if he is a legislator, then he is beholden to the people for the faithful conduct of his office, an office of government, the purpose of which is the protection inviolate of innocent life, the first unalienable right, written into human nature. If the reader is not convinced, let him substitute himself for the unborn, and consider whether he still thinks it just for the law to allow the whim of another to have power over his life.
There are, further, at least two ways of understanding pluralism as it regards the relation of religion and the public sphere. In some countries, like mainland, Communist China, the fundamental law protects the freedom of private belief on paper, while arrogating to the state the full power of regulating religious practice, under the rubric of protection of normal religious activity (pursuant to the same article, #33, Catholics’ prayers for the Pope in the Roman Canon – a prayer that a priest recites to consecrate the Eucharist – may be considered criminal). Under such a regime, being a Catholic in full communion with the See of Peter is itself a crime. Under such a regime, religious practice is severely curtailed, and literally millions of citizens are excluded from participation in the life of the body politic. In the United States of America, no one may be excluded from public life solely because of one’s religious faith or practice. Indeed, as George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Americans have always expected, indeed required of their elected representatives, not that they abjure their convictions as a condition of faithfully executing their offices, but that they cling to them, that they be guided by them, and that they stand ever ready to submit the conduct of their offices to the trial and judgment of their constituents on election day.
The point may be illustrated by supposing for a moment, and the sake of argument, that the beginning of human life is a matter open to opinion. Senator Biden, after more than three decades in public life, seems not yet to have learned that the legislative art is precisely and entirely involved in building consensus around opinable questions, and then binding the people to the expression of that consensus in law. This is what lawmakers do when they establish speed limits, impose restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages or the use of fireworks, when they mandate rates of taxation and appropriate public funds for a numberless host of projects, programs and initiatives.
Once again, the American measure of the people’s approbation of her elected officials is taken at the polling station. We do not elect leaders, we do not choose representatives, whose ability and willingness to act according to the dictates of conscience appears doubtful to us, for we have always understood that our elected officials are not entrusted with control of the machinery of government, that they might merely be the executors of our whimsy; we choose them out of a consideration of their aptness to protect our interests, chief among which is justice, the security of which in no small part depends on the judgment of the persons charged with its discovery, establishment, maintenance and execution. Senator Biden’s readiness to abandon his conscientious judgment, and on a matter of no less importance than that of the protection of what he believes to be innocent life, is a fact that all voters must closely consider as they determine their choice of a chief magistrate.
The words of another great American serve to bring these last two points more fully into view. Like Senator Biden, Al Smith was a Catholic who sought high executive office. Addressing the question of his faith and its role in forming his understanding of his duty as a public official in the May, 1927 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Smith wrote, “[I]n the wildest dreams of your imagination you cannot conjure up a possible conflict between religious principle and political duty in the United States, except on the unthinkable hypothesis, that some law were to be passed which violated the common morality of all God-fearing men. And if you can conjure up such a conflict, how would a Protestant resolve it? Obviously by the dictates of his conscience. That is exactly what a Catholic would do.” One may well object that there was not then, nor is there now, a “common morality of all God-fearing men” really present in the foundation of our public life. While that may be the case, it is certainly the case that, until recently, there was a common conviction according to which the health of the republic to a large degree would depend upon the presence of such a foundation, so that where such a foundation is entirely or largely lacking, the basis of ordered liberty in free society is lacking, as well. Publius made the point and developed it in Federalist #55, when he said, “Republican government presupposes the existence of these [good] qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”
Senator Biden also urges that his conviction is a religious conviction, a conviction of faith. If this is to have any weight whatsoever in the present discussion, the Senator’s religious conviction, his conviction of faith, must be outside the realm of reason. Some Christians do believe that faith ordinarily comes in and through a kind of direct divine communication more immediate and simple than human reason can possibly grasp or penetrate. This is not, however, what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the transmission of faith: the larger intellectual tradition in which the Church participates, and of which Catholics believe their Church to be the most perfect bearer, is one in which the end of reason is intellection; faith only completes and perfects the movement of reason toward its end in the mind of God. If the Senator does believe his conviction of faith to be entirely un-tethered from his rational faculty, then voters will not be quick to vote for a ticket on which he appears, for he will have based his deepest personal convictions, not on the truths available to human reason by means of Catholic faith, but on a series of lunatic propositions that are mere simulacra of those truths. Senator Biden, however, is at pains to express his readiness to accept his Church’s position on the matter, and his Church holds that the truths she proclaims are eminently reasonable, even though some of them may not be known by reason, alone. In any case, her teaching on the beginning of human life and the inherent evil of procured abortion is not only reasonable, but entirely knowable by reason alone. In other words, in order to know that life begins at conception and that procured abortion is always gravely immoral, one need not have the Catholic faith. One need have only the ability to think. This understanding is amply laid out and explained at the beginning of §3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, most succinctly in #1954:
The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have enlarged at great length on the subject, most recently in their 2006 document on faithful citizenship. Senator Biden’s apparent confusion in this matter calls for clarification from him. The sad fact is that many Catholics do not know their faith adequately. No one knows it completely, and all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, can and should learn more about it. If Senator Biden does not know this about the teachings of the Church to which he has belonged his entire life, then the real extent to which the teachings of the senator’s Church inform his convictions must be a question for the senator himself. This is not at all to cast aspersions on senator Biden’s sincerity. The senator’s apparent lack of self-knowledge, however, might reasonably give him and voters pause.
In his 1763 Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Laws, John Adams wrote, “[Citizens] have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees, for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees.” Unless senator Biden addresses the inconsistencies and clarifies the ambiguities herein raised, he runs the risk of wantonly trifling away at least the trust of his fellow Americans.

Chris Altieri is preparing the defense of his Ph.D. dissertation, The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.

Marriage Judicially Murdered in Connecticut

The Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut has mandated same-sex "marriage". As soon as I have read and digested the Opinion of the Court, I will have comments.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sin and Grace

I am thinking about starting a daily meditation - 300-500 words max., on whatever spiritual matter is on my mind, or the state of my spiritual combat-readiness, though rather more clinically than autobiographically.

Missing the Point

What I do not understand about this story is why it matters. The pronouncements of esteem, affection and gratitude to Pius XII, whose praise was in the mouths of everyone from Einstein to Golda Meir are part of the historical record, as the recent conference held in Rome under the sponsorship of the Pave the Way Foundation has amply demonstrated.

The evil of the Holocaust has left some people so badly broken, that no amount of persuasion, no argument, no fact, no matter how cogently presented, will sway them. We ought to pray every day for such people, and can never harbor animus toward them.

That said, the historical record is the historical record. The idea that the Catholic Church ought not to beatify the man who, arguably, did more than any other head of state and/or government to save Jews, because some Jews with an inadequate or poisoned view of the historical record might be offended, is frankly beyond the pale.

Philip Pullella has been getting some serious mileage out of his question to Rabbi Cohen, who explained to Vatican Radio that he was not representing his private views, but those of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Everyone has been concentrating on the Rabbi's remarks to the effect that some people did not do enough to bring the holocaust to an end, including some religious leaders - and this is entirely unexceptionable.

Yes, Rabbi Cohen did make those remarks in the Synod Hall, while the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was in General Congregation. Scilicet, dixerunt patres conscript, that the importance of the visit - an official visit - says much more about the present and the future of Catholic-Jewish relations than any more or less harsh words spoken in a set-piece, and certainly more than the Rabbi's answer to an obviously uncomfortable question, about which there may or may not be contention within the Rabbinate, itself. Fr. Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS has been covering the story since it broke, and ought to be consulted.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I saw this story about the author of Obama Nation yesterday or maybe the day before, when it first broke. The Obama campaign had no comment on the deportation of the author. I have found no statement regarding his detention, either. Does anyone know anything?

vidi lucem

After more than a year, I have decided to reactivate this blog. Please bear with me as I experiment with format, layout, etc.