Monday, April 29, 2002

"New" guys

A couple of links I've been delinquent in posting:

Martin Roth

Sean Gallagher

Friday, April 26, 2002


A couple of weeks ago I referred to an article in First Things by Wesleyan theologian Jerry Walls on purgatory. Well, that article is now available online.

Early on, Walls poses one of -- if not the-- questions concerning the idea of purgatory: If salvation essentially involves transformation—and, at that same time, we cannot be united with God unless we are holy—what becomes of those who plead the atonement of Christ for salvation but die before they have been thoroughly transformed?

Precisely. As I've grown in my understanding of most of the various Protestant theologies, I've realized that -- contrary to my prior polemical perception -- growth in sanctity is important for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. (I know, I know... how could I have thought otherwise? Well, that's another story.) Granting that, I think that this "indiscreet theological question" (as Walls terms it) must now be dealt with seriously. As our author explains, this difficulty served to prompt the initial forays into what would become the doctrine of purgatory in the first place, all the way back to the Patristic era (Walls refers to Fathers like Cyprian and Augustine).

Walls is masterful in dealing with some of the objections which his fellow Protestants pose to the doctrine of purgatory. He refers to one theologian who states that, "“In both this life and the life to come, the basis of the believer’s relationship with God is grace, not works. There need be no fear, then, that our imperfections will require some type of post–death purging before we can enter the full presence of God."

But as Walls replies, nothing about purgatory denies the necessity and primacy of grace. Does it imply that we must cooperate with grace? Absolutely (and this may stick in the craw of some), but cooperation-with-grace has nothing to do with "works-righteousness".

Yes, grace first involves forgiveness of sin. But many Protestant theologies (including -- I would contend -- those of the first generations of Reformers) do not deny that there is some transformative aspect to grace, i.e. that grace -- besides forgiving sins -- also changes who and what we are. The New Testament stress that we (the justified) are the sons and daughters of God is fully understood only when the power of grace to transform us is remembered.

One of the graces of ecumenical dialogue has been the realization that much of what we believed our brothers and sisters in Christ has been nothing but a caricature. My former view of a holiness-less Protestant theology is one such example. And for many Protestants, the view that Catholics teach a "works-righteousness", grace-less theology of justification is another.

But back to purgatory... Walls' article includes many other excellent points. I would highly recommend it to any Protestant curious about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and to any Catholic curious about a "positive" take on purgatory by a Protestant.
Wonderful Weigel

An outstanding article by George Weigel on the scandals.
Mark on a Day of Reparation

Mark Byron seems to agree with Emily Stimpson and myself that we all need to pray for the Body of Christ in this time of scandal.

Mark also morns (albeit somewhat belatedly, but only because he didn’t know) the loss of “The Met”—the stadium in which the Minnesota Twins and Vikings played once upon a time. I even saw a Vikes game there… outside. Yes, it was actually an outdoor stadium. Oh well.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Where did it go???

Hey! I just noticed that the ad at the top of my blog is gone! I thought it looked different somehow....

Whoever you are, thank you.
Why I don't post much on the scandals

1. Plenty of other people are saying about everything that needs to be said: Amy Welborn, Eve Tushnet, Rod Dreher (at National Review and National Review Online), and many others.

2. There are many ways to respond to moral failures and scandals within the Church. One is evidenced by people like St. Catherine of Siena, and is seen in the strong words of people like Amy, Eve and Rod. Besides that reaction, though, is another one, evidenced by people like St. Ignatius of Loyola: to not say much and focus on one's own sanctity and to do good works and penance to heal the damage done by sin. (Obviously people like St. Catherine and her modern 'disciples' would embrace this as well; the options are not exclusive.) This is the path which I personally prefer. It's simply the one I feel most comfortable with, for a number of reasons.

I say this because I don't want my "silence" to give the wrong impression. What has gone on is wrong, simply put, and those responsible must be held accountable. But my personal response -- among many legitimate and excellent options -- is to focus on rooting out my own failings and to strive after my own holiness, and in so doing to help the Body of Christ in a time of special need.
"Our" Penance

I wholeheartedly agree with Emily Stimpson's comments from today regarding the Day of Reparation proposed by the Cardinals.

As Catholics, we believe in the Communion of Saints, and part of that doctrine means that we -- by our own acts of penance -- can do something to "repair the damage" done to the Church (speaking in everyday terms) by the sins of others. Maybe the call for such a Day is a political ploy by the Cardinals, but regardless of that (and I personally doubt it), it's just a darn good idea that can have a real, positive impact on the Church. And that makes it eminently worthwhile.
Mark Shea

One of my bookmarked websites is run by apologist & author Mark Shea. Well, I'm happy to see that Mark now has his own blog. Check it out.
The Law, Personhood, and Inconsistency

Many people are aware of the fact that most states will charge someone with two counts of manslaughter or homicide if they kill a pregnant woman. This obviously flies in the face of other laws which deny the personhood of the embryo/fetus.

Recently I found another example of this inconsistency within the law. It turns out that in most states someone who is “begotten” (conceived) before the death of their parent (obviously the father) is—for the sake of the father’s estate—treated as equally as a child who is born when the father dies. In other words, in terms of rights as an heir, an embryo has the same legal status as any other child. Hmm….

Monday, April 22, 2002

Fr. Joseph Lortz

Last week I mentioned a german Jesuit theologian, Fr. Joseph Lortz, whose career has been devoted to studying the Reformation in general and Martin Luther in particular. For Catholic theologians involved in ecumenical dialogue -- especially with Lutherans -- Fr. Lortz was a major figure in the mid-twentieth century; this is seen in that there is a "Lortz school" of Catholic Luther scholars.

I've been reading Fr. Lortz's The Reformation: A Problem for Today, and it is outstanding. Fr. Lortz is a wonderful example of a theologian who is unabashedly committed to orthodox Catholicism yet is able to engage in real, authentic dialogue with those from other faith communities. That is, he is able to perceive what is beautiful, good, and true in the doctrines held by others, yet able to be critical of them when necessary. His writing is completely honest yet free from decisive polemics. He strongly believes in the urgent necessity for all Christians to come together as one, yet he just as strongly opposes a false unity, i.e. a unity not based on truth. To me, he shows how a Catholic can be thoroughly orthodox and thoroughly ecumenical. That such a statement can seem paradoxical or even contradictory today speaks volumes about the state of ecumenism in our time, but that's another story.

I'd like to share some passages from this book which particularly struck me as I read them.

Speaking about the Catholic Reform of the sixteenth century -- which arose both apart from and in response to Protestantism -- Fr. Lortz writes: Reform within the Church during the sixteenth century came predominantly from the countries of southern Europe, especially Spain and Italy. Post-Reformation Catholicism bears a strong Latin imprint. This presented certain disadvantages from the German point of view and has remained something of a difficulty right up to the present day. It is a form of penance immanent in the historical process which is imposed on the German people for the fact that the Reformation came from the section of the Church. However, the fact that Catholicism bears a predominantly Latin imprint is a loss for the entire Church and deprives it of real strength; Germany's contribution to the life of the whole Church was not enough.

This idea amazes me; I am intrigued by the thought that the Church in Germany was not able to make a sufficient contribution to the Reform of the (Catholic) Church, and that this is indeed a loss for the entire Church. As someone of predominantly german heritage, this strongly resonates with me. Fr. Lortz goes on to enumerate the vital contributions which the Church in Germany made throughout the first millennia and a half of Church history: Germany is not only the land of the Reformation; it is also the country that decisively saved the Papacy, in the tenth century and later restored its unity at the beginning of the fifteen century through the Emperor Sigismund. The influence of medieval Germany on the formation of the Latin liturgy and the Christianization of the East was of primary importance.

Father then points out how pre-Reformation Germany was not nearly as corrupt as Italy in the same period: Actually life had become not as paganized in Germany as in Italy at that time. For despite the radical humanism of the Erfurt school [the same place that Luther received his Ockhamist training] the utterly pagan lack of restraint in the pursuit of the joys of this life was never as promiment as in Italy, even at the papal court.

Yet after making this point, Fr. Lortz makes this thought-provoking assertion vis. the relationship between moral life and the religious life of the Church: In speaking of weaknesses within the Church, I strongly emphasized that the moral element was never really the decisive factor in the religious life of the Church during any given period. The truth of the fundamental principles on which a given age is structured makes the difference. Moral guilt of the worse type does not constitute the greatest evil that can afflict the Church at any time; far worse are doctrinal deviations that make it impossible to remedy a moral evil.

I am again astounded by this insight. What is most crucial in determining the life of the Church is not the moral health of Christians (although that is clearly central), but rather the doctrinal health of the Church. Why? Because if you lack the latter, you cannot heal the former. This insight seems to me to have been demonstrated in our own day in the sexual morality (or lack thereof) taught to Catholics in high school and college. Because that moral theology was... well... wrong, the spiritual and hence moral life of Catholics was stunted. Bad theology leads to bad morality. But good theology can "cure" bad morality. It's that simple.

Returning to the Reform of the Church in the sixteenth century, Fr. Lortz states matter-of-factly, "The saints are the ones who save the day". Continuing this line of thought, he writes this amazing line: the Saint does not leave the world so that he can watch the world go by; he leaves it so that he can properly assess it and then return and conquer it." Yes! How purely true! We as Christians are called to separate ourselves from the world, but not simply to sit back and judge the decadence and errors of the world, as some would have it, but in order to prepare and train ourselves to return to the world and save it as Christ's instruments! Fr. Lortz's insight here reminds me of a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar entitled Razing the Bastions, in which Balthasar argued -- writing in the 1950's before Vatican II -- that the Church had to tear down the ramparts it had erected since the French Revolution (and even the Reformation) to protect itself from the world and its ways. While this defensive measure was necessary at the time, now -- having sufficiently assessed the situation from behind those castle walls -- the Church has to engage in a grand offensive to take back the world from the secularism which has swept across it. And that's precisely what Vatican II called for, and precisely what we -- Catholic or not -- must do. Engage the world, assimilate what is true therein, and then proclaim the Gospel in a language understandable in our day and age.

I'll continue with more from Fr. Lortz later.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Personhood & a Brief Christological Note

There's been a lot of discussion over the last couple of days on some blogs (Ben Domenech, Louder Fenn, my own earlier posts, and some things by Mark Byron) on the question of what it is to be a person in light of the cloning issue and broad libertarian support for cloning. I'd like to make a couple further contributions to that discussion.

Last summer I was involved in a brief discussion on stem cell research and the moral status of the human embryo on a now-defunct Delphi group. I'd like to reproduce that discussion here, slightly edited.

My initial post

First, a couple links:

A great article on the biological facts concerning the origin of the human being by Dianne Irving. [I've previously linked that article here at my blog]

A great article on the "personhood" issue at Libertarians for Life.

Finally, another article on the "parasite" issue (the claim that the fetus is a parasite).

An argument:

1. A human person is intrinsically valuable.
2. A human person is a body.
3. That body came to exist at the moment of conception.
4. Therefore that being which is intrinsically valuable came to exist at the moment of conception.

The only way out of this is to deny one of the first two premises, thereby either denying the inalienable rights of the human being or falling into a radical dualism regarding the human person.

A definition of personhood:

"A person is a being which has the active capacity to reason & freely-will (R&FW)."

Why does a person only need the capacity to R&FW, instead of actually R&FWing? Because when we are newly-borns, when we are asleep, and if we are in a reversable coma, we are not at that moment R&FWing. But these beings are all recognized as human persons; why? Because although they may not actually R&FW, they all have the potential to do so, as does the embryo.

Why an active capacity? Because, as many people have pointed out, any cell now has the capacity/potential to become an adult human being, through the process of cloning. However, in order for (say) a skin cellto become an adult human, something must be DONE TO it; it cannot OF ITSELF become an adult human. I.e., it has the passive potential to become an adult human.

OTOH, embryo and all succeeding stages of development have the ACTIVE capacity to R&FW. That is, the embryo will OF ITSELF develop to the point at which it can R&FW. It does not need to have any process performed upon it; it will self-develop to the adult stage.

This thus renders the "sperm & eggs are potentially human, too" and "every cell in the human body are potentially human, too" arguments irrelevant & specious.

End of my first post

Someone (call him Joe) called into question the third step in my argument, stating that it could be denied. I responded thus:

I refer you to the first linked article in my original post. From an embryological point of view, the human organism/body comes to exist at the moment of conception. This is not a religious, political, or philosophical judgment, but a biological/embryological/scientific fact, as evidenced in said article.

Allow me to quote a portion of this article (which should be read in its entirety):

[I'm not including the quote here for brevity. Just go read the article :-)]

End of my second post

My interlocutor "Joe" replied in this way:

"From a purely scientific perspective,....irrefutable."

Irrefutable? Then it isn't science. I retract my earlier statement. The question is not when life starts, but personhood.

I then responded to Joe:

"The question is not when life starts, but personhood."[His last line.]

Then you would apparently deny the 2nd premise of my argument, that the human person is a body, thus asserting a radical dualism with regard to the human person, i.e. that the person is an exclusively-spiritualentity which merely dwells in the material reality which is the body. Such a viewpoint reduces bodily life to an instrumental rather than an instrinsic good.

At this point I would recommend Robert P. George's article "A Clash of Orthodoxies".

Allow me to quote a portion of this article:

[I am again removing the quote for brevity's sake. But since I haven't linked this article before, I'll provide the first and last lines of the section I quoted so that you can locate it in the article.]

Let’s take the central issues of life and death. If we lay aside all the rhetorical grandstanding and obviously fallacious arguments, questions of abortion, infanticide, suicide, and euthanasia turn on the question of whether bodily life is intrinsically good, as Judaism and Christianity teach, or merely instrumentally good, as orthodox secularists believe.


From these arguments one rationally concludes that the body, far from being a nonpersonal and indeed sub–personal instrument at the direction and disposal of the conscious and desiring "self," is irreducibly partof the personal reality of the human being. It is properly understood, therefore, as fully sharing in the dignity—the intrinsic worth—of the person and deserving the respect due to persons precisely as such.

"Joe" never replied.

At this point, "Sven" jumped in, with this post, beginning by quoting my original post:

1. A human person is intrinsically valuable.
2. A human person is a body.
3. That body came to exist at the moment of conception.
4. Therefore that being which is intrinsically valuable came to exist at the moment of conception.

The only way out of this is to deny one of the first two premises, thereby either denying the inalienable rights of the human being or falling into a radical dualism regarding the human person.

The first premise is shaky if one is picky. Valuable how? How valuable? Can't be infinitely valuable, because two humans lives are worth more than one. Valuable is a difficult term. We're presumably most interested in a common sense argument, though, so I'll ignore for now.

So allow those who disagree the chance to walk right out door number two, then. If you accept your own argument, you'd better haul it to the nearest graveyard and start digging all those intrinsically valuable
humans out of the ground. Think of the terrible, uncaring, so-called "loved ones" that burn up all those intrinsically valuable human bodies instead of burying them.

We can argue with three a bit, too, unless you narrow down the definition of body. If you were to ask one-hundred people if human bodies have brains or hearts or limbs, one-hundred people would say yes.
An embryo is only cells.

[he now begins to quote from my definition of personhood]

Why does a person only need the capacity to R&FW, instead of actually R&FWing? Because when we are newly-borns, when we are asleep, and if we are in a reversable coma, we are not at that moment R&FWing. But these beings are all recognized as human persons; why? Because although they may not actually R&FW, they all have the potential to do so, as does the embryo.

Newborns reason. Sleeping people have personal identities, though. If I'm asleep, and someone asks you if I favor stem-cell research, you can answer, "Yes, he does." If I were dead, you'd think the questioner a moron for not using the past tense and answer, "Well, he used to, but not anymore." If I (and I shouldn't even use "I") were just a cell, you'd just stare at the questioner and think him crazy. "Persons" require a personal identity, which requires ideas.

End of Sven's post

And here's how I replied:

What do I mean by intrinsically valuable? That the person has value not for what s/he can do, for his/her appearance, for his/her abilities, but simply for what s/he *is*. Because of this, the person has value as soon as s/he comes to exist, not when s/he begins to do certain things.

Regarding dead bodies: I naturally meant living bodies. Please excuse me for that oversight.

Regarding bodies & their organs, I would first point again to the article on the origins of the human being/organism, which scientifically demonstrates that the physical aspect of the human person begins to exist. Secondly, I would agree that most people would state that human bodies have hearts, lungs, etc., because most people think of the adult human being when asked about human bodies. Most people would also state that human bodies have teeth, but that is not the case with newborns. My point? The fact that an embryo does not actually have various organs does not mean that it is not a human body, because at that point of development, it has exactly what it is supposed to. It will (on its own) develop those organs as it moves toward adulthood (i.e. it has the active potential to develop those organs).

I would also disagree with your assertion that newborns reason, insofar as the brain of the neonate is not completely formed until some 30 days after birth (i.e. around 10 months after conception), thereby making higher brain functions impossible.

It is also incorrect to say that having ideas are necessary in order to be a person, in that newborns and those with severe mental handicaps do not have "ideas", yet they are recognized as persons. It appears that you require that a being actually R&FW in order for it to be a person, rather than recognizing that one only needs to have the active potential to R&FW.

End of my reply to Sven

That was it. I never got a further reply from either Joe or Sven or anyone else.

One other note, of a theological nature: Louder Fenn wondered about the distinction between human and person, pointing to the case of Jesus, who had a complete human nature, yet was not a human person.

Theologians attempt to answer this question in a number of ways. One of them is this: Everyone human nature that is self-subsisting is a human person. However, Jesus' human nature did not subsist in itself; it subsisted in the Person of the Divine Word, and because of this, there was no human person in Jesus' human nature. In every other case of an individual human nature, though, that nature is self-subsisting, and therefore there is a human person.

If anyone has any thoughts, criticisms, or comments, feel free to email me.

I hope it was helpful.
Why do you persecute Me?

The first reading for today is a well-known one: the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Among the many fascinating aspects of this narrative is connection Jesus makes between Himself and His Church. His first words to Paul are, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and when Paul asks who He is, Jesus replies, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Obviously, Paul was not literally persecuting Jesus, in that He had already ascended into Heaven. However, he was persecuting Jesus’ community of disciples, and so from Jesus’ words to Paul, we find a certain kind of identity between Jesus Himself and His Church, to such a degree that to attack the one is to attack the other.

This “secondary” aspect of his conversion clearly had a deep effect on Paul’s understanding of the Church, in that he is the primary Scripture writer who refers to the Church as the “Body of Christ”. We can rightly infer that this understanding of the Ekklesia derived from his conversion experience.

What this means for us is important: we cannot view the Church as some sort of tertium quid – a “third thing” that comes between the believer/disciple of Jesus and Jesus Himself. Rather, the Church is the very place wherein we encounter our Risen Lord, in that the Church is in some mysterious yet real sense the Body of Christ. We can no more be an authentic disciple of Jesus and exist outside the Church than an arm can continue to exist after it has been cut off from the body. Furthermore, this also shows us that the Church is more than a “coming together” of disciples, that the Church does not come to be only when disciples gather. Rather, the Church – as the Body of Christ – in a certain sense “pre-exists” individual believers. So when someone is converted to Our Lord, they are “grafted into” His Body and become a living member thereof by joining the already-existing Church.

To me, this sort of thing shows the depth underlying Sacred Scripture. What seems fairly innocuous at first reveals great depth on closer inspection. As someone (Chesterton?) once said, Scripture is shallow enough for babes to swim in and deep enough for an elephant to drown in. How true.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Grace and Free Will

The Gospel readings for this week have been from John 6, and Peter Nixon has been providing some wonderful reflections on these readings. His reflections, in turn, are prompting me to reflect on various aspects of salvation and its process.

Today's reflection by Peter points out the tension that exists between faith as a gift of God and as a work of man. As Peter says, both things are true. Apart from God's grace, we cannot have faith; it is a gift from God. At the same time, faith (once given) is a virtue, an act on our part. In order to remain true to Jesus' words, we must hold both truths at once, never allowing one to gain at the expense of the other. As Peter indicates, this balance was crucial during the Reformation.

Many Catholic scholars in the last 40 years have noted that the doctrine which Luther was rebelling against -- the idea that man can justify himself, or even prepare for that justification, on his own -- derived from the teaching of William of Ockham, and that in fact it did not represent authentic Catholic teaching. (Luther was educated in the school of Gabriel Biel, who was orthodox, yet nonetheless was an Ockhamist.) One of these scholars, Fr. Joseph Lortz, even stated that the Catholicism that Luther rejected was not Catholicism. In other words, Luther threw off a decadent scholastic theory, not true Catholicism. Unfortunately, certain vestiges of Luther's Ockhamist education remained, and prevented him from discovering the authentic Catholic doctrine on salation, e.g. in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. On this, I would highly recommend Fr. Louis Bouyer's wonderful book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, in which Fr. Bouyer first points out the many wonderful truths which the first Reformers proclaimed, and then shows out these truths were prevented from achieving the fruit they ought to have because of the latent Ockhamism in much Reformation thought; according to Fr. Bouyer (himself a convert), this Ockhamism in a sense choked off the positives, resulting in teachings which the Magisterium judged heretical.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Dare We Hope...?

This morning Peter Nixon reflected on today's Gospel, noting how we as Catholics believe that it is possible for those who lack explicit faith in Jesus Christ to be saved (see Lumen Gentium, 16). I'd like to take this a little farther...

With the great twentieth century swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and others, I believe that we can and should hope that all people will be saved. I know that this will rub some people the wrong way and that it sounds like I am a universalist, but hear me out...

First, note that I am not asserting that all of us definitively will be saved. No... I hope that all will be saved. There is a crucial distinction involved here. The first position (that which asserts universal salvation) implies certitude about the salvation of all, while the second position implies ignorance about the salvation of all, i.e. we do not know the eternal destiny of all humanity (although as Catholics we do know that some are in Heaven: canonized saints).

It is precisely because we do not know everyone's eventual destination in the hereafter that we can hope that all will be saved. Such hope flows not only from charity (which seeks the best good -- which is Heaven -- for all) but also from doctrine (the universal salvific will of the Father who "wills that all be saved" [1 Tim 2:3-4]). It is also found in our liturgy, in various prayers in which we pray for all our deceased brothers and sisters, which clearly includes all who have died; now, if we know that some are damned, then it is wrong to pray this prayer, as we would be praying for something that cannot be, i.e. the salvation of someone who can no longer be saved.

Some might object to this view on the basis that someone like Hitler or Stalin simply cannot be in Heaven, based on their actions on earth. I think this indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of our teaching on sin and salvation, in that any sin -- no matter how "insignificant" -- condemns us, and at the same time all of our sins, no matter how heinous, have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. What is required for our salvation is that this redemption and forgiveness be applied to us, and it seems to me to be possible that somehow, in someway, this could have happened even with someone like Hitler.

I do want to note that this opinion is not Magisterial; while I believe it to be true and to follow from Christian doctrine and worship, the Catholic Church does not formally teach it, so anyone is naturally free to reject it. At the same time, I'd ask you consider it before doing so :-)
Pre-Reformation England

Peter Nixon yesterday gave an excellent review of the book The Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy. Prof. Duffy's work debunks the idea that all of Christendom prior to the Reformation was mired in superstition; while that may have been true in many parts of Germany, it definitely was not the case in England.
Sin and Reason

Something I've realized over the last several years is that people who are not very familiar with the Christian (specifically Catholic) tradition on sin -- and this includes Catholics and other Christians -- today tend to associate belief in sin with backward, repressive, irrational thinking. In other words, to seriously call something "sinful" implies that you are irrational and backward in your worldview, that you are restricting yourself from achieving happiness by submitting to an apparently arbitrary and irrational moral code.

What is somewhat ironic about this is that in the classic Catholic teaching, sin itself is what is irrational. Note the definition of sin as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."

Sin is defined as first being an offense against -- what? -- reason. According to the Catechism, a sinful act is an act against right reason, i.e. it is an irrational act. This same idea was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century; Thomas wrote in his Summa Theologiae that -- among other things -- sin is "contrary to reason" (I-II, Q. 71, A. 6). This thomistic (and Catholic) understanding of sin is aptly explained by the 20th century german philosopher Joseph Pieper in his book, The Concept of Sin. Pieper also shows how -- again, according to long-standing Catholic thought -- a sinful act is contrary to our nature. In other words, to commit a sin is to in some way deny or prevent the fulfillment of what it is to be human.

So, contrary to widespread intuitions today, to believe in sin is not to be irrational, but in fact to commit sin is irrational. This furthermore means that one can discuss the sinful character of particular actions in the context of public policy discussions, because this sinful character can also be considered the irrational character of such actions. I'm not advocating using the word "sin" in this sort of format -- precisely because of the common misunderstanding of its meaning -- but rather I am arguing against a tendency to throw out arguments because they discuss acts in terms of sin "instead of" reason. In fact -- as I have shown above -- sins are by definition irrational, and this feature allows us to make arguments against such acts that can't be dismissed by categorizing them as "arguments from sin".
Church Scandal Article

Kathryn Jean Lopez and John Burger have a great article at the National Catholic Register on the scandals. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Postrel again

I'm sorry to post again on the cloning issue, but Postrel made me do it.

Referring to Ramesh Ponnuru's blog at The Corner (link to the left) yesterday, she construes his argument for the personhood of blatocyst thus: this argument "declar[es] something a person because, given enough time and the right circumstances it could become one."


Should someone who disagrees that the embryo is a person come across this, please read very carefully and slowly...

We (Ramesh, me, and others who are pro-life) do NOT believe that an embryo is a person because it will later become a person. That's completely illogical and makes no sense -- it's saying that something is X because it will be X later; what???? If it only becomes X later, then it can't be X now, by definition. Anyone who portrays our position in such a manner either thinks we're really, really stupid or hasn't been listening very well (or both, I suppose). Our position is this:

To be a person means to have the active potential to reason and freely will (regardless of whether it is immediately exercisable or not).

A human embryo has this active potential at every moment of its existence.

Therefore, a human embryo is a person at every moment of its existence. It does not become a person later; it already is a person as soon as it begins to exist.

It isn't really all that complicated. The argument usually made against it seems to come down to this: it doesn't look like a person, so it can't be a person.

And that's a bunch of baloney. We've already been down that road way, way too many times.

Monday, April 15, 2002

We Are (not the entire) Church

I wholeheartedly agree with those in blogland and elsewhere who have been drawing attention to and criticizing the priestly sex scandals and how they have been handled. And I agree that this is a crisis.

However, I also believe that we have allowed ourselves to get a bit carried away in our rhetoric. While the Catholic Church in the U.S. can accurately be described as being in a crisis, that does not mean that the Church Universal is in a crisis. Yes, there have been recent scandals in other countries, but there scope is much more limited (as far as we know) than the problem here in the U.S. And yes, the crisis for the Church in the U.S. may reach beyond our borders. But as of now, it is too much to say that the entire Catholic Church is in a crisis that rivals the time immediately prior to the Reformation, as I've read in more than one place.

Our situation is serious, but c'mon: overblown rhetoric all too often can have unintended negative consequences. Let's acknowledge the seriousness of our state and deal with it resolutely.

At the close of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 on January 6th 2001 (the Solemnity of Epiphany), John Paul II issued his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: At the Beginning of the Third Millenium. This is a beautiful document in which the Holy Father seeks to turn the Church's attention toward the new millennium, after having celebrated the Great Jubilee of Jesus' birth.

Last spring the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published a series of reflections on different aspects of the Letter, and one of them is entitled The Art of Trinitarian Prayer, and it bases itself on what JPII says about prayer in the Letter and derives other thoughts therefrom. Here is one passage from this article:

All Christians, in order not to be mediocre, "Christians at risk", because they are not rooted in a strong and personal communion with God, are called in these times to be persons of prayer, friends of Christ, Christians who are adults in faith and in love. Christian prayer is not only a salutary antidote to the excesses and deviations of the return to the sacred, to the surrogates of alternative religious proposals, but is food for the soul and a source of life.

I would warmly recommend that anyone interested in growing in their prayer life and their understanding of prayer read this reflection.
More blogs

A couple of blogs I've found recently via their links to me (thanks!)...

Midwest Conservative Journal

The View from the Core
Luther's 95 Theses

If you asked anyone who knows anything about Church History in the West to pinpoint a specific moment or event which can be considered the beginning of the Reformation, the answer would probably be Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on indulgences on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. By this act, Luther is seen as rejecting the whole medieval system of indulgences and their associated doctrines and practices; in so doing, he makes his break from Rome, or at least begins to do so in a definitive way. In fact, many Protestant churches celebrate October 31st as "Reformation Day", indicating the importance of that date and Luther's actions on it in 1517 vis. the Reformation churches and communities. This date, then, has been widely regarded as the beginning of the Reformation. However...

In all likelihood, it never happened. Luther never nailed his theses on indulgences to the church door in Wittenberg.

Skeptical? I was, when I first heard of this theory not long ago. Nonetheless, I ask you to indulge me (pun intended) for a few moments...

This argument was first made in 1961 (yes, over 40 years ago) by a Jesuit priest and Luther scholar (no, that's not a contradiction in terms) in Germany named Erwin Iserloh. Fr. Iserloh argued that the generally-held narrative was in fact a legend. He made his case based on a variety of arguments, some of which are as follows:

1. The first written account of Luther's nailing his theses came from Phillip Melanchthon, which he wrote in 1548 three years after Luther was dead and over 30 years after the fact. Furthermore, Phillip wasn't even in Wittenberg in 1517 -- he was called there in 1518 -- meaning that he was not an eyewitness.

2. Following from this, then, Luther never refers to the alleged event. In fact, he was initially unhappy with the fact that his theses were being spread around Germany; we know from his writings that he had given copies to friends, but that they were to be used for scholarly discussion, not widespread public debate.

3. We do know from historical records that Luther mailed his theses to his Archbishop, the attached cover letter being very respectful in tone towards Luther's ecclesiastical superior. In other words, Luther did not seek to publicly attack the current doctrine of indulgences (at least not yet), but rather he followed the canonically-correct procedure and mailed his theses to his superior.

4. Luther also stated in private correspondence after 10/31/1517 that not all of the theses were his opinions. In other words -- and again contrary to widespread belief -- the 95 theses are not an articulation on Luther's own theology of indulgences, at least not in their entirety. This is seen in that around the same time he wrote a Treatise on Indulgences, which I have read in english translation, and which -- by and large -- is perfectly compatible with Catholic teaching on indulgences. Besides the importance of this in and of itself, it corroborates the argument that Luther did not post his 95 theses, in that to do so would mean he was intending for public "consumption" ideas he did not hold to himself, while knowing that they would be circulated exactly as his ideas.

What does this mean? That in the fall of 1517, Luther was far from the defiant rebel commonly seen by both Catholics and Protestants. Instead, he was a faithful son of the Church who sought a theological discussion on some notions concerning indulgences. It can also be shown that Luther's teaching on indulgences (at this point) was not heretical from a Catholic perspective, but in fact could have been a very positive factor, if it had ever become widely known.

Finally, most Luther scholars (regardless of church affiliation) today accept Fr. Iserloh's argumentation; while this may not have reached the popular level, those who are heavily involved in studying Martin Luther's thought generally agree that Luther never posted the 95 theses.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Just a Fertilized Egg

Virginia Postrel today offers a more in-depth critique of President Bush's remarks on cloning (as linked yesterday) than she did in her initial response which I referred to yesterday.

Unfortunately, she provides more evidence of what Ramesh Ponnuru points out in the article linked below: that libertarians (on this issue) make more assertions than arguments.

Ms. Postrel claims that Bush equates the embryo morally with a baby or adult, but that he "hides" this equation "by using the opaque word 'individual'." In other words, Mr. Bush obfuscates his "true" argument by word play.

What is patently hilarious about this argument is that in the course of making it, Ms. Postrel does the exact same thing, but far more egregiously. How? By using the term "fertilized egg" (which has no meaning in biological parlance) instead of "embryo" in virtually every instance. Guess what? We are all "fertilized eggs", some simply older than others. By referring to the embryo as a "fertilized egg" Ms. Postrel attempts to divert her readers' attention from the reality: that -- according to biology -- the embryo is an individual human being.

Ms. Postrel consistently fails to address the pro-life position head on. She provides a quote from Jacob Sullum's column today, which states, "it would be an odd state of affairs if a scientist were prohibited from destroying a miscroscopic, unimplanted embryo in an attempt to cure Alzheimer's disease while a pregnant woman could legally kill a 3-month-old fetus for any reason at all." Once again, we have an argument against recognizing the personhood of the embryo based on the fact that the law now allows for the destruction of that embryo in abortion. Once again, this is a non-argument. That the law allows for something does not automatically legitimate and provide an absolute moral foundation for that thing.

Finally, Ms. Postrel posits (between parentheses) that we who oppose cloning are putting the moral status of "cells" (once again, "embryo" is avoided) above the moral status of human beings "capable of consciousness". Several things come to mind...

1. As Dianne Irving's paper (linked yesterday) shows, the embyro is a human being. It has the same moral status that an adult human being has.

2. No one I know is putting the embryo above older human beings, in terms of moral status.

3. The embryo is also "capable of consciousness." While that capability is not immediate, this has no bearing on the moral status of the embryo, anymore than the lack of an immediate capability of consciousness has a bearing on the moral status of someone in a coma.

For more on this line of argumentation, I would read the Bailey vs. Lee & George discussion I linked to at the end of yesterday's cloning missive.

In the end, Ms. Postrel continues the pro-cloning libertarian trend of declining to substantially engage the pro-life position against cloning, coming no closer to doing so than making the above parenthetical remark about consciousness.
Great article on libertarians & cloning

National Review Online today posted an article by Ramesh Ponnuru from the 2/11/02 issue of the magazine, in which Ramesh takes libertarians for task for their "lapse of reason" (reason being the thing on which libertarians pride themselves) on the question of therapeutic cloning.

Speaking of the rhetoric from pro-cloning libertarians, he writes, "Some of the rhetoric here, however, stems from an analytical failure: specifically, a failure to acknowledge that there are rational arguments against therapeutic cloning that demand refutation," and he continues further on to say that "[from the libertarian perspective,] opposition to cloning is held to be based merely on subjective feelings of revulsion or on religious dogma, with no reasons to back them up." It is in fact only occasionally that a pro-cloning libertarian acknowledges the pro-life argument (that the embryo is a human being and therefore that it is homicidal to kill him or her for scientific research), and even then, the arguments against the pro-life position are surprisingly weak (see Ramesh's comments on Virginia Postrel's December op-ed in the Wall Street Journal).

Those are only a couple of the highlights of this piece. I highly recommend it.
Digital Theology

Apropos of my comments last week about the modern tendency to judge truth claims on the basis of who makes them instead of their own merits and to categorize in political terms, consider the following words from an essay by Fr. Edward T. Oakes:

One recent and sure sign of contemporary decadence is the habit of pigeonholing every theological position into the hoary categories of liberal and conservative and then judging the position on that basis, often without any direct acquaintance with the text advocating that position. I do not wish to deny some initial utility to these terms, but their constant invocation remains worrisome. For one thing, these terms are largely irrelevant in the history of theology (was Arius conservative or liberal?). And if the liberal/conservative spectrum cannot truly describe the past, why are these categories not similarly pointless today?

In my opinion, the reason for this dreary state of affairs is that great curse of the contemporary intellect, what I shall call the digital mind. In the famous debate over whether computers can think, I hold with John Searle and Roger Penrose that they cannot, precisely because they operate by manipulating binary oppositions. But I would also say the same of humans: they too prove incapable of anything passing for real thought whenever they browbeat every insight, like cattle being herded in a slaughterhouse, into the binary boxcars of liberal/conservative, progressive/traditional, liberating/constraining.

Amen, Father.
Some Promising Results with Adult Stem Cells

According to this Reuter's story, a man suffering from Parkinson's disease has been successfully treated through the use of adult stem cells obtained from his own brain. While the results are not definitive (Parkinson's is a tricky disease that "comes and goes" unpredictably), they are clearly promising, and show the potential for the use of adult stem cells to treat disease.
Peggy today

A great column from Peggy Noonan today. Simply put: in spite of the plethora of diplomats and International Relations doctorates, the Middle East remains apparently unsolvable. So what can we do? The same thing Karol Wojtyla (aka John Paul II) did during World War II: pray.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Well, I'll be!

Having lost my patience a bit with Mr. Charles Murtaugh's argument for therapeutic cloning earlier today, I was surprised and overjoyed to find that he has been reading the german Thomistic philosopher Josef Pieper's The Concept of Sin, and that he (Charles) is friends with the translator of Pieper's work and theologian, Edward T. Oakes, S.J. of Regis University in Denver.

While I must still maintain my criticism of his views on therapeutic cloning, I'm happy to see that Mr. Murtaugh appreciates the thought of one of the twentieth century's greater (but relatively unknown) thinkers.
New Blog

There's a new blog, Integrity, devoted solely to commentary on John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici: On the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World. This is a great idea, as evidenced by Jack's introductory remarks, some of which are as follows:

For a while now I have felt that the Catholic Church in the United States has done little to help the laity develop a true understanding of how the laity is called to live out the Gospel. Somewhat understandable. If you aren't going to preach on the Church's doctrine, are you really going to help the laity thoughtfully develop a spirituality true to their state? I get frustrated by Catholics who are led to believe that the apostolate of the laity is to serve as lectors and eucharistic ministers. How limiting and troubling for the effort to convert society to the Gospel!

Amen, Brother Jack! I was just telling some people recently that Vatican II (and of course, JPII as well) sought to remind us all that we (the laity) have a real responsibility to bring the Gospel to the world; it's not just "Father's" or "Sister's" job -- it's yours and mine. If you don't believe me, read Christifideles laici, or Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.

As Jack implies, our ministry is not primarily one of lector, acolyte, or extraordinary eucharistic minister: it's to bring the Gospel into our workplaces, universities, and "play places", by whatever suitable means.

Besides the documents linked, and Integrity, I would also highly recommend the Catherine of Siena Institute, whose mission is "Equipping parishes to form lay apostles." I was privileged enough to be present at their presentation The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?, and I would highly recommend reading it. The following quote illustrates the importance of recognizing the laity's responsiblity for bringing the Gospel to the world: "If we as a Church are to fulfill our mission, it is absolutely essential that we as a people know our true identity. Are we a Church made up of 1.4 million recognized apostles and 990 million recipients of their ministry? Or are we rather a community of over a billion commissioned apostles who have been called and gifted by Jesus Christ to participate together in his redemption of our world?" Exactly!
Where are the Clones? Send in the Clones

President Bush made some excellent remarks yesterday on the topic of cloning, in which he laid out his rational and moral opposition to all forms of cloning and gave his wholehearted support to the Brownback-Landrieu bill in the Senate which bans all forms of cloning.

Naturally, not everyone was pleased with Bush's comments. While nearly everyone opposes cloning which seeks to bring the clone to "full-term", not everyone opposes cloning in which the clone would be destroyed for its stem-cells and for other research purposes. For instance...

Read this petition in support of therapeutic cloning, signed by such bloggers as Instapundit, Virginia Postrel, Charles Murtaugh, and Rand Simberg. Of course, the NY Times editorial page opposed the President's stance, but that's no surprise.

I supppose that I'll have to wade into this one...

The petition linked above basically supports cloning because of its research & cure potential: "the cloning of cells offers scientists the chance to advance medical research and perhaps one day treat devastating illnesses such as juvenile diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's by replacing lost or debilitated cells."

Instapundit links to the petition and remarks made by the others I'm mentioning...

Virginia Postrel supports cloning for the basic science research potential.

Charles Murtaugh argues that "In a country in which abortion is legal, and in which human ES cell research is widely supported, it seems ridiculous to deem cloned early embryos, which cannot develop outside the womb into anything more complex than a ball of cells, worthy of special legal protection," that "People who would conflate the destruction of a fetus with the destruction of a blastocyst-stage embryo are knowingly distorting the facts," and that most clones die before birth anyway. I'll comment on his remarks below.

Rand Simberg supports cloning again for its medical value, as does the NYTimes editorial page.

What should be clear and obvious by now is that all of these supporters of therapeutic cloning deny that the immediate product of cloning is a human being.

They are -- according to science -- Wrong. Period.

This paper by Dianne Irving provides the established biological, scientific facts that show that the physical human being begins to exist at the moment of conception in the normal case, i.e. that the blatocyst is a human being. Transferring this to the cloning issue is simple: we again have a human blatocyst, and it is therefore a human being.

The only actual argument against this view in those I've linked to is from Mr. Murtaugh, who begins by arguing that a blatocyst is not human -- why? -- because abortion is legal and embryonic stem-cell research is widely supported. Okay, that makes sense. The fact that we destroy the entities in question apparently means that they aren't human. After all, there's no way we would legalize or support actions which impinge upon human rights, right? Sure.

Mr. Murtaugh goes on to argue against the humanity of the embryo because it cannot develop outside the womb into anything more than a ball of cells.

So what, Mr. Murtaugh? First of all, we are all nothing more than a mass of cells; the only difference is that adult humans have a bunch more cells than young humans. Who cares? What difference does that make on the ontological, metaphysical, and moral level? Is an adult human somehow "more human" than a newborn? Of course not. In the same way, a very young human has the same status as an adult human, even though it is much smaller. Furthermore, the fact that the young human needs a particular environment in which to develop no more proves that it's not a human being than does the fact that a teen-ager dropped off in outer space doesn't develop into an adult.

Finally, the fact that most clones die before birth somehow means that therapeutic cloning is not an injustice against a human being. Again, the logic here is superbly convoluted. Since when does your "age" when you die have anything to do with what you are?

This really isn't all that complicated. A blatocyst is a unique, individual, and whole (albeit immature) human organism -- it is a human being. Therefore to deliberately bring it into being and then kill it for reseach purposes is a gross injustice.

Virginia Postrel mentions her friend Ron Bailey, who was involved in a "debate" of sorts last summer on embryonic stem cell research with Patrick Lee and Robert P. George at Reason Online and National Review Online. It makes for very interesting reading, and is obviously relevant to the cloning question. If my argumentation here does not convince you (or even if it does), I recommend reading these articles:

1. Bailey's original article at Reason
2. Lee and George's response.
3. Bailey's reply.
4. Lee & George's counter.
5. Bailey's next reply.
6. Lee & George's comeback.
7. Bailey's next reply.
8. Lee & George's final response.

Louder Fenn has some excellent, pointed remarks into response to Ms. Postrel's comments; check 'em out.


Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Awesome stuff by Eve

Eve Tushnet wrote a ton of great stuff today, covering a variety of topics:

Seeking to live a chaste, homosexual/bisexual lifestyle as a faithful Catholic (and the struggle it entails);
sexual sins and a minimalistic concept of the faith (i.e. what's the minimum I have to do to get to Heaven?);
the Beauty of sexuality;
deference to the Magisterium (Eve says especially great stuff on this, especially about deferring-without-understanding);
the development of doctrine;
the stimulus which the Magisterium has given to philosophy over the centuries;
and much, much more... check it out!
Keeping the Laity Stupid

Amy Welborn yesterday wrote about those in the Church who seek to "protect" the laity from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Today she posted a letter written to her from a priest, affirming her own experiences. One section of the letter in particular is great:

For these sorts of people, "The only way the laity can break free of the old church (and the CCC represents the old church), is to somehow communicate to them the mysterious (and indeterminate) nature of the faith so that they can truly be Christian adults, thus superceding allegiance to rote doctrine and truth. In other words, "keep them stupid and we can do what we want!""

Talk about cutting through the foggy-speak :-)

Go read the whole thing.
Bob likes W.

Drudge linked a story on Bob Woodward's speech yesterday in Providence, RI. Woodward praises our Prez, noting especially his openness and directness: "Certainly Richard Nixon would not have allowed reporters to question him like that. Bush's father [former President George Bush] wouldn't allow it. Clinton wouldn't allow it."

Yesterday Mark Byron made some good comments on the whole Boston mess.

Being an optimistic realist (like that? ;-), I tend to think the best of people and always look for their side of the story.

But sometimes, there is no other side.

With others, I'm hoping that out of this will come a "reformed" Church in the US, and hopefully it will happen quickly, or, as Mark puts it, "you'll keep getting a drip-drip-drip of raunchy scandal from a media that has no love for the Catholic Church or Christianity in general."
The Mandatum Controversy

As many of you may know, the US Catholic Bishops recently approved their guidelines for implementing JPII's document Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities), and a part of that document and the Bishops' guidelines concern the mandatum (mandate) which all Catholic theologians are required to seek from the bishop where they teach.

This has generated great controversy within Catholic academia, with some theologians and university administrators wringing their hands over concern that the mandatum will restrict the academic freedom so prized in universities.

To me, it's much ado about nothing. As one commentator recently noted, the purpose of the mandate is simply to ensure that when a professor teaches specifically Catholic theology, he or she actually teaches Catholic theology. In other words, I could not stand up before a class and teach that, according to Catholic theology, there are two persons in Jesus Christ (Nestorianism). Now, I would be free to teach Nestorianism, but not as Catholic theology.

Can anyone explain to me what is so controversial about that? Would we protest if a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League would be removed from their position if they stated in their official capacity that, say, the Holocaust never occurred? I think not. Nor should anyone be upset when the Catholic Church asks its theologians that when they communicate and elucidate the teachings of the Church they actually communicate and elucidate what the Church teaches.
Another good blog

Check out Robert Bauer's Hokiepundit.
Good Politics blog

If you're interested in a good, intelligent blog for things political, check out Ben Domenech, who informed us today that he will be spending his summer in the White House Speechwriting Office.

Not a bad way to spend a summer.
Power again

This from Maureen Dowd's latest column in the NY Times:

If men would only give up their silly desire for world dominance, the world would be a much finer place. Look at the Taliban. Look at the Vatican.

Maureen's always good for a morning chuckle. Yes, the Vatican -- like the Taliban, naturally -- seeks world domination. I mean, look at all of the power which the Pope wields over me and other Catholics! Look at how John Paul II passes laws that prevent me from doing what I want to! Look at the political, economic, and military might which the Vatican can bring to bear to impose its dastardly will on the world!

Oh, wait...

Oops. Guess what? JPII can't do anything, anything to me. The only power that he wields over me or anyone else is the the power of persuasion and the spiritual/moral authority of the Gospel. That's all. Maureen and I are completely free to throw everything he says out the window and live our lives in complete contradiction to him, if that is our desire.

For further comments on Ms. Dowd's remarks, see Fool's Folly from this morning.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Read this, too

This article is an even better article than Novak's on power and the priesthood. Here are a couple quotes:

The Church will not ordain women because it cannot ordain women. You can't turn orange juice and rice cakes into the body and blood of Christ, you can't baptize in olive, oil and you can't ordain women. When it comes to the sacraments, the matter matters.

Exactly. Most (I know -- not all!) of the people who support the ordination of women would probably see no issue at all with using orange juice and rice cakes in the liturgy.

Feminists see administration of the sacraments as a source of power, probably because they do not understand power. In Greek there are three words translated as power: Kratos, God's mighty arm; Dunamis, the in-filling of the Holy Spirit; and Exousia, authority which flows from obedience to higher authority. The centurion whose servant was ill, explains exousia perfectly, "I am a man under authority, and I have men under me." The centurion understood that his power over his troops did not rest on him physical strength or his great personality, but on the fact that he was obedient to Caesar who ruled the Empire. Spiritual authority flows from obedience to those God has placed in authority.

What we mean by power in everyday life is a far cry from what power means in the Gospel and hence in the Sacrament of Orders.

I would really recommend checking this article out.
It's Not About Power

The Yale Daily News has an article on an address given by Cokie Roberts concerning Religion and the Media. Near the end of the article is a quote from Roberts responding to a question about women's ordination: ""Nobody relinquishes power. You have to grab it and fight like the devil for it," Roberts said. "And that's how they see us -- the Devil -- I think you'll see a married priesthood long before you see a female priesthood.""


I know that Cokie is a practicing Catholic, but as long as she sees ordination and the priesthood as issues of power, she and all of those others who sadly make the same mistake -- including ordained priests! -- will never, ever understand the Sacrament of Orders.

It's about service, not power. But I don't have the time to get into this thicker-than-it-should-be discussion, so I'm going to leave things with these remarks for the time being.

Until I can make a more substantial post, though, please consider reading Michael Novak's "Women, Ordination, and Angels.

Thanks for the links!

I've found that many of my regular blogs have added me to their permalinks, and I'd like to thank you!

Amy Welborn
Fool's Folly
Louder Fenn
Eve Tushnet
Mark Byron
Mark Butterworth
Martin Farkus
Peter Nixon

If I've missed anyone, please send me a note saying so (

Thanks, everyone!
Exhibit A

If anyone would like to see a textbook case for the sort of political categorization which too many people impose on their understanding of Christianity and Catholicism in particular (see my post below), I would direct you to Andrew Sullivan's blog (one of the oldest out there) and his comments today on an article written by Fr. John McCloskey in Catholic World Report a couple of years ago.

Fr. McCloskey's article sees the Church in the U.S. consolidating -- as Mr. Sullivan puts it -- "around an Opus Dei-inspired rump." You see, Fr. McCloskey has converted a couple of columnists (Robert Novak and Larry Kudlow) to "a highly conservative form of Catholicism." Do you see what Sullivan is doing? By referring to Fr. M's, Novak's, and Kudlow's "flavor" of Catholicism as "highly conservative", he implicitly identifies his own form of Catholicism as liberal and at the same time seeks to legitimate it, as another legitimate brand of Catholicism.

Mr. Sullivan goes on to contend that Opus Dei's agenda is to reverse the liberalization that has occurred in the Church since Vatican II. This kind of statement is a mess to interpret. What exactly does Mr. Sullivan mean by "liberalization" in the Church? Does he mean the legitimate reforms sought by the Fathers of Vatican II as enuciated by the 16 documents of that great Council? Or does he mean the illegitimate de-forms which individual priests and various communities "enacted" by their own authority?

He also recommends reading Fr. McCloskey's article to "see what a conservative vision of the future of the American church looks like, one in which every Catholic is either married and reproducing throughout their lives, in religious orders, or celibate." By my count, he's covered every state of life that the Church has ever (in 2000 years) recognized. And that's the "conservative vision"? He makes me wonder what the "liberal" (i.e. heterodox) vision looks like. (NB: "reproducing throughout their lives" doesn't mean 12 kids per family.)

Mr. Sullivan also reads Fr. McCloskey to mean that "American constitutional democracy" is a "real threat to the Church". Here's the passage from Father's article: "The final short and relatively bloodless conflict produced our Regional States of North America. The outcome was by no means an ideal solution but it does allow Christians to live in states that recognize the natural law and divine Revelation, the right of free practice of religion, and laws on marriage, family, and life that reflect the primacy of our Faith."

Now, one may disagree with Father's take, but he certainly isn't saying that our present system is a threat to the Church; rather, he is arguing that there is a better system. Surely Mr. Sullivan wouldn't argue that American constitutional democracy is the perfection of political structure, never to be improved upon, would he?

Sullivan then asserts that this Catholic, Francoite Reconstructionist "visceral disdain for modern America found expression not so long ago in Richard Neuhaus's journal 'First Things' which toyed with the idea of armed rebellion against the American constitutional order because of the Godlessness and faithlessness of this country's judiciary."

I know that Mr. Sullivan is a very intelligent man, but this quote makes me wonder if he ever read actual articles which made up the symposium in question, The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics. I would say the same thing to Mr. Sullivan which Fr. Neuhaus himself stated in the aftermath of the controversy which the symposium generated: did you catch the question mark in the title? The symposium posed a question; it didn't make a call to arms. Not only that, but there is absolutely no indication whatsoever of the symposium's participants suggesting armed rebellion against the godless courts. This is a caricatured reading of the symposium, nothing more. As the editors stated in their response to the controversy, "we do not believe that the government of the United States is illegitimate. Ours is not a revolutionary situation and, please God, will never become that. [...] Nor have we issued a call to civil disobedience." How much more clarity does Mr. Sullivan require?

Monday, April 08, 2002

Church-State, blah, blah..

My home state's major newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, today published a column by St. Petersburg Times journalist Robyn Blumner titled Congress is crossing the line with religion.

Blumner opens with this: Our politics are slathered with religion.
She goes on to provide a brief summary of the Founding Fathers' views on the place of religion in the USA: That civil society will be secular.
She is clearly upset that for one week each September Florida school children will be "forced" to recite part of the Declaration of Independence, which (most regretably) states that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
She states that "the religious right has spent more than 20 years chipping away at the wall of separation between church and state."

And she lives in St. Petersburg. As in St. Peter. Go figure. I wonder if she's petitioned the City Council to change the city name to something less sectarian.

Seriously, this attitude is not only far too common but is woefully ignorant in things historical and legal. To begin with, how would she square her reading of the Founders' intentions vis. religion with the following passage from George Washington's farewell address of September 19, 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect & to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private & public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure--reason & experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

She is also unaware of the history of the so-called "law of separation of church and state". As many people know, there is no such phrase in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights. This understanding of how the church and state are to relate was not established at the beginning of our country, but nearly two hundred years after the fact in a series of Supreme Court rulings beginning in the 1950's, rulings in which the interpretation of the First Amendment was radically altered from prior interpretations.

I could -- and will -- say more on this soon. It's a topic that continues to be of major import in public policy discussions in our country today, and it deserves a serious discussion.

Until then, I would recommend the following article by Fr. Neuhaus: A New Order of Religious Freedom.
Indulge Me!

Lutheran scholar Michael Root wrote an article in the December issue of First Things (okay, so I like this journal) on the once-hot topic of indulgences. I'd recommend this article to anyone who's interested in how another Christian views the theology of indulgences.

Early on in the article, Root points out that "indulgences were not, as Protestant polemic asserted, the invention of cynical church princes to bilk the credulous, but an institution invented by no one, the creation of a series of incremental changes that occurred over centuries."

He also says this near the end: "Recent Catholic teaching, especially the various texts related to the Jubilee, go far to situate indulgences within a genuine pursuit of repentance in daily life and to remove the rather impersonal, quid pro quo transactional language that has sometimes been associated with them. These recent discussions of indulgences are in fact far closer to the first of Luther’s Ninety–five Theses on Indulgences—which stated that when Jesus called for persons to repent, he "willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance"—than are most recent Protestant statements on the Christian life."

Good reading.

A great post over at Libertarian Samizdata by David Carr (scroll down a bit... he posted it today) who -- as a self-proclaimed secular Jew -- is cheering on the Catholic Church and JPII in particularly for standing strong against women's ordination. He concludes this way: "Just Say No, Your Holiness.You owe it not just to Roman Catholics but to all the rest of us who live by the doctrine of reason." Ain't that great? Women's ordination is not only opposed by we fuddy-duddy orthodox Catholics (and other Christians as well), but also by those "who live by the doctrine of reason."

I wonder what the Women's Ordination Conference thinks of that.
A couple articles

I'm note sure if the editors of First Things did so intentionally, but the return of Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial coincided roughly with March's issue of the magazine, which included an interesting article by Fred Heeren entitled "Home Alone in the Universe?". It's a highly interesting (and readable) article on the question of intelligent life beyond our planet. Heeren covers both "the best reasons to believe in intelligent extraterrestrials" as well as "the new reasons to doubt"; he finds the latter more compelling than the former (as do I), but his presentation is very fair and balanced. Good reading.

The same issue has an article by papal biographer George Weigel called "A Better Concept of Freedom" which contrasts two concepts of freedom. Modernity tends to identify freedom with an act of the will, and Weigel shows how this view derives from William of Ockam's philosophy of nominalism which led him to a concept of freedom which can be called the freedom of indifference in which "freedom is simply a neutral faculty of choice and choice is everything, for choice is a matter of self–assertion, of power."

This view of freedom, though, was preceded by that argued for by St. Thomas Aquinas, whose own understanding of freedom can be called freedom for excellence. As Weigel says, "freedom, for St. Thomas, is a means to human excellence, to human happiness, to the fulfillment of human destiny". At the end of his article, Weigel concludes his argument (for the Thomistic conception of freedom) by pointing to the social consequences which it entails, in contrast with the Ockhamistic view:

Freedom for excellence is the freedom that will satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart to be free. It is more than that, though. The idea of freedom for excellence and the disciplines of self–command it im­ plies are essential for democracy and for the defense of freedom.

Homo Voluntatis, Willful Man, cannot exploit the new genetic knowledge so that it serves the ends of freedom and avoids the brave new world. Homo Voluntatis cannot explain why some things that can be done should not be done. Homo Voluntatis cannot defend himself or the institutions of democracy against the new dangers to national security and world order. Homo Voluntatis cannot give an account of a freedom worth sacrificing, and even dying, for.

There are, indeed, two ideas of freedom. Both ideas have consequences. One of them is worthy of this nation. One of them will see us through to a future worthy of a free people.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

Morality and Happiness

One of my favorite topics in moral theology is the the place of happiness in Catholic moral thought.

There is an unfortunate tendency today among secularists, nominal Christians, and even some committed Christians to believe that Christian moral norms are the imposition of seemingly-arbitrary whims by God and/or Christian leaders.

There is actually a good deal of truth to this belief, in that there has been a long history in moral theology of focusing on the "willed" aspect of moral norms, i.e. that things like the Ten Commandments are willed by God, and therefore we ought to obey them for that reason. This perspective began primarily with John Duns Scotus in the High Middle Ages and continued through William of Ockham in the Late Middle Ages. It was via Ockham and his circle that this voluntaristic emphasis spread among the Reformation, and in the Counter-Reformation and succeeding centuries many Catholic moral theologians continued to hold to this emphasis, as seen in the "manual tradition" of moral theology in the first half of the twentieth century.

Now, I would certainly agree that we ought to follow God's will; I definitely have no issue with obedience. The problem comes in when God's will is made to appear arbitrary, i.e. there is no attempt to discover the divine rationality behind His moral precepts. In fact, some would posit that we even shouldn't make such an attempt, that it is wrong to do so.

What this leads to among too many believers is a Christian "moral spirituality" which undertakes Christian moral precepts as if they were a great weight which must simply be carried: ours is not to wonder why, but to do and die. I am a Christian, and therefore I have to "put up" with these precepts. For the non-Christian looking in, there is little to find which is attractive in this atmosphere. It appears laden with legalistic norms which lead only to misery in this life, with the promise for (eventual) happiness in the next.

Such a picture is not only depressing, but need not -- nay, should not -- be the portrait painted by Christian moral theology and practice. Furthermore, it is a perspective which is relatively new -- as noted above, it was only in the High Middle Ages that this understanding of morality really began. Before that -- and among a school which was in the minority of moral theologians for far too long -- Catholic moral theology saw another divine purpose in living a moral lifestyle: authentic, real happiness.

St. Augustine opened his treatise on Christian ethics ("The Standards of the Catholic Church") with the following words: "There is no doubt about it. We all want to be happy. Everyone will agree with me, before the words are even out of my mouth. [...] So let us see if we can find the best way to achieve it." As the noted Dominican moral theologian, Servais Pinckaers, commented, "For Augustine, morality begins with the question of happiness -- authentic happiness -- and consists entirely in finding an answer to this spontaneous, universal question. Morality is a search for happiness."

As Pinckaers goes on to note, this perspective was obvious to Augustine, but is very foreign to most of us (Christian or not) today. As he says, "we are used to thinking of morality from the viewpoint of obligations and prohibitions. We equate it with a body of teaching about commandments and sins, and do not readily perceive how it connects with our desire for happiness. In fact, the two things seem contradictory."

Isn't this true? Don't most of us see morality and happiness as opposites, or at least understand them so in an unconscious manner?

As we see above, though, this was not how St. Augustine understood happiness, and his perspective was held by most theologians into the High Middle Ages, including his most famous disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas, who was described by one of my professors as being "more Augustinian than Augustine was."

For St. Thomas, like Augustine, a moral life is the path to authentic happiness. Yes, there may be initial "pain" as we begin to live the life of virtue rather than vice, but in the end, the happiness we will have through the grace of God and the life of virtue will far outweigh whatever pseudo-happiness we may experience otherwise.

This "take" on morality is once again taking its rightful place, through the work of men like Servais Pinckaers (I would recommend his reflections on the Beatitudes, The Pursuit of Happiness -- God's Way, from which the above quotes were taken, and his more scholarly work, The Sources of Christian Ethics). Yes, we must follow God's will, but we must remember and emphasize to others that God wills our happiness, and therefore that living the moral life will lead us to that end of real happiness, in this life and the next.

Living the Christian life should not be a burden to us; as Jesus said, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mt 11:30). When we realize that God desires our happiness, and that living the life He sets before us will lead us there, Christian morality is transformed for us and for others.

Friday, April 05, 2002

Fr. Neuhaus on the Scandals

The website for First Things magazine has posted Fr. Nehaus' Scandal Time from the April issue, his take on the sex scandals in the Church today.

By the way, the April issue (which won't be available in full at the website until next month) has a very interesting article entitled "Purgatory for Everyone" written by someone who isn't Catholic; I read it, and am looking forward to linking to it when it's posted.
Why, again, are we separated?

The September/October 2001 issue of Catholic Dossier has an interview with Fr. Richard Neuhaus (whose conversion story is linked below) entitled "No Good Reason to Stand Apart". It's an interesting discussion about ecumenism (primarily among western Christians) from the Catholic perspective.
Evangelicals and the Middle East

Rod Dreher (a Catholic) has an interesting piece at NRO today on the strong support for Israel found among the American Evangelical community.

Of great interest to me was Dreher's discussion at the end of the article of the plight of Palestinian Christians (no, not all Palestinians or Arabs are Muslim). The following quote is especially poignant: "Suzan Sahori lives in the Christian village of Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem. NRO reached her yesterday as her town was literally being taken over by Israeli troops. Speaking frantically over her cell phone, Sahori said, "The situation is very bad. We feel abandoned in this moment. I don't care whether you're Protestant, Latin, Orthodox, whatever you are. We're human beings!"".

I fear that the abhorrent actions of militant Muslims in the Palestinian/Arab-Israel conflict has hidden from too many Americans the plight of innocent Palestinians (which most of the Christian Palestinians are), and so we (rightly) support the right of Israel to defend itself (whether that is what is going now on is a separate question as seen by President Bush's remarks yesterday) and we (wrongly) ignore the situation of innocent Palestinians (as Tony Adragna noted last night, "most Palestinians aren't out in the streets fighting against the IDF, but are just trying to stay alive while the IDF and the PA slug it out."
Eve on Objectivism and Abortion

Eve has a second blog devoted to questions concerning Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (which is the underlying philosophy of many libertarians). A while back she critiqued the arguments of some Objectivists who supported the right to abortion. Read this post and the one right beneath it (which is chronologically prior to the one linked).

Among several great arguments, Eve makes this one: "I don't care what a first-trimester fetus looks like. (Although newer, more-powerful technology has allowed us to learn just how early the fetus begins to resemble a baby, that isn't really relevant.) The question is when individual identity begins. If there is a physical component to identity--if it's not some emanation of your consciousness--then presumably it begins when you are a physically distinct being. Having different DNA, or being of a different sex from your mother, are fairly good ways to tell that a physically distinct being has begun. The question isn't whether I could do math in the womb, or what I looked like; the question is when I began. When I was an infant I looked like an infant; when I was a neonate (newborn) I looked all red and wrinkly; when I was in my third trimester in the womb I looked like a funny little child in a sac; before that I looked kind of like a tadpole; before that I looked like a blastocyst, because I was one. The fact that I have not always been as beautiful as I am now (heh) is irrelevant."

Amen. The argument she is criticizing is similar to the one which claims that "microscopic life" is not "human life" (see Virginia Postrel's post from 3/31). Since when does size have any significance vis. ontological and moral status? Following that logic completely undercuts any argument for specifically-human rights. After all, the size difference between the human at the blatocyst stage and the adult human is ridiculously insignificant when one considers the size of an adult human on the scale of our universe's dimensions.

Degree of (in)dependence, development, size, and physical location have nothing to do with the essence of a thing. But again, more on this later...
Eve's New Article

One of my permalinks, Eve Tushnet, is a correspondent for the National Catholic Register, and her latest article is online at the paper's website (go down to the "Welfare-to-Work, Round 2" article -- that's her's). A good article which (among other things) gives the Catholic social teaching perspective on welfare reform.
Rotating Favs

Rather than provide permalinks for everyone of my fav blogs, I'm going to rotate them over time.

Great stuff by Dr. Byron

(Dr.) Mark Byron has a couple of great posts from last night and today.

Last night he commented on Libertarianism, a topic which is likely to get some attention at this blog in the future.

This morning's post concerns my comments last night regarding Catholicism and Exclusivism. He makes some excellent remarks vis. being on guard against false teachers, as Paul warned in 1 and 2 Timothy, and he posits that "staying true to church doctrine is a safe bet, given that the church itself is sound, since you're more likely to be wrong than the church is in a doctrinal difference; the church has spent centuries or millennia hacking their theology."

He concludes with the following remark: "That being said, the believer needs to look at what he's being taught and weigh it against scripture with the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

I completely understand what Mark is saying here. At the same time, it seems to me that the vast majority of Christians cannot have metaphysical certitude regarding their own insights, i.e. we can't be sure that our confidence in a particular teaching is from the Holy Spirit or not. Why? Because too many of us have convictions regarding our own particular beliefs which are in contradiction with the views of their equally-convicted brothers and sisters in Christ; e.g. is baptism regenerative or not? is Scripture the only authentic source of doctrine for the Christian or not? Is Jesus really present -- body and blood, soul and divinity -- in the Eucharist or not?

These real disagreements point -- in my mind -- to the need for an objective teaching authority, an authority which is thereby actually a gift to believers, in that it gives us assurance as to what is authentic Christian doctrine and what isn't. That's why I think the document put out by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in 1999 is so aptly titled: The Gift of Authority.

That being said, I agree with Mark that the believer must closely look at what's being taught... not so much to verify its veracity, but rather to appropriate it and make it his own.

I hope that these posts read as I intend them, i.e. with a spirit of Christian charity. As others have noted, we (all Christians) agree on many things, and while are differences are real, we cannot allow them to dominate our interaction. I think that Mark is an excellent example of how one can honestly disagree with another Christian yet do so in a spirit of charity. Thanks, Mark.