Saturday, May 18, 2002

More on Reprobation soon...
The Empire... good or bad?

John Betts is surprised at my comments about Star Wars' Galactic Empire, and he has a long critical dissection of Jonathan Last's piece which I linked to below. I'm just going to make a couple of remarks here.

First, I want to explain why I'm even dealing with this; someone might ask, "Why waste your time commenting on the policies of a government in a science fiction movie?" I'm not sure if John would agree or not, but I'm doing so because fiction is often used to explain reality. In this case, Lucas' vision of a republic which turns into a dictatorial empire provides interesting fodder for a discussion about the direction modern Western democracies could go.

Second, I'd like to point out that my questions below were just that... questions. John wonders how Last and I reach our conclusions, but on my own part, I haven't done so... I merely raised some questions about the actions of the late Republic-Empire.

Contra Last, John argues that democracies/republics have the right to prevent secession from themselves, and he points to the most obvious example: our own Civil War. John quotes extensively from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, wherein our former president lays out the case for preventing the South from leaving the Union. Personally, I've been thinking a lot about this over the last several months. On the one hand, I'm certainly glad the North won the war. But on the other hand, I'm not so sure that the North's argumentation against secession is a strong as I've thought, and I'm hoping that someone might be able to make the case for me in favor of preventing secession. The argument Lincoln lays out in the address John quotes and links seems to hinge on the notion that the Union is more than just an association of States; that the US is "a government proper". Is this completely the case? (That's a real question, not a rhetorical one.) It seems to me that if I agree with a group of others to band together and -- while retaining our individuality -- to form a common government, I should retain the right to leave that group, should I so choose. Am I wrong?

John also addresses the issue of the inept nature of the Galactic Senate. Before explaining how I think his remarks are right on, I want to point out that Last was not pointing to this aspect of the Republic to argue in favor of the Palpatine's dictatorship, but to explain/justify the separatists' actions. Having said that, I agree with John that Hitler and Lenin used similar comments to gain power in their countries, and one of my major concerns relating to the outcome of the Culture War is that we as Americans might reach a point at which we are so tired of chaos and disorder that we, too, would trade the chains of for those of totalitarianism. I'm reminded of John Paul II's concerns for modern democracies... that if moral order does not return, the inevitable resulting chaos will lead us to make exactly that "trade".

John doubts the possibility of a "benign dictator". What about the absolute monarchs a couple of centuries ago? Were not some of them benign dictators? No, I'm not arguing for a return to absolute monarchies; I'm just devil's advocating a bit.

In closing, I want to reiterate that I do not think the Empire is "good"; my initial questions were raised to lead to some discussion, which it has, at least with one fellow blogger. I'd take the USA and its government over the Republic and the Empire any day.
Serafin's Blog

Gerard Serafin -- whose website is linked to the left -- has contracted blogitis. You can find his blog here.

John Paul II, We Love You!!

Happy Birthday to our Holy Father, John Paul II, who turns 82 today. Keep him in your prayers.

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Empire... not so bad?

Jonathan V. Last makes an interesting case for the legitimacy and -- for the most part -- positive nature of Star Wars' Galactic Empire. He deals with some questions I've been wondering about lately... why does the Republic want to prevent the separatists from separating? How does the Empire make life miserable for its average "citizen"? What's wrong with Vader's desire (explicated in Empire) to "end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy", especially when that order is (for the most part) benign?


Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Obedience of Faith

I'm going to briefly jump out of the predestination/reprobation discussion to comment on another ongoing topic: women's ordination.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal recently provocatively raised the issue in light of Paul's comments in Galatians that in Christ we are neither "male nor female". A number of bloggers have taken up Father's challenge.

One blogger for whom the issue is of personal importance is Peter Nixon, host/author of Sursum Corda. Peter is familiar with most of the standard arguments against priestesses, and yet remains unconvinced as to their validity. The angst this causes him as a Catholic who seeks to remain true both to his Church and his conscience is clear in his recent comments on the topic.

For me, issues like this -- in which the arguments made in defense of a particular doctrine do not convince -- highlight the place of what St. Paul and Vatican II's Dei Verbum (among others) term the obedience of faith.

As Catholics, we are called to form our intellect and will according to what God reveals about Himself and His plan of salvation through His Church; in the language of Dei Verbum 5, we as believers are called to freely assent to the truth revealed by God, revelation which occurs within the community of believers... the Church. This does not mean that the arguments made to explain a particular teaching will necessarily be convincing; the Holy Spirit's protection over the Church acts to protect the Church from teaching error... it doesn't mean that the arguments used will always convince.

But that is why revelation requires faith on our part; while revelation never contradicts reason, reason is not always able to elucidate revelation, at least not immediately. That is the ongoing task of theology, the famous definition of which is "faith seeking [as opposed to "already possessing"] understanding". That the arguments used today to explain the Church's inability to ordain women may or may not convince us is beside the point (interestingly, in his masterful biography of John Paul II, Weigel is mildly critical of the Holy Father's approach to the issue in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, wishing that the Pope might have providing more substantial argumentation in favor of the doctrine); as members of the Church, we are called to give assent to all of the Church's teachings, even those for which we do not perceive the rationality.

I am reminded here of some wonderfully profound thoughts expressed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his outstanding work, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church. Speaking of Mary's Yes to God (via Gabriel), her fiat, her great faith in God which we are called to imitate, Balthasar writes the following:

What is basic to the infinite elasticity of the Marian Yes is that it again and again stretches beyond understanding and must consent to what is not within the domain of the humanly possible, foreseeable, bearable, or fitting. [...] Mary shows herself to be "truly blessed" because she has believed. [...] the Marian principle is thus the exact opposite of any "partial identification" where discipleship depends on the measure of one's personal comprehension or "responsible" evaluation. But it is equally the opposite of the passive indifference of a mere instrument that can be manipulated at will.

It is precisely in those moments when we do not comprehend that God calls and challenges us to assent with the obedience of faith, just as He did with Mary.

One Catholic blog I intended to link long ago, but forgot about was Minute Particulars. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

One more thing

One other thing I wanted to note in response to Tom's thoughts: I agree that the difficulties with the Thomistic position (and probably the Calvinist as well) do not flow from an inadequate conception of God's atemporality. Instead, just an inadequacy seems to me to underlie the position of the average layman who argues for double predestination.
More on Reprobation

Joel Garver and Tom Kreitzberg both offered some thoughts (Joel doing so in an email) in response to my own reflections on the mystery of Predestination and Reprobation. I'd like to offer a thought or two in lieu of their responses.

First, Tom states that my position is something like Molinism; while I can see how one might draw that conclusion from my initial post and certain imprecisions therein, I'd like to state "for the record" that I disagree with both Molina's take as well as Banez's (with Tom, I question whether or not the "Thomistic" position is that of St. Thomas). How so? Because unlike Molina -- and like St. Thomas -- I tend to see my free acts and originating in God. Molina seems to have separated the divine causality from the secondary; with Thomas and others, I would see the secondary causality within the divine and preeminent causality. So in effect, my own free acts are caused by God, but in such a (mysterious) way that they remain free and hence truly mine as well. A useful analogy here is that of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture: just as both the human and divine writers are both truly authors -- with the latter having preeminence -- so too is salvation a result of God's grace and human cooperation with that grace, with the latter seen as "enveloped" within the former, while retaining its distinction.

Tom refers to Question 23 of the First Part of Thomas' Summa, in which the Angelic Doctor discusses the question of predestination. After quoting from the third article, Tom goes on to say that "that God permits people to fall into sin and imposes damnation on that account seems clearly to be Catholic doctrine." Absolutely. My quarrel is with those (later) Thomists who seem to argue that God does not offer the grace necessary for salvation to all, i.e. that He does not do "everything He can" to save all of humanity.

Joel seeks to clarify my presentation of the Calvinist position. He points out that for Calvin, "While election finds its origin and cause wholly in the grace of God, reprobation finds its cause in the creature." I would certainly agree with this. He goes on to explain... "it is true that Calvin doesn't want to see reprobation in terms of a merely permissive will on God's part since God's will extends over every contingent state of affairs. Thus God's permitting S to remain condemned in his sins entails God's willing to permit this. Or, to put this another way, God's *not choosing* to save some entails his choosing *not to save* some. Still, this choosing not to save is not identical with God's positive willing to damn some."

This is where I begin to get a little uneasy. It seems to me that such a view -- again, correct me if I'm wrong -- seeks to assert God's sovereignty by denying that He would be "unable" to save someone, and so we must say instead that He wills not-to-save someone. As Joel says, Calvin does not see reprobation only in terms of a permissive will on God's part.

What I would like to do know is provide a (very) long quotation from Charles Cardinal Journet's The Meaning of Grace, a work which I would highly recommend to be read in its entirety. In this section, Fr. Journet argues for a position on this question with which I strongly agree:

1. On the basis of what has been said in the preceding pages we shall try to interpret a few passages of St Paul, principally on the subject of predestination.

These questions about grace are extremely mysterious and profound. If, in discussing them, we forget that God is a God of love, if we speak about them without steeping them in the atmosphere of divine goodness that knocks at men's hearts, we may well say what would seem theologically—or rather, verbally, literally—exact, but what would in fact be a deformation, misleading and false. Ultimately only the great saints, the great lovers of God, can speak of these matters without distorting them.

We must bear in mind, at the outset, that in the word predestination, as in prescience, the prefix 'pre' signifies an anteriority of dignity and excellence, not one of chronology which would suggest a scenario written beforehand. Predestination is a love-assignation made on high, a supreme divine destination in course of realization, a supreme 'prevenience' on the part of Love, a prevenience not refused, but accepted and finally brought to fulfilment.

2. The doctrine of predestination is a scriptural doctrine, a part of revelation, which we are to believe without doubting. But how is it to be understood? There is the Catholic interpretation, and the Lutheran and Calvinist one, to which we shall return later.

The word predestination we owe to St Paul. In the Epistle to the Ephesians (i. 4-5), he writes: 'God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the purpose of his will.'

Further on (ii. 4), we read: 'God, who is rich in mercy, for his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ, by whose grace you are saved, and hath raised us up together and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through ChristJesus.' Here the Apostle sees in advance the elect gathered together in the heavens round Christ, saying: thanks to you, O God, for having predestined us by your love. You are he who enabled us to utter the supreme assent we gave to you. To you be the glory.

The word predestination was already used in the Epistle to the Romans: 'Whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified' (viii. 30). Here again the apostle sees in advance the elect gathered in the heavens, and reflects on how they have been led there by God. God first called them; he went to meet them with graces which they did not frustrate though they could have done so. If they assented to them, it was by a divine movement in them, for our assent always comes from God: 'thy salvation comes from me, O Israel, thy destruction from thee'. Since they did not refuse this first call, they went on to justification through a new divine movement; and those whom he has justified God finally brings to heaven. That is the supreme prevenience by which God enables us to die in his love.

3. When you reread these passages, they will give you no difficulty if you see tkem in the context I have indicated. You will remember that, if anyone is not predestined, itis because he refuses the call, and not once only, like the fallen angels, for again and again divine grace returns to, and even importunes, the human heart. How often? The apostles asked Jesus, 'Should we forgive seven times?'; and the answer was, 'Seventy times seven times' (Mt. xviii. 21-22). That is what Jesus expects of men, who yet are miserable creatures and loath to show mercy. Elsewhere he said, 'If your child asks of you a fish, will you give him a serpent? If he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If he asks you for bread, will you give him a stone? If then you who are evil, give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father!' (cf. Luke xi. 11-13; Mt. viii. 9-11). So then he, too, will forgive me seventy times seven. He will return to knock again at the door of my soul. None the less, if I wish to refuse him, I can; I have the terrible power of saying no to God, of making a definitive refusal that will fix my lot for eternity. I can say to him: I do not want your love, I want to be myself, to be myself not in you, but against you, to be for ever like a thorn in your heart. This is the frightful refusal of hell.

What might possibly lead to a misconception on this point is the very moving parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 19), where we see Dives beseeching Abraham to let Lazarus go and warn his brothers to change their way of life. Abraham, however, answers, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they do not hear them, neither will they hear if one is raised from the dead.' As you see, the purpose of the parable is to show that we have to hear now, while there is time; afterwards, it will be too late. But it would be a mistake to suppose that, in hell, the damned have the sentiments of charity attributed to the rich man. If one of the damned could say: Lord, allow me to tell others what thy love is so that they may not be damned like me, he would bring charity into hell, and hell would be blown to pieces. (We must always regard the intention of the parable—and the evangelist shows what this intention is—otherwise, its character would be altered, and we might be led astray. Consider the parable of the unjust steward, which scandalizes so many Christians through their misunderstanding of it.)

So, if anyone is not among the predestined, it is in consequence of a refusal for which he bears and always will bear the responsibility. He will persist in his refusal, in his hate—that, in fact, will be his torment—but he will never retract his original choice. St Thomas gives us a comparison. Take a man who hates his enemy. He wants to kill him. He thinks: If I meet him, I shall kill him. But he is prevented; perhaps he is in prison. Ah, he thinks, once I am out of prison! He lives by, feeds on his hatred. He may be told: 'Don't you see that the cause of your misery is your hatred? 'I do,' he replies, 'but that's the way it is; I want to have my revenge.' In any case, we know quite well that we can cling to feelings which torment us. This example is no more than an image of the perpetual refusal of the damned, the refusal because of which they are not among the predestined. Such is the Catholic doctrine.

What we have said earlier on the divine prescience serves to clarify this doctrine completely. We do not say, 'God does not predestine, God abandons and reproves those who he knows in advance will refuse his prevenient grace'. We say, 'God does not predestine; God abandons and rejects those who, as he sees, from all eternity, themselves take the first initiative in the final refusal of his prevenient grace.' From eternity, he takes account of their free refusal in the establishment of his immutable and eternal plan.

4. The erroneous doctrine put forward by Luther, and by Calvin in his Institutes is that, just as some are predestined to heaven, so are others to hell; God himself therefore drives them to hell, and they cannot escape it. This is the thesis of double predestination: one to heaven, which is just, provided that it is not understood in the sense of Luther and Calvin, for whom, as we have seen, the good act comes solely from God, and not from God through man; the other to hell. As you see, there is a twofold error here: predestination to heaven is misconceived and the idea of predestination to hell is introduced—a still worse aberration. For that matter, Protestants today no longer defend Calvin on this point; Karl Barth declares frankly that he cannot find this idea of predestination to hell anywhere in St Paul. (Yet, from the doctrinal point of view, some critics see, in the thesis of double predestination, the cornerstone of the Institutes.)

With that, I'll end this post and await any thoughts....
Another Fav

One of my favorite websites is Gerard Serafin's Catholic Page for Lovers. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002


One of the most mysterious of Christian doctrines is Predestination, which affirms God's sovereignty regarding our salvation: it is only because God -- in his infinite love & mercy -- has offered us salvation that we have it. This Catholic teaching was formulated by Ludwig Ott in the following way: "God, by His eternal resolve of will, has predetermined certain men to eternal blessedness".

Having said that, things get tricky when the question of those who are damned (if there are any) comes up; if God positively wills the salvation of the elect, does he positively will the damnation of the damned?

If my understanding of Reformed theology is accurate -- please correct me if it isn't -- then the answer to this question would be: yes, God does positively will the damnation of some souls. Such a view is rejected by Catholicism, but that doesn't mean things are hunky-dory among Catholic theologians on this question....

Many Thomists (and other Catholic theologians as well) assert that while God does not positively will the reprobation (damnation) of anyone, He does not predestine all to Heaven; in other words, of the entire human race, some are predestined to Heaven, and some are not. While this view avoids the Reformed position mentioned above -- and can be held by Catholics -- it still seems problematic to me. One of the major themes -- if not the theme -- of Scripture (and Tradition) is God's love for humanity, indeed for all of creation ("For God so loved the world..."). We also know that God desires the salvation of all.

Having said that, how (and why) would someone posit that God reprobates some -- either actively (Calvin) or passively (various thomists)? It does nothing to infringe on God's sovereignty to say that -- of our own free choice to accept the gift of salvation, or to sin -- some humans will be saved and others damned.

I suspect that such a view as a mistaken understanding of God's eternality. It's far too easy for us to imagine that God set forth His plan "before" creation, that He predestines us "before" He creates us. But this is to anthropomorphize God's existence vis. time.

In trying to understand how God's eternality relates to predestination, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 600, is very helpful:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.

As this paragraph states, God's plan of predestination already incorporates our response to His grace; contrary to the (alleged) Calvinist position -- and the position argued for by some Thomists -- the elect are chosen and the damned are reprobated not "before" their response to God's grace, but in view of them.

So there ;-)

Seriously, if anyone has any comments -- positive or critical -- please email me. As I noted above, the "thomistic" position is one that a Catholic is free to hold, and -- from my understanding -- is similar to the one held by many Reformed and other Protestants.
Some New Blogs

Catholic and Christian blogs have exploded over the last few weeks, and I am way behind in linking them. Although I can't get to all of them now, I would like to mention and link a couple:

Sacra Doctrina: don't let the latin fool you: this is a Reformed Christian blog, not a Catholic blog :-) This (veteran) blogger -- Joel Garver -- is a philosophy prof by trade, and he usually makes some very thought-provoking comments. And he is -- this may come to a surprise to some Catholics -- a metaphysician, or at least has a strong interest in metaphysics; yes, there are non-Catholic Christian metaphysicians.

John Betts is a newcomer, and his blog is very promising.

Somehow, I've neglected to mention Michael Dubruiel's blog, one of the most insightful and prayerful of the plethora of Catholic blogs.

Sorry to the many others that I have linked yet; I hope to get to you before too long.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002


As some of my regular visitors have noted, I’ve been blogging more infrequently of late, and I wanted to take a minute or two to explain why.

First of all, I’ve simply been busy, with work and visitors.

More importantly, though, blogging has been taking time away from what I really need to be focusing on away from work: my dissertation. I’m a doctoral candidate in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where I had the privilege of studying from 1997-2000 (my wife, some friends and I were blessed to be inside St. Peter’s for the opening of the Holy Door and the Great Jubilee on Christmas Eve of 1999, and we got to meet the Holy Father earlier that month as well).

Anyway, I’m trying to complete me research and write the dissertation this summer, and that means that for the next few months, blogging has to take a back seat. In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts on “Concupiscence and ‘Simul iustus et peccator’ in the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue” or the topic of justification in general, feel free to email me.

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.