"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Talking Turkey

Consult The Benedict Blog for links to the best news and commentary on the Pope's trip to Turkey. With that background provided, I offer an imaginary office-hours dialogue at a Catholic university between a student I shall call 'Alethia' and my professorial alter ego.

Alethia: What's this trip all about anyhow, Professor? I hear so many contradictory things about it.

Professor: Well, it was originally supposed to be an ecumenical meeting between the Pope and the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, who lives in Istanbul and presides over a dwindling Christian community in what was once Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire that lasted roughly a thousand years, if you count it as an entity distinct from the Western Roman Empire. But as a result of what the Pope said about Islam last September, and of the firestorm it sparked, the largely political question of his relations with the Islamic world now interest the media much more. I've seen very little discussion of what the two men might say to each other by way of working toward the trip's original purpose, which was Christian unity. Too bad.

A: I see. Why did the firestorm break out?

P: By quoting in passing a medieval Byzantine emperor's negative remarks on Islam during a theology lecture, the Pope was understood by most people to be implying that Islam is irrational and violent. His point was a bit subtler than that, but of course few people knew or cared. The reaction in the Muslim world was largely irrational and sometimes violent. There were demonstrations and riots the world over. A Catholic nun was even killed.

A: Doesn't that prove what most people thought was the Pope's point?

P: Um...uh....it's more complicated than that, Alethia. My point is that the media are now a lot more interested in how the Pope and the Muslims, who comprise 99% of Turkey's population, will have got on than in why he really wanted to go there in the first place.

A: You said the trip's original purpose was to work toward Christian unity. Why is that more important in your eyes than the issues with the Muslims?

P: Because the schism between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches is at least a millennium old and is a grave wound to the Body of Christ. Spiritually, that's more significant than what the media prefer to talk about, which is secular politics.

A: And how likely is reunion?

P: As of now, highly unlikely. But there can be progress. It's just that in matters such as this, progress is measured in baby steps. After all, Europeans have long said that the further East you go, the longer the memories and the shorter the tempers.

A: I see. What are the reasons for the continued division?

P: If you cut through all the cultural and historical static—which Christians can readily do with prayer and penance, if they really want to—it comes down to two big issues: the primacy of the pope and the filioque. The Orthodox reject both, at least as understood by the Catholic Church.

A: Could you explain that?

P: I'll start with papal primacy. The Catholic Church has a dogma saying that the Bishop of Rome has "full, supreme, and universal jurisdiction" over all Christians. That means spiritual not temporal jurisdiction. Many Orthodox are willing to let the pope reign as a kind of big-daddy figurehead, and thus have "primacy of honor" among other bishops, but none want him to rule the Church, even indirectly, outside what they're willing to concede are his local jurisdictions. They don't think any bishop should be in charge of the whole Church.

A: Really? No government could run a country that way.

P: It's not as bad as that. They have patriarchs, metropolitans, and synods. When deemed necessary, that all involves some bishops telling others what to do.

A: So they think it's OK for some bishops to tell some others what to do, as long as no single bishop gets to tell all the others what to do?

P: Right. A political-science analogy would be that they want the aristocracy to actually rule and the monarch only to reign.

A: I still don't understand why they think that's how God wants things to be. But as long as we're swimming in these waters, what about the filioque?

P: I'm afraid I don't have time to even begin clarifying the issue. As if you don't have enough reading to do already, a reliable summary of the historical and theological considerations can be found in the 2003 SCOBA statement. But here's the issue in a nutshell.

You know the Creed we say at Sunday Mass. It says, among other things, that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." Well, that wasn't part of the Creed that East and West had accepted in common for centuries. Sometime during the Middle Ages, the papacy added the phrase "and the Son" to "proceeds from the Father." The Byzantines thought, and the Orthodox still believe, that that was an unwarranted expansion of the Creed of 381, which had expanded the Nicene Creed of 325, which had expanded the Apostles' Creed of 2nd-century Rome, which was based on the baptismal profession of new members of the Church. I happen to agree that the Roman addition was high-handed and unnecessary, but I also think the theological issue is primarily semantic and can be resolved in principle. A few contemporary Orthodox writers agree with me. But the two churches have been down that road before, and nothing's ultimately come of it.

A: But if the Orthodox accepted the papacy more or less as we do, the filioque problem would go away, wouldn't it?

P: Of course. But one of the reasons they don't accept the papacy as we do is that most of them think the filioque is a heresy defined as dogma by Rome. Ergo, the popes are heretics. And heretics should not lead the Church.

A: Trying to resolve these things seems a bit like a dog chasing its tail.

P: To the Catholic mind it can certainly seem that way. But the Catholic mind and the Orthodox mind are rather different animals.

A: Whatever. It still looks kinda hopeless to me.

P: At the human level it is indeed hopeless. Only divine intervention, perhaps at the behest of the Virgin Mary, can heal the schism. That's why I think the papal Mass at the house in Ephesus, where she lived out her days on earth, is the real centerpiece of the trip. Few people attended, but the reasons for that are security and political concerns.

A: Which brings us back to the Muslims. Isn't the Pope trying to be nice to them?

P: Indeed. That's what really has me worried. Give 'em an inch....

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Am I getting it?

Perhaps I do the U.S. bishops an injustice. A few days ago I complained that they'd dropped the ball again on lay dissent from the definitive Church teaching on contraception. There are very good grounds for that complaint. I have found—and I'm by no means the only professional Catholic to have found—that serious-minded non-Catholic and ex-Catholic believers are scandalized by the undisputed fact that most Catholics don't take the teaching seriously and face no penalty whatsoever from their clergy for that attitude. The scandal is not so much the teaching, which is admittedly even more widely rejected outside than within the Church, as what is seen as the institutionalized hypocrisy of the situation. But it looks like the bishops are now trying to address it—sort of.

On the same day they released the document I discussed in my previous post, which is on the criteria for fitness to receive the Eucharist, the USCCB also released another entitled Married Life and the Gift of Love. It is mainly devoted to a sound, even appealing explanation of the teaching's necessary connection with the Church's broader, developed doctrine on sexuality and marriage. The sources used by the document are among the best available, and the document itself would be catechetically quite useful if widely disseminated to and studied by those in parochial ministry—which probably means that won't happen. But it's no coincidence that the bishops released no-compromise documents on sexuality on the same day as the one on fitness to receive the Eucharist. Even though the latter did not say what most needed to be said, the former said enough to let anybody connect the dots if they care enough to bother.

And yet, there remains no incentive for anybody who doesn't do so already. These are the topics on which, if you'll pardon the pun, the rubber hits the road for most American Catholics. Are the bishops ready to drive the bus, not just supply the map? Not just yet. But as the twelve-steppers say: "One good step at a time."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Science and religion: the latest skirmishes

Last weekend, Dr. Scott Carson posted on the most recent updates from the battlefield. Usefully, he points us to a few solid refutations of Richard Dawkins' standard rants against religion. Their authors have it rather easy, I'm afraid. Just as Andrew Greeley is a presumptively celibate priest who appears to have had no unpublished sexual thoughts, so Dawkins and his ilk will publicly spew whatever they feel about the Great Enemy as if they were actually authorities on the subject. One can hardly avoid noticing that they've gotten almost hysterical of late, both causing and signifying a certain degradation of thought that can only work to the advantage of philosophically trained theists. Yet, and more generally, the skirmish that most interests me is not the clash of the biblical fundamentalists and the scientistic extremists; that is a tiresome sideshow for most philosophers. To me, the important debate is over how the relationship between natural science and religious belief should be conceived in the first place. I think Scott lowballs that one a bit too much.

Last summer I read two recently published books by theists on that relationship: The Language of God by Francis Collins, lead scientist of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical (not: fundamentalist) Christian; and Is Nature Enough? by John Haught, the Landegger Distinguished Research Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, who has made a long career of this very topic. While the two men obviously come from quite different intellectual backgrounds and thus bring somewhat different agendas to the table, they do have a few key points in common. While science by itself can present no evidence in favor of religious belief, and indeed does present evidence against certain particular religious beliefs, its methodology leaves untouched the basic human questions to which religions typically offer answers. So, while "creationism" is decidedly not science, the philosophical gates remain wide open for scientists to be theists. In that vein, Collins and Haught argue to the effect that, when nested within a non-fundamentalist religious worldview, strictly scientific discoveries can actually help to reveal the mind of God. All that is rather familiar and congenial to certain philosophically trained theists, a group within which Catholics form the largest subset. But for some reason, Scott won't even go that far.

He writes:

For someone who has a great deal of interest in science and a great deal of interest in religion, I have remarkably little interest in that domain of inquiry sometimes called "the intersection of science and religion". I myself do not see that they overlap all that much, except in the rather trivial sense that all knowledge, whether scientific or otherwise, is subsidiary to our knowledge of the good, which is God.

Now if that means that the respective methods by which science and religion can present truth are largely incommensurable, I cannot but agree. Ditto for Collins and Haught; indeed, that very incommensurability is essential to Haught's larger thesis. But the larger debate is not merely about epistemology. If classical theism is true, then the subject matter of natural science is what God has created, or at least that part of God's creation which we can observe. Hence, both natural and revealed theology can and should take account of what science tells us about the observable universe. That's exactly why Aristotle thought of "theology"—i.e., God-talk—as a branch of "metaphysics"—i.e., that kind of inquiry which comes "after" physics and to some extent relies on physics.

To be sure, philosophical and theological conclusions reached thereby must always be provisional, inasmuch as the theories of natural science itself are always open to revision. When theologians forget that, the result is often the sad but amusing spectacle of believers watering down their faith in light of scientific theories that have been superseded by the progress of science itself. The most egregious example of that is how theologians started working physical determinism into their thought as a premise precisely when quantum mechanics was relativizing, if not altogether discrediting, a determinism that Newtonian mechanics had made long fashionable among non-believers. But such errors needn't be made and are by no means always made. So the question what science can help us to know about the mind of God is at least worth exploration by theologians and theistic philosophers.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Common Doctor of the Church, thought the same and wrote accordingly. He wasn't always right, of course; science progresses, and so must philosophizing and theologizing that uses scientific ideas as subject matter. But even when we have to modify our thoughts, that's s no reason not to have developed them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Feast of the Counterculture

Those of us over a certain age remember the hippie culture of the late 1960s and early 70s, which quickly came to be called "the counterculture." (I wish I could remember who coined that term.) It was not long before the counterculture proved to be as ephemeral as the mainstream culture against which it was a reaction. By now, most elements of it have themselves been mainstreamed economically and sexually—so much so that the mainstream is now almost impossible for the young to rebel against. We need to consider what's now at stake spiritually because of that.

Today's Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 for a number of reasons, not least of which was the ever-rising rule of totalitarian ideologies in Europe and Russia. Liturgically it forms the perfect segue into Advent, when the theme of Christ's coming dominates the lectionary. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the Holy Spirit is speaking of the Second or the First Coming in the readings between now and Christmas, which is rather the point, since those comings are interrelated as the two most specific modes of God's presence in the world. They respectively signify humility and triumph, the former being prerequisite for the latter. That is why the Kingdom that will last forever is the kingdom of the One killed on a cross. Given the secular trends in the West today, it's more important than ever to meditate and act on that theme. Accordingly, this feast calls for more focused attention than it normally gets.

Today's homily by the Dominican Philip N. Powell starkly poses the basic issue for each of us: "Who rules in our hearts," Jesus Christ or the Devil? Despite how democracy and materialism lull us, those are the only choices that matter at the end of the day. Choosing is unavoidable and the alternatives, under whatever names, are literal not metaphorical. Fr. Powell preaches:

Who or what sits on the throne of your heart? Who or what rules your mind, your body, your soul? If you are not ruled from your heart by the Word Made Flesh, then you are ruled by some alien power, some foreign god. Let me name some of them: there are spirits who would rule us—spirits of disobedience and arrogance; of narcissism and selfishness; of deceit and false witness; of judgment and self-righteousness; of confusion and syncreticism; of rage and violence. There are disordered passions that would rule us: lust posing as love; greed posing as desire; pride posing as self-esteem; envy posing as competition; gluttony posing as the entitlement; sloth posing as leisure; and anger posing as righteous indignation. There are fallen angels, counterfeit messengers, who would rule us with false information and corrupted wisdom: ancient seers, ascended masters, make-believe prophets, self-anointed messiahs, cults of personality, cults of scientism, cults of success w/no money down, churches of the Barbie Waistline and the Ken Pecs and Abs, and the demonic choirs of celebrities singing their own praises!

Yet because of its default secularism, and its corresponding ideology of what I call "autonomism," the West today makes it almost impossible for most of us to keep focused on what at's stake in every choice we make. That holds even for most "religious" and/or "spiritual" people. There are two aspects to such dissipation.

Even when we know otherwise in theory, we assume in practice that the visible, practical side of life is one sphere, the invisible, spiritual side is another, and the former should occupy most of our attention. After all, unless you're in clerical or religious orders—and sometimes not even then—few people care about your spiritual life but many people care about how you perform and what you pay for. What's important is what's measurable: How competently? How much? (And for the impatient: how long?) That's how materialism and secularism are self-reinforcing. Temporal matters are not unimportant or worthless; far from it. The Incarnation gives them eternal significance for us. But unless we learn the habit of seeing them sub specie aeternitatis, we learn the opposite habit of treating the value of temporalities as intrinsic and self-evident, instead of in how they mediate spiritual realities that are not at all self-evident to most people. That habit in turn makes it impossible to live out what the baptismal vocation entails for most of us: to be in the world without being of it.

The other aspect of our dissipation is the fruit of autonomism. The now-prevalent assumption is that freedom, for which many American soldiers have given their lives, is incompatible with anybody but oneself ruling one's heart. That is why "choice" for women is broadly taken to entail the right to kill their unborn children; that is why we have a harder and harder time seeing what's wrong with any form of consensual sex or even with defining gender for oneself; that is why marriage, the affective foundation of society, is now one of the few legal contracts that can be broken at will by one party without penalty and, often enough, with considerable economic benefit. Choice has almost become more important than whatever is chosen. Yet, and of course, the result is increasing slavery to disordered passions. It's evident everywhere in our culture—especially among young women, who as a class now surpass their male counterparts educationally yet seem to be striving ever more assiduously to become sex objects. The more we arrogate to ourselves the right to define value for ourselves, the more our values get defined for us by the irrational—both the animal, which is sub-rational, and the demonic, which is reasoned but based on an impossible premise. Such is the paradox of autonomism. To the extent we choose to live it, we've already chosen who will rule in our hearts. And it ain't us. That is why moral relativism only allows for freedom in a form not worth having.

The solution, if we would but have it, is to choose to let Christ rule our hearts. Our moral and spiritual freedom is never absolute: like democracy, it is the freedom to choose our masters, not the freedom to choose what the ultimate alternatives shall be. So if we let the message of today's feast sink in, we can develop the humility needed to be soundly countercultural, and thus be assured of eternal triumph.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Pontificator weighs in on pro multis

Al Kimel picks up on Ratzinger's discussion of this topic, to which I referred yesterday. This is one of those topics that ought not to be important, but is important simply because many people believe it's important. In this case, the importance is not the kind any sensible person would be comfortable with.

Friday, November 24, 2006

We have the beef, but where's the teeth?

Ten days ago, the U.S. bishops finally delivered themselves of a thoughtful, comprehensive statement describing and explaining the conditions under which people may and may not receive the Eucharist. It's called "“Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper”: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist, and you can download it as a PDF file from the USCCB website. Why does that matter?

Such a statement was widely anticipated during the 2004 election campaign, when even then-Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the CDF, felt obliged to address the issue in a "memorandum" to the bishops because of the"pro-choice" stance of presidential candidate John Kerry and many other Catholic politicians. A handful of bishops, including my own Peter Jugis, publically announced that they would deny the Eucharist to any Catholic politician who supported legal abortion. But Cardinal McCarrick, then Archbishop of Washington and thus the politically most influential bishop, did not join them and basically swept the memo under the rug. And characteristically, the bishop's conference postponed formally addressing the issue until "after the election." Well, they did address it after the election: the 2006 election!

Having just read the document, I find it sound and even helpful. I was especially impressed with its description of how one ought to prepare, spiritually, to receive the Eucharist. As usual, however, the question is not principle but practice. And on that score, what the document does not specify is all too significant.

It is well known that most American Catholics reject Catholic moral teaching on some important topics, most of which have to do directly or indirectly with sex. Capital punishment, war, and care for the poor are also serious issues on which American Catholics are politically divided; but for reasons Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his memo, they don't have quite the same status. Now here's what the document says (emphasis added) about dissent from Catholic moral teaching as that pertains to fitness for receiving the Eucharist:

If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.

Prior to that, a number of specific moral norms had been cited, such that violation of those norms was said to make somebody unfit to receive the Eucharist. Quite rightly too; all represent "definitive" moral teachings, and procuring abortion was duly mentioned among them. But publicly advocating a legal right to abortion, which the US bishops as well as the previous and present popes have repeatedly indicated is morally wrong for Catholics, was not mentioned. And contraception, which the majority of Catholics practice without the slightest regard for the definitive Church teaching that it's "intrinsically evil," was never mentioned either. So, on the two most controversial moral topics in the American Church, the bishops said absolutely nothing about how dissent from Church teaching on them affects one's fitness to receive the Eucharist.

Once again, the ball has been dropped. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised: even if this weren't just business as usual, the bishops' "street cred" is rather low right now due to the sex-abuse scandals. But it would have been refreshing, even evangelically energizing, to see some courage. Not a few non-Catholic Christians are scandalized by how Catholics can thumb their noses at the Church with impunity.

Shall I wait, like Cubs fans, till next year?

Ratzinger on pro multis

The recent Vatican decision to order a more literal translation of a key phrase of the Mass is starting to provoke controversy. It would be salutary to read the wise, balanced words the Pope wrote about the issue as Cardinal Ratzinger. Ignatius Press has been good enough to share that with us by posting the relevant passage from his book God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, of which they are the publishers of the English translation.

The Catholics among you will certainly be edified and well-informed on this much-misunderstood topic if you just read the passage. I recommend the book too.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Let's be bad at math

From the redoubtable Diogenes:

Part of the syndrome of being a child of one's age is a lack of the historical imagination to recognize oneself in a different setting, endowed with a different array of sentimentalisms. In fact, such people are certain they'd be on the side of the angels in any situation. The personal advantages they have purchased by their social conformity are so enormous and comprehensive that they fail to see it as conformity at all. This was true in 1930s Germany, when the right wing was in the ascendant, and it's true in the West today, when the left wing is. Joseph Sobran once wrote:

[Liberals] want us to believe that their willingness to conform to today's fashions is proof that they would have had the courage to defy yesterday's fashions. Somehow I find it hard to believe that today's coward would have been yesterday's hero, if only he'd had the chance. More likely he would have been, like most people, a timid conformist in any circumstances.

Look at is this way. If it were your goal to move in the most socially prestigious circles of today's world -- at the parties connected with the performing arts or fashion or big media -- whose opinions would let you move effortlessly and contentedly among the beautiful people: those of liberal half-Catholics, or those of the orthodox Catholics they despise? And which group, coincidentally, congratulates itself as the "Thinking" Catholics? To hold views that are currently fashionable is not necessarily to embrace falsehoods, but for a Catholic it ought to be -- at minimum -- an embarrassment. As Chesterton put it, "We do not really need a religion that is right where we are right. What we need is a religion that is right where we are wrong."

The "liberal half-Catholics," as well as many others, are those who follow the world's spiritual calculus. They take for granted that the benefits outweigh the costs. But since life is short and eternity is long, we must follow a higher calculus. It is otherwise known as "the narrow path." If we do, we win fer losin'.

Bad reason #3 not to become Catholic

Which is:

The Catholic Church does not teach that sinners are saved by faith alone (sola fide).

The Pontificator, Al Kimel, explains why that statement is and ought to be true.

Thanksgiving: rejoicing in the obvious

Some people, especially children and some of the mentally handicapped, seem to love and rejoice in reality. Its fundamental goodness and beauty is obvious to them, always at the forefront of their consciousness. That's the greatest blessing there is, at least in this life. Inveterate debater that I am, normally I'm interested in the obvious only when there's pleasure in showing somebody that they've overlooked it. But this is a day to rejoice in the obvious purely for what's obvious about it. So I don't mind sounding Berra-esque for once: you know, saying things like "it ain't over till it's over" and "you can observe a lot just by watching." Two such things are actually worth meditation today.

One is that life is a gift: before we got it, we weren't around to earn it. It's gratuitous, pure gift—like the existence of the world itself, really. So there's something wrong with us when we don't feel grateful for it, and we need to do whatever we must to be genuinely grateful for it. In our first president's wisdom, this is a day set aside for that.

People often overlook the obvious truth here and hence resist the corresponding duty. After all, there are many things about life, and even some lives themselves, for which there seems no cause to be grateful. That's a struggle of mine. I have a few long-running arguments with God that make it virtually impossible for gratitude to be my default attitude. I have a lot of company, which is why a bumper sticker that said "Let gratitude be your attitude" would offend as much as it would edify. It is a staple of my prayer life to remind myself that I ought to be grateful to God for creating and redeeming me. Somehow, of course, that doesn't seem enough. Thanking somebody purely out of a sense of duty seems like trying to make it by faking it. But then again, perhaps that's the best some of us can do for the time being—so long as we don't imagine we've arrived where we need to be.

The other obvious truth meriting restatement today is that Thanksgiving was instituted as a national holiday in order to thank God. For reasons well understood by any American involved with the institutions of the state, it is not politic anymore to make a point of that. That's why some people who should know better have forgotten it, and why thanking God now seems to be a private option rather than a public duty. In response, I can do no better than quote George Washington's words when he instituted the holiday:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our sasety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Amen. Let us not forget.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't believe in that crap?

Apropos of Episcopal Presiding Bishop Schori's latest howler, enjoy this:

Hat tip to Whitehall.

Finally, a media star to love

I mean Elizabeth Hasselbeck, one of the co-hosts of ABC-TV's The View, hosted entirely by and aimed mostly at women. Sure, she's attractive and fashionably dressed, like most other women on TV. She's also intelligent and opinionated, which is not common in media eye candy of either sex. But most important, she appears to be a sincere, well-informed Catholic not afraid to stand up for moral truth.

I'm thinking mostly, if not exclusively, of her on-air spat with Barbara Walters about the morning-after pill last August. I had meant to comment on it at the time but couldn't because I was in the process of moving. You can see it on YouTube if you're able to stomach Walters long enough; I was able to do so because I knew from the time I met Walters in a Manhattan elevator three decades ago that, despite appearances, she is a genuine human being. But Hasselbeck has courage, even if some patronize it as mere chutzpah; that Rosie O'Donnell can't stand her is a very good sign too. I hope she doesn't lose the courage and that she is led to a higher vocation by the episode in which she displayed it.

We must be grateful for people like Hasselbeck and emulate them in our own, less visible ways. Let us pray for the courage: witnessing gets costlier all the time. That's why the fact that somebody so privileged is willing to take the risk is worth holding up to the young, especially young women.

Is Balthasar Catholic?

Hans Urs von Balthasar was one of the 20th century's greatest Catholic theologians. He was a even a favorite of Pope John Paul II, who was planning to make him a cardinal in 1988 just before, as it turned out, he died. I call von Balthasar Catholic because I have no doubts on that score. But others are not so sure.

Al Kimel presents and comments on an exchange in First Things between two Catholic theologians one of whom, Alyssa Pitstick, asserts that "the Christ whom Balthasar proposes descended into Sheol is not the same Christ whom the pre-Reformation and Catholic tradition professes descended to the limbo of the fathers." If so, then vB is a heretic and hence cannot be accounted Catholic. I don't believe that, but the issues raised in the exchange are worth discussing for the sake of deepening the Church's understanding of this aspect of the Paschal Mystery.

Comment here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Pope's visit to Turkey

John Allen, the only regular writer on the staff of the National Catholic Reporter who deprives some of us of the pleasure of calling that peridocal the National Catholic Distorter, reaches his usual high standard in discussing Pope Benedict's upcoming visit to Turkey, the centerpiece of which will be his meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at Phanar. I must say I was shocked to learn how deep and subtle the persecution of the Orthodox community in Turkey really is. We must pray for our Orthodox brethren there and for ecumenical progress to come out of this visit.

And please God, may Turkey not be let into the EU. Ethnicity and Middle-East borders aside, the problem of religious freedom there is alone enough to break the deal.

Dr Scott Carson on pro multis

A few days I noted what seems so far to be a little-noted move on the Vatican's part to translate the phrase in the Mass's words of consecration pro multis as the literal "for many" rather than the catechetical amplification "for all" to which English-speaking Catholics have grown accustomed since Vatican II. Liturgical aficionados know that that issue has been hotly debated between trads and neoCaths for decades; some trads even go so far as to say it invalidates the Novus Ordo Mass. (It doesn't.)

Scott Carson, professor of philosophy at the University of Ohio at Athens, has a sensible and sophisticated post up about the issue. Catholics had better learn to be that way about it. Once the new translation hits the parishes, the questions and debates will probably rattle the walls. The trads will snap their suspenders and cry toldyaso, and the prog-besotted masses will wonder whether the Church now denies that Christ died for everybody, since most don't know that the Latin pro multis is (a) in the current Roman Missal and (b) itself literally translates, from the Gospel Greek, Christ's words of institution.

Get ready.

Authority and Dissent in the Catholic Church

Dr William May, Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, has a very useful article posted at Ignatius Insight on the topic described in the title above. Hat tip to Al Kimel for alerting me to it.

I realize that none of the commenters here are Catholic progs, so that they suffer not from the disease he addresses. I doubt any such progs even read this blog, since they know by now that they will rarely if ever hear anything they really want to hear. But I believe May's article supplies non-Catholic Christians with a much-needed overview of what sorts of assent are required of Catholics and hence what sorts of dissent are permissible or impermissible for them.

That is important for my vast readership because, I have found, one of the most common complaints about the Catholic Church from Orthodox and conservative Protestants is that she is not tough enough in practice on dissenting Catholics. Leaving aside the irony that what's being complained about is the freedom of some Catholics to reject with impunity beliefs that the complainers also reject, I happen to share the complaint. But the problem is not one of theory or even theology; indeed, the fact being complained about is no evidence that what the Church teaches is untrue. Rather, and in some cases, it is evidence that bishops with the responsibility to deal with public dissent fail in their pastoral duty. But I also don't quite get what further conclusion is supposed to be drawn from that. Since there have been negligent and even heretical bishops ever since there have been bishops, it should hardly shock that such bishops exist in the Catholic Church today, when she is concerned not to revive fears of the old Inquisition—an institution for which, of course, she is still taken to task regularly enough.

Like Chesterton, I find it to be one of the marks of truth in Catholicism that it is so often subject to mutually incompatible criticisms from opposite sides of the spectrum of her opponents. We see the same phenonomenon in intra-Catholic disputes too. To the trads, Rome is too liberal; to the progs, Rome is too conservative; and both believe that some Catholic teaching today is discontinuous, even incompatible, with definitive teaching of the past. As I've explained before, I'm a "neoCath" because I find in the hermeneutic of continuity the only way to be both an orthodox and an intellectually honest Catholic. I hope that May's article helps others, especially Catholics, to get there if they aren't already.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Another for the last-acceptable-prejudice file

I believe it was Philip Johnson who first wrote that anti-Catholicism is the last socially acceptable prejudice in America. Indeed. You gotta love this latest manifestation.

In a New York Times interview published yesterday, the very liberal and tolerant Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Kate Schori, explains why her church is small and shrinking compared with certain others we know well. It would seem that the venue let her relax a bit too much.

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

You’re actually Catholic by birth; your parents joined the Episcopal Church when you were 9. What led them to convert?

It was before Vatican II had any influence in local parishes, and I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged.

So, you see, it's a sign of their ignorance and heedlessness that Catholics and Mormons wax as Episcopalians wane. It's only to be expected that people who really know and care what life is about will refuse to replace themselves, and that people who neither know nor care will more than replace themselves. It's only natural that, in the end, the barbarians will have the field. And those who will have abandoned it should be proud of why they did.

Ah, how broad is the vision of the enlightened.

I'm afraid my talents as a parodist can't begin to match that. Amy Welborn gags, and Diogenes wields the stiletto. Don't imagine that inclusiveness includes everybody. Apparently it excludes most of those believers who will be left by the end of the century.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The ecclesiology of the body

In my experience, the two real as opposed to imaginary aspects of Catholicism that most put off Protestants are Mary and the papacy. While the Orthodox have a lot less trouble with the Mary thing—which the East arguably developed earlier than the West—they have about as much trouble with the papacy as Protestants who recognize and try to emulate episcopal church order. Even more generally, the least popular doctrines of traditional Christianity nowadays are those about sex and marriage. All that points to a severe and prevalent deficiency among Christians, including many Catholics, in their understanding the nature of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ.

The Church is the Mystical Body of her Head in virtue of being one body with him in a mystical marriage, in which he is Bridegroom and she is Bride. None of that is esoteric Catholic stuff; it's right there in the Bible. To be sure, in a culture wherein marriage has become one of the few contracts that may be and often is broken unilaterally without penalty, we have almost entirely lost the sense of what that mystical marriage is. Yet when fully manifest to all, as it is even now to the Church Triumphant, it will be and seem better than the most erotically charged sex. And there's a divinely instituted symbology here which already unites the Church Triumphant with the Church Militant. As Hans urs von Balthasar argued in his ground-breaking Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, Mary and the papacy symbolize, and help to bring about by symbolizing, the reality of the Church as Bride united to her divine Head. Mary belongs to the Church Triumphant; the papacy, to the Church Militant. Note that the same kind of relationship is sacramentally embodied by the ordinary sacramental marriage of baptized couples, which St. Paul says is a mysterion of the relationship of Christ with his Church. Accordingly, and in the hope that others will afford me additional insights, I suggest that the most important area of theology today is ecclesiology, just as the most important area of theology in the Christianity's first millennium was Christology.

Just as the Church before the great schisms struggled for centuries to achieve deeper, more reliable formulations of orthodoxy, or right belief, about the individual Person of Jesus Christ, so today we have barely begun the struggle to develop such formulations about what St. Augustine called the whole Christ, i.e. that very Person in union with his Mystical Body. (Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, took a few steps, but we don't seem to have kept moving in that direction.) That's part of what made the schisms possible, and its absence helps keep the schisms going. Everybody sort of remembers that things should not be so; not long after his ascension into heaven, Christ even asked the Church's deadliest opponent: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" There's an intimacy there that has become almost completely obscured by the sadder aspects of Church history and the bureaucratic aspects of the Church as organization. The union not fully realized, the "not yet," has crowded out the "already," the society that is "perfect" insofar as she is divinely instituted. Thus the true Church is more often seen as an eschatological ideal, or as present but invisible, or as visible but merely human—anything but the spotless bride that is one body with her groom. That's why Catholics still mostly use the pronoun 'it', not 'she', for the Church. By and large, all the baptized have allowed ourselves as sinful pilgrims "on the way" to forget what we already are: cells of the Mystical Body, married to her divine Head even when we are unfaithful, and thus collectively in the process of becoming more of what we already are.

Although we can forgo salvation by our individual choices, we cannot earn it. Unmerited salvation is offered to us gratuitously only in and through that Body whose agencies of grace enable our choices to work out our salvation. That is why it is dogma that "outside the Church there is no salvation." But how are we to conceive, for that purpose, that mystical union of which we are part? We are becoming gods, and will be if we persevere, but we are not after all God.

Pope John Paul the Great supplies a key to the answer by his having developed "the theology of the body" as a way to deepen the Church's understanding of the spiritual importance of sex and marriage. Its gravamen is that marriage is an embodied spiritual "intercommunion" established by free, complete, mutual self-gift. It is not ethereal, not abstract, not just an ideal. It is attainable in the flesh. When authentic, it is embodied in a couple's common life generally, and in particular by their sexual relationship. The visible difference between the male and female bodies is nuptially significant, not merely as an evolutionary device for reproduction but as the sign and instrument of spiritual intercommunion in marriage. That's what makes it possible for sex to be making love and for reproduction to be procreation. When faithfully lived out and embodied, such a union brings about what it symbolizes: ordinarily and physically, in the procreation and education of children, and spiritually in that love which cements and vivifies the family. Thus, when exemplified as God wills, sex, marriage, and family are sacramental.

The same goes for the Church, which, in Lumen Gentium's words, is the "sacrament of unity and salvation" for all humanity. She is constituted by the intercommunion of the risen Christ , the Bridegroom, with his people, who collectively constitute his Bride. Certain women can experience that individually, as have certain nuns and mystics. But women and men together, as the "people of God," are all called to "receive" Christ into themselves—at the Eucharist, quite literally—so that his life, eternal life, can be brought forth within them to transform them and the world at large in agape: total, disinterested divine love.

Of course this complex of relationships does not have the same physical limitations as biological ones. Collectively we are Bride, and in union with our Bridegroom we bring forth children. But the "children" of the divine Bridegroom are all those who are transformed by that union: we ourselves, individually. And the better children of God we are, the more effectively we will make Christ palpable in and for the world. Thus we are all, men as well as women, called to imitate the God-bearer, the Theotokos: we are to give birth to Christ anew within ourselves and thus within the world. That involves death to sin and rising to life in the Spirit. The entire process recapitulates the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ, the divine Hero who rescues us from all that would keep us from our destiny as celebrants and givers of life.

But the process needs a visible regulator. Von Balthasar put it well when he expounded in his book on the "Marian" and "Petrine" charisms in the Church. Those form a spiritual polarity that symbolically recapitulates the intimate relationship between Christ and the Church and thus serves, sacramentally, to cement her unity with him. The Marian charism of receptivity to God, submissive fidelity to Jesus Christ, and fruitfulness in bearing him into the world is fully shared by every member of the faithful, from the bottom to the top; it just is the superordinate, multi-layered gift of grace empowering the Church to be the Bride of Christ and thus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bear his children into the world. But the Petrine charism of teaching and governing authority, invested primarily in bishops and derivatively in priests and deacons, exists to facilitate and serve the Marian by efficaciously signifying Christ as the self-immolating Bridegroom and Head of the Church. Hence the hierarchical nature of the Church—her hieros arché or “sacred order”—is itself a hieros gamos, a sacred marriage. Extending that truth to the horizon is the teaching of Lumen Gentium: "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of such union and unity." As the sacrament of such union, the Church is also the sacrament of salvation (I prefer the Eastern term theosis) for humanity.

Sacramentality always entails what one of my teachers, the late Theodor Gaster, called "punctualization." Mary is the punctualization of the charism of the believer and disciple, and the Marian dogmas each illustrate aspects of that. Thus the Immaculate Conception is, to a supreme and paradigmatic degree, what each believer is at baptism; the virginal conception of Jesus signifies that the new, transforming life we receive at baptism comes only from above; the Assumption of Mary into heaven proleptically anticipates what will happen to each of the saved on the Last Day. Even the widely misunderstood teaching that Mary is "Mediatrix" of all graces is but a logical corollary of her role as Mother of the Church, which is the divinely ordained ark of the salvation that is by grace alone. The papal office is in its turn intended to be the "punctualization" of the Petrine charism for the episcopal college itself, and by that means for the Church as a whole. In both cases, the punctualization is sacramental inasmuch as it helps to bring about what it signifies.

I suppose what's really lacking is appreciation of the sacramental character of the Church precisely as people of God and Mystical Body. We tend to think of church as the place you go to "get" the sacraments, as if they were pumps at a spiritual filling station. But the Church herself is the sacrament affording the context for all the others. And she is that as God's wife. We need an ecclesiology to bring that alive for people.

The splendor of the firmament

As the liturgical year draws to a close, the theme of "the last things" comes to the forefront of the Liturgy. Prominent among them is divine judgment, which will be good or bad for you depending on how you've chosen to live. The first reading from Mass today tells us that “...the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever"—unlike certain others, who will be "an everlasting horror and disgrace." Let nobody tell you that hell might well be empty; I can think of little that inspires me more to be one of "the wise" than this passage, which the words of Jesus echo in many ways. I want to be one of those stars. That the alternative thereto is so ugly only points up the beauty by chiaroscuro.

But is the wisdom in question that of human intelligence or learning? Will only the educated and the theologians shine so brightly at the Last Judgment? Hardly; or as they say down here in the South, "not hardly." If anything, the proportion of the dull and the uneducated among God's "stars" will probably be greater than that of the learned. For the wisdom in question is one of the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" enumerated in Isaiah 11: 1-3. Those gifts are bestowed on believers embryonically in the sacrament of confirmation, and are enhanced when we undergo that special manifestation of the power of the sacraments of initiation which is known among charismatics as "baptism in the Holy Spirit." Such gifts cannot be earned, though they must be cultivated; those most likely to receive God's gifts with joy and cultivate them as he wills are those who are not full of themselves but empty themselves for him; and the more temporal gifts we have, the more likely we are to be full of ourselves rather than empty for God. In my experience, only athletes, movie stars, and politicians tend to be as full of themselves as academics, among whom are to be found, um, theologians.

Even so, there is hope for us self-styled intellectuals. For God, all things are possible—even the salvation of theologians. St. Thomas Aquinas says of the gift of wisdom that it instills that virtue whereby we habitually "judge and order all things in accordance with divine norms and with a connaturality that flows from loving union with God." As his own life so well illustrated, it is possible even for the learned to do that. If those of us who love theology and do it are to shine like the splendor of the firmament, therefore, we had better make sure to get out of God's way long enough to let him unite us to him in loving union. In the meantime, the dull and the uneducated who are already there will pray for us.

More on the Vatican's married-priest meeting

Jimmy Akin has a lengthy, clear, and sound post up about what could happen as a result of the meeting I noted last Thursday. It probably won't raise the brouhaha some hope; it may even call Milingo's bluff.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pro multis means "for many," says the Vatican

So I've just learned. The trads and progs will now uncork, and the faithful in the pews will be as confused as they were when we went from "for many" to "for all" right after Vatican II. Lovely.

The Vatican is etymologically correct, of course. Not that such a fact will spare us much outrage and sterile debate.

Theopoesis vs. Theosis

Al Kimel has a new post at Pontifications summing up some of the latest scholarly discussion on how the doctrine of "deification" developed in East and West. Given the interests of most of those who comment here, I'm sure it will spark discussion.

Apropos of that, I've never quite understood why some Orthodox charge that Catholicism lacks a genuine doctrine thereof. Now I understand a bit: more doctrinal development took place in the East on this topic than in the West. Of course the development appears to have stopped with the Palamite councils and the fall of Constantinople little more than a century later. That's what makes it plausible for many to deny that Orthodoxy harbors such as thing as doctrinal development. But there it is.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The pelvis again

As per media interest, the pelvic issues in the Church are once again dominating the news. I address two here.

1. Once again, the U.S. bishops have pleased me by approving a document that will offend much of its intended constituency. They did that nearly a decade ago, when they stopped talking about "the seamless garment" of Catholic social teaching and began emphasizing those aspects of said teaching which singled out certain social evils, such as abortion, as worse than others and thus as worthy of uncompromising opposition. This time it's guidelines for the pastoral care of homosexual Catholics. The text hasn't yet been published, but that doesn't matter for the observation that needs to be made.

The bishops are horribly squeezed by a dilemma that is caused partly by Catholic teaching itself and partly by current social conditions both within and outside the Church. In terms of the teaching, the bishops must and do affirm that homosexual acts are intrinsically immoral, so that the rooted inclination thereto, i.e. homosexuality, is objectively disordered. But since the effects of original sin leave us all "objectively disordered" to some degree, there's no reason to single out homosexuality for special distaste and homosexuals as sinners somehow worse than the rest of us. And so gay people are to be considered every bit as much members of the Church, and of her circle of care, as other Catholics. Yet thanks to the sexual revolution, moral relativism, and the "gay-rights" movement, many homosexual Catholics regard affirmation of the relevant Catholic moral teaching as objectively incompatible with due love and pastoral care for them. They are so self-identified as "gay people" that they take the Church's characterizing of homosexuality as "objectively" disordered as objectively demeaning and marginalizing them. It's awfully hard to give adequate pastoral care to people who reject some of the very premises of that care and thus see the care as phony.

But when the pelvis gets involved, what else can you expect?

2. Prompted by Archbishop Milingo's creation of a schism by his ordination of married priests as bishops, the Pope met with some top advisors yesterday to discuss what to do. No text of the discussion has been released, but it's been let out that the value of priestly celibacy was reaffirmed. Once again, we have a grave, public threat to Church unity based on the desire of some people to eat their cake and have it.

Like people in most walks of life, I too have always had that desire. But I don't blame the Church for not letting me fulfill it. Perhaps I'm not pelvic enough.

Torturing heretics: Part 3

Some of you probably know that, for political reasons, the Catholic blogosphere during the early fall was abuzz with debates about defining 'torture' for purposes of moral evaluation. Any such debate among Catholics will, among other things, refer perforce to the teaching of the Church as a norm. As usually happens in that case, much debate focuses on both the interpretation of the pertinent teaching's content and its "theological note"—i.e. its degree of authority, which is really about what relevantly binds Catholics and how much. My limited involvement in that debate arose from my having claimed, in earlier arguments, that the development of Church teaching on the topic of punishing heretics has effectively reversed the standard medieval view, but without reversing any teaching that counts as definitive by the Church's own criteria for definitiveness.

That position, I've observed, evokes objections from two ends of the spectrum. At one end are those who believe that said development of doctrine has indeed reversed a "definitive" and pertinent teaching, thus discrediting the Magisterium's claims for itself. At the other are those who believe that the Church has not substantively developed doctrine on this point at all, so that violently coercing heretics would be little more problematic than fighting other threats to the public weal, such as terrorists. On the former end, one finds a priest of the Anglican "Continuum," Fr. Matthew Kirby, whom I debated on this topic last month; on the latter, one finds Catholic blogger I. Shawn McIlhinney of Rerum Novarum (henceforth 'ISM' for brevity), whom I debated on this topic a few weeks ago. After a hiatus for the election, ISM has now replied to that post of mine. I now reply in turn.

Much of ISM's post arises from and/or clarifies mutual misunderstandings and would thus be of little general interest. My focus here shall be on what I had said was the core issue: the interpretation of a key passage from Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. Here is that passage:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others within due limits.

I claimed, and maintain, that the concluding phrase 'within due limits' should be taken to modify not the entire sentence in which it occurs but only the phrase 'in association with others'. In addition to the argument I gave in my previous post, I point out that it would be unreasonable to claim that, according to the Fathers of Vatican II, there are "due limits" period to refraining from forcing rational adults to act contrary to their beliefs—as though forcing people to act against their consciences were just an imprudent idea some of the time, rather than intrinsically wrong and thus wrong all the time. Indeed, the question what the "due limits" should be arises only when people act in association with others. For only then can we even talk about acts which harm society, such as publicly professing heresy, and which thus should be prevented or punished by coercive means. That was the issue for the medieval Church when her officials justified torturing and/or executing heretics. Merely being heretical in one's beliefs was not the issue; the issue was the real or imagined social harm the heretic did by professing their heresy publicly.

As best as I can make out, what ISM takes to be his view to the contrary is not contrary to mine at all. His exposition of DH on this question clearly indicates that the moral question about coercing heretics only arises when the objectionable actions of heretics are public; and as a matter of concrete fact, such acts fall within the competence of the state, and thus of legal coercion, only when they are performed in association with others. So I don't think ISM and I are really disagreeing about what DH meant. The only remaining question is whether what DH meant is a development beyond medieval ideas, so that religious freedom must now be understood to apply as much to non-Catholics as Catholics. I think the answer is obvious.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Pope tackles the Milingo schism

Last month I noted and worried about the formal schism created in the Catholic Church by the actions of renegade Archbishop Emanuel Milingo—you know, the one with the Moonie wife. It seemed odd to me that so few Catholics, at any point on the theological spectrum, seemed to be taking it all that seriously. They should; after all, the Pope does. He has just set aside all of tomorrow to discuss it with aides.

I'd love to be a fly on that wall. I'll settle for getting some scrap of insider news from somebody who cares.

Bad Reason #2 not to become Catholic

The Catholic Church formally teaches that sinners must earn their way into heaven through good works.

Al Kimel at Pontifications explains why that's a bad reason. A Lutheran minister responds here.

Distinguishing dogma from theology

After many years of theological debate, I've learned a crucial fact that I never even suspected at first: many people who claim to reject the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church on this or that point are really only rejecting theological opinions that, while having commonly accompanied the teachings, are not logically equivalent to them. Consistently with Catholic orthodoxy, it is quite possible to affirm the dogmas without buying into some of the accompanying theology. Yet many people don't realize that because they are unaware of the distinction, or at least of how it applies in particular cases. Much useless expenditure of breath could be avoided if the distinction between dogma and theology would be kept firmly and accurately in mind.

Three instances seem to crop up repeatedly: extra ecclesiam nulla salus ('EENS' for short), original sin, and the filioque. Since this is a blog not a book, I will state as briefly as I can how the distinction applies in each case.

The Catholic Church definitively teaches EENS: "outside the Church there is no salvation." That is solemnly defined dogma. But particular answers to the question what counts as being inside the Church are logically distinct from EENS. The dogmatic answer is that one is inside the Church just in case one is validly baptized; from that and EENS, it follows that "baptism" is necessary for salvation. But the question what counts as baptism in God's eyes is controversial at the margins.

There's sacramental baptism by water, which by definitive Church teaching is the "ordinary" means of admission to membership in the Church. That is uncontroversial. Nor is it particularly controversial that one can undergo the graced equivalent of baptism by means of martyrdom ("baptism of blood") or by dying as a sincere catechumen before one has the opportunity to be formally baptized ("baptism of explicit desire"). That such means suffice in the relevant cases has been infallibly taught by the "ordinary" magisterium of the Church. The controversy is over whether there is such a thing as baptism by desire that remains, for all we know, merely implicit. If there is, then it is quite possible that some people belong to the Church without ever knowing it in this life. Since the 19th century, and especially since Vatican II, that has become the common opinion among Catholics, including the previous and present popes. At the same time, a minority of traditional Catholics still adhere to the older view. The matter is one of theological opinion. But many people are under the impression that the Church has reversed EENS in virtue of the historic shift of opinion. She has not. What's changed is not the dogma that outside the Church there is no salvation, or even the dogma that baptism is necessary for salvation, but rather opinions about whether, in his mercy, God might well count as baptism something that is neither formal baptism nor an explicit desire for it. It's vital to remember that, so far, that issue remains one of opinion; yet most people, including most Catholics, seem totally unaware of that.

What about "original sin"? St. Augustine's view, which remained a common view in the Church for well over a millennium, was that original sin is inherited, personal guilt. That is the main reason why he taught that infants who die unbaptized go to hell to suffer punishment—albeit, of course, the "mildest" of punishments. But that view did not sit well with certain later theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, who introduced the idea of the limbus infantium, "limbo," a state in which where infants who die unbaptized would enjoy eternal but purely "natural" happiness without the vision of God. That was the common opinion among Catholics from the High Middle Ages until, roughly, the time of Vatican II.

Aquinas tried to reconcile his view with Augustine's by positing that such infants unwittingly suffer a poena damni, a mild but poignant "pain of loss" in virtue of their being unable to enjoy "the beatific vision." But it's hard to see how that situation would be compatible with complete if natural happiness, and its presentation as a solution depends anyhow on the assumption that purely "natural" happiness is possible in the economy of grace. Most Catholic theologians now reject that view, which is why the hypothesis of limbo has fallen out of favor even at the highest levels of the Vatican. Even more tellingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly denies that original sin is "personal fault"! So, the problem about the fate of unbaptized infants that Augustine and Aquinas took to be raised by the inheritance of original sin shows itself to be, in the end, artificial. If the theological opinion that original sin is personal guilt is in fact false, which is what the Catholic Church now definitively teaches, then there's no need for limbo and the question whether those who die without baptism or explicit desire for it can attain union with God remains open. But to hear the howls from the trads, you'd never know it. They confuse the old opinions with the dogma of original sin defined over a millennium after Augustine at the Council of Trent. While Augustine was obviously the single most important doctor of the Church in the development of that doctrine, the Church has not defined as dogma all his views thereon and indeed has come to reject his theory of massa damnata—the theory that all who die in original sin not only go to hell but deservedly stay there forever.

The filioque is the Catholic dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son." Assent to that dogma is a necessary condition for full communion with the Catholic Church. For reasons I don't have time to discuss here, and unlike many of my fellow Catholics, I consider that dogma quite important for such understanding of the dogma of the Trinity as God has given us to have. It developed in the West during the first millennium largely under the influence of St. Augustine's De Trinitate; by the time Rome inserted it into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the 11th century, it had become the common faith of the Western Church. The Eastern Church never accepted it, and since the ninth century it has been the subject of much sterile logomachy between East and West. Given as much, I agree with the late historian of doctrine Jaroslav Pelikan that there's a special place in hell reserved for people who keep such logomachy alive, and I don't want to contribute to it here. What I want to do is show that the sense in which the filioque is dogmatically binding does not depend on distinctively Augustinian triadology.

It matters not what that triadology actually is; indeed, the interpretation of the De Trinitate has itself been one of the standard topics of the sterile logomachy. What matters is the dogma: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, in the words of the 13th-century Council of Lyons, "as from one principle." That qualification was introduced by Rome as a concession to Byzantine concerns that the filioque not be taken to posit a "dual procession" of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, as though the Son "caused" the being of the Spirit in the same sense as the Father, who is the sole ultimate source of the being of others. All that's needed to derive the filioque, in fact,are two premises.

The first, which I take to be uncontroversial, is that the one God is essentially trihypostatic: it is of the essence of God that God be three persons who are each the same God as the others. From that it follows that, necessarily, each Person exists just in case the others do. Now if one grants a second premise, invoked by most Fathers and Doctors of the Church and consonant with the first, that the Spirit is necessarily the Spirit of the Father and the Son, then it follows further that the Spirit's "procession" ad intra entails that the Father originates the Spirit only as Father of the Son. That allows one to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and" the Son without thereby implying that the Son is a "cause" of the Spirit in the same way as the Father. The Father is indeed the sole ultimate source of being in the Godhead; but since he breathes forth the Spirit only as Father of the Son, the Spirit's procession also depends on the Father's generation of the Son. Thus the Spirit, as Spirit of the Father and the Son, proceeds from the Father and the Son.

On the premises I've used, of course, it also follows that the Father generates the Son only as the one who breathes forth the Holy Spirit. But it does not thereby follow that the Son is the Son of the Father and the Spirit. For the modes of origin of the Son and the Spirit are different: the Son's mode of origin is "generation" and the Spirit's is "procession." The only thing we can say about the difference between such generation and procession, while remaining safely grounded in the historic faith of the Church, is that the Spirit's procession depends on the Son's generation in some way that the latter does not depend on the former. That is why it should not be said that the Son is begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit. But it would, I believe, be orthodox to say that the Son is begotten "in" the Holy Spirit. For the existence of each Person entails that of the others, and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The connective "and" in the filioque is unfortunately misleading because, even though it admits an orthodox interpretation, it is also susceptible to and even invites more than one heterodox interpretation. But the Orthodox theologian Theodore Stylianopoulos has suggested that there are ways around that; and the Catholic paradigm of "development of dogma" could surely accommodate some of those ways. Catholic theologians such as Thomas Weinandy, Paul Quay, and David Coffey have done good work in showing how. But the main point is that the thing can be done independently of theological speculations that were originally peculiar to Augustine and in that way gave impetus to the filioque's development. A lot more remains open than many Eastern critics of the filioque, and even some Western defenders thereof, seem to think.

My aim in discussing the three instances of EENS, original sin, and the filioque is to show how it is that the Catholic Church's development of doctrine, while conceptually dependent on historic theological context, is by no means the same thing and in fact yields results more modest than such theology usually does. Accordingly, some of the theology can be jettisoned without compromising dogma. If more people would appreciate that, there would be far less misunderstanding and logomachy than we usually see.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Dopeler Effect: the atheism file

In his hilarious spoof on contemporary advocates of apophatic theology, the blogger "Siris" cites something called "the Dopeler effect": "the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly." Anybody who's spent much time in academia is all too familiar with that phenomenon. Given my interests, I notice it especially in the attacks on "religion" launched by atheistic philosophers, which have been coming rapidly of late. One such philosopher is the hip, charming Englishman A.C. Grayling, who now holds forth at the University of London and with whom I once spent a delightful evening when I was a graduate student at Penn in the 1980s. I really liked him, but sometimes I wonder where he gets some of his ideas.

Last weekend in the "Comment is Free" section of The Guardian Unlimited, Tony took the occasion to launch a general broadside on religion—hence, and of course, on Christianity in particular. I am undisturbed by such attacks largely because I don't think there is any such entity as "religion" or even "Christianity" that, merely as such, merits either praise or obloquy. Only when we get to specifics do things get interesting, and the critics usually get the specific facts wrong at crucial points, at least when it comes to Christianity. To be sure, Tony does have specific targets, about which he is wrong; but I don't have time to show why, in each such instance, he is wrong. I shall focus on the one specific that occasions his article: the claim made by many religionists that "atheism" is every bit as much a matter of "faith" as theism.

Now in one sense, his rejection of that claim is perfectly justified. For in general, not believing that p—in this case, not believing that there are what Tony calls "supernatural entities"—is not an instance of faith, not even of that human faith we evince when we believe that the Sun will rise tomorrow or that doing science is a good way to learn certain things. So much is indeed obvious. But I doubt that, generally speaking, the sort of religious apologist he's criticizing overlooks that. Sometimes confusedly, the apologists in question are saying that reasoned rejection of belief in supernatural entities depends on some-or-other Weltanschauung that is itself a matter of faith—that is, of human rather than divine faith. In various forms, some more refined and some less so, such a Weltanschauung may well be described as that of scientific naturalism ('SN' for short). While Tony seems to prefer describing himself as a secular humanist, his definitions of 'secularism' and 'humanism' would have me, an orthodox Catholic, being a secular humanist too. So I don't think he quite captures the difference between his Weltanschauung and mine.

SN hinges on two coordinate theses: one epistemological and one metaphysical. The former is that whatever cannot be known scientifically cannot be known at all; the latter is that only that sphere which can be investigated scientifically—that which, for want of a better term, we may call "Nature"—exists at all. Such is the more-or-less explicit worldview of popularly known contemporary thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris—just as, since at least the late 19th century, it has been for the majority of philosophers in the English-speaking world. It is in the light of such a worldview that atheistic philosophers, Grayling included, make most of the criticisms of "religion" that they do. For them, religion is belief in entities that are both supernatural and fit to explain why the universe is as it is; since there can be no "evidence" for such entities of the sort that scientific naturalists would recognize as evidence, belief that there are some such entities cannot but seem to them both unreasonable and opposed to science.

It is easy to make the case that SN is a matter of faith. Part of the case is made for us by some SNists themselves. Thus Prof. Richard Lewontin of Harvard:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so-stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. (From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997).
My ample experience of SNists leads me to believe that Lewontin is thereby being more honest than most. It's not that the evidence intellectually compels them to close the door of knowledge and faith on the Divine Foot; for reasons that vary by the individual case, they just don't want to let a "Divine Foot" in the door. Thus they choose their faith, which is SN.

But we don't even need Lewontin's honesty to learn that. At least as often, the objection of SNists to religion is moral: based, often enough, on the problem of evil. One sees that in Tony's article. But I've rarely found the objections of atheists based on the problem of evil to have the slightest credibility. If there is no God, then morality is a purely human construct whose content will, to some extent, differ from that of this or that religious morality. Atheists cannot fairly fault theists for failing to hold God to a morality on whose content and significance atheists and theists do not even relevantly agree. The so-called problem of evil intelligibly arises only on theistic premises; yet the problem is not one of logical inconsistency among the premises—as even the late philosopher JL Mackie admitted in the end—but of explaining how they are all true. (I expatiate on all that in my paper "The Problems of Evil.") In that case, however, theists face only the explanatory obstacles we must expect if classical theism is true; and in the meantime, the disagreement between theists and atheists remains a moral one, which surely is more a matter of faith than of something called 'science'.

I'd love to have another dinner and beer with Tony Grayling. Since each of us has become more what we once were, the resulting intensity would redouble the delight I once experienced.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The two new fronts in the global war for freedom

Some Americans know, and all should know, something said by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." When passed, what that meant to people was that the Congress may not regulate or abolish established state churches, may not make any particular religion illegal, and may not require anybody to be religious. Since World War II, of course, the Supreme Court has made utter hash of the two quoted clauses, so that American jurisprudence has no coherently applicable criteria for balancing freedom of religion with freedom from religion. But that is, one hopes and prays, a temporary problem. The fact remains that both freedom of religion and freedom from religion are inherent human rights respected in principle by basic American and international law. They are so respected in virtue of that acknowledged dignity of the human person which makes it intrinsically immoral to force people to act against their consciences. Such rights constitute an irreducible element of human freedom. And it is just that freedom which is now under threat from both the religious and the irreligious in today's world.

During the Cold War, most people could and did recognize worldwide Communism as a threat to freedom. Despite the protests of pacifists and some major lapses along the way, U.S. policy toward Communist countries was designed to protect the freedom of our way of life. The verdict of history is that we succeeded. Nowadays, many recognize the so-called "war on terrorism" as another protracted effort to protect the same from violent Islamic extremists, who seem to be growing more numerous by the year. What many fail to recognize, however, is that we have but are failing to exploit the moral high ground in our war with the Islamists.

In most Muslim countries, non-Muslims do not have the same freedom of religion as Muslims. The world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia, extends considerable freedom to non-Muslims inasmuch as the country's size and diversity has bred a culture of relative tolerance between religions. But in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is not tolerated; conversion from Islam to any other religion is punishable and often punished by death. And the majority of countries in which Muslims comprise a majority lie closer to the Saudi/Iranian end of the spectrum than to Indonesia's. Even in Egypt and Syria, where ancient Christian communities still exist and are tolerated to a degree, Christians are dhimmi: they live with certain legal, educational, and economic disadvantages making them second-class citizens. And in Palestine and Iraq, Christians are finding themselves having to emigrate in droves if they want to have decent lives at all.

Even more significantly, you won't find most Muslim scholars willing to accept what the Pope calls "reciprocity." They don't think that Muslims should grant non-Muslims the same degree of religious freedom that Muslims generally enjoy in countries where non-Muslims are the majority. This is why, for example, they take for granted that they may, can, and should build mosques in Rome, but at the same time it is unthinkable to them that Christians be allowed to build churches in Mecca or even that the Jews rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, it is in the very nature of Islam to reject the idea of religious freedom as understood not only by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to which many nominally subscribe—but by Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae. And that is probably the major reason why we must fight the war on "terrorism," which is really a war with those Muslims who take jihad to entail violent as well as non-violent means of spreading Islam. There is virtually zero chance that Muslims will, as a whole and as a matter of principle, accept the principle of reciprocity even as they demand religious freedom for themselves.

We have ample historical precedent for this fight. Thanks to the courage of countless knights, peasants, and churchmen, most of Western Europe was never conquered by Muslim armies. The Crusaders simply went on the offensive, taking the battle to the Holy Land even though their greed and divisions eventually made their conquests unviable. Spain, which had endured some measure of Muslim rule for centuries, fought for centuries to drive Muslim satraps out of Spain and eventually succeeded. When the Ottoman sultans tried later to grab big bites out of Western Europe, they were repeatedly and sometimes miraculously defeated. At nearly every stage in the millennium-long struggle, everybody who was anybody knew the stakes and did what had to be done—even if they also did some things that needn't and shouldn't have been done. But I don't see that kind of insight and resolve today. Westerners on the whole do not understand that Muslims on the whole, while enjoying the benefit of Western ideas about religious freedom, will never subscribe to those ideas fully and hence will never be placated by the sort of "tolerance" that presumes a willingness to reciprocate. True, the so-called "terrorists" are not terribly popular among Muslims; but that is because of their means, not their ends. And there will always be Muslims willing to use those means.

That is why our politicians need to have the cojones to let people publicly say whatever they think about Islam, no matter how negative, even as absolutely anybody may now publicly say what they think about Christianity, no matter how negative. But only a few even in America have those cojones, and it gets them into trouble. In several European countries, saying such things about Islam will land you in jail—but not, of course, saying similarly nasty things about Christianity. Indeed and conversely, actively professing traditional Christianity on certain points, such as following the Bible in denouncing sodomy as an "abomination" before God, will get you prosecuted for a "hate crime" even if you win in the end. Even in my home town, New York, it is illegal to display Christian symbols on public property during Christmas but legal to display Muslim symbols during Ramadan and Jewish during Hannukah. We are in danger of becoming dhimmi by virtue of that "tolerance" which is intolerant of the majority.

Indeed, that trend reflects what's been happening among our secular, cultural élites. Recently the atheism industry has got more aggressive: there's been a spate of propaganda denouncing "religion" as evil largely on the ground that its "intolerance" causes violence and social stagnation. (See, e.g., Sam Harris' book The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins' TV series The Root of All Evil?) On the popular level, even Elton John has got into the act, insisting that "organized religion" has "always bred hatred against gays." Presumably he supports suppressing the freedom of his fellow citizens to profess publicly what the Bible and the natural law say about sodomy. So, religious freedom is also threatened by those who are only willing to tolerate forms of religion they deem sufficiently tolerant. At the same time, however, they seem willing to tolerate Islam, which is a minority religion in the West and therefore, in the liberal mythos, a fit object of tolerance. Hence the New York decision, made by secular-minded jurists. But apparently no form of traditional Christianity, even ones that renounce religious violence, is to enjoy the same degree of tolerance.

In the case of both Islamists and secularists, then, we confront a double standard that threatens the basic and inherent right to religious freedom: Islam is to be tolerated even when it is intolerant, and traditional Christianity is not to be tolerated even when it is tolerant. I can understand the double standard on the part of Muslims; they do not, after all, even pretend that they ought not to have one. At least they're consistent. But in the West, the double standard not only accelerates the erosion of morality in general and of the family in particular, thus weakening the moral basis of our society, but also weakens our resolve to resist the violent adherents of a religion that really is objectionably intolerant. Accordingly, one front in the new, global war for freedom is external: the war against Islamist violence; but the other is internal, against our own secularists. If we lose, the fifth columnists will have the society they deserve.