Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Catholicism and Political Philosophy

An important new volume on political philosophy, which appeared last year, by the astute Catholic critic, James V. Schall, is Roman Catholic Political Philosophy (Lexington Books, 2004). In this volume Schall reflects on the relationship of revelation, as understood within Catholicism, to the implications of political life. Writing in The Claremont Review of Books (Spring 2005), Robert R. Reilly observes:
According to [Schall], there is no derogation of reason in Christian revelation. Rather, Christianity contains an invitation to reason because God is revealed as logos. He claims that "what is revealed does not demand the denial of intellect, but fosters it." If God is logs, reason and revelation are not at an impoasse. A division of labor defines them. The common objective is the search for the highest things, and reason is given primacy in this search, including in its examination of the truths claimed by revelation. As Schall says, in Christianity "revelation itself has turned to philosophy precisely to explain more fully what is revealed." Christian revelation confirms reason in its authority. At the same time, revelation has a claim on reason. A philosophy that a priori excludes the possibility of revelation is a philosophy that is not true to itself. This book is about "how the highest things of philosophy, politics, and revelation related to each other.
In an interview with Claremont Institute's Ken Masugi (available at www.claremont.org), Schall said:
[W]e will not know, intellectually, if revelation has happened, unless we have first taken the trouble to examine the questions that arise in the experience of political and human things together with the varieties of answers that have been given to these questions by the philosophers.... I like to say that the study of political philosophy ought to bring such questions forward in our souls so that there is a kind of longing or searching that arises from the suspicion that none of tne answers so given have been complete or adequate.
Reilly continues, playing on Tertullian's metaphorical use of cities to symbolize rival commitments--to reason, to faith, and so on:
Political philosophy has the obligation to look at all cities--Athens, Jesusalem, and Rome. Today, Rome seems the least familiar of these three, and there is not better guide to it than Fr. Schall. For those confronting modernity, it is an essential visit because, as he has pointed out in Reason, Revelation and the Foundations of Political Philosophy (1987), modernity is not a distortion of classical political thought, but of Christianity. Millenarian ideology attempts, in its clumsy and destructive way, to ape the redemptive action of Christianity--of "God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." Therefore, the recovery from modern ideology requires far more than the resuscitation of classical political philosophy, though that in itself is a good thing.

One need not be a Catholic, much less a Christian, to grasp the importance of Roman Catholic Political Philosophy.

Food for thought

"A Calvinist Presbyterian beclieves that all Catholics will be damned because they are predestined to be damned, whereas an ordinary Presbyterian believes that all Catholics will be damned on their merits." --Jon Bartley

Cartoonist Kevin Giovanetto takes on the finer points of Calvin's doctrine of predestination (right).

More food for thought

"Jim, you think he's with Jesus now? We only have 30 seconds."

Larry King, CNN talk-show host, interviewing actor James Caviezel, who played Jesus Christ in the film The Passion of the Christ, about the Pope's death.

New controversial book

Washington Post reporter, John F. Harris, has just come out with a blockbuster about the Clinton White House years, The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House. If you've got the stomach for more Bill raunchiness and Hilary exposes, this book, which ranked 9,527 on Amazon's sales parade Monday afternoon, promises to be a keeper. Some highlights are listed by the Druge Report.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Alice von Hildebrand on Kierkegaard's view of women, love, and feminism

Alice von Hildebrand's magnificent article on Kierkegaard's view of women, "Beautiful Words About Women," has been published online at Philosophia Perennis (May 28, 2005). Based on a careful reading of Either/Or, The Woman Who Was a Sinner, and Training in Christianity, it is a remarkably profound piece of Christian philosophical reflection. Here is a brief excerpt from the introductory part of the essay:
... It is not my purpose here to discuss some of the contradictory interpretations of his thought that scholars have offered; such would call for a whole book. In the framework of this article, my modest concern is to shed some light on Kierkegaard's views on women. His position is ambiguous; he has written about them both beautifully and spitefully. Deal Hudson, in his book An American Conversion, tells us that he did not like Kierkegaard because the latter "did not like women -- a remark likely to attract the sympathies of the fair sex.

I am going to take to Kierkegaard's defense and show that the few regrettable things he wrote about women are largely compensated by the beautiful things he wrote about them, and that his insights into the female personality and role in human and religious life could only come from the pen of someone who has loved.

That Kierkegaard loved Regina Olsen is something no one can deny, for he says so explicitly and unambiguously. It is true that a German "scholar" by the name of Schrempf contested this fact. But Kierkegaard was in a privileged position to know his feelings for his fiancee; I find it wiser to trust him.

The Soren Kierkegaard-Regina Olsen love story is certainly one of the most tragic in the history of great love affairs. He fell in love with her; he conquered her; he got engaged to her and was hoping to marry her. Then, to his horror and despair, he realized that he could not achieve the universal, tread the common path, and marry the girl he loved. Kierkegaard was a penitent; he had received a special calling which was not compatible with marriage. He often refers to the tragedy of Abraham, who was called upon to sacrifice the son he loved. To read about how he broke off his engagement, about her despair, about the humiliation to which her proud father submitted himself by begging him not to abandon his daughter, and the qualms of conscience that Kierkegaard suffered make at times painful reading. To the end of his life, he makes reference to this drama. At times, he hoped he could, after all, make her his wife. All these hopes were dashed when he found out that she was engaged to a previous beau that his ardent courtship had eliminated from the picture. That this was a serious blow, that he probably had to fight against a certain bitterness and disappointment, is not unlikely. He left her his literary bequest -- this was rejected by Regina's husband, and it fell into the hands of Kierkegaard's older brother, Peter....

Read more here ...

[Alice von Hildebrand is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand ; The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapientia Press); and By Love Refined [Letters to a Young Bride] (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and appears frequently on Mother Agelica's EWTN. This article (published in full at Philosophia Perennis) is reprinted with permission from New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Home schooling? Some resources for math ... and summer fun

Attention home schoolers! Bargain book of the week - 59% off Math Curse by bestselling Children's author Jon Scieszka - Only $6.99. While supplies last. From my own experience with parents and kids involved in home schooling, I understand only too well how math can be a challenge for some children. Here's a book that actually makes math fun.

"If you can believe that!" someone will say. But did you realize that when the famous French mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascal, was being home schooled by his father, Etienne, attitudes toward math were very different. Math was one subject so exciting, so intoxicating, that duels were sometimes fought over competing mathematical theories. The great mathematician, Tycho Brae (1546-1601) even had his nose cut off in a duel over math and had a prosthetic nose made of silver, which required him to always take a bottle of glue along with him for repairs in case he sneezed.

Etienne thought the subject of mathematics so enticing that if his kids caught even a whiff of it, they would be unable to concentrate on anything else. Careful father that he was, Etienne therefore secretly locked up into a closet all the the math books. It was only after Etienne discovered that his son, Blaise, had discovered a considerable amount of Euclidian geometry on his own that he unlocked the math books, realizing that he had a genius on his hands.

Another boon to the effective math education, as many home schoolers will know, is the Saxon Math series of texts, whose exercises not only progressively cover material introduced in the chapter, but continue to reinforce material covered in earlier chapters. Christopher, one of our sons, practically taught himself algebra by working through one of these books. These books are available for different levels. But for a sample, see Saxon Math 87: An Incremental Development, about which one Amazon reviewer raves: "My son used this and S.A.T. tested high 90th percentile!" The reviewer continues:
"My 12 year old son has used Saxon materials at home for 4 years. His younger sister is currently using 8/7. It can be challenging, but they've been very successful! It's nice as a mother of 5 to have confidence in the Saxon program as it frees me up to deal with other things. If they have a question, it is easy just to review the short lesson and find the answer! If I could give it 6 stars, I would. Now my third child is also in Saxon. Thank the Lord for this effective curriculum. The results have been great!"
Oh, and just in case you like to take your family on camping excursions, I saw this incredible deal: 55% OFF on a Columbia CB-5400 Black Mountain Dual Composite 6-Person Cabin Tent for only $99! This is the easy-to-assmble type of tent with a mix of flexible fiberglass and steel poles, not the kind with easily breakable aluminum poles that have to be inserted into one another. Several years we tented with our family all the way to Banff and Jasper, in the Canadian rockies, and back to North Carolina--which was a trip we shall never forget!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Insights on Catholicism from The New Yorker

As many of you already know, Peter J. Boyer has written a terrific article in the May 16, 2005 issue of The New Yorker Magazine entitled "A Hard Faith: How the New Pope and His Predecessor Redefined Vatican II." I wasn't sure what to expect from the article while Boyer was still writing it and called me to ask a number of questions about the significance of John Paul II's pontificate on the eve of his death. (When a writer for one of New York's most liberal secular magazines calls to ask your opinion of the pontificate of a Pope whom, you realize, you will end up making look slightly left-of-center, naturally you're suspicious.) Boyer conceded the point by acknowledging that I probably had my doubts about his interview, but he assuring me several times that he thought I would be pleasantly surprised. For one thing, he gave me a list of those on the side of the angels that he had interviewed and spent time with, including Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Fr. Benedict Groeschel of New York, and many, many others.

Peter Boyer has clearly done his homework--and I mean a thorough job of it. Catholic readers pleased with the election of Pope Benedict XVI will be happy to find a treatment of Catholicism that takes its Faith seriously as something challenging, substantial and irreducibly real. By contrast, Boyer's reporting on his interviews with the dissident gallery--Richard McBrien, Charlie Curran, etc.--reveals them for the bitter, lackluster, sputtering media poodles that they are. They realize that history has passed them by, they have no new ideas left to pull out of their tattered hats, and Boyer clearly smells their gloom. The composite picture that emerges is really worth examining, if you have the time.

On a personal note, I gathered from my interview with him that Boyer is a Christian, and I asked him about his religious background. He didn't divulge his denominatinal background directly, but he did allow that he and his family currently find their home in a good Episcopalian parish.

This article is now available on the internet (thanks a tip from Sam Schmitt, who notes that it appears on the "Call to Action - Western Washington" website, and wonders whether they are finally seeing the light): "A Hard Faith: How the New Pope and His Predecessor Redefined Vatican II." It's well worth reading in full. Here is the closing paragraph from my copy:
If the introduction of Holy Communion into the political arena in 2004 was, for many American Catholics, a divisive and regrettable turn, it was no less regrettable for Chaput according to Chaput who criticized the press for a shallow understanding of the Eucharist and its centrality to the Catholic faith. But Chaput, like Razinger, also believed that such controversy might ultimately prove salutary. "Whenever the Church is criticized, she understands herself better and is purified." And when she's purified, then she better serves the Lord. We're at a time for the Church in our country when some Catholics too many are discovering that they've gradually become non Catholics who happen to go to Mass. That's sad and difficult, and a judgment on a generation of Catholic leadership. But it may be exactly the moment of truth the Church needs."
Read this article. Ultimately you'll find it a bracing dose of reality.

"Kneeling before outcasts"

The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

A review by Karen Long
Three decades ago, no religious order would consider a twice-divorced 51-year-old novitiate. So Mary Brenner committed the audacious act of making private vows and moving into a Tijuana prison where she lived among its sick and reviled inmates.

Now 78, Mother Antonia still lives in an unheated cell in La Mesa, the notorious Tijuana prison.

Like Mother Teresa, Mother Antonia gravitates toward outcasts, prostitutes and criminals, corrupt guards and mentally deranged prisoners. Readers will leave this nun's company reluctantly and thank Jordan and Sullivan for making her remarkable life visible in a jaded world. (Penguin, 237 pages, $24.95)
-- KAREN LONG, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE [The Charlotte Observer, May 15, 2005]

Evangelical perspective on Pope Benedict XVI

Timothy George, in an article entitled "The Promise of Benedict XVI," published online in Christianity Today online (May 26, 2006), finds five points in which he believes Pope Benedict's pontificate holds great promise--five points in which Evangelicals can make common cause with his Catholic Church:
1. He takes truth seriously.
2. His theology is Bible-focused.
3. His message is Christocentric.
4. He is Augustinian in perspective.
5. He champions the culture of life.
Read more.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Why liberal Catholics think authority is "repressive"

The short answer is that they think "authority" means power. It does not. In the current postmodern milieu, these stepchildren of the masters of suspicion (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche)--particularly Nietzsche--think of authority as something reducible to power. Thus, when the academic tradition speaks of canonical writers and essential core requirements for cultural literacy within the liberal arts tradition, these liberals know (they think) in their heart-of-hearts that beneath it all, that all this talk about knowledge is reducible to power. Likewise, when the Church speaks of canonical scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and magisterial authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, these liberals know (they think) in their heart-of-hearts that religion, along with everything else, is ultimately reducible to power. Or so they think.

In a May. 15, 2005 article entitled "Faith isn't threatened by questions" in The Charlotte Observer, MARY C. CURTIS says she consideres her Jesuit university education a blessing. She writes:
That's why I was saddened to hear that the Rev. Thomas Reese, an American Jesuit, has resigned as editor of the Catholic magazine America. According to the National Catholic Reporter and Catholic officials, Reese was forced out--for encouraging thinking.

In the seven years under the leadership of this respected political scientist, America has published articles representing different points of view on issues such as stem-cell research and the church's relationship with Islam.

The Rev. Richard McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, told Newsday that Reese "has been very careful to be even-handed, fair-minded and restrained in any comments he's ever made."
Thus the Vatican comes out looking villainous and repressive, an enemy of "thinking," as well as "even-handedness," "fair-mindedness," and "restraint" in discussions about current scientific research. But Ms. Curtis isn't through: "As Reese wrote in an editorial," she writes: "'A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.'" The election of Pope Benedict was clearly a blow to "open discussion" and free thinking, according to Ms. Curtis. But she remains hopeful, despite these threatening clouds, she says, "that the Church is strong enough, resilient enough to withstand anything--even thinking."

Such sentiments as these are quite common, sad to say; but they are really worth examining? Why does Ms. Curtis see the Church as opposed to open discussion and free thinking? Because she makes distinctions between ideas and practices that accord with the Christian Faith and those that don't. In other words, she claims to have the authority to do that. But "authority," we remember, means power to liberals like Ms. Curtis. So the only thing the exercize of such authority can mean for them is the arbitrary weilding of power.

In a related article, entitled "Stifling Catholic debate? Critics say Tom Reese's departure an ominous sign," in the May 14, 2005 issue of The Charlotte Observer, KEVIN ECKSTROM writes that Reese, by most accounts, "was ousted as editor of America magazine because some U.S. bishops and Vatican officials had grown impatient with his policy of allowing open debate on controversial topics." There again we have it: the Church stifling "open debate." What can this mean? Like Ms. Curtis, Eckstrom turns for support to that champion of self-congratulatory Catholic liberalism, the National (Anti-)Catholic Reporter:
"Is Rome's definition of faith simply a matter of absolute assent to every utterance that comes out of Rome and we're all supposed to obey and not question?" asked Tom Roberts, editor of National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper with liberal leanings.
Um ... yeah, though that's putting it mildly. During the final days of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI, says Eckstrom, Reese was a sought-after commentator on the unfolding events in Rome: "He was respected for providing a candid assessment of both men while never betraying his loyalties to the church."

I wonder, what does "never betraying one's loyalties to the church" mean to a liberal in this context? It clearly cannot mean supporting orthodoxy and orthopraxy in matters of faith and doctrine, since that was the reason for Reese's dismissal. It cannot mean "obedience" or "submission"--words apt to induce apoplexy in a liberal. NCR editor Roberts could speak only of a "Chilling effect." According to Eckstrom, Reese's "grievous sin" was only that he "devoted too much time and ink to the three D's--debate, dialogue and discussion--that some interpret as a threat to church teaching." He continues, "Reese opened the magazine to all sides of an issue, giving equal space to each." Overall, he adds, "the magazine enjoyed a solid reputation for balance." So the Church is allegedly opposed to giving "equal space" to "all sides of an issue," opposed to America magazine's "solid reputation for balance."

Why must the Church seem opposed to "thinking," "open debate," "balance," and "giving equal space to all sides of an issue"? Eckstrom provides some clues. He writes:
The editorials sometimes leaned left of center, and Reese sometimes expressed dismay at the Vatican's move toward centralized authority.... But according to the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets citing unnamed sources, church leaders (including the pope himself) were angered by articles on gay priests, contraception and politicians who supported abortion rights.
Once again, why must the Church seem opposed to "open debate," "balance," and "free thinking"? Simple: because Church teaching condemns what is opposed to its teaching--including homosexuality, contraception, abortion, as well as the dissent and confusion promoted by the liberal editorial bias of Reese in a publication ostensibly representing a religious order of the Church. Since the Church stands for something (orthodoxy and orthopraxy), it can't help opposing something (whatever is opposed to orthodoxy and orthopraxy).

Would it make sense for Orthodox Judaism to promote Buddhism? Would it make sense for the Unitarian Universalist Association to promite belief in the divinity of Christ? Would it make sense for the Japanese Shinto religion to promote the Muslim belief in the Prophet Mohammed? Of course not. Neither does it make sense to expect the Catholic Church to promote views inimical to her own traditional doctrines. Granted, what self-styled liberal Catholics want is to promote a revisionist re-interpretation of what "Catholicism" means. But of course they should hardly be surprised, then, when the Church resists their efforts to denature her teaching.

What is "authority," according to liberal dissenters? Nothing but the raw exercise of arbitrary power. In other words, they don't really believe the Church has anything like divine authority at all. This is why this idea (heavenly authority) is translated into that (power), which is something earthly, human, and mundane. But what is the Church's authority, really? To quote Peter Kreeft, it is nothing more than "author's rights." The author of a book has rights to it. The Author of the Church has rights to it, just as the Author of the Church's Gospel has rights to what it means. Likewise, those to whom He has delegated authority in the Church have the His rights as Author to declare what is and what is not in accord with the Author's intended teachings and purposes. That is what lies behind Apostolic Succession. That is the meaning of the Church's authority. It is that authority (author's rights), which provides the sticking point that sticks in the liberal craw; because what it means is that The Faith can't simply be twisted, like a wax nose, in any arbitrary direction that prevailing whim would desire.

Is this authority repressive? Hardly. Instead, it provides a standard by which to measure, an ideal to which to aspire, a foundation for undersanding. "I believe in order that I may understand" (credo ut intelligam), said St. Augustine. This provides a ground for humility--a humility, as G.K. Chesterton said, which is a "spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on." Catholicism founded all the earliest universities in the West. Catholicism promoted much of the research that launched the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution (see my post of July 30, 2004: The Church and the birth of modern science). In this country Catholicism is responsible for hundreds of colleges and universities, including major research universities like Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America. It's a red herring to suggest that Catholicism stifles debate and free inquiry. It merely insists (by Author's rights) on Catholicism being Catholic.

If Ratzinger is a "fundamentalist," what is Frank Schaeffer?

Frank Schaeffer--film maker, novelist, Eastern Orthodox convert from evangelical Reformed Protestantism, and son of the late Francis A. Schaeffer, the well-known Christian apologist of L'Abri, Switzerland--has recently come out with a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle calling Pope Benedict XVI a "fundamentalist" (this according to Carl E. Olson of Ignatius Insight). Sigh ... so what's new? Haven't we all known for some time that any non-revisionist Catholic, like any protestant evangelical, is regarded as a "fundamentalist." The word "fundamentalist" began in 1909 among evangelical Protestants who rallied around several basic principles--such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the authority of the Bible, etc.--called "The Fundamentals," in order to combat the rising tide of protestant liberalism (link). But the term has lost any association with those historical antecedents. "Fundamentalist" now connotes any person with beliefs and practices that are generally regarded as "fanatical." Politically, it therefore refers to "Islamic terrorists," as well as "repressive patriarchal papists," and just about anybody who seriously believes that God actually makes any demands of us. Thus Pope Benedict is a "fundamentalist."

The really interesting question to me personally, though, is where this puts Frank Schaeffer. Franky, as we used to know him, is a bright, creative author and film-maker who authored the hilariously amusing autobiographical novels, Portofino (Calvin Becker Trilogy). In 1995 he published Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religions, an earnest account of his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy somewhat tarnished by his often bitter attacks on the evangelical Protestantism of his childhood, as well as on Catholicism (see my critique in the New Oxford Review here). The question now, as far as I am concerned, is this: if Franky Schaeffer believes protestant evangalicalism and traditional Catholicism are to be disparagingly dismissed as "fundamentalist," then what does that make him? An newly minted species of Eastern Orthodox liberal? An irrational mystic? For some time I have argued that Eastern Orthodoxy lacks a fully catholic identity due to its increasingly reactionary bent, and that it might more aptly be called "Anti-Western Orthodoxy." That bend, coupled with Schaeffer's own animus and personal vendetta against his erstwhile evangelical co-religionists and Catholic pro-life colleagues, would seem to make for a toxic potion. Let us pray for him.

This makes me wonder why converts do not more often share the generous attitudes toward their former friends found in the likes of Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, or Louis Bouyer--none of which have Schaeffer's reactionary and dismissive disposition. On the contrary, to a fault, each of these emphasizes his appreciation and gratitude for all that was good and nurturing in his former religion. (See Peter Kreeft's Fundamentals of the Faith, Thomas Howard's Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey To Rome, and Louis Bouyer's The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.)

All Christians come in two different sizes, to paraphrase Peter Kreeft (Fundamentals of the Faith, p. 272): orthodox Christians, who follow the traditional teachings of their churches; and liberal Christians, who dismiss the traditional teachings of their churches in favor of revisionist re-interpretations. The clearest litmust test to distinguish the two is their attitudes toward the Bible. Liberals reduce the Bible to a human book. Their low view of Scripture they (naturally) call "higher criticism." They are the "demythologizers." This means that orthodox Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians ought to have a great deal in common. Far more in common, certainly, than any of them would have with liberal Catholics, Protestants, or Eastern Orthodox Christians. If only Christians could get this much straight. If only Franky Schaeffer could get this much straight.

[See my earlier post of March 8, 2005, "Marvin Olasky on Francis Schaeffer's 'Political Legacy'" ]

42 new Opus Dei priests ordained

The Prelature of Opus Dei, which promotes founder St. Josemaria Escriva's refreshingly this-worldly vocation of "finding God in work and daily life," has just ordained 42 new priests. This, of course, is not to belie the fact that the most earthly good is often done by the most heavenly-minded. Opus Dei promotes the vocation of sanctification of life and work among both men and women in ordinary walks of life. It does this through the hard work of regular training in the bread-and-butter virtues and habits that foster spiritual growth. Faith, after all, is hard work: discipleship comes with a cost. Opus Dei has its own priests, who are drawn from men already involved in the work. A news release about the recent ordinations reads:
Bishop Javier Echevarria ordained 42 new priests for the Prelature of Opus Dei in the Basilica of St. Eugene in Rome on May 21. The new priests come from Nigeria, the United States, the Philippines, and various European and Latin American countries.
Perhaps only those involved as numeraries, supernumeraries or cooperators in "the work," as it is called, will fully understand when I say that these priests are exceptional men. As to the the deluded public, which prefers to garner its "facts" from the likes of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code [critique here], this will probably only inspire thoughts of dark conspiracy and near-pathological paranoia. Any faithful Catholic with a hunger for a deeper life of faith, growth in sanctity, and clarity of vocation in daily life, has a wealth of resources in the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, renown for their bracing martial temper, as well as other publications of Scepter Publishers and, most of all, from the regular meetings of the work itself.

Recommended reading:
  • James Socias, ed., Handbook of Prayers [highly recommended Scepter prayer book including nearly 600 pages of just about everything you'd ever need--including the Mass, examinations of conscience, prayers before and after confession, etc.]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, Furrow, The Forge (Single Volume Edition) [short, often profound paragraphs for daily reading consisting of St. Josemaria Escriva's spiritual direction, rebukes, encouragement, and advice]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way [first of the three-part readings in Escriva's spiritual direction as a separate volume]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, The Furrow [second of the three-part readings in Escriva's spiritual direction as a separate volume]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge [third of the three-part readings in Escriva's spiritual direction as a separate volume]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing By [Biblical commentary drawn from Church documents, the Fathers, and Escriva]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva, Holy Rosary [Rosary with commentary and illustrations]
  • St. Josemaria Escriva and Alvaro Del Portillo, The Way of the Cross [The Stations of the Cross with commentary and illustrations]
  • Peter Berglar, Opus Dei: Life and Work of Its Founder, Josemaria Escriva
  • Josemaria Escriva, Conversations With Monsignor Josemaria Escriva

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Faith Connection promotes God as "Mother"

To the attention of His Excellency, Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina:

On Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2005, The Faith Connection, a bulletin insert produced by RCLweb.com and regularly used by our church in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, carried the title: "Why Is it Okay to Call God 'Mother'?" The article states that "a number of Catholic feminist theologians have written in recent years about the negative consequences for the Catholic faith of a narrow reliance on exclusively male imagery to name the Divinity." The article then goes on to give the impression that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and Church teaching support revisioning God as "Mother." This impression, however, is simply mistaken. The idea that Scripture or Church teaching could be made to support such a view is simply not true.

While it is true--as everyone from the early Church Fathers to the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church (for online edition, click here) attests--that God's inner nature is humanly incomprehensible, that He transcends human gender, and that His tenderness and compassion may be expressed in feminine imagery (CCC 239), it is not true that the Church Fathers or the Catechism ever suggest that we may call Him "Mother." No Church Father says this. No catechism of the Church, past or present, says this.

There's a radical difference between saying (1) God is like a mother (which the Bible and Catechism say in a couple of places) and (2) God is a mother (which the Bible and Catechism, for good reason, never say). While it's true that God in Himself transcends gender as well as every human conception, both Scripture and Catholic tradition have always insisted that He is masculine in relation to us (the Church). While God may be like a mother in His mercy and compassion, He is not merely like a father: He is a Father. While the Holy Spirit may be like a feminine spirit in His mysterious movements, that is not what He is: How else could He have served as the Spouse of the Virgin Mary, who begot the Son of God by impregnating her? And while many feminists would like to revision the Incarnation in feminine terms--oh, rue the day!--He became incarnate as a man, the Son of God.

It is true that God is Spirit and transcends gender, but if He were not masculine in relation to us, Jesus would have "two mommies," as in a "same-sex marriage." Furthermore, one could hardly make sense of the nuptial imagery of Christ as the Church's Bridegroom, a truth at the heart of the Church's Eucharistic theology (see, e.g., The Theology of the Body according to John Paul II). But it is not true that Jesus has "two mommies." His only mother is the Blessed Mother Mary. His paternity is divine, not human. As the Creed says, "He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, [and] born of the Virgin, Mary ...." And we, the Church, are the Mystical Bride of Christ, our Divine Lover and Lord.

The gender revisionism of Catholic feminism (which is part of a wider movement of secular post-modern feminism and relativism) plays right into the hands of a dissident agenda that promotes not only the ordination of women, but also a revisioning of "God" as Gaia (the pagan mother-earth goddess), a divine womb from which creatures are born. Canaan and the whole ancient world were rife with polytheistic religions, priestesses, and feminine deities, implying that the gods were immanent, not transcendent--part of the world, not a creator outside of the world. Israel alone had a God who was understood in masculine terms, underscoring His transcendence, the fact that He is a Creator-God who creates outside of Himself (not from within a feminine womb), is active (not receptive), initiates a covenantal relationship with His people and gives them His law. (A good resource on these issues, for starters, is Peter Kreeft's essay, "Gender and the Will of God," as well as Matthew Berke's First Things essay, "God and Gender in Judaism.")

This revisionist agenda is what has animated the tampering with the Lectionary in some parishes over the last decades, where masculine pronouns have been regularly feminized or neutered with the nonsensical result that a verse like John 3:16 might read like this: "For God so loved God's world that God gave God's only child ...." This, of course, is pure Gnosticism (the view that we get at a true understanding of God only by getting "behind" the language of Scripture, which ought to be dismissed as culturally relative). These tendencies have been the cause of widespread confusion in Catholic parishes, further eroding the already thin respect for the authority of God's Revelation among modern Catholics.

But I have some larger concerns here as well. As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, declared at the outset of his pontificate, we are in the middle of a war against a "dictatorship of relativism" today, in which the very heart of the Gospel is being threatened with eviscerating revisionism. More than ever, those in Christ's little flocks need the clear voice of faithful shepherds. There is confusion in the world, and when this confusion finds its way into parishes, the bewildered sheep tend to stray from the pasture and drop off the cliffs.

While there is still a great deal of confusion over such matters, it must be admitted that the source of most of these confusing influences in our parishes today lies in the legacy of an older generation of priests who were products of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The sixties and seventies spawned a time of radical destabilization and confusion among many Catholics, who were exposed to the influences of the secular counter culture as well as the influence of liberal mainline Protestantism, and their acids of skeptical relativism. Many of these earlier priests, like a considerable number still, have granted quarter to dissenters by indulging regular tinkering with the Lectionary, substituting gender-neutral language in the Creed, encouraging proponents of female ordination to bide their time until a more "open-minded" pope comes along, thereby promoting false expectations and fundamental misunderstandings of the Church (see my post on Why liberal "Catholic" media can't understand the Church). So also with their legacy of parish subscriptions to periodicals such as National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, America, and US Catholic (see my critique: What I Learned from U.S. Catholic Magazine: Discerning Editorial Bias). So also with other parish materials and even bulletin inserts like The Faith Connection. Priests often like to be viewed as reasonable, "moderate" men. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads them to talk misleadingly about striking a "balance" between "conservatism" (their label for official Church teaching) and "liberalism" (their label for dissent and heresy). It is a tempting posture for priests and bishops who want to avoid alienating the liberal "faction" within their parishes (see my essay on Extremism and Toleration: Striking the Right Balance), though honest reflection shows it to be as disingenuous as it is seductive.

It is noteworthy that none of the Apostles entertained such compromising notions of "reasonableness" or "moderation." The Apostle John in his First Epistle, when confronting the earliest dissenters in the Church, who were Gnostics who denied the Incarnation and believed God was "above" taking corporeal human form, granted them no quarter but condemned them as "deceivers" and "antichrists" (I Jn 2:18-28). When Paul confronted the revisionism of the Judaizers, he declared them anathema and partisans of "an alien gospel," saying, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:9, passim).

It is significant that Christ called us sheep. Sheep are stupid. A flock of sheep couldn't survive for a day without a good shepherd. When a parishioner reads a bulletin insert that says it's okay to call God "Mother," he's likely to think this is what the Church is teaching today. He's likely to think that the benighted commentators of TIME, NEWSWEEK and CNN are right when they portray the Church as a reactionary, outmoded patriarchal religion.

How to respond? First, I think last Sunday's bulletin insert clearly calls for an immediate statement from the pulpit stating that the bulletin insert egregiously misrepresented Church teaching and that the insert will be pulled from all future bulletins. (This is hardly an isolated case. An earlier insert from The Faith Connection, "Who Can Be Saved?" [Jan. 2, 2005] clearly promoted the relativism of a universalistic view according to which all religions offer different but equally acceptable ways of salvation, suggesting that Catholics should no longer think of trying to win converts to the Catholic Faith.)

Second, I would encourage priests and bishops, including my own, to consider pulling dissident periodicals like US Catholic from the parish magazine racks and forming doctrinal committees to review the content of periodicals and other parish faith-formation materials to see if they support or oppose Church teaching, and submit their recommendations to their pastors and bishops. (To humor those progressive Catholics who are so fond of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, these committees might even be called "Extraordinary Congregations of the Holy Inquisition.")

Third, I would encourage both bishops and priests to begin seriously thinking of more effective ways of teaching their parishioners the Catholic Faith. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," warned the Prophet Hosea. Most homilies are woefully insubstantial and often little more than reiterations of benign platitudes and pop psychology. But parishioners don't need donuts and pop tarts from the pulpit. They get too much of that from television as it is. They need what St. Paul calls "solid food" or, more simply, "meat."

St. Augustine, quoting Scripture, opposed the perfectionism of the Donatists by stating that we will always have tares (weeds) and wheat growing together within the Church until the great harvest on Judgment Day. It's one thing to recognize that the Church will always have hypocrites and sinners within the fold until the end of time. It's not for any of us to judge the heart of another individual. But it's another thing altogether to suppose that the Church should passively permit error and confusion to co-exist side-by-side with Church teaching in her parishes. I don't think that's what Augustine or the Good Shepherd meant. May the Holy Spirit fortify our shepherds with wisdom, courage and resolve.