Sunday, March 30, 2008

Notable Detroit church founder remembered in Requiem Mass

On Friday, April 11th at 7:00 o'clock PM, a Solemn Latin Tridentine Requiem Mass will be celebrated at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit in observance of the 110th anniversary of the founding pastor, Reverend Dominik Hypolit Kolasinski.

* * * * * * *
". . . Detroit newspapers estimate that there were
present 35,000 for his funeral Mass,
which was the largest in the
history of Detroit . . ."

* * * * * * *

The well known founder of the parish was called by Almighty God from this life at 7:30 AM on Easter Monday, April 11th, 1898, at the age of 59 years. His funeral mass was celebrated on Wednesday of the Easter Octave, April 13th, 1898. The church was draped in black crepe and evergreen brances just as was done in the "Old Country." On Tuesday evening the night before his funeral, 15,000 people filed past his casket to pay their last respects. The Detroit newspapers estimate that there were present 35,000 people for his funeral Mass which was the largest in the history of Detroit, at least at that time. 250 carriages followed the horse drawn hearse to the parish cemetery where 20,000 participated in the graveside services which took place at 2 PM, after a three hour funeral Mass. Eight months later the body was moved to a mausoleum which had been built at the entrance to the parish cemetary which the pastor himself had established. The public is invited to join parishioners at Sweetest Heart of Mary on Friday evening in remembering his life in prayer and in offering the Church's most beautiful prayers for the repose of his immortal soul. The Tridentine Requiem Mass that will be said with catafalque will be the same Mass that was said that day 110 years ago when Fr. Kolasinski was laid to rest.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hillary's defining moment

Peggy Noonan, "Getting Mrs. Clinton" (Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2008):
I think we've reached a signal point in the campaign. This is the point where, with Hillary Clinton, either you get it or you don't. There's no dodging now. You either understand the problem with her candidacy, or you don't. You either understand who she is, or not. And if you don't, after 16 years of watching Clintonian dramas, you probably never will.

That's what the Bosnia story was about. Her fictions about dodging bullets on the tarmac -- and we have to hope they were lies, because if they weren't, if she thought what she was saying was true, we are in worse trouble than we thought -- either confirmed what you already knew (she lies as a matter of strategy, or, as William Safire said in 1996, by nature) or revealed in an unforgettable way (videotape! Smiling girl in pigtails offering flowers!) what you feared (that she lies more than is humanly usual, even politically usual).

But either you get it now or you never will. That's the importance of the Bosnia tape.
[Hat tip to Prof. E.E.]

Convert baptized by Pope discusses his relation to Islam

"Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion" (Catholic Culture)

[Hat tip to C.G.-Z.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

The news you may have missed

[Hat tip to New Oxford Review]

Catholic universities asked to disband pro-homosexual groups

Michael Baggot, "Survey Finds Pro-Homosexual Clubs at 96 Catholic Universities in the United States" (, March 27, 2008).

"White folks' greed runs a world in need"

Well, maybe not Rev. Jeremiah Wright's world. That's a quote from anti-American racist and pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's now conveniently erstwhile pastor. If there is any truth in the quote, it's hard to see how it applies to the Reverend Wright himself. Gateway Pundit posts an article, "Chicken Comes Home to Roost in $1.6 Million Home" (March 27, 2008), siting a Fox News article stating that Rev. Jeremiah Wright is about to move to a 10,340 square foot $1.6 million dollar, four-bedroom home in a gated community of a Chicago suburb. The Fox News article we read:
"Some people think deals like this are hypocritical. Jeremiah Wright himself criticizes people from the pulpit for middle classism, for too much materialism," said Andrew Walsh, Associate Director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life with Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. "So he’s entitled to be tweaked here. So the question really is, how unusual is this? Somewhat unusual," he said.
[Hat tip to S.F.]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A liberal pastor rethinks the Tridentine Mass

One would not have expected to find an article like Fr. Michael Kerper's in the weekly Jesuit magazine America not long ago. But there it is in the December 3, 2007 issue, entitled "My Second First Mass: On Presiding at a Latin Liturgy." [pdf]. It would have had a hard way making it into print under the former editor of America, Tom Reese, S.J., who made no attempt to hide his antipathy toward the whole restoration-of-tradition project in a recent interview in U.S. News & World Report (Dec. 13, 2007). Jay Tolson, author of the article, entitled "A Return to Tradition," writes:
"Some liberal Catholic clergy are completely skeptical about the scope and meaning of the traditionalist turn. 'It's more hype than reality,' says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. Reese thinks the Church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: 'good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community.' He is equally dubious about all the attention being devoted to the habit-wearing Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and a few other traditional religious orders that have enjoyed an uptick in younger members. 'I have no problem with their habits,' says Reese. 'On the other hand, if the church ordained women, we'd have thousands more coming forward.'"
Yada yada yada. You've heard that nonsense before. But then, under new management, America comes out with Fr. Michael Kerper's article (Dec. 3, 2007) titled "My Second First Mass: On Presiding at a Latin Liturgy." [pdf]. Here's a synopsis:
Fr. Kerper says that when Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Latin Mass (July 7, 2007), his "reaction oscillated between mild irri­tation...and vague interest." This was probably the typical reaction of priests whose "pastoral self-understanding," as Fr. Kerper says of his own, "had been largely shaped by the Second Vatican Council."

"Within a week" of the release of the motu proprio, says Fr. Kerper, "letters trickled in.... In August, I met with a dozen parishioners who wanted the [Tridentine] Mass.... As a promoter of the widest range of pluralism within the church, how could I refuse to deal with an approved liturgical form? As a pastor who has tried to respond to people alienated by the perceived rigid conservatism of the church, how could I walk away from people alienated by priests like myself -- progressive, 'low church' pastors who have no ear for traditional piety?"

Fr. Kerper then "decided to offer the Tridentine Mass" -- for the very first time. So, what was it like for this self-proclaimed "progressive" priest to celebrate his first-ever Old Latin Mass? Was it onerous? Was it tedious?

Says Fr. Kerper, "The old Missal's rubrical mic­romanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant.... I suddenly recognized the [Tridentine] rite's ingenious ability to shrink the priest.... I was...dwarfed by the high altar.... I felt intense loneliness. As I moved along, however, I also heard the absolute silence behind me, 450 people of all ages praying, all bound mysteriously to the words I uttered.... I gazed at the Sacrament and [experienced] an inexplicable feeling of solidarity with the multitude behind me." Beautiful.

The Tridentine Mass is a majestic and sacred experience -- for priest and parishioner alike. Its impact is often profound. It can shake even hardened progressives out of our post-Vatican II liturgical torpor.
[Acknowledgement: the foregoing synopsis of Fr. Kerper's America article is taken from the New Oxford Note, "First Impressions Are Often Correct," published in New Oxford Review (March 2008). The excerpt is part of a substantially longer discussion of the Society of Jesus.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Analogia Entis

"Analogy of Being: Invention of the Anti-Christ or the Wisdom of God?" -- A Theological Symposium, April 4-6, 2008, Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, 3900 Harewood Road, NE, Washington, DC 20017.

If you are a member of the media wishing to attend this event, please contact Mrs. Honya Weeks at 202.529.5300 x 175 (

Synopsis of the ConferenceIs there any ‘natural’ knowledge of God available to the human person, apart from Christian revelation, or is all knowledge of God given to human beings uniquely in Christ? Is Christianity irrevocably wed to the classical metaphysical tradition, or can God’s nature and character be rethought in distinctly modern ways, based upon a renewed reading of Scripture? What relationship or likeness, if any, exists between created nature and the grace of God? Does Christian theology presuppose a natural philosophical ‘capacity’ for knowledge of God in the human person?

All of these fundamental theological questions are situated at the heart of the famous 20th century debate between Erich Przywara S.J. and Karl Barth, and were treated in Przywara’s famous work Analogia Entis. These topics were also revisited by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his ecumenical landmark, The Theology of Karl Barth. On the occasion of a forthcoming English translation of Analogia Entis by John Betz and David Bentley Hart, this symposium will invite contemporary theologians indebted to Aquinas, Przywara, Barth and Balthasar to discuss these issues. Is the theological concept of the ‘analogy of being’ in fact an ‘invention of the anti-Christ’ as Karl Barth suggested, or is it a truth about creation revelatory of the wisdom of God?

Featured Speakers:

John Betz
Martin Bieler
Peter Casarella
Michael Hanby
David Bentley Hart
Reinhard Hütter
Bruce McCormack
Bruce Marshall
Richard Schenk O.P.
John Webster
Thomas Joseph White O.P.

Sponsored by:

The Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception
Pope John Paul II Cultural Center
Eerdmans Press

[Hat tip to Fr. D.J.]

Fr. Richard Neuhaus on Seminary instruction

"The possibilities and perils in being a really smart bishop" (First Things, April, 2008) -- excerpt:
... But we were discussing the merits of having bishops of intellectual and academic distinction. The experience of the Church of England and the Scandinavian countries is not encouraging. As for Catholic bishops in Europe, the contrast is not as striking as one might hope. Which brings us back to the American scene. Our episcopate, still Irish-dominated, is not fairly described as anti-intellectual, but neither is it intellectually distinguished, nor, in too many instances, is it even intellectually attentive. Bishops are drawn from the clergy available and, if one may say so without offense, priests are not generally noted for their interest in ideas, whether theological or otherwise. (I suspect that is related to the structure of seminary formation, but that is a subject for another time.)

I recently watched several videos produced by diocesan offices for priestly vocations. They are excellent in many respects, offering lively portrayals of the many important things priests do. None of them, however, mentioned preaching as one of the very important things priests do, or even hinted at priests studying, as, for example, in reading books. It is often remarked that we have the best-educated Catholic laity in history, and one has to wonder how they are being helped in their understanding of the faith by their preachers and teachers.

Admittedly, and unlike those in England and Europe, priests and bishops here do not usually have a lot of time on their hands. Pastoral and administrative responsibilities are onerous, with dioceses typically numbering Catholics in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes in the millions, and an average-size parish trying to care for two thousand or more people. (The average Protestant congregation with a full-time minister has two hundred members.) Catholic clergy are kept busy enough just "servicing the Catholic population," as it is commonly put. Who has time to read, never mind engage in serious study? Of course, there are exceptions, possibly many exceptions, but that is the general picture.

Newman is instructive on the distinction between the intellectual, devotional, and political offices in the Church. And the examples of bishops elsewhere who combine these roles is both suggestive and cautionary. Of course, Catholic bishops are protected by the Magisterium from going off the doctrinal rails. All that having been said, one wonders whether in this country Newman's distinction of office between thinkers, saints, and administrators has not become a division of labor altogether too strict. Bishops are ordained to "teach, sanctify, and govern," and one might venture the suggestion that intellectual distinction is not necessarily a hindrance in the exercise of the first of those responsibilities. Nor, needless to say, holiness in the exercise of the third.
[Hat tip to J.S.]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pope baptizes notable 'Muslim' convert at Easter vigil

"Pope Baptizes Prominent Italian Muslim" (, March 22, 2008):
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Italy's most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.
"Muslim baptized by pope says life in danger" (Reuters, March 23, 2008):
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who was baptized a Catholic by Pope Benedict said on Sunday Islam is "physiologically violent" and he is now in great danger because of his conversion.
Update 3/29/08

"Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion" (Catholic Culture)

Canadian bishops in the dock

"Retract the Winnipeg Statement" (GoPetition, 6/15/07) has an online Petition to the Canadian Bishops. Excerpt:
Because moral and social disaster does not occur in a vacuum without the Church's involvement, it must be acknowledged that, in Canada, the contraceptive mentality was fostered by the Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian bishops published on September 27, 1968. In that Statement, Catholics were told that in some circumstances spouses “may be safely assured that, whoever chooses that course [i.e. contraception] which seems right to him does so in good conscience” (26). This teaching is against charity, justice and the truth. It is in contradiction to the constant teaching of the Church that contraception is an intrinsic evil permitting of no exceptions (Humanae Vitae, 14). Countless Catholics have referred to the Winnipeg Statement in justification of their contraceptive practice.
[Hat tip to K.K.]

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Of related interest: N.T. Wright, "Theology - Soteriology: It Really Happened" (Peter J. Leithart, March 23, 2008).

Memories of Dietrich Von Hildebrand

by Ronda Chervin, Ph.D.
It was truly a miracle that I met Gogo (as all his friends called him). Here is how it happened.

I was brought up as a total atheist, though my background was culturally Jewish. I studied philosophy hoping to find truth but only found skepticism, relativism, and historicism. I was looking for love but only found fascinating, sinful, disappointing relationships. By the age of 20 I was in despair of ever finding love or truth.

One Saturday my mother, who never surfed the TV, not ever, turned on the set in the middle of the afternoon, and there was a program called the Catholic Hour with two philosophers on it: Dietrich Von Hildebrand and Alice Jourdain. "Ronda, come see, there are some philosophers on TV." To my amazement, these philosophers were talking as if truth, love, goodness and beauty were objective realities.

I wrote them a long letter describing my futile search and asked if they could help me. It turned out that Alice (Lily – shortly afterwards to become Gogo's second wife) lived but 2 blocks away from me on the West Side of New York city. Neither she nor I, nor Madeleine (to be Stebbins) who was her roommate will ever forget our first meeting. Somehow, even though I was an atheist, I knew that there was something extraordinary in that apartment. Never had anyone looked into my eyes with such compassion and insight as did Lily. Afterwards, I danced down the street thinking, "I have met a saint."

Impressed by my yearning for truth, Lily suggested that I make a visit to the classes of Dietrich Von Hildebrand at Fordham and if I was enthusiastic, why not transfer my Woodrow Wilson scholarship from Johns Hopkins graduate school to Fordham.

Stephen Schwarz escorted me to Fordham. Two things caught my attention. The first was that, unlike the professors at Johns Hopkins who seemed to me to be dessicated academics, Von Hildebrand and Balduin Schwarz were vibrant men, overflowing with joy. Secondly I noticed that they could refute skepticism, relativism and historicism in a few sentences.

I like to think that two of my favorite saints also had something to do with the miracle of my mother turning on the TV at that moment: St. Therese of Lisieux who, during her dark night, prayed so much for atheists, and St. Edith Stein – who, having been an atheistic philosophy student from a Jewish background herself, surely she would want me to meet her "cousin" philosopher, Von Hildebrand.

Of course, being such a thoroughgoing atheist who had been brought up to think that all religious people were stupid and weak, I didn't think that the wonderful traits of Von Hildebrand, Lily, and the Schwarzs: Balduin, Leni (a convert from an atheist Jewish background) and Stephen, their son, had anything to do with their religion. I just wanted to be with them.

Zealous Gogo, at the urging of Lily, quickly arranged for my scholarship to be transferred and within a month I was taking courses at Fordham.

Ecstasy is the only word to describe my reaction to each of Gogo's classes, as I realized that truth was real, and what glorious truths, such as proofs that moral values were absolute. Simultaneously I was lapping up the love the members of the lay community surrounding me with. Getting to know them took place at lunches at the Schwarz house, and on the D-train of the NY subway from the Manhattan to the Bronx and back again, for I was able to travel a whole hour each way with either Gogo or Balduin who were riding up to the classes I was taking and they were teaching.

The miraculous events that led me to become a Catholic a year after meeting Gogo and Lily are told in my autobiography En Route to Eternity. A large part came from reading the authors recommended by them such as Augustine, Newman, and Chesterton. The night before my baptism I was visiting the Schwarzs who would become my godparents. Gogo was there. On my way home, I grabbed his arm and asked, "But suppose it isn't true, after all?" I expected some insight into philosophy or psychology of religion, but he replied with the simplicity of a peasant, "but think of the miracles!"

I found the personality of Gogo overwhelmingly. That the same man could be so serious, so deep, but also so spontaneous and affectionate, delighted me. We used to attend the same daily Mass, walking from different directions. Always I would find him singing opera loudly along the way. I often thought of this as the Italian side of his personality whereas the philosophical side was more German.

These personality traits of Gogo made whatever he wanted to teach me not so much didactic as enticing. And this was not only in the realm of philosophy. My father was a lover of classical music who filled our early childhood with the sound of music every hour he was home. As a teenager I rebelled and listened only to popular tunes. By college I gradually grew to love classical music, but had very little sense of choral music. I will never forget sitting in a room next to Gogo who was playing a 78 recording of Mozart's Laudate Dominum. To make sure I understood the beauty of it, he grabbed my arm with his hand and emphasized each climax of the singing with an extra squeeze accompanied by his radiant smile.

Another memory from these early days of the friendship, which would last until the end of his life, is of his insistence that those of us who rode with him on the subway from Fordham back to Manhattan pray Compline out loud in Latin. It was for me such an exemplification of the later buzz-word "counter-cultural" but also of freedom of spirit. In later years I followed his lead by insisting that friends pray the rosary aloud with me in airports during long waits at the gate.

Gogo played a large role in my marriage to Martin Chervin, a man from an orthodox Jewish background who had become an atheist as a teen but who wanted to know Christ. When I got interested in Martin as a possible spouse, I was on the verge of becoming a Catholic. At the time, he was a divorced playboy. I was confused. I thought a good way of getting rid of him would be to introduce him to Gogo and Lily and the Schwarz family. Surely they would tell me to drop this dangerous friendship immediately. Instead they all loved him and encouraged us in what turned out to be a long chaste courtship and helped us get a dispensation from Martin's previous non-religious marriage. We went through a long process with the New York and Roman tribunals. Finally Gogo was instrumental in persuading a prominent Cardinal to intervene for a dispensation in favorem fide.

It seemed as if Martin would soon become a Catholic. A major influence on him was the reading of Transformation in Christ. He recognized the genius of Gogo's combination of consummate understanding of human nature with sublime faith.
Even more, my husband, who had the same kind of joie de vivre as Gogo, could only have understood a faith like Gogo's, which included rejoicing in the goods of the earth, as well as opening to the redemptive gifts. Before meeting Gogo he thought of Catholics as either tight Puritanical types or rebellious sinners. It took him many years to finally become a Catholic, because he detested the American post-Vatican II Mass. Shortly before Gogo's death he made a bargain with God that should Gogo survive longer, at a time when his life seemed almost at an end, he would take it as a sign to become a Catholic in spite of his dislike of the English Mass. Gogo was spared a short time longer and Martin did become a Catholic

Gogo also had an influence on the conversion of my atheist mother. She was horrified at my interest in Roman Catholicism, but the personality of Gogo opened her to investigating the faith for herself. He decided to meet her informally at our home for individual teaching sessions to overcome her formidable doubts. In a charming gesture, the first time he came he presented her with a huge bouquet of peonies.

A few less important but telling memories:

Before his conversion, Martin and I were once traveling in Europe and went out of our way to go to Florence to see Gogo and Lily. I was praying constantly that whatever Gogo said would be a turning point for Martin to becoming a Catholic. We had a lovely visit but mostly the conversation was humorous and anecdotal instead of deep. At the end I was alone for a few moments and told Gogo how sorry I was that no important points had come up. Immediately Gogo's humorous expression changed to great seriousness and he exclaimed "What a sin on my part to have talked so much thoughtlessly!" I was touched by his readiness to acknowledge a fault even when it was unintentional.

Summers included a yearly meeting of a lay community that most of the Von Hildebrand circle were part of. I occasionally came to these meetings in Bavaria. The Mass was celebrated in a small chapel with parts of the congregation on either side – men on one side and women on the other. It always delighted me to see that, even after many years of marriage, Gogo could not bear to be separated from Lily – so throughout the Mass he would turn his head and gaze upon her with love.

A memory that fits with the name of the book The Soul of a Lion took place when Gogo and Lily came to Loyola Marymount University where I was teaching in the early 70's. Gogo gave the first talk. During the break, Lily told me that I must sit next to him while she was speaking and be sure that he stayed calm because he could have a fatal heart attack at any moment. During the question period the wife of a colleague of mine challenged Lily on some point. Gogo took it as an insult and tried to leap up to seize the floor. I grabbed him to hold him down. He turned on me swiftly and remarked: "Ronda, you can't keep me down. I am not a lamb, I am a lion."

We all knew that Gogo had a bad heart. Once, toward the end of his life, I had a nightmare that he was falling down a staircase to his doom. After that, whenever I was with him and there were stairs I pushed myself ahead of him so that I might cushion a fall.

As a professor of philosophy I have taught Gogo's books for decades with great impact. Some of my philosophy majors such as Michael Healy and James Harold, now at Franciscan University of Steubenville, went on to graduate school to study his thought. I cannot teach his ideas, or those of Lily, my life long friend, without a sense of the presence of their minds and hearts and souls permeating my smaller personhood. What a legacy. Viva the Von Hildebrands!
[Ronda Chervin is presently an adjunct philosopher at Lenoir Rhyne College in North Carolina. For more information about her numerous books about Catholic living, as well as videos and audios, go to The present article is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross, from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

One scene from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ that I will never forget is the one in which Simon of Cyrene is helping Jesus carry His cross. At one point, Simon encourages Jesus, as if to say, "Just a little farther," as they glance up toward Golgotha, their destination and the site of the impending crucifixion. The circumstance is freighted with a most agonizingly poignant irony, which redounds even upon the good work of Simon, which but hastens the inevitable crucifixion of our Lord. Therein, perhaps, we fear at times to find the irony redounding even upon ourselves.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI, a featured book review by Michael P. Foley

[Christ Pantocrator -- St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai]

During an interview, Peter Seewald once asked Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger a pointed question: How many ways are there to God? Seewalt, a lapsed Catholic, was perhaps hoping to catch the author of the "infamous" document Dominus Iesus--which reaffirms Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation--in a "gotcha" moment of intolerance and rigidity.

But the Cardinal surprised him. "As many as there are people," he replied. "For even within the same faith each man's way is an entirely personal one."1 Though Ratzinger also made clear that the only way to God is through Christ, it was his focus on each man's encounter with the Way that discombobulated the jaded journalist. That same disarming blend of the orthodox and the individual is evident in Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's latest book, Jesus of Nazareth, which the author describes not as an "exercise of the Magisterium" but an "expression of [his] personal search 'for the face of the Lord.'"2

The Historical-Critical Method

The Holy Father's salutary distinction between his office and his opinions does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth has little to do with the teachings of the Church. One of the book's central aims is to rectify that form of biblical exegesis known as historical criticism. Begun in the eighteenth century as an
enlightenment attempt to strip revealed religion of its claims to the supernatural and the miraculous, historical criticism now dominates biblical studies both Catholic and Protestant and shows no sign of abating, despite the rise of other schools of interpretation such as literary criticism.

* * * * * * *
Though Ratzinger also made clear that the only way to God is through Christ, it was his focus on each man's encounter with the Way that discombobulated the jaded journalist.

* * * * * * *

As its ideological beginnings make clear, historical criticism is a mixed blessing for Christianity. On the one hand, it was designed to undermine the believer's confidence in the reliability of the sacred text, and consequently it has destroyed not only many a man's orthodox convictions but his entire faith. For contemporary examples of this one need only think of the twaddle advanced by the "Jesus Seminar" or the articles gracing the covers of Time and Newsweek every Easter that deny the Resurrection on the authority of renowned biblical "experts."

On the other hand, it is thanks to the methodology of modern biblical studies that we have made enormous strides in understanding our biblical manuscripts, in our grasp of the original languages, andin our knowledge of Scripture's historical and cultural context. At its best, historical criticism helps exegetes better understand the literal sense of the text.

Benedict makes clear in his preface that he is aware of historical criticism's "indispensable dimension" as well as its significant "limits" (xv, xvi). Undergirding the conflict between historical-critical studies and Christian orthodoxy, however, is a deeper issue: who is the ultimage interpreter of the Bible--the Church, with its rule of faith, or the Academy, with its own canons of judgment? One of the most chilling passages in Jesus of Nazareth is Benedict's reflections on a short story by Vladimir Soloviev in which the Antichrist comes as a renowned Scripture scholar who believes that one should "measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview" (35):

The Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly pure scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times (36).

It is no doubt statements like this that led Cardinal Renato Martino to say that Jesus of Nazareth is not only a book with "salt and pepper" but with "hot peppers."3

* * * * * * *
Most of the controversy generated by Jesus of Nazareth so far has been not over any of Benedict's interpretations of this or that passage but his underlying conviction that the Church is in a beter position to understand its own sacred texts than the Academy.

* * * * * * *

For Benedict, only eyes fortified by Faith, Hope, and Charity can truly see the living mysteries disclosed in the Scriptures.4 While historical criticism can be useful, it must be firmly subordinated to the Apostolic Faith (xxiii), and it must remain cognizant of the fact that its own reconstructions of the past are hypothetical and hence tentative (xix). Most of the controversy generated by Jesus of Nazareth so far has been not over any of Benedict's interpretations of this or that passage but his underlying conviction that the Church is in a beter position to understand its own sacred texts than the Academy. That this should come as a surprise or a scandal to anyone indicates the extent of the crisis we are in and why the Pope is wise to address it.

[Saint Jerome from a mural]

On the whole, however, Benedict's own approach is more constructive than critical. His Holiness highlights the auspicious "fact that the inner nature of the [historical-critical] method points beyond itself" (xviii). Just as modern science, when it is understood properly, points to the need for a science or scientia greater than itself, so too does historical criticism implicitly (and perhaps unwittingly) reveal the possibility that every word in the Scriptures "contains more than the author may have been immediately aware of at the time" (xix).

A Master Exegete

Hence, there will always be a need to examine what the Church Fathers called the sensus plenior, the fuller Christological meaning of both Testaments made present through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To hold this involves no blind appeal to authority or voluntaristic suspension of discernment. On the contrary, Pope Benedict masterfully demonstrates that the most rational and reasonable way to read the Scriptures is with the recognition that the so-called "Jesus of history" is the "Christ of faith" (xxii), that the dichotomy between the two created by many exegetes invariably butchers the very text they purport ot understand and thus undercuts their own claims to competency. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this point.

In his chapter on the Baptism in the Jordan, Benedict takes advantage of the spectacular discovery of the Qumran or "Dead Sea" scrolls in the 1940s, reflecting on the possible connections between the desert Essenes (an ascetical, quasi-monastic Jewish community) and Saint John the Baptist. But while many scholars tend to reduce John's ministry to that of the Essences, Benedict, looking at the same data, more convincingly argues that in light of what we know from Qumran, "the Baptist's appearance on the scene was something completely new; the baptism he enjoined is different fromthe usual religious ablutions" (14). The Essenes had frequent ritual washings to be sure, but these stand in contrast to the unrepeatable act by the Baptist that is "meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever" (ibid.). Like any good Catholic missionary, John was taking preexisting symbols and transforming their use and meaning to betoken a new and divine reality.

Second, in his chapter on the Gospel of Saint John, Benedict reviews the commonplace contention that while the other three Gospels are more or less historical, John's Gospel is a much later product of theological speculation and hence does not reflect the "real" Jesus. Yet as Benedict points out, this conjecture presupposes that theological reflection is a hindrance rather than an aid to knowing who this Man is, and this is absurd: if Christ is who He says He is, the only way to know him is through faith. Ultimately undergirding the "historical Jesus" obsession is a remarkably naive understanding of history as something that can be captured in a series of transcripts. But as John himself points out in his Gospel through his use of the conceept of memory, "remembering" the story of the Christ can only happen through an awakening of the Spirit that makes the data of the past intelligible (231-34). Benedict's careful exploration of the biblical author's self-understanding provides a key to unlocking the text that modern exegetes have been trying in vain to pick.

Genuine Dialogue

It is no coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth is itself an excellent example of how historical criticism, purified of its pretensions to high science and rightly reordered, can bear much fruit. But the book, which covers the earthly ministry of Our Lord from His baptism to His transfiguration (a second volume on the infancy narratives and the Passion is forthcoming), boldly engages a number of other controversies as well. Perhaps the most fascinating example of this is the Pope's response to Rabbi Jacob Neusner, whom Benedict calls a "great Jewish scholar" (69) and a "truly attentive listner" (118). Neusner is the author of the 1994 book A Rabbi Talks With Jesus (reprinted 2000), in which he imagines himself in the crowd listening to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. As Benedict summarizes:
He listens to Jesus... and he speaks with Jesus himself. He is touched by the greatness and the purity of what is said, and yet at the same time he is troubled by the ultimate incompatibility that he finds at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.... Again and again he talks with Him. But in the end, he decides not to follow Jesus. He remains--as he himself puts it--withthe 'eternal Israel'" (103-4).
Neusner, a distinguished professor of Judaism at Bard College, was unimpressed with the "Judeo-Christian dialogue [that] served as the medium of a politics of social conciliation" rather than a "religious inquiry into the convictions of the other."5 He lamented the post-WWII "conviction that the two religions say the same thing" and the Enlightenment "indifference to the truth-claims of religion."6 In other words, he was tired of the very same things that make a traditional Catholic bristle when he hears the words "interreligious dialogue."

Neusner's response was A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, in which he takes with the utmost seriousness and respoect the teachings of Jesus even though he ultimately cannot accept them. Why not? Because "the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement,"7 whereas Jesus, with His frequent "You have heart it said... But I say unto you" emendations, is clearly going beyond the Torah and hence daring to improve it. Neusner rightly recognizes that with these statements Jesus is claiming to be God, and this astonishing assertion is something to which he cannot assent.

Rabbi Neusner later said of his book that he wanted to explain to Christians why he believed in Judaism, and that this explanation "ought to help Christians identify the critical convictions that bring them to church every Sunday."8 It certainly did for one reader. Benedict writes: "More than other interpretations known to me, this respectful and frank dispute between a believing Jew and Jesus, the son of Abraham, has opened my eyes to the greatness of Jesus' words and to the choice that the Gospel places before us" (69).

* * * * * * *
This is interreligious dialogue at its very best, the kind of serious conversation reminiscent of Saint Thomas Aquinas' turn to Rabbi Moses Maimonedes, where respect for the other does not devalue respect for the truth.

* * * * * * *

In what is the longest treatment of any living author in Jesus of Nazareth, the Pope joins "in the rabbi's conversation with Jesus" (70). He argues that Neusner is absolutely right in his analysis of what Jesus is saying, but he contends that this does not constitute a violation of the Torah. On the contrary, drawing from the testimony of the Hebrew Bible the Pope argues that the Torah points beyond itself, beyond the borders of Israel, that God's "one great definitive promise to Israel and the world" was the "gift of universality" which is made possible by the God-man who comes to save both Jew and Gentile (116).

This is interreligious dialogue at its very best, the kind of serious conversation reminiscent of Saint Thomas Aquinas' turn to Rabbi Moses Maimonedes, where respect for the other does not devalue respect for the truth. Neusner himself was amazed that the Pope should honor him in this way. In responding to Jesus of Nazareth, the rabbi wrote, "Someone once called me the most contentious person he had ever known. Now I have met my match. Pope Benedict XVI is another truth-seeker. We are in for interesting times."9

Theological Wisdom

To dwell as I have done on the Holy Father's disputations with contemporary issues such as biblical criticism and Judeo-Christian dialogue should not, however, obscure the more fundamental fact that Jesus of Nazareth is first and foremost a treasure of timeless theological wisdom. Benedict is a master reader of Holy Writ, a sleuth of the sacred who artfully connects seeminly disparate scriptural passages or Patristic interpretations to reveal a deep and rich teaching. No matter how well you think you know the Bible, the Pope will surprise you.

* * * * * * *
For Benedict, only eyes fortified by Faith, Hope, and Charity can truly see the living mysteries disclosed in the Scriptures. While historical criticism can be useful, it must be firmly subordinated to the Apostolic Faith, and it must remain cognizant of the fact that its own reconstructions of the past are hypothetical and hence tentative.

* * * * * * *

To mention just two examples: Benedict's explanation of why Jesus deigned to be baptized is not that He wished to rid Himself of His guilt (for He obviously had none) but that He wished to "load the burden of all mankind's guilt upon his shoulders" (18). Like Jonah the prophert, Our Lord inaugurated His public ministry by being thrown into the sea so that others may live. Benedict notes that in Eastern icons depicting Christ's baptism, the river Jordan appears "as a liquid tomb," a Hades into which Christ descends and out of which He rises to be greeted by the Father and the Holy Spirit" (19).

Similarly, Benedict offers a powerful exegesis of the three temptations in the desert by framing this event with a difficult question: Why didn't Jesus turn stone into bread (if not to feed Himself then at least others) or take control of all nations in order to bring peace on earth? Indeed "What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?" (44). "The answer," Benedict continues, "is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham and then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom literature.... It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth" 944).

As this answer suggests, the Pope is never far from the face of the Lord in his exegesis. Everything that Christ says, such as his preaching on the Kingdom of God (ch. 3) or His parables (ch. 7) brings us primarily, not to a doctrine, but to Himself. When Our Lord speaks of the Kingdom of God, for example, He is speaking about His own kingship, Himself. And when He tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He is indicating how He Himself is the "concrete realization of the father's" mercy towards the sinner (208).

I mentioned earlier that Peter Seewald was disarmed by Cardinal Ratzinger's answer about the ways of seeking god, and now I should add that that experience reignited his own search for the Lord and his return to the Church. Let us hope that the hot but nourishing peppers in Jesus of Nazareth will have the same effect on those of us whose love of the Lord has grown cool.

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium: An Interview With Peter Seewald, trans. Adrian J. Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 32. [back]

  2. p. xxiii. Cf. Ps. 27:8. [back]

  3. "Cardinal: Pope's Book Goes Against Grain,", 22 July 2007. [back]

  4. Looking at the logical lapses of Rudolf Bultmann, for example, "we see how little protection the highly scientific approach can offer against fundamental mistakes" (220). [back]

  5. Ibid. [back]

  6. Ibid. [back]

  7. Ibid. [back]

  8. Ibid. [back]

  9. Ibid. [back]

[Dr. Michael P. Foley is a professor of Patristics at Baylor University and the author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). The present review of Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2008), pp. 34-37, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

The few. The proud. The seminarians.

It's good to know who's training to defend our values. Enjoy.

"Theological Boot Camp" (Sacramentum Vitae, March 19, 2008).

[Hat tip to S.F.]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lenoir-Rhyne trades 'College' for 'University'

"College to change name to Lenoir-Rhyne University" (LRC News & Events, March 15, 2008):
The Commission for Lenoir-Rhyne, created in November to study possible expansion of the 117-year-old college, has presented a resolution asking the Board of Trustees to expand the mission of the institution to serve a broader constituency. To better represent the future programming initiatives of Lenoir-Rhyne the Commission has recommended that the name of the institution be changed to Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Very impressive for an institution that was only recently moving to cut its required liberal arts core to an 8-hour course and whose recent multi-million dollar donations are virtually all going towards athletic programs.

Of related interest:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Canon lawyer praises Abp. Burke on "women priest" excommunication

Ed Peters, "Abp. Burke's excommunication of the 'women priests'" (In the Light of the Law: A Canon Lawyer's Blog on Current Issues, March 14, 2008), writes:
I would like to say that Abp. Raymond Burke's excommunication of three women who recently participated in a pseudo-ordination in Saint Louis is a "text-book illustration" of how (non-judicial) excommunication is supposed to be applied in the Church today, but I can't say that: Why not? Because Abp. Burke's attention to juridic details and his provisions for the pastoral care of the people entrusted to his care so exceed what the textbooks teach, that it is the textbooks that must copy from him, not him from the textbooks.
Read more here ...

Of related interest:

Solitary Southern Mississippi Usus Antiquor discontinued

Nathan Blosser, "Disheartening news" (March 17, 2008), reports: "On Saturday, March 15th, Father Noone announced he will cease offering the Traditional Latin Mass on a regular basis and gave no plans for offering monthly Masses." Despite consistently respectable numbers and at least one Mass with over 100 present -- at an inconvenient time and in an inconvenient location some 30-45 minutes from Gulfport/Biloxi, the TLM is being discontinued. The priest, Father Noone, has been a champion of the forma extraordinaria. He was the solitary priest in the Diocese of Biloxi to volunteer to learn and offer the TLM. Substantive scuttlebut suggests an unsupportive chancery office. What is this -- status quo ante? With Nathan, the TLM community in Southern Mississippi, and many groups in similar circumstances throughout the world, we await the forthcoming clarifications on Summorum Pontificum. Oramus.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fr. Michael J. McGivney declared "Venerable"

"Knights of Columbus Founder Declared Venerable" (ZENIT, March 16, 2008):
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, MARCH 16, 2008 ( The founder of the Knights of Columbus was declared venerable by Benedict XVI, furthering his process toward possibly becoming the first American-born priest to be canonized.

The Pope approved Saturday a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of Father Michael McGivney.

"All of us who are members of the Knights of Columbus are profoundly grateful for this recognition of the holiness of our founder," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. "The strength of the Knights of Columbus today is a testament to his timeless vision, his holiness and his ideals."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What is a "personal relationship with Jesus"?

A reader just sent me this excellent discussion of an issue that is important both to evangelical Protestants and to faithful Catholics, but understood quite differently in certain respects. The discussion is by Father Dwight Longenecker, a convert to Catholicism from from Bible Belt fundamentalist Bob Jones University via theology at Oxford and the Anglican priesthood. Fr. Longenecker's article is entitled "Personal Relationship with Jesus" (Standing on My Head, March 8, 2008). The article begins thus:
As an Evangelical I always heard people talking about the importance of a 'personal relationship with Jesus'. The problem is, no one ever said what this actually meant. I wanted to know, what exactly is a 'personal relationship with Jesus.'? I mean, what happens? How do you know you have a personal relationship with Jesus? What did it consist of? I didn't ask these questions out of cynicism, doubt or mockery, but because I really wanted such a wonderful thing. Even now I do not ask the question in any sense of criticism of those good Evangelical folks who sincerely follow Christ. I do ask however, from my own experience and still want to know more.
Fr. Longenecker proceeds to review his experiences from his evangelical childhood in a sort of phenomenological retrospective in an attempt to identify the elusive meaning of the expression "personal relationship with Jesus." Was it the experience of praying? Being sorry for one's sins? Thinking about being a missionary? Confidence that you were going to heaven? The problem he encountered was that he felt more and more that the "personal relationship with Jesus" was more "personal" than "Jesus." As he grew older and had a wider experience of Evangelical Christianity, it all seemed rather sentimental and subjective. He then observes:
I then began to meet a few Catholics who seemed to be closer to Jesus than anyone I had ever met, but they never spoke about a 'personal relationship with Jesus.' Then when I became a Catholic I began to experience the personal relationship in a way I had never experienced before. Suddenly things did not depend on my own emotional world, but on objective realities. Catholicism was something hard and real and solid. "Here" as John Henry Newman observed, "was real religion." The Eucharist was real. Confession was real. The priesthood was real. The visible Church was real. The saints were real. Jesus was real, and my personal relationship with him was very, very real, and I was not sure that what I was experiencing was actually something I liked. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, and the reality of my relationship with Christ entered a new and disturbing dimension.

I began to realize that Jesus, like Aslan, is not a tame lion. He is, after all, the Lord of Life, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Only Begotten Son seated at the Right Hand of the Father in Majesty. He is the one through whom all things were made and in whom all things live and move and have their being. He is the dreadful judge, under whose authority all things in heaven and earth bow down in worship. To be sure he loves me and his sacred heart shines out in divine mercy for me, but am I really here and now to have a personal relationship with him which is only warm and fuzzy religious emotion?

I think not, and realize now that the personal relationship I have to him is of the sort that a servant has with the master, the subject to his monarch and the runaway son to the Father who welcomes him home.
Granted, there is significant overlap in the way evangelical Protestants and faithful Catholics experience Jesus. There is the experience of gratitude for His mercy and forgiveness. There is the experience of His judgment in an edifying fear of the Lord, which the writer of Proverbs calls the beginning of wisdom. There is the experience of a quiet ineffible joy in knowing His love, which undergirds even the deepest sorrows of life.

The profoundest difference, however, is that evangelical Protestants do not typically experience these things in a dependence relationship to the Church. The institutional Church is seen as incidental and secondary. The experience of Jesus is seen as immediate, unmediated, "contemporaneity with Christ," to borrow Kierkegaard's expression. For the faithful Catholic, on the other hand, these things are never experienced as far removed from the precincts of the Church. In fact, if the experience of a personal relationship with Christ is not quite inconceivable apart from the Church, it is something ordinarily and even necessarily defined by the sacramental life of the Catholic in the Church, above all through the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Ratzinger: "Father Gy's declaration ... irritated me."

Two years before his death in 2004, Father Pierre-Marie Gy, O.P. published a critical review of Cardinal Ratzinger's The Spirit of the Liturgy, which appeared in La Maison-Dieu 229.1 (2002), 171-78. The future Pope Benedict XVI did not take a benign view of Fr. Gy's criticisms, and asked that he be allowed to publish a response to the review in the same journal, as soon as possible. The two articles have recently been published in English translation in Antiphon 11.1 (2007), 90-102.

The reader need not look far to find what provoked Cardinal Ratzinger to respond. A variety of issues are touched on in the debate, the most prominent being "active participation" (participatio actuosa) in the liturgy and the ad orientem celebration of the Mass. For our article featuring detailed excerpts, read "Cardinal Ratzinger's 2002 defense of his liturgy book" (Scripture and Catholic Tradition, March 15, 2008).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Confirmed: Mosul Archbishop was shot

Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Archbishop whose death we reported yesterday ("Kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop dead," Musings, March 13, 2008), was apparently shot either during or after his kidnapping, according to a recent report:
Kidnapping and Death

Late on February 29, 2008, according to a report given by the Catholic News Service, Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped from his car in the Al-Nur district of the city; his bodyguards and driver were killed. Ishtar TV said the kidnappers moved Rahho three times during the two weeks of captivity because the area where they were holding Rahho was raided three times. The kidnappers demanded that the Assyrian Christians contribute to the jihad, through jizya. The captors also demanded the release of Arab detainees and that they be paid three million dollars for Rahho's release.

On March 13, 2008, it was reported that the Archbishop's body had been found buried in a shallow grave near Mosul. Officials of the Chaldean Church in Iraq said they had received a call telling them where the body was buried. The cause of death was initially not clear. An official of the morgue in Mosul said the archbishop, who had health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, might have died of natural causes. Police at the Mosul morgue said the Archbishop appeared to have been dead a week and his body bore no bullet wounds. It is believed that the Archbishop was shot in the leg when he was abducted on February 29. According to church officials, Gunmen sprayed the Archbishop's car with bullets, killed two bodyguards and shoved the bishop into the trunk of a car. In the darkness, he managed to pull out his cellphone and call the church, telling officials not to pay a ransom for his release, they said. "He believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions," the officials said. Other reports stated that also investigators believed the archbishop may have been shot at the time of the kidnapping.

However, Nineveh Deputy Governor Khasro Goran later confirmed the body did have gunshot wounds, specifically in the head. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho is believed to be the highest-ranking Chaldean Catholic clergyman to be killed in the current Iraq war.
According to the report, "Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly who broke down and wept during funeral services in Karamles, urged Assyrian Christians on Friday not to seek revenge for the death of the archbishop." On November 26, 2007, three months before he was found murdered, Archbishop Rahho said: "We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine, persecution ended only for Western Christians, whereas in the East threats continued. Even today we continue to be a Church of martyrs." How well he knew the possibility of a Baptism of Blood and Crown of Martyrdom. How distant such possibilities seem for us today in the West, when even the sentiments of Fr. Frederick W. Faber seem foreign, when in one of his hymns, he referenced the experience of Catholics in Britain and Ireland: "... How sweet would be their children's fate, if they, like them, could die for Thee. Faith of our fathers' Holy Faith, we would be true to thee till death."

May he rest in peace; and may God protect his little flock in Mosel and bring peace to Iraq.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What makes Dominicans totally cool

Just check out these links from the Province of St. Joseph:
  • Resources for Dominican Study (Br. Peter Totleben, OP)

  • Theology (including the works of St. Thomas in Latin, English, a complete Mariology, a companion to the Summa, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's "Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought," "Predestination," "Providence," "Life Everlasting," Commentaries on the Summa, Fr. Justin Hennessey's notes on the Theology of Grace, Fr. James Weisheipl's "The Revival of Thomism: An Historical Survey," Fr. Jordan Aumann's "St. Augustine's Theology of Ministry" and his "Thomistic Evaluation of Love and Charity" and Fr. Benedict Ashley's Study Outline on Gifts of the Holy Spirit.)

  • Philosophy (including Fr. Benedict Ashley's "Proposed Dominican Guide to Philosophy for Preachers," "The Arts of Learning and Communication: A Handbook of the Liberal Arts," and Fr. Pierre Conway's "A Summary of Aquinas' Commentary on Aristotle's Physics.")
... and much, much more on Prayer Spirituality, Dominican Spirituality, Dominican Study & Dominican History.

[Hat tip to C.B.]

Kidnapped Chaldean Catholic Archbishop dead

"The archbishop of Mosul is dead" (, March 13, 2008):
Bishop of Arbil: "A heavy Cross for our Church, ahead of Easter". The cause of death is still unknown. The pope's expression of sorrow.

Mosul (AsiaNews) - The Chaldean archbishop of Mosul is dead. Archbishop Faraj Rahho was kidnapped last February 29 after the Stations of the Cross. His kidnappers have given word of his death, indicating to the mediators where they could recover the body of the 67-year-old prelate.

"It is a heavy Cross for our Church, ahead of Easter", Rabban al Qas, bishop of Arbil, tells AsiaNews in response to the news.

The news of Archbishop Rahho's death "profoundly wounds and saddens" the pope, says the director of the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi. Benedict XVI hopes that "this tragic event may renew once again and with greater force the efforts of all, and in particular of the international community, for the pacification of this greatly tormented country". Three times in recent days, the pope had launched an appeal for the liberation of the bishop. Numerous Muslim leaders had also spoken out for the prelate's release, both Sunnis and Shiites, in Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan, and also condemned the action as "contrary to Islam".

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama's Supreme Court

Edward Whelan, "Obama's Constitution" (Weekly Standard, March 17, 2008):
Justice John Paul Stevens turns 88 in April, and by January 2009 five other justices will be from 69 to 75 years old. If Barack Obama is elected president, he will probably--with the benefit of resignations by liberal justices eager for him to be the president who chooses their successors--have the opportunity to appoint two or three Supreme Court justices in his first term, with another two or three in a potential second term. That prospect ought to focus the attention of all Americans who want a Supreme Court that practices judicial restraint and respects the proper realm of representative government. For Obama, if elected, would certainly aim to fill the Supreme Court--and the lower federal courts--with liberal judicial activists.

Although Obama has served in the Senate for barely three years, he has already established a record on judicial nominations and constitutional law that comports with his 2007 ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal of all 100 senators. Obama voted against the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, and he even joined in the effort to filibuster the Alito nomination. In explaining his vote against Roberts, Obama opined that deciding the "truly difficult" cases requires resort to "one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy." In short, "the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart." No clearer prescription for lawless judicial activism is possible.
Read the rest of the article ...

[Hat tip to Prof. E.E.]

Public parade of shame

The year opened with Kwame Kilpatrick's theatrically staged public 'apology' for his adulterous affair, subsequent cover-up, ruining of two cops' careers for telling on him, perjuring himself in court, then defrauding Detroit taxpayers to the tune of 8 million to pay for it -- the whole while with his dutiful wife at his size just taking the humiliation -- without ever claiming responsibility and promising that "I won't quit on you." Welcome to Detroit. ("Kwame Kilpatrick’s public apology" [Hello Negro, January 31, 2008]) His record here is redolent of Marion Barry's in the nation's capital.

Then it was Spitzer with a repeat act, excusing himself, the only silver lining the fact that he resigned: Maggie Gallagher, "Spitzer, stop torturing the wife" (Yahoo!News, March 11, 2008), writes:
Can we end the public practice of trying to shame these wives into divorcing their husbands?

There's a reason we feel impelled to do this these days. Adultery has been redefined as a "private matter," as Spitzer put it in his vain, Clintonian attempt to redirect attention from his crimes to his sin. Because we no longer have any public punishments for adultery, we have turned wives into instruments of the public morality: If she doesn't punish him by divorcing him, he will go unpunished, which is intolerable. (Without some punishment, won't all husbands stray?)
[Hat tip to Prof. E.E.]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is God's love unconditional?

This question has a long history of debate. Among Protestants, for example, one of the tenets of Calvinism is "unconditional election," which implies that God's love for His elect children is 'unconditional', while various Arminians (followers of Jacobus Arminius, as well as most Baptists and Methodists) hold that the gift of salvation and God's love is conditioned upon the "free will" response of His children. From the former tradition we hear things like "Once saved, always saved," and from the latter we hear about "backsliding" and "losing one's salvation." In Catholic tradition one finds similar oppositions between viewpoints that may emphasise divine predestination (as in St. Augustine's works) and those that emphasize human freedom, though without either position necessarily excluding the other when properly understood.

Carmello Fallace's recent article, "Is God's Love Unconditional?" (New Oxford Review, February 2008; rpt. Musings, March 10, 2008, by permission of the publisher), takes up the issue in the context of contemporary Catholic trends. He notices a pervasive emphasis today on "God's unconditional love," and asks himself: Is this true? Is this interpretation biblically warranted? He raises some very good questions. Here are some excerpts to get you started:
Is it true that, as many a modern homilist is wont to say, "God's love is unconditional"? It is true without question that the love of God, as stated in the Old and New Testaments, is rich, it abounds, it fills the earth, is unfailing, is faithful, is steadfast, it endures forever, is great, is higher than the Heavens, it surpasses knowledge, is better than life, etc. It is comforting and reassuring to hope that God's love is unconditional -- and it must be true, otherwise, many priests and homilists wouldn't say so. Right?

... unconditional love means, as far as God is concerned, that whatever we do -- good or bad -- does not matter, and we can expect God to love us the same as He always has.

Many claim that "unconditional love," or something similar, has a biblical basis, that it is written or implied in the Bible, or perhaps in some other Church document. But of the more than 800 instances of "love" in the Bible, none states or implies that God's love is unconditional. Furthermore, there is no official Church document that uses the word "unconditional" to describe God's love. There must be some mistake! some might demur. How could this be? Yes, there has been an enormous mistake, but it is not in the Bible or Church documents....

... If God's love were unconditional, there would be no Hell and all the unrepentant sinners, no matter how evil, would go to Heaven. So, what is God's love if it's not unconditional? It is covenantal. This means that if we want to continue to experience His love, we have to meet His conditions. God's love is eternal, it is constant, but He makes it absolutely clear what He loves and what He hates, and whom He loves and whom He hates. That God's love is unconditional is a modern deception invented by the devil; it is designed to blur our vision so that we can join him in the underworld.
Read the whole article here ... Your thoughts?

Kant attack ad

A friend of mine in Texas just got access to You Tube and wanted to see what would happen if he typed in "Kant." Try it. "Kant attack ad" is hiraliously funny. Follow up with some of the linked offerings, like "Nietzsche attack ad," or the "Kant movie trailer."

Add to that one of my recent favorites: "Monty Python - International Philosophy."

[Hat tip to M.C.B.]

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Obedience to rubrics is never sufficient

Oswald Sobrino offers a good, Catholic analysis in "Beyond Rubrics: A Biblical Warning" (Catholic Analysis, March 6, 2008), where he writes:
In reaction to years of liturgical abuse, there is now a new appreciation among some for following the official liturgical rules of the Church, the "rubrics." ...

My point in this post is that, while following the rubrics is absolutely necessary, it is never sufficient. We see that teaching in the prophets of Israel who decried those who relied on external observances over a change of heart and mind....

Those prophets were tough. Their words are still tough and, as affirmed by the Church for centuries, still relevant to Catholics today....

The Lord was tough, too.... [cf. Matthew 23:14-28]

It is thus no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church has always taught that the mere fact of receiving a sacrament or participating in some liturgical act is never enough if the heart is not really open to change.... "... the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them." [CCC 1128]

... No particular form of the Mass, whether ordinary or extraordinary, no exactitude and precision in external celebration, no particular liturgical language, no particular musical arrangement or panoply of vestments (however exquisite or refined) will do the great work of conversion for us and acquit us of the above biblical condemnations if we do not freely surrender to Jesus and freely ask for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit at some point in the course of the external observances. The reaction to past liturgical abuses is certainly understandable and needed; but the reaction should not lead us to another tempting dead end, a dead end about which we have ample, tough, and loud biblical warning that will always be relevant unto the end of time and the coming of the new heaven and the new earth.

If, in contrast to the banality of badly celebrated liturgies, you, like many others, want a deeper experience of and union with God in the liturgy, whether it's the ordinary form (popularly known as the "Vatican II Mass") or the extraordinary form (popularly known as the older "Latin Mass"), you have to go beyond the form and language of the celebration: you have to open your heart to a fuller release of the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit in your life. Once you take that step, your experience of God's grace or charis in any form of the Holy Mass will take a qualitative leap beyond anything you have ever experienced up to now.
My own experience has been that a certain handling (or mishandling) of the rubrics can promote (or hinder) the deeper experience of union with God for which Sobrino is calling here. (A good book in this connection is Dietrich von Hildebrand's Liturgy and Personality.) That notwithstanding, that deeper experience of union with God is the heart and soul of the participatio actuosa ("active participation") for which St. Pope Saint Pius X (the first to use the expression) called the Church in his Motu Proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini (1903), and echoed in the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. The point is well-taken.

In a related veign, Sobrino writes, in a post entitled "An Easily Overlooked, Unconscious Heresy" (Catholic Analysis, March 3, 2008):
... we may feel that we are somehow automatically Catholic by virtue of our culture, our customs, and our celebrations. We can thus end up as baptized pagans who think we are Catholic but are not really so. That kind of subconscious ethnic or cultural identification with Catholicism is never sufficient. We are called to a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus in the heart of the Catholic Church--then we are really Catholic. I think that this subconscious reduction of Catholic identity to custom or ethnicity is at least partially responsible for many of our problems with liberal, heterodox expressions of Catholicism and even with some excessively traditionalistic, extreme expressions of Catholicism.
Amen to that. Correct that problem and you eliminate one of the major stumbling blocks to evangelical Christians (and many others) who fail to see the Catholic Faith as a live option. Think here not only of Don Corleone in the 'Godfather' or 'Catholic' government officials who publicly flaunt Church teaching, but of stock anti-Catholic phrases such as "empty ritual," "dead ceremonialism," etc.

[Hat tip to J.M.]

Why Benedict wanted to change the Good Friday prayer

Sandro Magister, "A Bishop and a Rabbi Defend the Prayer for the Salvation of the Jews" (www.chiesa, March 7, 2008):
The bishop is Gianfranco Ravasi. The rabbi is Jacob Neusner. The prayer is the one for Good Friday in the ancient rite. This is why Benedict XVI wanted to change the text ...
The revised version omits "blindness" and "darkness," two words specifically offensive to Jews. With the revision, however, Benedict "did not attenuate, but instead greatly reinforced the prayer with more pregnant Christian content." See why ...

Fat chance

Pope to rehabilitate Luther? London Times theory gets it wrong again ...

Friday, March 07, 2008

St. Thomas Aquinas

If memory serves, January 28th is the feastday of St. Thomas on the new calendar. Today is his day on the traditional calendar, for anyone who cares.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Still Missing

The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul is still in the hands of kidnappers, who have raised their demands (, 3/4/08):
The men who have the fate of Msgr. Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul in their hands since February 29th last, have raised the ransom and dictated “political conditions” for his release, according to AsiaNews sources in Iraq, close to mediators who are negotiating his safe return.
[Hat tip to A. Wellborn]

Hillary hints at 'dream ticket' with Obama

"Clinton Hints At Sharing Ticket With Obama -- Hillary On 'Early Show': 'Of Course We Have To Decide Who's On Top Of Ticket'" (, March 5, 2008): "NEW YORK (CBS) ― Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hinted at the possibility of a Democratic 'dream ticket' with Sen. Barack Obama."

Meanwhile: "Obama says it is 'premature to talk about a joint ticket'" (Ben Smith, Politico, March 5, 2008).

Franky Schaeffer responds to Os Guinness

Well, actually, he doesn't mention a single substantial criticism raised by Guinness (pictured right) in his review of Franky's book, "Fathers and Sons: On Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, and Crazy for God" (Books & Culture, March/April 2008). Rather, in his response, "Full Disclosure: A response to Os Guinness" (Books & Culture, March/April 2008), Franky (pictured left) diverts the reader's attention away from those criticisms by questioning Guinness's motives. The ploy is as revealing as it is ineffective. Books and Culture also published a brief reply by Guinness, found at the bottom of Franky's call for "Full Disclosure." As Guinness concludes: "I replied to his book for one reason only: His portrait of his parents was wrong and destructive. It left me alternately grieved and outraged, and I wanted to witness to the truth as I see it before God. I hope one day we can sit down and talk it over amicably."

"A Crisis of Meaning in the Sign of Peace"

Last fall Michael P. Foley wrote a very interesting article on the history and current practice of "Sign of Peace" in the liturgy, which used to be a rite of the "Holy Kiss." His article is entitled "A Crisis of Meaning in the Sign of Peace" (originally published in the Advent/Christmas 2007 issue of Latin Mass, and reproduced by permission of the publishers at Scripture and Catholic Tradition, March 5, 2008). Although the practice in most American Catholic churches has become fairly standardized, it wasn't that long ago that the matter was experienced as a point of tension, at least by some. I recall a friend's recollection of a Mass at a Newman Center at a college in California some twenty years ago at which there was present a little old lady who was a daily Mass attendee there, where she never failed to make a petition for the souls in Purgatory during the Prayer of the Faithful. At this particular Mass, some students came waltzing up to her with open arms to embrace her during the Sign of Peace, and, to their horror, she abruptly responded: "F___ off!" The Sign of Peace in the liturgy has elicited, then, some less-than-peaceful responses in recent memory. Why is this? Has the Sign of Peace undergone a change of meaning in our time? What is the history of this component in the Mass? Here are some excerpts from professor Foley's article to get you started, but you can read the article in its entirety at the above-linked site:
The rite of peace, which was restored to all Masses in the 1970 Missal, has fallen onto hard times. Though some Catholics wholeheartedly praise it as the "highpoint of the Mass" (as one of my priest friends has been told several times by his parishioners), others view the matter differently. The 2005 Eucharistic Synod worries that the greeting has assumed "a dimension that could be problematic," as "when it is too prolonged" or "causes confusion." In Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the peace becoming "exaggerated" by emotion and causing "a certain distraction" before Holy Communion. Consequently, the Supreme Pontiff not only calls for "greater restraint" in the gesture of peace but has even raised the question as to whether it should be moved to another part of the Mass.

How could such an ostensibly bright hallmark of the new liturgy become the object of such abuse? To answer this, we must reexamine the unique but all to hidden meaning of the kiss of peace in the Roman rite.

The Holy Kiss

The "holy kiss," as Saint Paul calls it, has almost always been an important component of the Mass. Originally the kiss--which was a full, lip-on-lip act--was given to members of the same and opposite sex; but by the late second century Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria were complaining that a lascivious element between men and women was creeping into the proceedings. This problem was solved by segregating the sexes to different sides of the nave, a practice that was till being recommended as late as the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

[Pope Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at Ravenna, December, 2007]

Similarly, like most other kinds of kissing, the liturgical kiss was seen as a very intimate gesture, the kind of thing one would only do within one's family. Hence, the kiss was not given to "non-family members" such as heretics or catechumens. This principle was relatively easy to osbserve, since the early Church dismissed non-initiates after the homily, before the kiss was given.

The kiss remained a vital part of the liturgy until the mid-1200s, when it began to fall into disuse, and no one is certain why. The Church tried to sustain the rite by using a paten-like object called a pax-brede....
Read the rest of the article ...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"Tea and Sympathy"

My dear crazy beloved wife has launched her own blog, "Tea and Sympathy," devoted to Evelyn Waugh and literature. I commend it to any of you who love Waugh and other English and American literature. Here she introduces it in her own words:
So, here I am. I'm attaching myself to a blog so that I might discuss literature with other people who want to discuss literature. My primary focus is Evelyn Waugh because I believe him to be the author of the finest English novels that have ever been penned. I like other authors too, of course, such as Oscar Wilde, Anthony Burgess, Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and William Shakespeare. Let's talk about books.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Obama: Senate's fiercest opponent of Born Alive Infants Protection legislation

Rick Santorum: "The Elephant in the Room: Obama: A harsh ideologue hidden by a feel-good image" (Philadelphia Inquirer, February 28, 2008):
American voters will choose between two candidates this election year.

One inspires hope for a brighter, better tomorrow. His rhetoric makes us feel we are, indeed, one nation indivisible - indivisible by ideology or religion, indivisible by race or creed. It is rhetoric of hope and change and possibility. It's inspiring. This candidate can make you just plain feel good to be American.

The other candidate, by contrast, is one of the Senate's fiercest partisans. This senator reflexively sides with the party's extreme wing. There's no record of working with the other side of the aisle. None. It's basically been my way or the highway, combined with a sanctimoniousness that breeds contempt among those on the other side of any issue.

Which of these two candidates should be our next president? The choice is clear, right?

Wrong, because they're both the same man - Barack Obama.

... consider his position on an issue that passed both houses of Congress unanimously in 2002.

That bill was the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. During the partial-birth abortion debate, Congress heard testimony about babies that had survived attempted late-term abortions. Nurses testified that these preterm living, breathing babies were being thrown into medical waste bins to die or being "terminated" outside the womb. With the baby now completely separated from the mother, it was impossible to argue that the health or life of the mother was in jeopardy by giving her baby appropriate medical treatment.

The act simply prohibited the killing of a baby born alive. To address the concerns of pro-choice lawmakers, the bill included language that said nothing "shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand or contract any legal status or legal right" of the baby. In other words, the bill wasn't intruding on Roe v. Wade.

Who would oppose a bill that said you couldn't kill a baby who was born? Not Kennedy, Boxer or Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not even the hard-core National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). Obama, however, is another story. The year after the Born Alive Infants Protection Act became federal law in 2002, identical language was considered in a committee of the Illinois Senate. It was defeated with the committee's chairman, Obama, leading the opposition.

Let's be clear about what Obama did, once in 2003 and twice before that. He effectively voted for infanticide. He voted to allow doctors to deny medically appropriate treatment or, worse yet, actively kill a completely delivered living baby. Infanticide - I wonder if he'll add this to the list of changes in his next victory speech and if the crowd will roar: "Yes, we can."
Read the rest of the article.