In June the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) formally approved a “Joint Declaration” (JD) on the doctrine of justification that had been worked out over many years of theological dialogue with the Catholic Church. Shortly after that, Rome made its official response in a joint statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (CCU). These developments received considerable play in the general media with stories about an “historic agreement” on the chief doctrine that had separated Lutherans and Catholics for almost five hundred years. The reality is somewhat more complicated than that.
Rome did officially “receive” JD in the sense that it affirmed that very significant progress had been made in removing past misunderstandings, and in moving toward full agreement on what it means to say that the sinner is justified by faith. However, many of the Catholics and Lutherans involved in producing JD are saying—mainly off the record, for the present—that the Roman response is, in the most important respects, a rejection of the declaration. JD proposed that, with the new understandings achieved by the dialogue, the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century no longer apply, and remaining differences over the doctrine of justification are not church-dividing. The Roman statement does not accept that proposal.
It would be an understatement to say that the theologians involved in the dialogue, both Lutheran and Catholic, were taken aback by the Roman response. During the process, Rome had indicated problems with aspects of the declaration and, almost up to the last minute, revisions were made to take those concerns into account. The participants in the dialogue thought they had been assured that JD would be approved by Rome. Certainly that was the understanding that informed the LWF's approval of the declaration. In the immediate aftermath of the statement by CDF and CCU, the mood among dialogue participants was bitter and despondent. One Lutheran pioneer of the dialogue declared that the theologians, both Lutheran and Catholic, had been “betrayed” by Rome. For decades to come, he predicted, it would be impossible to reestablish confidence in any theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.
Such assertions, and there are many of them, may be excessive. Perhaps when the dust settles, the theologians will go about the task of putting together the pieces and resuming the dialogue in a way more likely to meet with approval from Rome. At present, however, it is not too much to say that they are in a state of shock. Their sharp criticism of the Roman response has several parts. In the first of its eight points, the Roman response says that JD's treatment of the Lutheran teaching that the Christian believer is “at the same time righteous and sinner” (simul iustus et peccator) is unsatisfactory. On this, says Rome, it would be hard to say that the formulation of JD is not “touched” by the anathemas of the Council of Trent. Here and elsewhere, the theologians complain, the Roman statement gives a less than generous reading of JD, putting the most unfavorable construction on the text.
Moreover, it is said, Rome criticizes JD for what is said in sections of the document specifically written to provide a “Lutheran perspective.” That is to say, JD includes several different kinds of statements. There are sections that state what Lutherans and Catholics can affirm together about justification. These sections, presumably, are the heart of JD's achievement. They state the substantive agreement. Then it is acknowledged that Lutherans and Catholics have different ways of giving theological expression to the truth of justification—ways that are fully in accord with the substantive agreement stated earlier. So there are distinct sections offering, respectively, Lutheran and Catholic perspectives on the substantive truths agreed to. The complaint is that Rome's response criticizes items contained in the “Lutheran perspective” because they do not employ the distinctively Catholic way of giving expression to the doctrine. The theologians answer, “But of course! That's why JD provides the different perspectives in the first place.” The question that Rome should have addressed, they say, is whether the statements of substantive agreement in JD are acceptable.
Challenging the Enterprise
The same theologians bristle at Rome's point seven, which says that in the future the dialogue should focus on the entire teaching of the New Testament on justification. “Gratuitous and condescending,” says one Lutheran. “As though in the course of the dialogue we had not done book-length studies of what the New Testament says on the subject. We don't need Rome to tell us we should take the Bible seriously.” It is point six, however, that meets with the most vehement reaction. There Rome's response raises a challenge to the very structure of the dialogue itself, asking who the Lutheran partners really represent, and whether what they say can be trusted as a definitive word that will hold in the future. “This is really bad ecumenical form,” says one Lutheran who has over the years risked criticism from fellow Lutherans for his effort to present Catholic positions favorably. Point six, he and others say, should have been raised thirty years ago when the dialogues were getting underway. There are obvious asymmetries between the LWF (and any other institution, for that matter) and the Catholic Church. Everybody has that difficulty in dealing with the Catholic Church. It is also a legitimate problem for Rome to raise, but that can be done in a way that is not insulting and does not undermine existing dialogues. Says one noted Catholic ecumenist: “From both its content and tone, I have the distinct impression that Rome's statement was written by somebody who is unfamiliar with the ecumenical process, does not understand it, and probably does not like it.”
As of this writing, tempers are high. The Lutherans who had been strongly critical of JD, and there are many of them among German theologians in particular, are having a hard time not saying “I told you so.” Most of them seem not even to be trying. Catholics and Lutherans who are actually part of the dialogue, while deeply disappointed, are cautiously examining what might be rescued from the Roman mishap. There are exceedingly delicate intra-Roman questions involved here as well, such as the respective roles of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Council for Christian Unity, especially since the latter was party to producing JD and presumably presented it for approval. The complex relationship between offices (called dicasteries) in the Curia is the subject of much speculation and little public knowledge.
Toward the Future
In the presently agitated atmosphere, one should not lose sight of the fact that Rome's statement does explicitly, strongly, and repeatedly affirm the dialogue itself and leaves no doubt that it should continue. It also affirms that JD is a great, although not entirely satisfactory, achievement. Whatever the disappointment of those who expected more, that should not be overlooked. While they no doubt could have been more felicitously expressed, legitimate concerns are raised in Rome's response. Especially is this the case with the difference between Rome agreeing to a doctrinal statement and the agreement of an association of churches such as the LWF.
Although there would seem to be unexplored ambiguities here, Rome's ratification of JD would make it, in some sense, part of the official teaching of the Catholic Church. At least it would be an official statement that JD is consonant with Catholic doctrine. Rome legitimately, although indelicately in this instance, inquires as to the magisterial status, so to speak, of the LWF's vote to approve JD. It cannot be said that the historic disagreement over justification has been resolved with the “Lutheran communion” since not all Lutheran bodies belong to the LWF. And what is to prevent the LWF from taking a contrary vote at some point in the future? Unlike the Catholic Church, the LWF has no track record of exercising anything like a magisterial teaching authority. And some in Rome may recall that it was not so long ago that the LWF took up the question of justification at one of its assemblies and concluded that there was no consensus among Lutherans as to what it means.
These and other questions must be carefully engaged in the continuing dialogue on the long way toward the hoped-for goal of healing the breach between Rome and the Reformation. There is no blinking the fact that Rome's response to JD is a setback, but it is in no way the end of the quest for unity. In ways not presently discerned, it may contribute to putting the Lutheran—Catholic and other dialogues on a more solid foundation. As John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) emphatically underscores, ecumenical engagement is not “optional” for the Catholic Church; it is an imperative built into the Church's very self-understanding as articulated in the Second Vatican Council's constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The present setback follows upon major disruptions also in the Anglican—RC dialogue. The Lutheran and Anglican cases are different in important respects, but these were viewed as the premier dialogues with the Catholic Church, and now both are dispirited and in a state of disarray. And, of course, the current fractiousness within Orthodoxy has cast a dark shadow over John Paul's fervent hope for reconciliation between East and West. These are very hard days for ecumenism, and one has to hope that Rome will take the initiative in pointing a more promising way forward to the realization of the Our Lord's prayer, “Ut unum sint.”
Finally, the question is asked what bearing these developments have on the initiative known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), and, in particular, its agreed statement on justification, “The Gift of Salvation.” I believe the answer is that ECT is untouched by Rome's response to the Joint Declaration. Unlike the declaration, “The Gift of Salvation” is not an official statement, although it had and continues to have the strong encouragement of Rome. Moreover, the Lutheran formula of simul iustus et peccator, which was Rome's chief objection to JD, is no part of “The Gift of Salvation.” With some exceptions, that formula and the Lutheran construal of it in JD is as alien to Evangelicals as it is to Catholics. Then too, the questions at the center of the Lutheran—RC dialogue—what is church-dividing disagreement and how might ecclesial reconciliation be effected—are not on the ECT agenda. They might possibly be the questions for another generation of Evangelicals and Catholics. At present and for the foreseeable future, however, ECT is intent upon deepening the understanding of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ called to the common task of evangelization and the renewal of culture. The message of ECT was very warmly received at the special Synod for America convened by the Pope in Rome last year, and in the months ahead will be carried forward in ongoing discussions with Evangelical leaders and Catholic bishops in Latin America. In sum, ECT is a conspicuous exception to the current ecumenical doldrums.
There is no point in arguing with the claim that Jacques Derrida is the most famous philosopher in the world today. The most famous at least among those who set academic fashions and their camp followers in the popular media. He is commonly called “the father of deconstructionism,” an ill-defined intellectual disposition that is thought to give carte blanche to the denial of “objective truth” in the service of making up whatever “truths” suit one's fancy. Deconstructionism has provided a capacious playpen for queer studies, radical feminisms, and a wide range of debonair nihilisms that have taken exuberant advantage of the last several decades' sabbatical from the tasks of clear thinking. Little wonder that Derrida—along with Nazi-tinged Paul De Man and the late celebrant of the culture of death, Michel Foucault—has become a byword of derision among conservatives. Children of Heidegger all, they are thought to vindicate the truth that evil ideas, too, have consequences.
Over the years, Derrida has returned regularly to Johns Hopkins University where thirty years ago his deconstructionist manifesto first excited the neophiliac professoriate. In between there have been more than thirty books in which Derrida has maintained his reputation for being at the cutting edge, or, in the view of his critics, for taking French intellectual life over the edge into terminal silliness. As so often happens, the master is just a bit embarrassed by what his epigones have done in his name. Just a bit, mind you. He is careful not to jeopardize his celebrity standing, but he does want it understood that he is not responsible for all the bizarre things perpetrated in the name of deconstructionism. This was evident in a recent interview at Johns Hopkins in which he said that those who assert it is not possible to determine what is right and wrong are operating with a “relativistic image of deconstruction.” He did not provide a nonrelativistic definition of deconstruction but appeared to suggest that his method, so to speak, was little more than the inculcation of modesty in what we claim to know for sure. There is a long tradition of French intellectuals sending signals through the medium of interviews, and there are no doubt books already in the works deciphering Derrida's enigmatic allusion to the existence of relativistic and nonrelativistic deconstruction.
Also enigmatic but suggestive of something genuinely interesting in Derrida's thought is what might be viewed as a theological turn. Asked about his role as the world's most famous philosopher (a description he does not dispute), Derrida opined: “I have been given this image, and I have to face some responsibility, political and ethical. It is as if I am indebted to—I don't know to whom—to thinking rigorously, to thinking responsibly. I am in a situation of trying to learn to whom, finally, I am responsible. To discover . . . who is hidden, who gives me orders. It is as if I have a destiny which I have to interpret and decipher.” It does sound as though Mr. Derrida is taking the long way around to the Big Question. Perhaps, he seems to be saying, the decipherer is himself a “text” being deciphered. The deconstructionist deconstructed is but a small step from the discovery of the One to whom he is responsible and by whom he is destined. If or when he publicly takes that step, watch for the announcement that Jacques Derrida, once celebrated as the world's most famous philosopher, has in his old age taken refuge in religious obscurantism.
I will not be surprised if he does take that step toward the truth ever ancient, ever new. Reading the Derridadists, one gets the impression that many of them think they are being terribly innovative and radical in making what is usually the adolescent discovery that there is no “totalist” explanation of the truth about everything. Sophomores of all ages, many of them tenured, declare themselves “liberated” by the realization that there are other ways of viewing almost everything, and then concluding that no one way can be “privileged” as the truth about anything. Their rebellion against the pretentious certitudes of Enlightenment rationalism, often defined as modernity, is in large part warranted, and that is the kernel of truth in “postmodernism.” Postmodernism can be a lower-case relativism that is not Relativism but simply a disciplined modesty in search of the way things really are. This is not relativism as a dogma but relativism in the service of truth.
The dismal truth is that generations of moderns were miseducated to think that religion, and Christianity in particular, claims to be “objectively” true in a manner that eliminates the subjectivity of experience and perspective. Regrettably, that miseducation was and is abetted by Christians who confuse orthodoxy with the exclusion of intellectual inquiry. In this habit of mind, the truth is an object, a thing possessed, which must be assiduously protected from any thought that is not certified by Christian copyright. The alternative is to understand that truth is personal, less a matter of our possessing than of our being possessed in service to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. As St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, our apprehension of that truth is always partial, something seen through a glass darkly in anticipation of the time when we will know even as we are known.
Few things have contributed so powerfully to the unbelief of the modern and postmodern world as the pretension of Christians to know more than we do. In reaction to unwarranted claims of knowledge certain and complete, modern rationalists constructed their religion of scientism, and postmoderns, in reaction to both, claim to know that nothing can be known. Please do not misunderstand. Christians do know the truth, saying with St. Paul (Romans 8:38-39), “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As St. Paul goes on to say in Romans 11, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Christian thought is the open-ended adventure into searching the unsearchable and scrutinizing the inscrutable. Always, if it is authentically Christian, it ends up in doxology: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Unthinking Christian polemics against “relativism” play a large part in creating upper case Relativists. The objective truth of revelation is perceived as an alien intrusion (heteronomy is the technical word) that is the enemy rather than the end of honest inquiry. The great thinkers of an earlier era—from Justin Martyr through Athanasius, Augustine, and Aquinas—understood that all truth is the truth of Christ. “In the beginning was the Word,” the Logos who is the universal wisdom in which all wisdom finds its source and end. The thought that any truth can violate that truth is a violation of the law of noncontradiction, which cannot be violated without self-contradiction. Faced with the apparent choice of following Christ or following a truth that we know to be true, the course of fidelity is to follow the truth, for only thus will we be following Christ, if, as we are persuaded, Christ is the truth.
The inquiring subject is not eliminated but encountered by the truth of the Word. Our apprehension of the objective is always relative. This is true in matters both trivial and cosmic. How far is Kansas City? The answer is relative to whether you're in New York or in Peoria. Each of us apprehends the truth from his own circumstance, which is a standpoint that is not to be confused with the standpoint. Only the one who is both Alpha and Omega occupies the standpoint from which all is known, comprehensively and without remainder. St. Paul again: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” If Christians exhibited more intellectual patience, modesty, curiosity, and sense of adventure, there would be fewer atheists in the world, both of the modern rationalist and postmodern irrationalist varieties. I have never met an atheist who rejects the God in whom I believe. I have met many who decline to commit intellectual suicide, and maybe spiritual suicide as well, by accepting a God proposed by Christians who claim to know more than they can possibly know.
Which brings me back to Jacques Derrida. I don't know whether he was just being cute in that interview. He does, unfortunately, have a record of posturing to put his devotees more off balance than they already are. But I would very much like to believe that he is resolved to think rigorously about to whom he is indebted, to whom, finally, he is responsible. That way, pressed honestly enough, lies the encounter with the truth that deciphers our deciphering and deconstructs our deconstructing. And, who knows, perhaps Derrida's disciples, too, will one day weary of their sophisticated knowingness and be opened to the truth that frees us from our poignantly compulsive liberations.
“Blaming the victim” is a charge all too lightly tossed about in recent decades. Anyone who dares to point out that the actions and attitudes of those in certified victim groups (blacks, women, homosexuals, et al.) might have contributed to their victimization is vulnerable to the charge of blaming the victim. This subject arises in connection with Albert S. Lindemann's Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews. Lindemann examines the ways in which the behavior of Jewish communities in Europe contributed to the anti-Semitism that produced the Holocaust. The book was assaulted in Commentary as an outrageous calumny, and Cambridge University Press was excoriated for having published it. For the most part, however, the book seems to have been ignored in this country.
Steven Beller, author of Vienna and the Jews: A Cultural History, takes a different (I do not say more balanced) approach in the Times Literary Supplement. He writes: “It is abundantly clear, to anyone with an open mind, that Lindemann's sympathies in a large sense lie fairly and squarely with the Jews, not only as passive victims, but also as active contributors to the modern world. It is just that he is also trying to understand why Jews were so hated, and also to keep an ‘objective' sense of how much they were hated. It is one of his more controversial claims, but I think it is a correct one, that most Germans did not want to exterminate all Jews during the Second World War. I think he is also right to point out that most anti-Semitic thinkers and leaders before and after the First World War were not in favor of extermination of the Jewish race, and that anti-Semitism was not some sort of endemic plague which, of itself, led to the Holocaust. Instead, he shows that many European societies were relatively free of anti-Semitism, including Britain, Italy, Hungary (at least before the First World War), and France (except for the relatively brief period of the Dreyfus Affair). His point is that modern Gentile Europe was not one massive ‘vale of tears,' but rather a place where many Jews could, and did, do remarkably well. He even points out that Germany and Austria, for all the real anti-Semitism in those countries, saw a flourishing of Jewish economic and intellectual endeavor, and that the supposed false optimism of the assimilant communities is perfectly understandable from a pre-Holocaust perspective.”
If Lindemann sins, Beller suggests, it is a sin of exaggeration. “In a revealing analogy, Lindemann tries to liken the attacks on Jewish achievement and on Jewish feelings of superiority to recent attacks on ‘Western Civilization' and the West's sense of superiority over the rest of the world. The attacks on both, he seems to be saying, are understandable but largely unjustified, even if both—the Jews and the West—have their faults. Lindemann's book, for all its faults, is a worthy and at times deeply moving attempt to show why this is so, in both cases. If the Jews were not and are not ‘saints' in his estimation, and if their own thoughts and actions have at times played into the hands of those who would attack them, they are nevertheless, in his opinion, an overwhelmingly positive influence in the modern world. Similarly, even if Western Civilization has deep flaws, one of which, tragically, has been the prejudice against Jews, it too has been a positive force in the history of the world, and its virtues should not be completely and distortedly obscured by the exaggeration of its vices. Lindemann's own appeal to ‘objectivity' and the possibility of understanding on a human level is an exercise in precisely those virtues of Western Civilization of which Jews have partaken and to which they have contributed so much. Read in that spirit, Albert Lindemann's book, while far from perfect, deserves praise and not calumny. It will be interesting to see whether it gets what it deserves.”
The claim, inter alia, that “most Germans did not want to exterminate all Jews during the Second World War” is not terribly reassuring. They wanted to exterminate only the more offensive ones? The problem with the book is not that Lindemann tries to understand views that were held back then in a “pre-Holocaust perspective.” That is a valuable thing to do. The problem is that Lindemann so enters into those views that he seems at times to be writing from a pre-Holocaust perspective. There is almost no subject today about which there is more moralistic cant than the subject of the Holocaust. For that reason, the friends of clear thinking are inclined to welcome books that go against the grain. Esau's Tears, however, crosses a line that, admittedly, is hard to draw with any exactness. It is the kind of exercise that gives a measure of respectability to the phrase “blaming the victim.”
After the longest tenure in the magazine's long history, Father George Hunt, S.J., has been replaced as editor of America by Father Thomas J. Reese, S.J. The new editor's training is in social science and he has written prolifically on what he calls the management style of the Catholic Church. The Jesuit weekly is no longer the influence that it once was, but, along with the lay-edited Commonweal, it has generally tracked a moderate brand of liberalism that wants to be devoted to the Church while making no secret of its unhappiness with the Church's leadership, and especially with the pontificate of John Paul II. Fr. Reese unveiled his own understanding of the Catholic moment in last year's John Courtney Murray Lecture, “2001 and Beyond: Preparing the Church for the Next Millennium.” The Murray Lecture has over the years been given by many distinguished and not so distinguished figures—proving the latter point, I gave it in 1984-and Fr. Reese's presentation might be read as a preview of what is to be expected from America in the years ahead.
Although barely attempting to disguise his own partisanship, Fr. Reese clearly wants to appear evenhanded in his treatment of conflicts between “conservatives” and “liberals” as those terms are understood in some circles—”liberal” meaning thoughtfully moderate and “conservative” meaning reactively fearful of change. The lecture concludes on an admirably compelling note: “If we are to be true to our Christian faith, love must be at the root of any strategy we adopt. . . . Jesus did not go to the cross shaking his fist and cursing his opponents. He went peacefully, witnessing to the truth with dignity, asking his Father to forgive those who crucified him. . . . We are called to witness to the world that we are Christians by our love, and not to scandalize the world by showing we are Catholics by our fights.”
But fights there are, and Fr. Reese leaves no doubt about which side he is on. He begins by asking, “How do we change the church to make it ready for the next millennium?” He has earlier noted that Christianity is “a community of believers who are organized as a church.” The concept of the church (in his text, always lower case) as a religious organization that we human beings create and control dominates this lecture and Reese's other writings, reflecting the fact that, as he repeatedly says, he speaks as a social scientist and not as a theologian. In response to his question—”How do we change the church to make it ready for the next millennium?”—he says somewhat too modestly, “I do not claim to know the answers.” He goes on to say, “I am suspicious of those who do claim certitude, whether they be Vatican officials or members of the U.S. Catholic group known as Call to Action.” Call to Action is generally viewed as a far-left advocacy group that agitates for what it views as democracy in the Church, the election of bishops, the ordination of women, homosexual rights, and cognate causes. Fr. Reese's suggested equivalence of the suspect certitude of Call to Action and of “Vatican officials”—presumably including the Pope and the magisterium—is noteworthy. Perhaps he does not intend to suggest such an equivalence, although the implication is reinforced as the lecture proceeds.
The Battle Is Over
In surveying the Catholic circumstance, Fr. Reese first takes up the challenge of sexual morality, and his conclusion is stark: “The real story here is that in the Catholic Church the battle about sex is over.” Remember that he is speaking as a social scientist. “I do not deny the spiritual and theological character of the church,” he says. It is simply that, as a social scientist, the question of whether the Church's teaching on human sexuality is true or not is not within his field of expertise. He is by no means enthusiastic about what has happened, but facts are facts. “That the church has not had a clear, convincing, and pastoral message to help people through the sexual revolution is tragic for both the church and the world. On sex, however, the battle is over; and there are no winners.” Fr. Reese's declaration of surrender—for that is surely what it is—with respect to the Church's teaching on sexual morality includes no mention of abortion, a question on which the Church has been both firm and, considering the opposition, remarkably effective. It is not too much to say that there would be no pro-life movement in America or the world were it not for the Catholic Church. But any reference to the Church's role in the conflict between “the culture of life” and “the culture of death” is conspicuously absent from Fr. Reese's analysis of the Church at the edge of the millennium.
Fr. Reese offers a detailed and most doleful picture of the shortage of priests in support of his argument for dropping the requirement of celibacy. Because of the lack of priests, the great majority of Catholics will soon be deprived of both priests and sacraments, he says. “The celibacy rule may very well do what the Reformation could not—namely, declericalize and desacramentalize the Catholic Church.” He does not mention recent, albeit modest, increases in the number of priestly vocations worldwide, nor American dioceses that are producing more than an ample number of priests. One might think that the latter phenomenon would be of particular interest to a social scientist. Nor, in this connection or any other, is there a mention of renewal movements such as the Legionaries of Christ and the Neocatechumenal Way that are attracting hundreds of priestly vocations. That, too, is a phenomenon of possible social scientific interest.
But such considerations would not serve Fr. Reese's argument. In his unremittingly bleak depiction of the alleged crisis, he lifts up a somewhat unusual factor premised upon the assumption of what might be called the episcopal will to power. “The hierarchy,” he says, “is ignoring its own self-interest by refusing to ordain married men [because] married priests would tremendously increase the power of the bishops. . . . As every employer knows, the larger the labor pool, the easier it is to hire and fire employees.” Moreover, “an employee with a family to support is more docile than one without.” To the objection that this suggests a less than elevated view of the priesthood and episcopacy, Fr. Reese would no doubt remind us again that he speaks only as a social scientist.
On the subject of the ordination of women, he is, as they say, more nuanced. He notes what he believes is the strong support for ordaining women among Catholics in Europe and America, and anticipates that support will increase elsewhere “as women in other parts of the world become better educated.” Of course, the magisterium has said that the Church is not authorized to ordain women and therefore cannot do it. Reese comments: “I believe that the only reason the Pope has not declared this teaching infallible is that the Vatican realizes that to do so would put the whole question of infallibility up for debate. As long as infallibility is kept in the closet and not used, Catholics don't worry about it. If it were used to define a teaching opposed by the vast majority of Catholics, then the doctrine of papal infallibility would be put at risk.”
That is a passage of considerable interest. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fr. Reese fails to mention that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has said that the teaching on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood is infallible. The coy response offered by some is that CDF is not infallible, as though the CDF statement did not have the Pope's explicit approval. The fair-minded reader of Fr. Reese's lecture is invited to infer that the Church can and should ordain women. Nor would such a reader be unwarranted in wondering whether Fr. Reese intends to question whether the Church, in fact, possesses infallible teaching authority. But of course he is speaking as a social scientist, not as a theologian. The inference and the wonder are made unavoidable, however, by the fact that women's ordination (which is a matter of doctrine) immediately follows the discussion of the ordination of married men (which is not a matter of doctrine) in his response to the problem of a shortage of priests. Following immediately upon women's ordination and infallibility, we are told that a “growing number of American women” see the Church as “riddled with sexism” and are alienated by her position not only on ordination but on birth control, lay preaching, inclusive language, and other issues. Because it stands “with the status quo against the inevitable movement of history,” we are told that there is “a serious risk that the church will lose women in the next century the way it lost European working—class men in the last.”
To be sure, Fr. Reese is speaking as a social scientist. He is presumably not saying what he thinks as a theologian or, for that matter, as a Catholic. It is a peculiar way of speaking for one who is, after all, a priest of the Church and is, in the same breath, sharply criticizing the Church for not persuasively communicating her teaching. I am sure it is not what Fr. Reese intends, but it looks very much like encouraging people to disagree with the Church's teaching and then demanding that the Church change her teaching because—as a social scientist, of course—you have discovered that people don't accept the Church's teaching. It is more than a little annoying when a person taunts authority and then teases readers to guess at what he is really saying. Some might think it just a touch adolescent. I am reminded of the childhood game “Dare You,” which turned on whether or not one had crossed the line chalked on the sidewalk. “Did!” “Did not!” “Did!” And so forth. It was great fun, but it is not a game for grown—ups.
Readers who are simply trying to understand what Fr. Reese is saying are, one fears, likely to be dismissed by him as conservatives who, he says, “opt for an ecclesiology inspired by Joe McCarthy” and are given to denouncing people who disagree with them. Not, apparently, that Fr. Reese is seriously worried about those conservatives. “The conservative wing of the Catholic community is in fact very small, though very vocal,” he insouciantly observes. “The serious division is not within the community as a whole but between the people and the hierarchy”—except for figures in the hierarchy such as the late Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and the former John Quinn of San Francisco who, he notes approvingly, “listened sensitively.”
The Intellectual Life
Fr. Reese is also concerned about what he takes to be the suppression of intellectual life by imposed conformity. “The Catholic Church spends a smaller percentage of its budget on research and development than any other multinational corporation in the world,” he declares. It would not occur to many to think of the intellectual life as research and development, or of the Church as a multinational corporation, or of its mission as product marketing. But, then, Fr. Reese speaks as a social scientist. The future of what he simply calls “the reform” is, according to him, not encouraging in view of the corporation's present and prospective CEO. John Paul II has appointed almost all the voting cardinals, so Fr. Reese regretfully says that “the next pope may differ in style, but not in substance.” Lest there be any doubt about his regretting this prospect, he adds, “We may even get a pope who will make his immediate predecessor look like a liberal.” He does not say what it might mean for a pope to differ “in substance.” In any event, we are told, the Church's intellectual product is not up to market standards. It has wasted its capital in fighting “a rearguard battle defending Scholasticism.” “That battle has been lost, although you would never know it from reading the official Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The Catechism clearly does not pass muster—speaking only from the viewpoint of social science and market research, mind you.
It finally comes down to a matter of management. “The Catholic Church, like IBM, was too big, with too many bureaucratic rules, to respond well to a changing environment.” IBM blamed the personal computer and some Catholics blame the Second Vatican Council but “the problem [is] the inability of IBM and the Vatican to adapt their management styles to a new and rapidly changing environment.” The Church, he says, “must be committed to the task of continuous critical renewal.” In explaining what that means, he makes explicit the ecclesiology or theology of the Church that underlies his argument. “This is a dynamic process of deliberate self-constitution in which the church holds itself to its ideals and interacts with the world by responding to the needs of the times.” Self-constitution. Perhaps that says it all. Constituted not by Christ or the Holy Spirit but by us. Accountable not to the revealed will of God but to our ideals and the needs of the times, presumably as those needs are defined by the world. This is the light in which we can understand Fr. Reese's opening question, “How do we change the church to make it ready for the next millennium?”
A Familiar Ecclesiology
It is a very odd way of putting the matter. The church (lower case) is our religious association to change as we will or, more precisely, to change in ways that will make it more attractive in the cultural marketplace. One might suggest that the question is how, as we prepare for the new millennium, do we discern and act upon the will of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit in more effectively communicating to the world its salvation in Christ? That is the way the question is addressed in John Paul's Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Nears), which stands in sharpest contrast to Fr. Reese's reflection. Of course he would likely protest that the Pope is speaking theologically while he is speaking only as a social scientist. I would suggest, however, that what Fr. Reese proposes is also bad social science. I believe he seriously misreads the cultural circumstance to which he would have the Church accommodate herself. More important, good social science begins with the self-understanding of the phenomenon being studied. The Church understands herself not as a corporation in the religion business but as the Body of Christ and pilgrim People of God bearing the mystery of the world's salvation. It is not possible to separate so neatly the sociological and theological. Social science that does not begin with that self-understanding is bad social science and, to the extent it has influence in the Church, will produce bad theology.
“2001 and Beyond: Preparing the Church for the Next Millennium” brings to mind the motto of that hapless institution, the World Council of Churches: “The world sets the agenda for the church.” Every change that Fr. Reese advocates as part of “the reform” has been undertaken, in spades, by the oldline Protestant denominations now in such disheartening decline. Married clergy, women clergy, theological pluralism, participatory governance, management studies galore—and all done in response to what Fr. Reese so touchingly calls “the inevitable movement of history.” Of course he might say that the Protestant experience is not relevant because the Catholic Church is different. But it is precisely at the point of his ecclesiology—which is, disclaimers to the contrary, a theology of sorts—that the liberal Protestant parallel is most exact. They, too, believe that their churches are self-constituting communities accountable only to their own ideals, the market, and “the needs of the times.”
Being editor of America is a position of considerable responsibility. I do not subscribe to the view that the magazine and the Society of Jesus that publishes it are on a course of unstoppable drift toward marginality. The Jesuits represent an enormous store of devotion, talent, and tradition that was, after the Council, largely invested in a version of “the reform” that was not to be. But the continuing power of the Ignatian charism is evident in the fact that more recent and more constructive reform movements admit, at least sotto voce, that their hope is to be “the new Jesuits.” One can wish them well in that aspiration while, at the same time, not despairing of the possibility that the old Jesuits and their various enterprises such as America still have an invaluable contribution to make to the renewal for which the Council continues to call. Toward that end, one hopes that Fr. Reese's John Courtney Murray Lecture is not a preview of what may be expected from America in the years ahead.
Following protests by the Catholic League and others, the Manhattan Theater Club said it was withdrawing its plan to stage Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi. A week later, after intense pressure from “the arts community,” the theater reversed itself and announced it is going ahead with the production. The theater is partly financed by tax money. By the time this comment sees print the play may be up and running, or already closed.
Although I've tried to get a copy, I haven't seen the script of Corpus Christi. But both the London Guardian and the New York Times say they have seen it. According to the Guardian, the play opens with a woman screaming, “F—me, f—me!” again and again. Joseph somehow got his testicles shot off, which explains Mary's virginity. After Joshua (the Jesus figure) is unable to get an erection with his girlfriend, he discovers his gay “sexual identity” in a liaison with Judas Iscariot. Joshua proceeds to have sex with the other apostles, and it turns out that his magic “healing touch” is masturbation. At the Last Supper he says that the disciple who will betray him is someone who has “lain” with him, to which they all respond that that could be any of them. And so forth.
My apologies for bringing such swill to your attention, but there are questions of some interest engaged here. Once again the Catholic League is leading the protest, and once again the League and its allies are criticized by the usual suspects for trying to impose censorship. Also some Catholic voices say they are embarrassed by the League and its president, Dr. William Donohue, for allegedly ham—fisted protest that revives the outdated stereotype of immigrant Catholics as anti-intellectual and anti-artistic philistines. That criticism, too, is not new. More interesting is the argument that Corpus Christi can be viewed as an effort by homosexuals to “inculturate” the gospel. In the play, the Jesus—figure is crucified as “King of the Queers.” While many, it is said, may think that an insult, in a play that champions being queer it should be taken as a gesture of approbation. What should one make of such an argument? Is it but a perverse twist upon perversity?
The public statement of the Catholic League is nothing if not straightforward: “The Manhattan Theatre Club has a legal right to offend Christians, but it has no moral right to do so. Hate speech is hate speech; it does not become something less if dressed in artistic clothing. Moreover, to flagrantly offend the sensibilities of any religious group is outrageous and can only fan the flames of bigotry. . . . We call upon the goodwill of all Americans to join with us in condemning this blasphemy.”
Is the play an instance of “hate speech”? Is it “blasphemy”? Again, I have not seen the play, but the Times report gives some insight into the intention of the playwright. The script ends with the statement, “If we have offended, so be it. He belongs to us as well as you.” It seems beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. McNally expects and intends to offend those Christians, which is almost all Christians, who are offended by the portrayal of Jesus as a sodomite. He intends to offend them, as the League puts it, “flagrantly.” The most obvious reason one would want to do that, apart from earning plaudits from one's peers for being terribly brave, is that one hates those people, or at least hates their views regarding homosexuality and the gay subculture. So yes, the play is “hate speech.” But is it “blasphemy”? One definition of blasphemy is “irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable.” For those of us who consider the sinlessness, including sexual purity, of Jesus to be sacred and inviolable, the play is blasphemy. Another definition of blasphemy is “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” Mr. McNally would apparently claim that, far from being blasphemy, the play is an act of devotion to “The King of the Queers.” As the play says, “He belongs to us as well as you.” The play is, says the Manhattan Theatre Club, McNally's “own unique view of ‘the greatest story ever told.'“
Were there a play of moral and spiritual seriousness attempting to “inculturate” Jesus and the gospel in the homosexual subculture, one's response might be quite different. One might criticize such a play as heretical and pathetically, even poignantly, wrongheaded. But, from everything we know, Corpus Christi is not such a play. It is a deliberate and hateful exercise in offending people who it is assumed, even hoped, will view it as blasphemy. The public protest against it is entirely warranted. The protocols of civility in our society are much battered, but one would like to think that enough decency remains to rule this exercise in calculated hate beyond the pale. Those Christian sophisticates manqué who are inclined to take outrages in stride and who claim that protest only draws attention to what is protested are, it is to be feared, quite blind to both the protocols and the decency that such protocols indispensably serve.
“Win a few, lose a few.” To which Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” fame responds, “That would be nice.” Given the general state of the world, “Lose a few, lose a few” sometimes seems the safer motto. But we should remain open to surprises. Such as the June ruling of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in favor of school vouchers. The ruling is the more remarkable because the court found that Milwaukee's plan to help fifteen thousand poor children go to better schools not only passed muster with the state constitution but also with the religion clause of the federal constitution. Only a few years ago, parental choice in education was viewed as a very good idea whose time would come—someday. The best single article on the subject, to my mind, is still John Coons' “School Choice as Simple Justice” (FT, April 1992). With the Wisconsin decision, it seems that someday may be now.
Many people have prepared the way for this. Along with those who have done the hard thinking, writing, and persuading on the justice and practicability of this change, there were people such as Michael Joyce of the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee who teamed up with organizers in poor communities, put programs into place, and fought for them against legal challenges from the government school defenders of the status quo. Similar movements have been launched around the country. There are now more than fifty private scholarship programs, and in Washington, D.C., almost eight thousand poor children applied for one thousand scholarships. Financier Ted Forstmann and others are raising more than $20
0 million for such scholarships nationwide. This is philanthropy that gives people money to help them help themselves, rather than, as with most of the big foundations, continuing to fund social engineers and pour vast resources into the sinkholes of their own designing.
The catastrophe of government schools for the urban poor is difficult to exaggerate. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Only 15 percent of Washington, D.C., children read ‘below basic' on the Stanford 9 test in first grade. By 10th grade, 53 percent test below basic. In 10th—grade math, an incredible 89 percent score below basic. In other words, kids do worse the longer they're in schools that spend more than $9,000 a year per student.” Many years ago I was on a university platform with the late Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and I said that in New York City only one out of five children entering first grade would end up with an employment—relevant high school diploma. Afterwards he told me privately that he thought it was more like one out of ten. Shanker knew that the status quo could not be sustained, although he was not sure what to do about it. The teachers union leadership of today appears to be in terminal denial.
Ten years ago, parental choice was understood to be a “conservative” idea. Now it is being embraced also by liberal thinkers and politicians. Not by President Clinton, however, and not by Vice President Al Gore, who has been aptly described as a wholly—owned subsidiary of the National Education Association. And certainly not by the New York Times, whose reaction to the Wisconsin decision was a lead editorial titled “Breaching the Church—State Wall.” The language and logic of the reaction betray the pathetic bankruptcy of education's ancien régime. The editors have apparently not been told that the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court has in recent years abandoned Jefferson's “wall of separation” as the controlling paradigm for understanding the religion clause of the First Amendment. The new concept is “equal regard,” and it requires that government not discriminate against institutions or programs simply because they are religious. There is solid reason to hope that the Court will uphold the Wisconsin decision.
The editors write that “this veneer of choice does not change the fact that taxpayer dollars would flow into sectarian institutions in contravention of the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of religion. Many church schools that would be tax—funded have religious indoctrination as a core purpose.” Let's hope that they do. As for what the editors call tax—funded religion, it struck me many years ago that St. John the Evangelist, my parish in a black and poor section of Brooklyn, was almost entirely funded by the government. Vestments, bread, wine, and hymnals were purchased, the heat bill and salaries were paid, by the contributions of people whose chief income was the government welfare system. There is no difference in principle between government giving people money to purchase food and clothing or giving them money to purchase educational opportunity for their children. If the Times had its way, maybe people on welfare could buy food and clothing only in government stores. The editorial reaction reflects two fears: the fear of poor people having the freedom to decide what is best for them and theirs, and the fear of religion.
The Wisconsin decision, the editors continue, “fails to foresee the patronage bonanza that would result among politicians competing to funnel tax revenues to the institutions favored by their constituents, whether they be urban Catholics in Northern cities or suburban Protestants in the Sun Belt.” Politicians would try to please their constituents? Horrors! Or maybe it is only horrible when the constituents are Northern Catholics or Southern Protestants. Instead, it is suggested, politicians should continue to funnel tax revenues only into the government school system that is run by the constituents of the New York Times.
The editors are not finished. “Parents will essentially be left to choose between a state—supported private education system and the old public school system. As more families opt out of the public schools, those schools will starve.” The Times apparently has no confidence that the government schools can successfully compete by reforming themselves; therefore the children of poor people must be forced to go to them. The editorial ends on the low note of hypocrisy that has become standard in this debate, with a ringing affirmation of “the common schools that are essential institutions for a democratic society.” And how many editors at the Times, do you suppose, send their children to public schools in New York City? In all fairness, there may be one or two, for the city has wisely maintained a few elite enclaves within the system. But you can bet the family fortune that nobody at the Times, nor anyone else who can afford an alternative, sends their children to the schools to which the editors would forcibly consign the children of the poor. What is true of New York is true of other urban areas in America. As Jack Coons said, school choice is a matter of simple justice. Its time has come.
• Among academic apostles of what is now the Old Left, Michael Walzer of Princeton is widely viewed as the prince. Taking his turn in the section of The New Republic that is called “The Hard Questions,” he bemoans what he believes to be the growing economic inequality in America, which is a country “far more unequal than a democracy can afford to be.” In the state of New York disparity between the wealthiest fifth and the poorest fifth is twenty to one, and in the District of Columbia it is thirty to one. “Are we our brothers' keepers?” asks Walzer. In answer to that question, Walzer writes, “The success of the ideological campaign against the welfare state” answers that “inequality is the way of the world, and dole and dependency only make it worse.” He laments that people no longer care about inequality. What is to be done? “And so there really isn't any alternative—certainly not for writers and magazine editors—except the strategy of surprise: we need still more well-publicized studies, not of income distribution itself in which, it appears, no one is interested, but of its ‘human interest' effects: on infant mortality, quality of education, career opportunities, housing, the impact of particular diseases, the experience of old age, and so on. Let the ‘surprises' mount, until, one day, there is a shock of recognition—and then there may be new possibilities for political mobilization.” Ah yes, give me that old time religion. Mobilization. One day. Come the revolution, or at least a return to the good old days of wealth redistribution. But of course all such thinking is driven less by concern for the poor than by an ideological fixation on equality. None of the social ills to which Walzer alludes are “effects” of inequality. They are in part the effect of being very poor, but the very poor are not very poor because others are very rich. The great moral challenge is to help the poor enter “the circle of productivity and exchange” (Centesimus Annus) whereby they may become, if not very rich, at least nonpoor. Political mobilization around inequality is in fact the political mobilization of the vice of envy. Among the lessons of the bloody century now drawing to a close is that such mobilizations inevitably end up in tyranny. It is a great pity that a thinker of the stature of Michael Walzer has not learned that.
• Francis Cardinal Arinze, a Nigerian, is president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He is a most engaging and articulate man and is often mentioned as papabile, meaning a likely candidate for Pope when—God willing, years from now—there is an opening. When in Rome recently I mentioned this to a cardinal, he responded, “Do you think the Church is ready for an African Pope?” Twenty years ago there were no doubt those who asked, “Do you think the Church is ready for a Polish Pope?” The answer is no, but we're trying hard to catch up with him. I mention Arinze because he was lecturing at Catholic University in Washington a while back on interreligious dialogue and he suggested that theologians must resist two temptations in that enterprise. One is the pride that refuses to recognize what is good and true in other religions. The other is “reparation theology.” Reparation theologians are so defensive about the real or alleged sins of Christian missionaries that they develop a “tendency to glamorize [other] religions, to set their best ideals against the worst or weakest type of behavior among Christians, to denigrate Christianity, and to speak only of its presumed defects.” Reparation theology. It is a valuable addition to our vocabulary.
• A long time ago I mentioned here my dog Sammy, in connection with a comment on Luther's observation that he wished that, just once, he could pray as attentively as his dog looks at a piece of meat. Some readers still ask about Sammy, who went the way of all dogs back in 1990. She has been replaced by Sammy II, a mostly boxer creature who is as dumb as she is devoted (there is, the jaded might say, a connection between the two). This is brought to mind by another inquiry about Sammy, and by a comment of Father Patrick Henry Reardon in Touchstone. He thinks the book of Tobit must be inspired because it is the only place in the Bible where a dog is mentioned favorably. Recall that Tobias sets off on his long journey with the company of two companions, an angel and a dog. St. Jerome's translation of the Vulgate took liberties. In the original languages there is no reference to the dog's tail but, according to Jerome, when Tobias finally came home “the dog wagged his tail.” Jerome, who is usually pictured with a lion but may also have kept dogs, was obviously familiar with Homer's homecoming in the Odyssey. In any event, when I told this to Sammy II, she wagged her tail.
• You may not have heard of the “per se” argument, but it is discussed in a most enlightening manner in a new quarterly publication, Propositions, put out by the Institute for American Values, which is headed by the formidable David Blankenhorn. The institute sponsors a twenty-member Council on Families, a group of scholars who have had an impressive influence in reshaping public debates about family, marriage, children, and divorce. Worried about that influence, another group of academics and writers has put together a Council on Contemporary Families in order to counter it. Here is where the “per se” argument comes in, according to Propositions: “Another strategy is the ‘per se' argument. Whatever you want to denigrate or downplay—marriage, fatherhood, the two—parent home—simply describe it as not very important ‘per se.' Here is contemporary—council member Carolyn P. Cowan describing the new council's conceptual framework: ‘It's not the family structure per se, it's the quality of the relationships between adults and children.' This formulation works for almost any topic. It's not marriage per se, it's commitment in relationships. It's not fatherhood per se, it's another caring adult to help raise the child. Or this slight variation: The problem for children is not divorce per se, it's parental conflict. The purpose of the ‘per se' argument is always disassembly: to break something down into its constituent parts, so that the effects of one part can be said to override the effects of another. Consider this example: Regarding who gets lung cancer, what matters is not ‘smoking per se,' but lifestyle habits. The statement is obviously absurd. One cannot logically separate smoking from lifestyle, much less suggest that the health consequences of lifestyle somehow invalidate the health consequences of smoking. Similarly, it is absurd for Carolyn Cowan to suggest that good relationships matter, but that who lives in the home (‘family structure per se') does not, as if we must choose between the two, oblivious to the fact that they are inextricably connected. If a father is separated from the mother and living far away, doesn't that typically impinge on the ‘quality' of the father—child relationship? One more example: the common claim that the main problem for children is not ‘father—absence per se,' but rather the effects of living in poverty. See how it works? Like a magic wand, this formulation turns any evidence that poverty harms children into evidence that father—absence does not harm children, or at least does not harm children as much as poverty does. What gets lost in the sophistry is that fatherlessness and child poverty are not opposed to one another; they are causally linked. Which helps to explain why children in mother—only homes are five times more likely to be poor than the children in married—couple homes, and why approximately 60 percent of all poor children in the U.S. today live in homes characterized by ‘father—absence per se.'“ (Propositions is available from the Institute for American Values, 1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York, NY 10023.)
Writing in Crisis, the redoubtable Hadley Arkes describes a priest friend of his who, he says, thinks Governor George W. Bush of Texas is “the new Pro-Life Hope.” Arkes describes this unnamed priest friend as an exceedingly likable and influential person but, despite that, everybody who has read the article thinks he is talking about me. If that is the case, my friend Hadley Arkes misunderstands my position. It is true that I have talked with Governor Bush, and it is true we have discussed the life issues in considerable detail, and it is true that he strongly declares that he is pro-life and is committed to the goal of every unborn child protected in law and welcomed in life, and, finally, it is true that I find him a very sympathetic person. But I wholeheartedly agree with Arkes that politicians should be viewed with robust skepticism and held to the standard of matching private assurances with public actions. I have not said and do not believe that Governor Bush is “the new Pro-Life Hope.” I do believe he should be encouraged to demonstrate that he might be such a promising leader. The same should be said of other possible candidates, such as Steve Forbes and John Ashbrook, with whom I have also had the opportunity to discuss these matters. So there is no disagreement between Mr. Arkes and myself. Moreover, in view of the flattering things he writes about this friend of his, I expect he has some other priest in mind.
• There is something of a Catholic revival in, of all places, the Netherlands. People are still leaving the Church, but there is also a wave of converts, frequently prominent intellectuals, who are known as the “new Catholics.” Reporting on these developments, Religion Watch says: “The number of permanent deacons has grown from one million in 1978 to six million today.” So it seems the Dutch have solved the problem of anticlericalism by making everyone a cleric.
• “Theoretical pantheism is practical metheism,” observes our J. Budziszewski in his review of Neale Donald Walsch's two volumes of Conversations with God, which have been on the best—seller lists for what seems like ages. Budziszewski provides a useful guide to understanding the argument, so to speak, at the foundation of Mr. Walsch's New Age industry: “Is the book difficult? No, it is all very ‘logical,' as the conversations of people in an asylum often are. Here is how the argument works: 1) God is the greatest entity imaginable. 2) So God is All Things. 3) Naturally, All Things has no consciousness of its own. 4) So God can experience itself as God only through parts of itself that do have consciousness. 5) That's you and me. 6) But All Things is all there is. 7) So there's really only one thing. 8) So we drop the distinction between the All and its parts. 9) So we're not just parts of God—we're God. 10) But there is only one of us. 11) So God is Me.” As the great GKC said, the problem with the mad man is not that he is not logical; the problem is he is only logical.
• That it appears in the Jesuit weekly America gives it additional interest. “A View of Religious Vocations” by Father Albert DiIanni of the Marist Fathers reports on the burgeoning growth of religious orders that have returned to a more classic view of the consecrated life. The standard liberal response to this phenomenon, he writes, is to say that these are arch—conservative young people who want to repeal the Second Vatican Council. Not so, says Fr. DiIanni. These are people who really dig into the documents of the Council to release the renewal that it calls for, rather than the revolution that some tried to make in its name. “Most of all,” he writes, “we must not project our own needs on the young. Many of us born before 1950 were perhaps repressed and starved for freedom. But today's young people are not repressed. They may in fact be ‘hyper—expressed.' They have tried everything and found it wanting. Brought up in a deconstructionist world without meaning or purpose, a world insistent on freedom and tolerance as the highest values, they experience vertigo. They are looking for lines, for a place to stand. If they have a need for security, it is not a neurotic need but a legitimate one, like the need of the elderly for social security. Is it neurotic to seek for answers in a world in which choice is king? Is it neurotic to seek meaning in a cultural climate in which intellectuals speak of human life as a sport of nature without meaning or purpose?” As in the early Church, DiIanni writes, there is a necessary critical edge in a religious commitment that is not embarrassed to be “different.” What has happened in our culture in recent decades has also had an impact on religious communities. “Has not a similar secularization taken place in religious life during the past thirty-five years? And is it not now generating a similar revival? Many members of the young X—Generation seem to be in search of the classical in the midst of the novel. They desire not a return to the past but a recapturing of the perennial. They want the Catholicism that was taught down the ages and not one whose ultimate criterion of validity is the lived experience of the last thirty years. They are as much in love with Jesus adoring the Father as they are with Jesus walking among the poor, and for this reason they desire contemplation as well as action. Does not this change in the young demand a different response from our various religious congregations? Can we disregard what they consider very important and very valid needs? Are these not new signs of the times? As we come to the birth of a new century and a new millennium, perhaps the authentic renewal of religious life will be found in the visions and dreams of the young. Perhaps, once again, a child will lead us.”
• The—lordship—of—Christ—over—everything—short—of—downright—evil is the jargon of a school of thought called neo-Calvinism, says another school of thought called paleo—Calvinism. The latter school is represented by Nicotine Theological Journal. (Nicotine, pronounced NiCOtin, is the name of St. Augustine's younger brother, it says here.) NTJ, which supports impossibly unrespectable old school Presbyterianism, thinks the neo-Calvinists are deluding themselves with all this talk about Christ's lordship over a world that is clearly in rebellion against God. And a marvelously convenient delusion it is. “Neo-Calvinism is a very reassuring outlook, though, for North American Protestants living in the suburbs, buying a half—gallon of milk at 11:00 p.m. from a convenience store on the way home from a session meeting, shopping for Christmas by phone from L. L. Bean and Williams—Sonoma catalog sales staff, surfing the internet to see which airline has the lowest fares to Florida in January, and employed by companies whose headquarters are thousands of miles away. In this setting, it is very consoling to hear that the world, as much as it is run by large, impersonal bureaucracies, really belongs to God. Putting one's head down on the pillow at night with the knowledge that all truth is God's truth sure makes the Domino's pizza consumed in front of an ESPN late-night broadcast of a Fresno State—versus—BYU women's gymnastic match settle better in the tummy.” Offering a turn on Richard Weaver's famed phrase, NTJ thinks the—lordship—of—Christ—over—everything is, if it doesn't challenge what is radically wrong with our world as it is, “an idea without consequence.” “In other words, after clearing away the smoke and breaking the mirrors that advocates of progress constantly peddle, the neo-Calvinist project of taking everything captive for Christ appears almost as naive as it has been unsuccessful. At the very least, we need to admit that a Christian worldview is a contested entity that has been used too much to bless the urban—industrial order. A worldview that promotes caution about if not retreat from the developments of urban—industrialism, though often ridiculed as fundamentalist, Luddite, or even worse, Amish, may be equally Christian and worthy to bear the name.” As to Augustine's younger brother, I gather that's just a way to sneak the journal past censorious church librarians who may suspect it has something to do with smoking.
• I confess that when I took on Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust in these pages (August/September 1996) I felt just a little trepidation, so much was the book being ballyhooed as a great breakthrough in understanding Nazism and the Holocaust. Since then it seems that those who were beating the drums for Goldhagen's simplistic slander have retreated in embarrassed silence, or at least the public discussion of these questions has regained a measure of sanity. Among the evidences of that happy change is Peter Fritzsche's new book from Harvard University Press, Germans Into Nazis (263 pages,, $24.95
). Fritzsche, an historian at the University of Illinois, agrees that ordinary Germans were ideologically driven. Not by an exuberance for exterminating Jews, however, but by a yearning for a national renascence, which is what they believed the Nazis were promising. He writes: “Better than any other party, the Nazis were able to insert the desire for social reform into a national frame, and the more frantic their outbursts the more resolute and uncompromised they appeared. Young people, housewives, and even industrial workers perceived the Nazis to be on the side of ‘social justice'—these exact words appear again and again in oral histories and contemporary interviews. The Nazi message was brutal, and to many observers it appeared self-serving and propagandistic; nonetheless, it has to be remembered that thousands of Germans were drawn to the movement out of idealism and enthusiastically responded to the task of renovating the nation. As for the Social Democrats, they failed to respond with positive demands of their own. Over and over, ‘their Marxism deterred them from tinkering with capitalism,' and yet their rigorous rationalism kept them from elaborating their indisputably humane social values into a more compelling utopian vision. As a result, at least half a million German workers, including many old Social Democrats, voted for the Nazi party by the end of 1932.” Germans Into Nazis is a small book and one wishes for a more adequate treatment of, among other things, the role of the churches, but its great achievement is to remind us that ordinary people, not just ordinary Germans, can be party to the doing of terrible things for what they believe to be good, even admirable, reasons. In that reminder is the hope of maintaining the universal pertinence of Nazism and the Holocaust.
• Since the early 1980s, Canada has this Charter of Rights and Freedoms which serves, mutatis mutandis, much as the Constitution does in U.S. law, with the additional difficulty that it is the creation of the very lawyers who have the responsibility of interpreting it. This invites an even more flagrant “judicial usurpation of politics,” as is evident in the flat assertion of Canadian courts that “Charter values” trump both social tradition and the express will of the majority of the people. These questions are addressed by a Canadian lawyer, Iain Benson, senior research fellow at the Centre for Renewal in Public Policy in British Columbia, in a paper on the idea of the person and current theories of rights. Among other things, Benson notes: “Jurisprudence is a long way behind theology in its understanding of the person: how sadly ironic, therefore, that it is a regnant judiciary that has the task of giving practical application to ontology in our time. If philosophy is the handmaiden of theology, then jurisprudence today is but the scullerymaid of philosophy in the guise of the Monarch.”
• The “two nations” trope goes back to Disraeli, who said a century ago that, despite the great wealth of the era, there are “two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.” The noted social scientist James Q. Wilson chose “Two Nations” as the title of his Francis Boyer Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, in which he argued in his usual persuasive manner that, with respect to the urban underclass, “We have tried almost everything except for the one thing that matters most—rebuilding the family. However difficult, it is what there is left to try.” He also argued that rebuilding the family cannot be done without something like a religious revival. “Religion shapes lives in every culture that has ever existed, and does so more powerfully than the mass media or government programs. Throughout the Western world, political and intellectual elites have abandoned interest in, or acquired a deep hostility to, the force that has given meaning to Western life. To a degree, this was understandable. The Enlightenment, of which we all are part, was created by thinkers who wished to end religious warfare and sectarian authority. But we have done more than end religious warfare; we have tried hard to end religion itself, thereby subjecting much of mankind to a new form of warfare—the hopeless struggle of lonely souls against impulses they can neither understand nor control.” Some folks, he suggests, can maybe get along without religion, but not others. “We live today with the advantages of three centuries of political and intellectual emancipation, but those advantages were purchased at a price. Most of us do not feel that price because we have transformed the teachings of the Enlightenment into personal wealth, political power, social advantage, or intellectual accomplishment. Those who have done so are part of one nation, proud of what freedom has allowed us to achieve. But there is a second nation, growing more rapidly than the first. It is the nation that has paid heavily the high price of freedom. It is armed to the teeth, excited by drugs, preoccupied with respect, and indifferent to the future. Its children crowd our schools and fill our streets, armed and dangerous.” I'm sure it's not what Wilson intended, but that can be interpreted in ways that come uncomfortably close to the Gibbon—like proposition that religion is a noble lie that is needed to control the great unwashed. Our discomfort with anything tainted by that proposition notwithstanding, from a purely sociological viewpoint Wilson is undoubtedly right. World, the evangelical weekly, takes on World Relief, the relief agency of the National Association of Evangelicals, for playing patsy with the U.S. government's population control crusade. More than 60 percent of the agency's overseas funding comes from Washington, and it is very much part of the Clinton Administration's policy of supporting the coercive sterilization of hundreds of thousands of women in Latin America and elsewhere, says World. The head of World Relief, Clive Carver, is quoted as saying that he is “rigidly pro-life.” He adds, “My understanding is that we do not follow the Roman Catholic position. The use of non-abortive contraceptives is acceptable; and we can encourage birth controls that are non-abortive. I would want World Relief to be absolutely and emphatically square with the teaching of Scripture, which is absolutely unambivalent on this. . . . We will not take the line of compromise. I don't mind if it costs money in terms of funding.”
• Compassion is in order for bishops who would demonstrate compassion in circumstances of moral ambiguity. Bishop John R. McGann of the diocese of Rockville Centre recently held in his cathedral a service of prayer and anointing for those with HIV—AIDS. Certainly the Church has no choice but to extend its ministry to all. But then things get tricky. As with the bishops conference's unfortunate statement on homosexuality, “All Our Children,” the calls for “concern” and “understanding” are routinely turned into grist for the mills of advocacy. The Long Island Catholic reports the views of Ursuline Sister Pascal Conforti, who cares for people with AIDS and offered her reflections at the service. Jesus, she said, was also criticized for “expressing what might seem to be immoderate love for a friend.” And then this: “At some level, Jesus in his passion let himself become unprotected for our sake—immune deficient if you will. Somehow he allowed himself to become subject to the destructive forces in the society around him.” At the most obvious level, a suggested comparison between the ministry of Jesus and the act of sodomy is blasphemous. That is surely not what Sister Pascal intended, and she is right about Our Lord reaching out to the marginal and submitting himself to the forces of destruction. But her locution reflects the curious ways in which, in some circles, AIDS has been sacralized, with its innocent “victims” depicted as Christ-figures bearing the sins of a homophobic society. They are no longer, like all of us, sinners in need of redemption but have themselves become the agents of redemption. Jesus—who “let himself become unprotected for our sake”—is the ultimate AIDS victim. Such perverse manipulation of Christian symbols is no longer a surprise in the general media, but it does seem noteworthy when it appears on the front page of the Long Island Catholic.
• “On January 6, as Pope Paul VI returned [from the Middle East] to Rome and Malcolm X submitted to summary court in Phoenix, Martin Luther King took a reserved seat at the U.S. Supreme Court for oral argument in the Sullivan case.” That is a typical entry in Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 by Taylor Branch (Simon and Schuster). The first volume was Parting the Waters, covering the years 1954-63, and the third will be At Canaan's Edge, taking the story up through Dr. King's death in 1968. Having been a minor participant in the story, I suppose I've read almost all the books dealing with the civil rights movement under Dr. King. I was quite taken with Parting the Waters, and therefore puzzled at first by my disappointment with Pillar of Fire. The problem, I have come to think, is reflected in sentences such as that cited above. Mr. Branch purports to be writing a history of America, and indeed of the world, during “the King years.” The result is a hodgepodge of the most disparate events chronologically coincident with what is taken to be the paradigmatic event of Dr. King and his movement. The impact of the man and the movement was enormous, but when everything is refracted through it one ends up with a distortion of the history of the time and a distraction from the story Branch most wants to tell. Perhaps he thought the story itself is by now too familiar to hold the reader's interest for 750 pages, and, apart from us aficionados, he may be right. His is an admiring telling of the story and that's fair enough by me. He does touch on but does not explore the squalor of Dr. King's sexual life, and he is very hard on what he depicts as the general buffoonery and egotism of King's closest friend, Ralph Abernathy. Too hard, I think. Those were crazy times that encouraged people to do crazy things, and there was no doubt a lot of general nuttiness in the King entourage. The most revealing account of King and the movement he led is still And the Walls Came Tumbling Down by Ralph Abernathy.
• Worthwhile launches should get a plug with their premiere issue, and Canticle seems very worthwhile indeed. Subtitled “The Voice of Today's Catholic Woman,” this new quarterly is a handsome production and, far more important, is apparently determined to make the most of the richness of Christian teaching about the dignity of women, human sexuality, and the blessed agony of rearing children in the faith. Genevieve Kineke, editor. $15.95
per year, New Hope, KY, 40052.
• Elliott Abrams of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, along with a number of other Jewish figures, sharply criticized as anti-Christian a film shown at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and that has occasioned some healthy discussion. Along with excited reactions by Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic and a few others who seem to be arguing that, in the shadow of the Holocaust, Jews are beyond criticism, at least in their relationship to Christians and Christianity. A prominent Jewish thinker who for the moment wishes to remain anonymous because of his role in this dispute has given me permission to quote his reflections in a private letter: “I think that a good deal of this new Jewish anti-Christianity is based on two factors. (1) The Church is really the only institution left, and the only one we have any political contact with, which could still be connected to the Holocaust somehow. As more and more of both the survivors and the perpetrators of the Holocaust are no longer in this world, the victimology perpetuated by those who would put the Holocaust at the center of Jewish identity requires someone to blame. How convenient of Christianity to have survived! (2) Anti-Christianity deflects many liberals from facing the fact that the eugenics movement, especially the American eugenics movement, was a far more direct influence on Nazi ideology than was Christianity. Why won't they face that fact? It is because eugenics ideology is at the heart of their support of abortion and euthanasia: only some lives are worthy of life. And their anti-Christianity is more than just deflective, it is also a covert way of attacking traditional Christian morality. But, as such, it is really anti-Jewish because that morality is 99 percent Jewish. This is how I see it and I think this is the next argument we should propose in the debate. The debate must continue because the great strides made in Jewish-Christian relations—spiritually, politically, morally, and intellectually—must not be jeopardized by Leon Wieseltier et alia.”
• Alan Wolfe, sociologist at Boston University, takes Stephen Carter to task for offering little more than an exhortation in his new book, Civility. He strongly agrees that we should try to be nice to one another, but he doubts whether that is an argument. He notes that Carter was a Boy Scout and comes across as a splendid fellow (which I can attest he is). Wolfe adds, however: “When I search for people with whom I can make friends, I look for people like him. But when I vote for politicians, serve on a search committee, or look for political wisdom, I search out people who are realists. We need sermons as much as we need statesmen. Mr. Carter has not fully grasped how little one has to do with the other.” In sum, sermons have little to do with the real world. That may be true of most sermons, but it is very dubious as a principle.
• Victor Davis Hanson had this nice little op-ed reflection on how Thucydides, were he alive today, would urge us to recognize “the tragic nature of our existence” rather than turning to the illusory promises of psychotherapy. This prompted Susan Bers, assistant professor of psychiatry, and Victor Bers, professor of classics, both at Yale, to write a stiff letter to the editor of the Times: “Thucydides' discussion of the horrific plague that afflicted Athens indicated that he wrote in the hope that research would bring better diagnosis and treatment of the disease.” Ah, so that's what Thucydides was getting at. What I hope was Mr. Bers' embarrassment in signing the letter was, perhaps, a small price to pay for keeping peace in the Bers household.
• I think I understand what they're trying to do (aside from trying to sell books), but I am made uneasy by a new series from Hendrickson Publishers: The Bible Made Easy, Bible Prophecy Made Easy, Bible Study Made Easy. Presumably Bible study is part of the Christian life. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be hard. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in The Cost of Discipleship, when God calls a man he calls him to come and die. I do hope there is not a book in the works titled Discipleship Made Easy.
• Maintaining a modicum of independence from government is on my list of Important Things, and I'm therefore uneasy about lawsuits that claim Yale is a public institution and subject to a bundle of anti-discrimination regulations. At the same time, Yale seems particularly obtuse in refusing to accommodate a handful of Orthodox Jews who want an exemption from its unisex housing rules. Rabbi Jacob Neusner writes: “Cripples have their ramps; gays and lesbians, their K-Y dispensers and their double beds; blacks, their own graduation ceremonies; Hispanics, their own unions; voyeurs, their unisex toilets—all courtesy of university administrators. But rather than extend the same ‘sensitivity' to scarcely a minyan—a quorum—of Orthodox Jews, Yale would rather humiliate itself publicly and announce, ‘You're not welcome here.'“ In its concern to maintain a “common university experience,” Yale may feel the necessity to draw the line somewhere. But why here?
• A distraught reader of liberal disposition brings to my attention that the New Oxford Review publishes a talk given to priests by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, in which he is discussing the deference that is owed the office of Peter: “Certainly the Catholic priesthood has no room for sycophancy and flattery. Honesty and correctness both to and about our superiors is important. But we must remind ourselves that our obedience to the Pope must be given in imitation of Christ Himself, who obeyed.” The bishop is, of course, not saying that Christ obeyed the Pope nor that we can or should obey the Pope in the same way as the Son obeyed the Father. He no doubt means, quite simply, that obedience is a virtue which is also exemplified by Christ and should be exercised in relationship to ecclesial superiors. Sometimes it really helps to have an editor.
• I thought they had gone about as far as they can go in Kansas City when Hallmark came out with a line of cards for suicides. But now they're pushing a Holocaust series, marketed under the name of “Tree of Life” and featuring paintings done by an eight-year-old Jewish girl in 1943 when she was hiding from the Nazis in Poland. The publicity says this is “Hallmark's brand of greeting cards for Jewish consumers,” but later adds that it “appeals to people of all religions, races, and ethnicities.” Sure, why not? One card is a picture of a young girl feeding ducks on a bright, sunny day. Inside, Hallmark prints the sentiment: “Wishing you a day of simple peace and beauty, a day that's sun-blessed with joy.” The Holocaust as icon of absolute evil? Nonsense. Have a nice day.
• “The strength of their souls flutters inside your heart like a caged bird's wings,” writes Helen Schulman, describing her three miscarriages. This is in an anthology, Wanting A Child, Schulman, a novelist, edited with poet and editor Jill Bialosky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Bialosky mourns a son who died after three days and a daughter who was born dead. “Imagine learning your baby was no longer safe in your womb,” she writes. The twenty-two personal essays includes one by Michael Bérubé, father of a Down syndrome child, who describes parenthood as “this overwhelming, bone-crushing, life-transforming, complicated feeling of wonder.” Yes, imagine knowing your baby is no longer safe in your womb. In this country alone, more than a million women each year do not have to imagine it. They have decided it. Wanting a Child is, to put it mildly, decidedly pro-natal, and it is good to see it praised in the general media. Yet one cannot help but marvel at the queer disjunction in the minds of those who are awed by the mystery of life that is wanted while, at the same time, they are indifferent to the wholesale slaughter of lives that are not. The reality, I fear, is that they are less in awe of life than of their own wanting.
• Innumerable mothers who work outside the home feel guilty about not being with their children. Now Susan Chira has written a book that answers their problem, A Mother's Place: Taking the Debate About Working Mothers Beyond Guilt and Blame (HarperCollins). Her answer to mothers who feel guilty: Don't. The Times put it out for review to Marily Nissenson, who has written a book giving the same helpful advice. “Studies indicate,” writes Nissenson, “that mothers who work outside the home take great satisfaction in their jobs. Work provides income, and it is important that children understand that.” Who would have thought that there are studies indicating that (some) mothers who work outside the home take great satisfaction in their jobs? Not to mention that work provides income. It appears that women actually get paid for these jobs: Okay, kids, so you don't see Mommy very often, but we need the money, and it's important you understand that. Nissenson continues: “Women who choose the so-called ‘mommy track' may find out too late that such a decision has led to permanent career compromise and, for many, a kind of second-class citizenship within their marriages. Because they earn less than their husbands, they have less leverage in the relationship.” Marriage is a power thing; you wouldn't understand. The authors have stumbled across other studies that suggest a general principle: “Children seem to thrive most when their mothers are where they want to be.” Memo to five-year-old Susan: So what if you haven't seen your mother for years. She is where she wants to be, which is not with you. Stop whining and thrive, kid.
• In denying pleas for clemency in sentencing pro-life heroine Joan Andrews Bell to jail, Judge Raymond Novak declared, “You are following the law of God, and I am sworn to uphold the law of man.” Since the judge has raised the question of sworn duties, it is perhaps appropriate to note that he is a former Jesuit priest. As a carefully instructed adult he freely took vows of lifelong fidelity to the Society of Jesus and the priesthood. While the duties attending the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas are not unimportant, Judge Novak might be well advised to exercise a measure of reticence in opining about solemn obligations.
Playing pundit ping-pong with Monsignor George Higgins is a mildly amusing distraction, although chiefly, I suspect, to the players. His column, syndicated in Catholic papers, relentlessly criticizes those awful neoconservatives for, among other things, their allegedly uncritical endorsement of capitalism. I responded to his last salvo, saying it ain't so, but adding that I nearly despair of changing his mind on this issue. In a later column, the Monsignor comes back with, “I assume, then, that he despairs of changing the minds of other more important writers on the topic.” I assume it is an indication of his understanding of important writers that he cites an Episcopal priest, Gary Dorrien, and a Jesuit, John Langan, both of whom share his view of the neoconservatives. Higgins continues, “While I despair of convincing Father Neuhaus on the point Father Dorrien and Father Langan make, I promise him I will say no more about it in this column for the indefinite future.” Promise noted. He adds, “However, I will have much more to say about my major complaint against the neoconservatives: they have been deafeningly silent on labor issues.” He then refers to what he calls a “terrible” book on that subject published by the American Enterprise Institute and says, “To my knowledge, no neoconservative journal (and I read them all religiously) has said a word in criticism of this book. I can only wonder why.” My goodness, I didn't know there were that many neoconservative journals. This journal has neither praised nor criticized the book because, to the best of my knowledge, nobody around here has seen it, and such an item would not be high on the list of the hundreds of books demanding review attention. As to my own “deafening silence” on labor, however, Msgr. Higgins has apparently forgotten his criticism of what I have published on that subject. In a nutshell, my view is that Msgr. Higgins' argument is with American workers, not with what is written by intellectuals, neocon or other. As many liberal writers have also noted, organized labor has largely lost the confidence of American workers. A small and declining minority belong to unions, and then only because closed union shops give them no choice. The only significant growth area for unions is among government employees, which gives organized labor a big stake in expanding big government, which has also lost the confidence of most Americans. (Ten percent of workers in the independent sector and 14 percent in government employment belong to unions.) Msgr. Higgins is the last in a long and honorable line of what used to be called “labor priests,” and I understand his loyalties. Therefore I will not make it a “major complaint” that he has been deafeningly silent about various corruptions in the labor movement, including the much-discussed abuse by which union leaders siphon many millions of dollars from membership dues into political purposes with which many, if not most, members disagree. To my knowledge, Msgr. Higgins (and I read him not religiously but regularly) has said not a word in criticism of this practice. I would be less than candid if I said that I can only wonder why.
• In his regular column in Time magazine, Charles Krauthammer reflects on the frequency with which public expressions of religious faith draw the suspicion of fanaticism. The New York Times, for instance, notes that Whitewater prosecutor Hickman Ewing wrote an article for a law review on combating official corruption and began it with a quote from the Old Testament. Krauthammer writes: “The Horror! By that standard Martin Luther King was not just a fanatic but a raving zealot (And what shall we do with the first line of Moby-Dick?). . . . We've come a long way in America. After two centuries, it seems we finally do have a religious test for office. True religiosity is disqualifying. Well, not quite. Believers may serve—but only if they check their belief at the office door. At a time when religion is a preference and piety a form of eccentricity suggesting fanaticism, Chesterton needs revision: tolerance is not just the virtue of people who do not believe in anything; tolerance extends only to people who don't believe in anything. Believe in something, and beware. You may not warrant presidential-level attack, but you'll make yourself suspect should you dare enter the naked public square.”
• The Catholic Theological Society of America has been strongly criticized for its increasingly dissident ways. The newly elected president, Father Robert Schreiter of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, has taken the criticism to heart. He announced at this year's annual meeting in Ottawa, “I want to ensure that there is a platform within the CTSA for all the different theological approaches that can be taken.” It is good to know there is a place for theologians who assent to the Church's teaching, but a platform for all the approaches that can be taken? Presumably they'll have to get a bigger meeting room.
• Recognizing the truth that others know without compromising the truth that we know is a permanent problem, not least of all for Christians. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed the problem at a Paris conference on interreligious dialogue. (The reference at the end is to Nicholas of Cusa's De pace fidei, in which he imagines Christ convening a heavenly council to resolve religious conflicts.) Cardinal Ratzinger said: “Does this mean that missionary activity must cease and be replaced by dialogue, in which we do not speak of truth, but help one another be better Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? My answer is no. For this would be yet another form of the complete lack of belief. Under the pretext of fostering the best in another, we would fail to take both ourselves and the other seriously and would end up renouncing truth. The answer, I think, is that mission and dialogue must no longer be antitheses, but must penetrate each other. Dialogue is not random conversation, but aims at persuasion, at discovering the truth. Otherwise it is worthless. Conversely, future missionaries can no longer presuppose that they are telling someone hitherto devoid of any knowledge of God what he has to believe in. This situation may in fact occur and perhaps will occur with increasing frequency in a world that in many places is becoming atheistic. But among the religions we encounter people who through their religion have heard of God and try to live in relation to him. Preaching must therefore become a dialogical event. We are not saying something completely unknown to the other, but disclosing the hidden depth of what he already touches in his own belief. And, conversely, the preacher is not simply a giver, but also a receiver. In this sense, what Nicholas of Cusa expressed as a wish and a hope in his vision of the heavenly council should take place in interreligious dialogue. It should increasingly become a listening to the Logos, who shows us unity in the midst of our divisions and contradictions.”
• I'm having copies made of this to send people who complain about this space being opinionated and even (gasp) polemical. From Merritt Island, Florida, a disgruntled reader writes: “First Things is too reluctant to ‘get off the fence.' The busy, ordinary person on the street does not have time for such wishywashyness. They want to visit the public square where people take positions and defend them.” I confess that here in New York I almost never see people reading FT on the street.
• In July the headlines were “Pope Moves to Silence Dissent.” Dissent, one gathers from most of the stories, is a very good thing that is to be, if not encouraged, certainly not silenced. The perpetual adolescents of “ultramundane Catholicism” (Jim McFadden's phrase) did their usual shtick, rushing to talk shows and op-ed pages to thumb their noses at Big Daddy in Rome and dare him to spank them. What a weary roadshow that has become. The fact is that the Pope issued a letter which, as he says, “fills in a gap” in canon law. There has been for the last ten years a “Profession of Faith” that those who teach Catholic theology are required to affirm. The code of canon law provides, among many other things, disciplinary procedures in the case of those who violate what they swore to uphold. For some reason, such procedures had not been fully specified in connection with the “Profession of Faith.” The Pope's letter merely corrects that oversight. It is an exceedingly modest step. More interesting is a longer statement issued at the same time by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that discusses levels of authoritative teaching and the adherence they require. More on that statement in a forthcoming issue. Meanwhile, enjoy the silence.
• Romano Guardini, who died in 1968, was one of the most prolific and influential Catholic theologians of the century. His writings on Scripture, liturgy, and the meaning of revelation earn him the tribute of Robert A. Krieg's subtitle in Romano Guardini: A Precursor of Vatican II (University of Notre Dame Press, 270 pages,, $18
paper). In 1945, entering his twelfth year under Nazi rule, Father Guardini wrote this: “Truth is a power, however, only when one requires of it no immediate effect, but has patience and figures on a long wait. Still better, when one does not in general think about its effects but wants to present truth for its own sake, for its holy, divine greatness. . . . As already said, one must have patience. Here months may mean nothing and also years. And one must have no specific aims. Somehow, lack of an agenda is the greatest power. Sometimes, especially in recent years, I had the sense that truth was standing as a reality in the room.” I would like to think that truth is hanging around here somewhere, but I know I take solace from what he says about the lack of an agenda.
• A hero of our times is Michael Bourdeaux, an Anglican priest and the founder of Keston College in England. For many years, he and Keston courageously tracked the course of religion under the evil empire, giving sustenance to brave believers, and warding off the attacks of those in the West who accused him of being an anti-Communist (a term of opprobrium at the time) and imperiling “peaceful coexistence.” He exhibits indomitable amiability as he continues to press for full religious freedom in Russia and elsewhere. We had lunch a while back, and he gave me a copy of his book Gorbachev, Glasnost, and the Gospel. At the time he wrote the book Gorbachev and glasnost was the hottest topic around; by the time the book was published the empire had collapsed and Gorbachev was yesterday's news. Too bad for the book, for it is still a marvelously useful guide to the religious, cultural, and political currents in Russia. The debates that preceded the collapse also have everything to do with what is happening in Cuba with the increasing public role of the Church. There was in Russia, for instance, the discussion of whether it was right to allow believers to help out in elementary aspects of social care where the Soviet state had so abysmally failed. In 1988 Konstantin Kharachev addressed the leaders of one of Moscow's ideological institutes. “He asked whether it was right, in this great socialist society, to allow a man's dying vision to be of a believer bringing him a bedpan. Should he go to his grave in the realization that our socialist state is incapable of organizing someone to bring him this relief?” Under Gorbachev, a new word was gaining currency in Russia, miloserdiye. Actually, it is a very old word that is literally translated “dear-heartedness.” It is the biblical word for “mercy,” kharis in Greek, caritas in Latin, and, of course, “charity” in English. For seventy years, its use had been prohibited. Soviet dictionaries that included miloserdiye accompanied it with the explanation “obsolete.” And the greatest of these is love. All the principalities and powers to the contrary, it will always be that way.
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Sources: Interview with Jacques Derrida, New York Times, May 30, 1998. Albert Lindemann's Vienna and the Jews reviewed by Steven Beller in Times Literary Supplement, March 6, 1998. On Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi: Catholic League press release, July 1, 1998; Guardian, June 5, 1998; New York Times, May 29, 1998. Editorials on school choice, Wall Street Journal and New York Times, June 12, 1998. While We're At It: Michael Walzer on political mobilization against inequality, The New Republic, February 2, 1998. On Francis Cardinal Arinze and “reparation theology,” catholic trends, January 24, 1998. Hadley Arkes on his priest friend and Governor George W. Bush, Crisis, July/August 1998. On Catholic deacons in the Netherlands, Religion Watch, March 1998. Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch reviewed by J. Budziszewski, National Review, March 23, 1998. “A View of Religious Vocations” by Fr. Albert DiIanni, America, February 28, 1998. On the lordship of Christ, Nicotine Theological Journal, January 1998. James Q. Wilson on “Two Nations,” 1997 Francis Boyer Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, delivered December 4, 1997. On World Relief, World, March 28, 1998. Sister Pascal Conforti quoted on Jesus and AIDS patients, Long Island Catholic, March 25, 1998. Stephen Carter's Civility reviewed by Alan Wolfe, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 1998. Reflections on Thucydides, New York Times, April 21, 1998. Jacob Neusner quoted on Orthodox Jewish students at Yale, Context, May 1, 1998. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz on obedience, New Oxford Review, May 1998. A Mother's Place by Susan Chira reviewed by Marily Nissenson, New York Times, May 15, 1998. On Judge Raymond Novak and case of pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell, personal correspondence. Monsignor George Higgins on labor, Catholic New York, June 18, 1998. Charles Krauthammer on religion and public life, Time, June 15, 1998. On Catholic Theological Society of America, catholic trends, June 27, 1998. Cardinal Ratzinger on truth and dialogue between religions, Communio, Spring 1998.