All posts filed under: Blog Posts

The Four Waves of the U.S. Catholic Abuse Crisis

Editorial Note: Those of you who reached this essay in error by clicking “READ MORE” in “The Best of 2018: Selected Content from the Church Life Journal” mailing looking to read Cyril O’Regan’s essay “The ‘Gift’ of Modernity” can do so by clicking here. Our apologies for the error on our part and the inconvenience. Where We Are  For many of us, the Catholic Church is our extended family and the center of our daily lives: the community within which we celebrate the sacraments, worship God, teach our children, serve the poor, cheer our kids’ CYO teams, build lifelong friendships, and so much more. Given that context, it is no surprise that over these past months American Catholics have been devastated and angered by revelations regarding sexual abuse and abuse of power in our Church. As we think about how to move forward, I would like to give an overview of our current moment; a brief review of how we got here; and finally, a description of what might lie ahead. This latest iteration of …

The History of Natural Law

Ultimately, one can only attain to such a perspective (see: the series introduction for context) by invoking both the contrast and the continuity of natural right with natural law. The latter notion is generally misunderstood. It has a double historical origin. First, it can be mainly located in the works of Philo Judaeus as a coming together of Hebrew notions of the cosmos as subject to an omnipotent personal rule, with a Greek metaphysical discourse concerning the structures of being. In terms of this strand, natural law is thoroughly Biblical in origin, and indeed Philo thinks of the revealed law of the Hebrew Bible as alone fully proclaiming the natural law, even if the world constitutes a kind of megalopolis with one law and one constitution, to which the constitutions of cities are dubious “additions,” allegorically symbolized by Joseph in terms of the supposed etymology of his name and his coat of many colors. The Decalogue is a saving deliverance from this addition: thus it was proclaimed far from cities in the “deep desert,” and unlike …

The Sham Practice of Christmas

As one of the great festivals of Christianity approaches, the malls are decked with holly, sales, and “Santa Baby.” Human beings are wired for festivity but could most of us even define what a festival truly is? And does our commercialized bastardization of Christmas still qualify as one? When I picked up 20th century German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, I realized this seemingly familiar idea of festival was more elusive than I expected. Did I not know what festivity was? Apparently not. The short treatise begins with a quote from St. John Chrysostom: “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivas” or “where love rejoices, there is festivity.” Like “love,” a word that we often use and yet may struggle to define, festivity is an idea we have trouble getting to the heart of. In addition to Pieper, I would like to recruit a well-known guide for us in our search for the meaning of festivity: the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner” turned grateful philanthropist, …

Hildegard of Bingen’s Vital Contribution to the Concept of Woman

When I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical university and beginning to think more deeply about gender, there were two basic paradigms on offer: egalitarianism and so-called complementarity. In those days—the early 2000’s—the pop-Christian livre de jour was a book called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by Jon Eldredge. This bestseller, ubiquitous in evangelical circles, provided a dizzying mash-up of fairy tale tropes, pop culture references, and bible verses, in order to unlock the hidden mysteries of the masculine heart. The basic premise of Eldredge’s book is that God creates men to be chivalrous Beasts with a hunger for adventure, a need to fight battles and rescue a Beauty. And a woman’s telos, conversely, is to be that Beauty who is rescued and swept up in the man’s heroic adventure. Eldredge presents men and women as two partial reflections of God: “There is a masculine heart, and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.”[1] These two “hearts” are not so much …

The Virgin Mary as “Eternal Woman”

The holier a woman, the more she is a woman. —Léon Bloy To call the Virgin Mary the “Eternal Woman,” as I do in the title of this essay, is, of course, to allude to the title of Gertrud von Le Fort’s famous book, The Eternal Woman, first published in German as Die Ewige Frau in 1933. In Sister Prudence Allen’s magnum opus, The Concept of Woman, she devotes two pages to a brief discussion of Le Fort (1876−1971), highlighting her personal and intellectual kinship with Edith Stein (1891−1942), whom Le Fort visited in the Carmel in Cologne and with whom she exchanged letters. Sr. Allen excerpts the following passage from one of Stein’s five extant letters to Le Fort, dated January 31, 1935: Dear Baroness, Our retreat ended this morning. A retreat in Carmel—all that’s lacking to make it heaven is one’s own holiness. My spiritual reading those days was your new book. I could not get to it earlier. Now at last I can thank you for this beautiful Christmas gift. I would …

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

Advent Flesh?

It is the first week of Advent, and I am waiting for Jesus’s flesh. That is not all I am waiting for, but it is the central thing, the thing without which I would not be waiting for anything else. This means that Advent is a fleshly season first and last because the direct intentional object of all the waiting that goes on in it is flesh, and not just any flesh, but the flesh of a male Jew who, rather more than two millennia ago, was conceived, birthed, suckled, catechized, inspired, baptized, tortured, killed, raised and taken up to heaven. More than that; but at least that. One aspect of my waiting is strictly memorial. I am waiting to be able to remember Jesus’s natal flesh, the flesh conceived in Mary’s womb, active in Galilee and Jerusalem, and crucified at Golgotha. That flesh is no longer with us, and cannot be. I have never seen it or touched it or tasted it, and I never will. Neither will you. With respect to that flesh, …

The Advent Corrective to Locke’s Lonely Liberalism

The Nativity is astonishing. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of a woman. The King of the Universe entered the world as a fragile infant, a bundle of needs who was utterly dependent on his mother. What a terrifying fact. The vulnerability of Our Savior’s gestation and early life is enough to take your breath away. The Advent and Christmas seasons are an invitation for us to examine our own dependence on relationships of love, a dependence that is constitutive of our lives. In reflecting on the method through which Christ came into the world, we can enter more deeply into this aspect of our creation in his image and likeness. 1. John Locke and Charles Taylor on the Human Person The logic of Advent and Christmas runs counter to our modern notion of the individual, the main foundation upon which the liberal order rests. This notion can largely be traced back to the thought of John Locke, whose theory of personhood advances a robust autonomy and individualism. Locke grounds this theory …

Newman’s Strategic Reassembly of Secular Trends

“Newman’s mind always pushed against the edges of knowledge,” says Owen Chadwick.[1] Newman is rarely an easy read and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is maybe his most dense work. But Newman’s rhetorical, philosophical, and personal complexity pushes his readers to push against the edges of their own knowledge of Newman, his world, and the world as a whole. By identifying faith as a form of reason, Grammar of Assent reflects the European renegotiation of the relationship between Church and state occurring in Newman’s day. We will first examine the book’s context and arguments, then its implications, and then its influence beyond the 19th century. Newman attends to the political order as a “grammar” of interrelated parts. We will conclude with an analysis of Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light” in light of Grammar of Assent, and in contrast with Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” the paradigmatic poem of British modernity. In 1851, six years after entering the Roman Catholic Church, Newman wrote that he had been considering writing a “philosophical polemic” for …