All posts filed under: Blog Posts

Vatican I: Loss and Gain in the Governance of the Catholic Church

Let us begin by reminding ourselves of three basic points that are pertinent to our topic. First, every decision is a choice between two goods. Otherwise, we would not have to go through the process of decision-making. This means decisions seem almost by definition to entail some measure of loss. Second, every decision is subject to the law of unintended consequences. Decisions enter into the give-and-take of the historical process and get mauled by it. When we make a decision, we cannot foresee all the contingencies that will affect how it later fares. Third, many decisions entail implications of which we are not aware at the time, which means that sometimes we are not doing what we think we are doing. The First Vatican Council issued only two decrees, the first, Dei Filius, on the relationship between faith and reason, and the second, Pastor Aeternus, on papal primacy and infallibility. Although it is not obvious, both decrees were intended as statements against the modern world, that is, the world that came into being in the …

The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space

Can there really be special holy places and holy times in the world of Christian faith? Christian worship is surely a cosmic liturgy, which embraces both heaven and earth. The epistle to the Hebrews stresses that Christ suffered ‘‘outside the gate’’ and adds this exhortation: ‘‘Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him’’ (13:12). Is the whole world not now his sanctuary? Is sanctity not to be practiced by living one’s daily life in the right way? Is our divine worship not a matter of being loving people in our daily life? Is that not how we become like God and so draw near to the true sacrifice? Can the sacral be anything other than imitating Christ in the simple patience of daily life? Can there be any other holy time than the time for practicing love of neighbor, whenever and wherever the circumstances of our life demand it? Whoever asks questions like these touches on a crucial dimension of the Christian understanding of worship but overlooks something essential …

4 Reasons Why Christians Should Read Dante’s Paradiso

To insist that a Christian should read the Paradiso is a far more specific injunction than to enjoin her to read good religious literature where she can find it or even to read the Divina Commedia. It is more bold as well as more specific than even the latter, since it has become a cliché in 20th century reception of the Paradiso that poetically it is the least realized part of Dante’s great epic. The general opinion is that as a poet Dante is at his best in the Inferno, even if it has become a commonplace to express humanistic reservations about the sadistic forms of comeuppance to be found throughout all the circles of hell. Still, even for those critics who wish to impress on us their refined moral sensibility at its very worst the Inferno is a masterpiece of horror in which Dante provides objective correlatives for our deepest fears (explored in the series which this essay concludes). Thus, it should not come as a surprise that not only has the Inferno found a …

What Is Integralism Today?

In the Catholic Church old debates that might seem to have been left behind are constantly returning. Thus, the debate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between “liberal” Catholics and their opponents, sometimes called “integralists,” has recently given signs of revival. One such sign is a seminar offered this semester at Harvard Law School entitled “Law and Catholic Thought: Liberalism and Integralism.” The seminar’s co-teachers can be seen as representing liberalism (Princeton University’s Professor Robert P. George) and integralism (Harvard’s own Professor Adrian Vermeule) respectively. George is certainly not a “liberal” Catholic in the sense in which that term is opposed to “conservative”—he is indeed one of the standard bearers of conservatism in the American Catholic Church. But he is a liberal as opposed to an integralist, because he thinks that political authority exists for the sake of the protection of individual rights, that one of the most important of those rights is the right of religious liberty, and that political authority should therefore not officially favor one religious confession more than others. Vermeule, …

The Roman Church as Casta Meretrix

You (=Jerusalem) committed fornication because of your renown, and you lavished your fornication on every passer-by. —Ezekiel 16:15 We should realize that everything said about Jerusalem applies to . . . the Church. —Origen, Homilies on Ezekiel Origen is speaking of the members of the church. . . The more “ecclesiastical” they are, the more he has them in mind. Above all, he is thinking of those who are the Church’s official leaders and preachers. He spares them as little as the prophet spares the whore Jerusalem. —Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Casta Meretrix” As the current wave of the clerical abuse crisis began to rush over us, I could not help but think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s essay “Casta Meretrix [The Chaste Whore].” He opens that essay with Luther’s fiery denunciation of the Roman Church as the whore of Babylon. But then, in a surprising turn, he shows that such an identification preceded Luther by over a millennium. For nearly a hundred pages, he lays out text after text from dozens upon dozens of …

Salvation: More Than a Cliché?

Redemption is a key word of the Christian faith; it is also one of the Christian words that has been most emptied of meaning: even for believers, it is difficult to discover another reality behind it. When they compare the drudgery of their daily lives, its battles, anxieties, and uncertainties, with the Christian Good News, often it seems to them almost impossible to acknowledge this redemption as something real. Furthermore, the words in which the faith tradition speaks here—atonement, vicarious substitution, sacrifice—have become obscure; all that verbiage produces no true connection with the experiences and insights of human existence today. It has been more than fifty years now since Josef Wittig, the Catholic theologian from Breslau, formulated this feeling in a way that, because of its artlessness and frankness, was felt by many to be a true liberation. At that time, he recounted how as schoolchildren they had received an explanation of the doctrine of redemption and had learned to sing the song, “Getröst, getröst, wir sind erlöst” (“Comforted, comforted, we are redeemed”)—but this pious …

Kant and de Sade: The Modern Recalibration of the Monstrous and the Demonic

Demons and Monsters With regard to the imagining of who we are, and who we could become, 1794 was no ordinary year. This was the year in which the ever-reliable Immanuel Kant, whose walks in Konigsberg were such that you could set your watch by them, wrote a strange and spectral book called Religion within the Boundaries of Reason Alone, a book that seemed at once to recall the thinker of a few years earlier while also presenting a stranger who was more familiar with evil than anyone—including his erstwhile self—might have guessed. If Kant surprised himself by feeling compelled to write about “radical evil” in book 1, he shocked Goethe who, feeling betrayed, decried what he judged to be an inexplicable regression to the hateful Christian doctrine of Original Sin. Goethe was only somewhat right in linking Kant’s view of radical evil to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and if right at all perhaps only by accident in that certainly Kant intended to debunk Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin and any of its …

A Quasi-Defense of Gallicanism

Taylor Patrick O’Neill’s article on the recent (mis)use of the term “ultramontane” as an insult rightly pointed out certain pitfalls afflicting the contemporary Catholic conversation about papal authority and our duties towards it. Some recent rhetoric indeed risks “moving the goalposts” in unhealthy ways. Both the “traditional” and the “progressive” have been guilty of this, especially during the papacies of Bendict XVI and Francis, respectively. I cringed during the papacy of Benedict XVI when I heard a Ratzinger devotee gleefully advance the thesis that, in light of the expanded permission to celebrate the Latin Mass in Summorum Pontificum (2007), from now on all good Catholics ought to anticipate the mens (will) of the Holy Father by attending both forms (not follow his teaching, but anticipate his mens!). Now in the age of Francis the shoe (though not, apparently, the red slipper) is on the other foot, and Francis-cheerers gloat about brow-beating their opponents over everying from climate change, to Amoris laetitia, to the death penalty amendation/development. Some of these folks are open about their schadenfreude at …

The Orthodox Schism Under Western Eyes

A schism is underway between two major Orthodox Churches, one with significance for Catholicism. And yet, in Catholic media the phenomenon—called by many the biggest split in modern Orthodoxy history—has gone conspicuously unnoticed. A single Catholic News Agency article from October 14th summarizes the problem tellingly and laconically: The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, claiming his recognition of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine departed from Orthodox Christian norms . . . . . . Patriarch Bartholomew’s plan to create a single, self-governing Church in the Ukraine, led by its own patriarch, is motivated by a desire to unify the country’s 30 million Orthodox Christians. The Russian Church sees the move as an infringement of its jurisdiction and authority. There are about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church in 1054. Something is afoot that should capture the Catholic imagination. It has something to do with unity, authority, and Apostolic Christianity. Its precise meaning, however, remains elusive not …

Kneeling Theology: Believing in Order to See Scripture

At the very center of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, both as pope and as a private theologian, is an awareness of the absolute necessity of the conversion of one’s whole self to Christ within the wider communal life of the Church. According to Lieven Boeve, conversion is for Ratzinger “the most fundamental structure of the Christian faith . . . In almost all of his writings from the 1960’s to the 1980’s this theme surfaces over and over again.”[1] It is an essential element of the Christian state of life, because at the heart of Christianity stands the person of Jesus Christ, the Christian’s recognition that he is not Christ, and the incessant clarion call that one must become more and more subsumed into Christ’s very life and person. And, if one hears and accepts the call to conversion and commits the whole of one’s self to God time and again, then by the grace of God one acquires a certain holiness of life. Faith, conversion, and holiness, then, all go hand-in-hand with one …