All posts filed under: Blog Posts

The Stare of Medusa and the Return Gaze of Christ

It is just one of Nietzsche’s many bon mots that if one stares at evil long enough it looks back. As is usual with Nietzsche there is an implied boast. We divide into the strong and the weak depending on whether we can or are willing to endure this look or looking back. Nietzsche leaves us in no doubt as to which camp he belongs in, even if with all the bravado about amor fati we sometimes get the impression in reading him that he is expecting as much our pity as our admiration. Still, the aphorism is powerful, and it is powerful not only because it is scintillating in its expression, but because it is experientially apt. Over the centuries, as they looked at and into the world, victims as well as victimizers have experienced the force of that look or counter-look that announced that all hope should be abandoned and that our abused flesh empty itself of everything that makes it human and all will to be human. With regard to victims we …

The Contemporary Question of Images and Early Christian Art

“Where do we go from here? Today we are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions,”[1] notes Cardinal Ratzinger, in the chapter “The Question of Images” of his three-volume work The Spirit of the Liturgy. There he examines the contemporary crisis of art through a detailed history of the image and the icon. He invites us to remember the purpose of Christian art, and of art in general, by looking back at the liturgical and mystical power of early Christian visual exegesis. Our earliest dated examples of Christian art are from the third century, and they are mostly found in funerary contexts, particularly in the frescoes in the Roman catacombs. These images: Simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence. The individual events are now ordered toward the Christian sacraments and to Christ himself. Noah’s ark and the crossing of the Red Sea now point to Baptism. The sacrifice of Isaac and …

Does Darwinian Evolution Naturally Petrify the Image of God?

Hello, human being, hummus from the soil. You are lowly, yet magnificent. You have been pulled up from the earth and breathed into life by YHWH. You are made in his image. Your wiry limbs and curious eyes somehow make visible the hidden things of God. Come, name the other creatures, those body-beings who are like you, but also not like you. You are the Namer; they are the Named. You come out of Eden, where there is a four-branched river that waters the land, and also several trees. Human being, you come from Eden, yet you do not come from Eden. You come from Africa, from your mitochondrial mother. You are homo sapiens, of the genus homo. You are a bipedal hominid, a big-brained ape, with perhaps a trace of Neanderthal DNA. You are made by God, in the image of God, and you have also been made by nature, through the engine of change, over the span of two thousand millennia. How can this be? * The principle of unassailable human dignity is …

Introduction to Christianity: Bestseller Around the World

In the winter semester of 1900, the Lutheran, liberal-minded theologian Adolf von Harnack gave in sixteen lectures, at the University of Berlin, a course designed for students from all the faculties entitled ‘‘The Essence of Christianity,’’[1] which recalled the title of a work by Ludwig Feuerbach, published in 1841. The lectures were soon collected in a volume that became a classic of Lutheran theology, one of the cornerstones of liberal thought against which Karl Barth thundered. Where Feuerbach proved to be destructive, Harnack turned out to be reductive, subjecting God to the measure of man, who ended up taking the upper hand over God’s own holiness. Later, in the late 1920s, in Tübingen, a Catholic dogmatic theologian, Karl Adam, also gave a lecture course on the nature of Catholicism.[2] In opposition to modernism, Adam argued that the Catholic Church is a community capable of acting and suffering, of praying and loving, of growing and preserving unity. Moreover, it has grown enormously since A.D. 33, the year of Jesus’ death, but at the same time has …

An Open Secret: White Privilege’s Targeting of Vulnerable Populations with Abortion

The prenatal child, of course, is the paradigmatic vulnerable person. But abortion disproportionately impacts many other kinds of vulnerable populations as well. Poor and low income women account for 3 in every 4 abortions in the United States. Given the economic pressures especially on single mothers, it is not difficult to understand why. If one cannot afford to take time off of work or pay for child care—especially if one have another mouth to feed (50% of abortions are procured by women who already have children)—it can seem like abortion is the only option. It is an open secret that the broader culture seems to perniciously think the solution to poverty is to make abortion as accessible as possible for the economically vulnerable—rather than help the economically vulnerable choose something other than abortion. Indeed, we are told quite often in the public debate over these matters that when women are denied abortions they are at risk for poverty or for becoming even more economically vulnerable. Politically-biased studies are released right around the anniversary of Roe v. …

The Catechetical Political Theology of Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity is a sort of catechism; it teaches, initiates, guides. Happily enough, this is clear in its title in both German and English: Einführung in das Christentum (“Ein,” meaning “into”[1] and “Führung,” “direction, steering, stewarding”),[2] Introduction to Christianity (“intro,” meaning “into,” “duco,” “to lead, to pull”).[3] According to Ignatius Press, this fondly-regarded text “is still very timely and crucial for the spiritual needs of modern man.”[4] In other words, Ratzinger’s book is a catechetical aid, it helps us bring our contemporaries into the thoughtful, rational, and wonderful world of Christian belief, and, thereby, into the serene discipline that is Catholic theology. I do not disagree with this, but, on a close reading of his sources and life, the book is far more: it betrays itself to be a kind of theological politics. Now Pope Emeritus Benedict has effectively admitted this in his most recent preface to the text. This is how it opens, how he introduces Introduction: Since this work was first published, more than thirty years have passed, in which …

When Worlds Collide: Scripture and Cosmology in Historical Perspective

Collision Course Scientists are generally lauded for their stellar achievements for the cause of humanity. Their work is tedious and painstaking, requiring great intellect and greater patience. They dedicate their lives to thinking outside the box, asking unimaginable questions, and resolve seemingly unresolvable problems. Every now and then they reach a breakthrough, identifying the cause or cure for a disease, locating a distant planet where life could be viable, or finding a more efficient source of energy. In most cases, the general public appreciates their efforts and celebrates new discoveries, excited for the promise these triumphs hold for the qualitative improvement of human life; that is, until science interferes with ideology. There are many ideological obstructions to the advancement of science. Some obstructions are warranted and necessary. As science moves at breakneck speeds with respect to genetic engineering, for example, there are legitimate ethical concerns regarding not what can be done, but what should be done. Other obstructions would seem to be unwarranted and unnecessary. These roadblocks are generally ideological in nature, operating under the …

Attempts to Explain Cosmogony Scientifically

In Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, I discussed some of the speculative scenarios in which time has no beginning and the Big Bang is merely the beginning of one part of the universe or one epoch in its history. Another line of physics speculation accepts the idea that time has a beginning, either the Big Bang that occurred some 15 billion years ago, or some earlier perhaps even bigger Bang, but seeks to give that beginning a scientific explanation. Many scientists are under the impression that such an explanation would render a divine creator superfluous. As I will explain later, this notion is based on a misunderstanding of the idea of Creation. However, let us put that issue aside for now and focus on the scientific ideas. The Reasons to Look for a Theory of the Beginning Theories of the beginning of the universe generally are formulated within the field called “quantum cosmology.” There are several motivations for this work. At the most basic level, scientists seek to understand phenomena, and the Big Bang is a phenomenon. …

A Guide for Effectively Teaching Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity in Theology 101

Although when then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger authored his 1968 Introduction to Christianity[1] he was still four years away from founding the international journal Communio together with Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others, the work clearly manifests the thought of the Communio school. In at least one respect, Ratzinger even seems to go further, at least in emphasis, than de Lubac’s ressourcement of the view that the human person has a natural desire for the vision of God.[2] On the one hand, de Lubac insists that this desire coexists with the incommensurability of the orders of nature and grace, posits the existence of a distance between nature and the supernatural as radical as that between non-being and being,[3] and argues that this desire is an “unknown desire” until God’s offer of the beatific vision is revealed.[4] On the other hand, Ratzinger’s book seems to relate belief in the created logos more closely to faith in the creative Logos, and even writes that “in the last analysis one cannot make a neat distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’: …

Ah, to Live in a Cosmos Again!

Anaxagoras takes the stage early in Aristotle’s Metaphysics as that sober man among drunks who rightly claims that reason is the cause behind all of nature and its beauty.[1] This same Anaxagoras, we are told, “answered a man . . . asking why one should choose rather to be born than not by saying ‘for the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe.’”[2] Reason is needed to cause the beauty of the whole; only mind can make the world a cosmos. Mind is also needed to recognize that we live in a cosmos, as Seth Benardete remarks: “We see heaven and earth, but we do not see their unity, which we call cosmos. ‘Cosmos’ puts a label on an insight about the structure of the whole that is simply not available to sight.”[3] This label, “cosmos,” is rooted in the Greek verb kosmein, meaning both “to arrange” and “to order, rule” as well as “to adorn” (as in “cosmetics”). The aggregate of all that exists is a cosmos because of …