All posts tagged: John Paul II

How Can Modern Science Purify Christianity from Error and Superstition?

John Paul II once wrote to Fr. George Coyne, S.J., the former director of the Vatican Observatory, that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” Setting aside the fascinating fact that the Vatican has its very own observatory, whose Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the statement itself issued by the former pontiff contains a potentially scandalizing assertion if given only a superficial reading. How could it be at all possible that science, especially a modern science in whose name the deposit of faith has been greatly assailed in recent history, can “purify religion,” particularly Christianity, “from error and superstition” without at the same time introducing a corruption of revelation and faith? Moreover, how can religion in general and Christianity in particular “purify science from idolatry and false absolutes” without forcing science to be at variance with its own particular method and …

The Unsung Russian Forerunner of the Death Penalty’s Demise in Catholic Teaching

In Pope Francis’s amendment to the Catechism’s §2267, we see a sense of progressive development applied to the Church in the world. That we should only now fully realize “in the light of the Gospel” that the death penalty is inadmissible is likely to elicit concern from those wary of novelty. Pope Francis’s letter to the bishops concerning this change points out that this language should be no surprise, since similar things were said on the subject by Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, as well as by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 2008 in its document The Bible and Morality: In the course of history and of the development of civilization, the Church too, meditating on the Scriptures, has refined her moral stance on the death penalty and on war, which is now becoming more and more absolute. Underlying this stance, which may seem radical, is the same anthropological basis, the fundamental dignity of the human person, created in the image of God (Bible and Morality: The Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, …

The Personalist Awakening in 20th Century Catholic Moral Thought

The personalist awakening in 20th century Catholic moral thought restored the ancient and medieval priority accorded to persons—as well as to the ways of relating between them (especially friendship)—to the modern field of ethics and moral theology. Furthermore, friendship is a strong idiomatic pattern in New Testament reflections, according to which, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can once again enjoy friendship with God. Jesus related not only to the Apostles as friends, but to all who gathered around him as friends. Jesus says the following in John 15: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (12-15). Though the …

Christians Dare Not Shirk the Work of Ecumenism

Hope, of course, is a theological virtue—a gracious gift of God. It is not the same as optimism. This is a useful distinction, and goad, for many aspects of the Christian life. We are not our own but belong to the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, we might say that our future is not our business: it is given over to God. More than that, we should expect to be led, at least in part, where we do not want to go (John 21:18). Jesus said these words to Peter as a prophecy of his martyrdom, but they equally apply to every interesting aspect of our Christian lives, just insofar as God uses our circumstances to shape and mold us into the persons he would have us become—in marriage and within families, in close friendships, as we engage political and societal questions, as we combat sin within and without, and as we both gratefully and wearily take up our work. My teacher Brevard Childs taught us in our study of Scripture to pray that the Holy Spirit …

I Used to Be a Creationist

I have a confession to make: I used to be a creationist. This probably sounds absurd, especially coming from a student at a university which prides itself on its commitment to faith and reason—a university which was even home to one of the first Catholic defenders of scientific evolution—Fr. John Zahm. It will most likely sound even more absurd when I tell you that I am now making faith and reason my life’s work by studying theology, philosophy, and physics. I have quite clearly come a long way from thinking that science and religion do not work together, and would consider myself the better for it. Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful for the time that I spent holding the opinion that we have to take the book of Genesis to its literal extremes, and thus that evolution just had to be wrong. It helped me identify one of the central aspects of the science and religion debate: science and religion are not at odds with each other if you recognize that science does not have …

St. Francis of Assisi: Icon of the Hospitable Imagination

In the First Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano (c. 1185–1265), relates a detail about the seraphic saint that could easily pass by a reader’s attention as simply a charming embellishment adorning the life of St. Francis. The saint of Assisi was so transformed by the burning fire of God’s love that he even saw the dignity of worms: “Even for worms he [Francis] had a warm love,” writes Celano, “since he had read this text about the Savior: I am a worm and not a man. That is why he used to pick them up from the road and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passersby.”[1] We live in a culture obsessed with individualism, efficiency, consumerism, and power. It is a culture which effectively erodes what it means to be human, a culture in which statements about the uselessness and stupidity of human dignity can go unchecked and unchallenged. It is a culture in which political parties and market analytics decide whose …

The Body in Early Monasticism

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It was with the inspiration of this Gospel passage that St. Antony the Great took off to the deserts of Egypt to begin a life of arduous asceticism. Antony, who is commonly attributed the title of “founder of Christian monasticism,” and his legacy have continued to provoke new questions over the past seventeen hundred years. What exactly motivated him to move out to the desert? Who had preceded him, both before the coming of Christ and after? To what extent did later monastic fathers and mothers follow his example, and to what extent did they diverge from it? And ultimately, were his motivations and lifestyle choice authentic to the Gospel? Many critics of early Church monasticism will point to Manichean and dualistic tendencies in the teachings and practices of these desert fathers and mothers. The shift from eremitic to cenobitic monasticism after the time of Antony, initiated by figures like Pachomios and Basil, …

Man, Woman, and the Mission of the Laity

Many of us living through this period of history look on with confusion and concern as we watch while our culture appears to unravel before our very eyes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to gain any traction for our efforts to defend our families and our communities from forces that seem determined to undermine the traditional understanding of the moral life that has governed Western culture for centuries. We find ourselves increasingly marginalized in public discourse about issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be human, let alone Christian. The controversies extend across many fronts, from religious liberty to women’s “rights,” from the breakdown of the family to same-sex unions, from local economic realities to the sometimes dubious benefits of globalization. As lay Catholics, we rely on our faith in the promises of Christ in the face of this situation, and rightly so. We renew our commitment to prayer and regular reception of the sacraments. We keep our families close and do our best to guard our children from the toxic …

Review: “The Gift of Birth” by Susan Windley-Daoust

“They were ‘doing birth’ to me rather than helping me ‘give birth,’” writes Susan Windley-Daoust of her first experience of childbirth, which she had hoped to do naturally but that instead resulted in “failure to progress” and a C-section. “That birth experience ended up being spiritually abusive by the ongoing treatment of me as an object (and not just an object; close to an object of ridicule). My experience may have been worse than some, but it was not that unusual” (14). So many women are terrified at the notion or scarred by the past experience of giving birth in the U.S. today. In The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth, Windley-Daoust speaks to the need for healing and also for truth: for women to recognize and reject the culturally accepted, destructive lie that “childbirth will break you: you can’t do it without the drugs; that’s just life and it needs to be this way” (14). Her first birth gave her the impetus to be “extremely intentional and attentive” to her three subsequent …