All posts filed under: Articles

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 …

First Sunday in Advent: The Bridegroom Comes

Advent Sunday by Christina Rossetti BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out With lighted lamps and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. It may be at the midnight, black as pitch, Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich. It may be at the crowing of the cock Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock. For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride: His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side. Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place, Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face. Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing, She triumphs in the Presence of her King. His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed; He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride. He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love, And she with love-voice of an answering Dove. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out With lamps ablaze and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. Christina Rossetti’s “Advent Sunday” provides a framework for the …

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 …

Friedrich Schleiermacher: A Theological Precursor of Postmodernity?

The religious landscape throughout history has been a forum for both conventional and innovative ideas about faith and spirituality. Many theological battles have been waged in the effort to define truth, orthodoxy, and dogma. As Farley writes, “Now, as in Schleiermacher’s time, the religious landscape is divided deeply between conservative ‘orthodoxy’ and those who despise religion itself.”[1] In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Germany found itself in the middle of such a predicament. Owing much to the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, many theologians began to question the traditional view of God and Christianity, and instead offered new, divergent theories that made their religious faith more pragmatically relevant to themselves and to other like-minded believers. One particular German theologian, Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher (1768–1834), proposed Enlightenment views in theology so consistently that he is usually called “The father of liberal German theology.” His innovative interpretations and theories were quite culturally influential and began a push toward a more relaxed, more creative understanding of Christianity, whose influence can still be seen in contemporary theology and …

Zen and the Rich Young Man

Much of everyday life is a dialogue with our desires. These include, most basically, positive desires—what I like, what I find interesting or funny, what is relaxing or entertaining, what I eat, read, think, say, do, love, even—and negative desires—what I dislike, what I fear, what I disagree with, what I am discouraged by, what is uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, painful, hateful, even. I will attempt to now trace a recent attempt of mine to confront this scrolling social-media-feed of personal desires and distractions head on, and what it illuminated for me concerning the spiritual life. The main protagonist, however, will be Zen Buddhism, and my brief glimpse of it while in a week-long residency at the Zen Center of New York City (ZCNYC): Fire Lotus Temple. Specifically, I hope to show how this all too brief immersion as a Catholic in Buddhist life not only deepened my appreciation for the spiritual richness (or paradoxically, spiritual poverty) of Zen Buddhism, but also how this encounter opened up Scripture to me in important ways, and refocused some of …

Benedict XVI Beyond the Liturgy Wars

Long before he assumed the Petrine Office, Benedict XVI wrote frequently on the important role occupied by music in the life of the Church. His love of music began with a childhood he himself described as “Mozartian.” Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a musical family; his father sang tenor and played the zither, and his mother frequently sang Marian hymns, often while washing dishes. Joseph himself studied piano beginning around the age of ten and counted Beethoven, Bach, and especially Mozart among his favorite composers. Although he later left the formal study of music to his older brother Georg, Joseph never lost his enthusiasm for the beauty of music, nor his reverence for its power to open a person up to an encounter with the divine. His writings speak eloquently of the connection between music and theology and the implications of this connection for the liturgical life of the Church. For many in parish music ministry today, the “style” question remains a hot-button issue: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody, and praise and worship are not simply …

Reading the News as a Spiritual Exercise

We know there is a problem with the way we disseminate, consume, and respond to the news. We also generally share some sense of where the problem lies. It has something to do with a complex interaction of factors like the structure of digital media, the industries that support those technologies, and our cultural, economic, and political climate. Somehow those factors both foster and are fostered by trends such as narrowing echo chambers, a fractured accountability to diverse publics, comments that fail to respect and engage others, decreasing attention spans, and the exhaustion and despair that fester before the parade of emergencies that counts our days and disciplines our emotions like a liturgical calendar. Something is wrong with how we pursue the truth together in a digital society. Reasonable suggestions for how to address this problem generally come in two flavors. The first approach emphasizes the structure of our news technologies and the corporations that develop and profit from them. We must fix Google, Facebook, and Twitter through legislation and consumer pressure. The second approach …

Why Is Faith Dead Without Works?

14What is the profit, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Is faith able to save him? 15If a brother or a sister are [sic] naked or lacking in daily food, 16And one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and sated,” but you do not give them the body’s necessities, what is the profit? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18Yet someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” You show me your faith without the works, and I will show you faith by my works. 19You have faith that God is one? You are doing well. Even the daemonic beings have that faith, and they tremble. 20But are you willing to recognize, O you inane man, that faith without works yields nothing? 21Was not our father Abraham made righteous [or: proved righteous] by works, offering up his own son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? 22You see that faith cooperated with his works, and by the …

A Defense of Devil Costumes

This year, like every year, parishes will hold alternative Halloween parties. And this year, like every year, pastors will adjure parents not to dress their children as devils. This proscription usually extends to the occult: no soothsayers, no pythonesses. Sometimes it also extends to the ghoulish: no undead of any stripe, whether zombie, revenant, or draugr. And maybe your pastor, like mine, will push further still: no superheroes or television characters—only saints or holy angels. This often tempts me to dress my sons as St. Sebastian, riven with arrows. Or as St. Bartholomew, whose flayed skin he dons like a shawl. Or as the shade of the prophet Samuel, conjured by the enchantress of Endor. Or else as the angel of death—surely he passes muster. Costume casuistry aside, I get the sentiment. Best to promote holy exemplars over wicked ones. Still, I am puzzled by this. Puzzlement is not surprise, of course: I have suffered under the ban on ghoul and devil costumes since my fundamentalist youth. That fundamentalists should prove squeamish about the devils …

An African Reflection on the Common Good, Migration, and the Youth Synod

As a young African I am happy that the topic of migration has emerged in the Synod’s discussions. Migration is a crossroads issue since it is one of the peculiar burdens that the hands of the developed world are forced to carry with those of the developing world. The Church has long defended the dignity of migrants partly because of her keen understanding of the difficult choices faced by them. In Pacem In Terris, Pope St. John XXIII laments the social instability wrecking the precarious lives of those we now refer to as “economic migrants” (§120), something I know too well even as a scholar abroad. For many young Africans, the decision to leave home or remain abroad in pursuit of legitimate aspirations, no matter the difficulties associated with them, is reflected by the waves of truth that ripple throughout the stanzas of “Home,” an acclaimed poem by the British-Somali writer Warsan Shire.[1] This is especially the case for those fleeing from the violence perpetuated by institutionalized greed and intolerance. The Church in Africa, already …