All posts filed under: Blog Posts

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 …

Joseph Ratzinger Is Not a Platonist

The sacramental theology of Joseph Ratzinger is categorized by the Belgian systematic theologian Lieven Boeve as a pre-modern “neo-Platonic Augustinian vision of the world.”[1] According to Boeve, Ratzinger remains dependent on a metaphysics characterized by a distinction between the visible and the invisible. In Boeve’s narrative, Ratzinger is uncritically attached to an eternal grounding that is outside of the rite itself, a transcendence that brackets materiality and the particularity of existence in the world. The way forward in sacramental theology for Boeve is a postmodern dialectic of interruption between transcendence and immanence: “The sacramentality of life, clarified and celebrated in the sacraments, is no longer considered as participation in a divine being . . . but as being involved in the tension arising from the irruption of the divine Other into our human narratives, to which the Christian narrative testifies from of old.”[2] The sacramental structure of Christian existence is not entrance into some eternal world outside of time but an interruption of divine Otherness into the present. For Boeve, as he argues elsewhere, this …

After Galileo: Modern Science Has Deep Parallels with Theology

Galileo is probably best known for his work The Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, the book that triggered his ill-fated encounter with the Inquisition. However, when it comes to Galileo’s role in shaping our understanding of the modern scientific enterprise, it is his 1623 work The Assayer that has had a much larger impact. In one of the most quoted lines in the book, Galileo sums up his view of science, a view that has come to dominate our understanding of science ever since: Philosophy is written in this grand book the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth. Galileo saw, clearer than most, the uncanny ability of …

A Defense of Ultramontanism Contra Gallicanism

The term “ultramontanism” has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent Catholic conversations as a pejorative used by both traditional and progressive Catholics. In so doing, both sides align themselves with doctrinal heterodoxy. Brian Flanagan has recently published a brief study of the term in the National Catholic Reporter, noting the return of the term in “First Things, The New York Times, and the Catholic blogosphere and Twitter.”  Like those involved with the term in Catholic journalism and social media, Flanagan too misunderstands the Church’s teaching on ultramontanism. The extension of the term has shifted in recent years. During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, it was used against traditionally-minded Catholics (those who lauded Pope Benedict’s words, actions, and even shoes) by those who would self-identify as progressive. Today, traditionally-minded Catholics use the term against the progressive or liberal members of the Church who treat interviews with Pope Francis as infallible. In short, a perceived shift between the academic-conservative papacy of Benedict and the pastoral-collegial papacy of Francis has effected a shift regarding who …