All posts filed under: Theology

What Does Belief in the Resurrection Look Like?

I believe all kinds of things: I believe E = mc2 (though I do not understand it); I believe warm weather will finally come to South Bend (eventually); I believed my GPS yesterday as it brought me to this doorstep; and so forth. But surely different kinds of truths call for different kinds of belief. The object requires something of the subject. Something different is required of me to believe the weatherman when he tells me tomorrow it will be sunny, than is required of me when I believe my wife when she tells me that she loves me. Different degrees of commitment by the believing subject are required, and the difference is created by the object of knowledge. This is what I have in mind when I ask: what would it mean to believe in the resurrection? My teacher, Paul Holmer, investigated the subjective quality of knowing, which is not the same as subjectivism. As a philosopher, he considered the cost of knowing some things. He wanted to ask how we are capacitated to …

Can Christianity Stop at Good Friday?

In a letter to Father Couturier written one year before her death, Simone Weil confessed that “if the Gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The Cross by itself suffices me.”[1] This confession should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Weil’s life or thought. Few things stand out so prominently in Weil’s late writings, after all, as her principled discomfort with the Christian language of resurrection and redemption (as well as her principled fixation on the language of crucifixion and dereliction). This is not to say that Weil rejected “Easter” language altogether; on the contrary, she found numerous uses for it within the parameters of her own rather bleak Christian Platonist framework. What Weil did believe strongly, however, was that virtually all ways of thinking and talking about redemption outside such a framework are not only misguided but spiritually damaging. In the vast majority of cases, Weil worried, Christians invoke Easter for no other reason than to evade the hard truths of Good Friday: to shield themselves …

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire Isn’t a Sign

Catholics love churches. Even when our architecture is less than excellent—this includes churches that also seem to look rather traditional—we nonetheless love them. We love them because in these places our babies were baptized; we married our spouses; we celebrated the Eucharist week after week, day after day, offering that sacrifice of praise that offers to humanity the hope that divine love alone saves. Yesterday we all, not Catholics only, gazed with absolute horror as we saw Notre-Dame de Paris nearly burn down. To a certain extent, popular media covered this out of a sense of nostalgia. This building, immortalized in our imaginations, would never exist precisely as it once did. We would never enter the dark, Gothic building again. We will never see the spire, even if a late addition, again. We will never see the cathedral’s wooden frame, the brilliant lattice work that brought us back to our medieval forebears. The landscape of Paris would once again be changed. No one, not one, would see the cityscape of Paris like we did–although the …

Reading the Writing in the Dirt

How do you read it? This question, posed to Jesus repeatedly throughout the Gospels, reminds us that interpretation of God’s Law was fundamental to Jesus’s life as a 1st century Jewish rabbi. It remains important today in the Church and no less controversial, as could be seen from the difficult questions on canon law and scriptural interpretation which have rocked the Catholic Church in the past years. Many vexed questions beat at the heart of these ecclesial disputes, but surely the question of how to interpret the Scriptures and ecclesial law in a way that respects both God’s justice and mercy reverberates beneath them all. As we turn inward for self-examination this Lent and seek to find God’s justice and mercy in our own lives too, the question of interpretation becomes personally paramount. To find our way, we can do no better in reflecting on this than to look at how Jesus himself held together the requirements for both justice and mercy in the interpretation of God’s Law. Neither can be omitted. As Pope Francis …

The Gospels Manifest a Poetic Christ

Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P. is a professor of the New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem. The Dominican scholar integrates his training in post-structuralism, linguistics, and literary criticism into a “Thomasian” framework enriched by his Dominican vocation. Described as a “Toulouse Dominican with a différance,” Venard’s inquiry into the original meaning of Aquinas’s theology incorporates the best insights from a wide array of scholarly discourses (biblical studies, historical and systematic theology, philosophy and literary studies) as a means for both retrieving Aquinas’s thought and enabling it to unveil the unity of these discourses in the Word. We had the privilege of participating in a reading group dedicated to the recently translated anthology of Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P.’s work entitled, A Poetic Christ: Thomist Reflections on Scripture, Language, and Reality (T&T Clark, 2019). A Poetic Christ was edited and translated by Notre Dame’s Francesca A. Murphy and Kenneth Oakes, drawing texts from across Venard’s vast theological trilogy: Littérature et théologie: Une saison en enfer (2002), La langue de l’ineffable: Essai sur le fondement théologique de la métaphysique (2004), …

God Doesn’t Break Bad in the Old Testament

Every semester I teach the first required course in theology to our incoming students. My habit has been to use the book of Genesis as a window into the Old Testament. But as soon as we reach the story of Noah and the flood, my audience grows restless. God sees how wicked humankind has become and promptly declares: “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen 6:7). “What kind of God would wipe out every living thing with one sweep of his hand?,” my students ask. Can I put my faith in such a vindictive figure? I do not need Richard Dawkins to raise the problem; students at Notre Dame see it with their own eyes. The Lenten season’s Old Testament readings ensure that the rest of you will see it too. Things do not get much easier as the story moves forward. About a dozen chapters later we come to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and are faced …

Gabriel Marcel and the Discovery of Fatherhood

Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) wrote about the meaning of the family beginning in 1927 with his earliest Metaphysical Journal right through to his latest autobiographical text, Awakenings (1971) and in dialogues with Paul Ricoeur and others in 1973 about his plays. As a philosopher of the “concrete,” Marcel was fascinated by the intimate relations and identities of family members. The unfolding of his philosophical thinking about the family can be divided into three phases: first, autobiographical reflections on the family he was born into and brought up by; second, the preparation for teaching a course on Fatherhood in Lyons; and third, autobiographical reflections on the family he participated in as husband and father. Throughout these three phases Marcel also created over 20 dramatic plays, in many of which he developed consequences of distorted family experiences and of grace of conversion in the midst of what he called “the broken world.” I. The Family as a Mystery or a Problem In “Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery,” Marcel offered his well-known distinction between a problem and …

Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

I. Timothy Troutner’s Objections to Integralism Catholic integralism is the position that politics should be ordered to the common good of human life, both temporal and spiritual, and that temporal and spiritual authority ought therefore to have an ordered relation. As a consequence, it rejects modern liberal understandings of freedom. Timothy Troutner, in a recent article, strongly objects to the integralist position. Troutner argues that integralists in reacting to liberalism become liberalism’s mirror image. Liberalism, he claims, is understandable as a reaction to real errors in Christendom, and promoted, though in a distorted way, the precious Christian truths of the goodness of liberty and equality that Christendom had forgotten. In simply rejecting liberalism as a deception of the Anti-Christ, Troutner argues, integralists end up defending indefensible crimes of Christendom, and condemning important truths associated with liberalism. Integralists commit a fatal error, Troutner thinks, in attempting to attain spiritual ends by means of coercive, temporal power. In this, he suggests they play the role of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Christ in the desert …

Political Theology’s Haunting of Contemporary Politics

Erik Peterson’s Thought Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt had met as early as 1919 but became better acquainted in 1924 when Peterson took a Church History and New Testament chair at the University of Bonn. This was a period of development for Peterson’s thought and he would eventually cross the Tiber in 1930 at great personal expense. The road to Catholicism was not a short one for Peterson and his relationship with Schmitt was significant in multiple ways. They were friends who commonly shared ideas and spoke highly of each other. Not the least significant of these shared ideas was that in Peterson’s own study of the New Testament he discovered that it was rife with legal terms. Thus, according to Peterson’s astute biographer Barbra Nichtwieß, the friendship between Schmitt and Peterson led to certain parallel insights in their respective disciplines as well.[1] Both thinkers are apocalyptic, but whereas Schmitt’s apocalyptic identifies a particular political crisis and emphasizes the importance of political decision, Peterson’s focuses on the cosmic and revelatory transformation that has occurred through …

The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals

I. A quarter century after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed liberalism “the end of history,” it is nearly impossible to avoid stumbling across rumors of its demise. With increasing populist dissent from the post-war global order, liberalism—not American left-wing politics but a combination of economic, legal, and social arrangements and their philosophical underpinnings—has received new scrutiny, especially among Catholics. Often attributed to John Locke, this system of free markets, free speech, and freedom of religion seeks to accommodate pluralism and avoid violence by focusing on procedures for getting along, rather than by legislating a vision of the good life. Although strains of liberalism differ, liberalisms typically claim to provide a neutral space for the exercise of freedom, which is construed as the highly individual project of self-creation. Among the most outspoken of liberalism’s critics are “Catholic integralists.” Although the term “integralist” has a complex history, this essay focuses on the contemporary, predominantly American variety, which alleges that liberalism’s maintenance of neutrality inevitably clashes with Catholic efforts to shape society according to Christian notions of the common good. …