Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Responsibility to Protect

There is an interesting new website, called Catholic Moral Theology (http://catholicmoraltheology.com/), by a group of young moral theologians committed to the respectful, temperate discussion of moral issues and principles. In a recent post, one of the authors, Meghan Clark, begins a discussion of Obama's speech on Libya, where the president justifies intervention in terms of the Responsibility to Protect. Clark argues that this R2P framework, which Pope Benedict XVI also uses in Caritas in Veritate, offers a better framework than Just War Theory.

But are Just War Theory and R2P mutually exclusive alternatives or is the latter assimilable to the former if due weight is given to the just cause criterion (Fr. Barron's second criterion) so that, in line with Aquinas's teaching, righting wrongs is not excluded?

Just War and the Righting of Wrongs

Fr. Barron has an interesting, clear exposition of Just War theory in relation to Libya in a recent column at the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/libya-and-catholic-just-war-tradition/2011/03/25/AFivEmYB_blog.html). According to the Catholic social teaching tradition, he explains, going to war can be undertaken morally only when definite criteria are met.
These are 1) declaration by a competent authority, 2) the presence of a just cause, 3) some proportion between the good to be achieved and the negativity of the war, 4) right intention on the part of those engaged in the conflict, and 5) a reasonable hope of success.

He argues that not all these criteria are met in the case of the Libya intervention against Gaddafi and therefore the military action is unjust. Barron believes that the first and fourth criteria are clearly met but the third and fifth are not.

But what about the second? What is a just cause? Barron explains:
Traditionally, legitimating causes included the repulsing of an unjust aggression against one’s nation as well as the righting of wrongs in other nations or cities. Thus, in accord with that second specification, Thomas Aquinas said that a nation could go to war to punish a wicked king. Here we might see a ground for our pre-emptive moves against both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadaffi. Also, it would seem to provide a justification for sending troops into, say, Rwanda while the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents was proceeding there without any interference. On the other hand, the Popes of the twentieth century, taking into account the terribly destructive nature of modern warfare, have ruled out the righting of wrongs criterion and have accepted only the repulsing of unjust aggression as a legitimating cause.

There is something troubling about this ruling out of the righting of wrongs in other countries, especially when considering the responsibilities of the world's most powerful nation in an increasingly integrated, "globalized" world. Modern warfare is destructive, yes, but so is genocide, and nations like the U.S. have and use the technological capacity to minimize the unintended deaths of civilians. The current pope and his predecessor have also called for an international authority with teeth - see Benedict's Caritas in Veritate - presumably with the purpose precisely of righting wrongs like the Rwanda genocide or the explicitly threatened mass slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. In the absence of such a credible global authority - a very dubious proposition in the first place, many Catholics and others argue - can the United States justly observe such horrors as passively and impotently as if it were of no more weight in global affairs than Switzerland?

Christopher Hitchens, the militant atheist who has consistently defended U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya, makes this point powerfully in his Slate columns - see for example his critique of Obama - "Is Obama Secretly Swiss?" (http://www.slate.com/id/2286522/) where he argues that "The administration's pathetic, dithering response to the Arab uprisings has been both cynical and naive."

Hitchens, of course, does not argue from within the Catholic just war tradition, but indirectly he raises, in my mind, troubling questions about the justness of ruling out the righting of wrongs when there is the clear capacity to stop great evil (as in genocide or mass slaughter of civilians on a large scale), and to do so, in principle, in circumstances where the other criteria for waging a just war are met.

God, the Tsunami, and the Problem of Evil - Robert Barron

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The puzzle of intolerant tolerance

Michael Casey | Sunday, 27 March 2011

How can liberal democracies justify prosecuting people who wear crosses or refuse to preside at same-sex marriages and still pride themselves on being tolerant?

One of the most puzzling features of contemporary Western society is that governments are prepared to act intolerantly in the name of tolerance. Australian sociologist Michael Casey explains how this has come about.

* * * * *

MercatorNet: You have written about the puzzle of “intolerant tolerance”. What is this all about?

Casey: Tolerance is essential to any sort of life in common, especially in complex democratic societies. Originally it was simply a practice, a way of living together and respecting the freedom of others. It has now become a value in its own right, perhaps the supreme value. Certainly it features high up on the list whenever people are asked to identify what the West stands for.

To create a tolerant society, however, democracies increasingly resort to intolerance. There is no question that a decent society must protect itself and vulnerable minorities from groups which refuse to respect the rights of other people. But intolerant tolerance is directed against groups which actually respect and defend the rights and freedoms of others.

Christians, for example, are treated as intolerant for maintaining legitimate distinctions between couples who can and cannot be married; for reasonably exercising a preference in employing staff for people who share their faith; and for defending the rights of the unborn and disabled. Intolerance means refusing to respect the rights of others, but in these cases it has been extended to something which is not a form of intolerance at all: the right we all have to refuse to validate choices with which we disagree and to say they are wrong. Intolerant tolerance means enforced validation of certain values and practices in the name of the tolerance.

MercatorNet: When did the modern notion of tolerance take shape? Whom do you regard as the touchstone of tolerance in Western history?

Casey: The earliest important source is the Roman writer Lactantius (c240-320 AD), a member of Constantine’s retinue and a significant influence on the concept of toleration Constantine practiced after he became Emperor. Lactantius’ major work is the Divine Institutes, which provides perhaps the first well-developed theory of religious toleration. He argues that religious devotion is genuine only if it is freely adopted. Coercion in religious matters should be rejected because it contradicts the very nature of religious belief. If there is to be punishment for following a false religion, it should be left to God. In short, respect for religion requires respect for freedom.

The major modern account of tolerance comes from Harvard University’s John Rawls (d. 2002). For Rawls, the state must be “neutral” towards different values, and dedicate itself to the project of creating and maintaining an equality of freedom and justice so everyone can live by their own beliefs. This sounds nice, but achieving this goal, especially for groups which suffer discrimination, inevitably involves the state in closer and closer supervision of society. The logic is that “discriminatory” beliefs are intolerant because, when acted on, they violate the rights of others. To preserve a tolerant society the freedom of people with discriminatory beliefs must be restricted. So the “neutral” state finds itself in the business of approving or vetoing values, depending on whether they meet whatever the current requirements of tolerance might be. Increasingly, those requirements now brand orthodox Christians as intolerant.

Putting Lactantius and Rawls side by side highlights an important point. There is a world of difference between the tolerance which has its beginning and end in respect for freedom (Lactantius), and the tolerance which operates as a means of bringing about a vision of a good or just society (Rawls). It is usually when tolerance is placed in the service of a particular project, like that of Rawls, that it is most likely to produce intolerance.

MercatorNet: The characteristic philosophy of our age is relativism. How does this affect the concept of tolerance?

Casey: Relativism seems to make tolerance essential. If different values are no more and no less than equally valid, and if truth—and therefore judgment between values—is impossible, tolerance becomes the only basis of social and political life.

But this is a very slender reed on which to build a life in common. The unstated fear seems to be that we will very quickly be at each other’s throats if we each insist on the truth of our own values over others, so tolerance becomes an article of faith which overrides all other values. For the sake of social harmony, everyone must believe in it, and where necessary it must to be enforced. This task naturally falls to the state.

Relativism reinforces the myth that in a tolerant society the state is neutral between different values. But life is not lived in neutrality. When relativism shapes the moral life of a society any consensual activity by adults which does not break the law becomes a “right” which cannot be resisted, regardless of the destructive effects it may have for individuals and the community. There is no neutrality when the good cannot be preferred to the bad. If you want a genuinely tolerant society you need truth as the foundation, not relativism.

MercatorNet: But how can you possibly be tolerant if you believe in truth? Aren’t you thereby committed to discriminating against people who don’t accept “your truth”?

Casey: That view explains why relativism is regarded as the only form of moral philosophy safe for democracy. Given the abundance of conflicting views, values and desires, and the adamant insistence on our own supremacy, truth appears to be not only implausible but tyrannical. When truth prevails, so the standard line goes, it narrows existence, constrains the possibilities of knowledge, and limits freedom and autonomy. Its ideas of “good and evil”, “true and false” cause division and intolerance.

The way forward is to move from a stubborn insistence that there is no such thing as truth, or that truth is dangerous, to conceding that perhaps truth is possible and available to us after all, and that in our own way we are all seeking it.

Conceding the possibility of truth, and that we all share a desire to find the truth and to live in its light, changes the situation completely. Nothing is lost from diversity, disagreement, skepticism and dispute, but they are re-located within a common journey which makes trust, openness and respect for each other in our different moral commitments stronger and easier. This is what real tolerance means.

Truth is not an answer in a box and it is not a cudgel. It is the unfolding of reality in which each of us takes part. Wherever our own search for the truth might lead us, the shared acceptance that it is the truth we are all seeking changes the game. It takes us out of the dead end of intolerant tolerance.

MercatorNet: A key element in your critique is “decisionism”. What is this? Why does it corrupt tolerance?

Casey: Decisionism is an ugly word for a very impoverished idea of authority. In its simplest form it means that, in the absence of truth, authority derives solely from the decision to assert one set of values over all others. It agrees with relativism that there are no values which are universally true, but completely rejects relativism’s conclusion that therefore all values must be treated as no more and no less than equally valid. Decisionism is a “solution” to relativism, with the decision—an act of will—taking the place of truth to justify one set of values as supreme over others.

In the way most Western governments currently work, the decision might be by majority vote or imposed by courts or government departments. But as long as the correct procedure has been followed, the decision is binding. It will be justified using the language of justice, rights and even truth, but the decision is what matters and to a significant extent determines what is “just” and “true” (or “tolerant”) in any particular case.

In the absence of truth it is success which validates, and a decision is successful only if it is the final word on a matter for everyone. If objections continue, especially from philosophical or religious convictions which reject relativism and argue for the truth, they call the whole show into question.

So, if Christians (for example) continue to maintain objections to certain decisions in defense of the dignity and freedom of the human person, in defense of human life from conception to natural death, in defense of marriage and the natural family, and in defense of religious freedom, conscience, human rights and social justice, they must be acted against to enforce what “the tolerant society” requires. The problems that relativism and decisionism cause for genuine tolerance explain how we end up with intolerant tolerance.

MercatorNet: How can we escape from “intolerant tolerance”?

Casey: We go wrong on most things when we go wrong on questions about the human person and transcendence. When tolerance ends by treating people who respect and defend the rights and freedoms of others as intolerant, it needs to be re-founded. One way of recovering the situation is to anchor tolerance in solidarity.

Tolerance, as we have come to practice it, assumes estrangement from each other. There is no common moral understanding, and even the idea of a common human nature is disputed. The only way of resolving the conflict of values is through the assertion of will. The relativism that underlies tolerance fosters suspicion, mistrust, fearfulness and lack of confidence in the world. It also encourages hardness and self-assertion in imposing one’s beliefs or defending them against the hostility of others. People either live alone with their convictions entrenched or come together with the like-minded, either aggressively or defensively.

Solidarity corrects this by re-establishing tolerance in the truth. All we have to do is concede that perhaps truth is possible after all, and might just be a better basis for our life together than the unexamined relativism from which we currently operate.

Solidarity assumes we belong to a single family. As in a good family, rather than simply putting up with each other with hardened hearts we should try to accept each other as friends, and be enriched by diversity rather than grudgingly enduring it. Solidarity treats human beings not as isolated atoms but as persons who depend on others for their fulfillment. We are autonomous, but our autonomy is shaped by reciprocity; by our ability to freely assume responsibility for each other, not just ourselves.

Intolerant tolerance has brought a presumption of enmity to democratic life. The way out is to replace this with the presumption which animates solidarity; the presumption of friendship.
Michael Casey is a sociologist on the staff of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and Adjunct Professor in the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He examines this issue in more detail in an article in the first issue of a new Australian journal, Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Casey, Michael (2011) "The Puzzle of Intolerant Tolerance," Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 1.
Available at: http://researchonline.nd.edu.au/solidarity/vol1/iss1/1

Retrieved March 27, 2011 from http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_puzzle_of_intolerant_tolerance2/

Paul Root Wolpe - Time to Question Bio-Engineering

The speaker, Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D. is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. Dr. Wolpe also serves as the first bioethicist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he is responsible for formulating policy on bioethical issues and safeguarding research subjects. He is Co-Editor of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB), the premier scholarly journal in bioethics, and Editor of AJOB Neuroscience, and sits on the editorial boards of over a dozen professional journals in medicine and ethics. Dr Wolpe is a past President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities; a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest medical society; a Fellow of the Hastings Center, the oldest bioethics institute in America; and is the first National Bioethics Advisor to Planned Parenthood Association of America.

These are impressive credentials - taken from Wolpe's bio page at the Emory Center for Ethics (http://ethics.emory.edu/people/Director.html) and the talk is lively, informative, and troubling. But the ethical questioning comes only in the last two minutes and does not amount to much.

For more serious discussion of the issues with regard to human beings, see the slim but important volumes by Michael J. Sandel, The Case Against Perfection, and Juergen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature.

Cecilia Bartoli - Mozart - Nozze di Figaro - Voi che sapete

Bartoli & Fleming - Le Nozze di Figaro - Sull'aria

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elizabeth Anscombe -- A Courageous and Holy Woman

by Julianne Wiley

Here’s an odd thing: a British bishop and a professor have reported that, in two different papal audiences with Pope John Paul II, as soon as they happened to mention their connection with Oxford University, Pope John Paul immediately leaned forward with an enthusiastic nod and asked, “Do you know Professor Anscombe?”

Do you know Professor Anscombe? No? Me neither, for far too long. Who is she?

Elizabeth Anscombe’s writings provided the intellectual background for key moral teaching found in documents of the Second Vatican Council like Gaudium et Spes (§27), encyclicals like Veritatis Splendor (§80), and even the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§§2297-98). The American Catholic Philosophers Association awarded her the Aquinas Medal for her enormous contribution to ethical thought.

In the last homily he gave before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lamented that modern life is ruled by a “dictatorship of relativism” — an idea that echoes the pioneering work of Elizabeth Anscombe. Mary Warnock, a historian and an unbeliever, said in her survey of women philosophers for the past four centuries — that is, the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries — that Elizabeth Anscombe was “the undoubted giant among women philosophers”. Donald Davidson, the influential American philosopher, went even further — in his opinion Elizabeth Anscombe did the most important work on the ethical theory of action and intention, since Aristotle.

Popes. Encyclicals. Aristotle. “Giant among women”. Wow.

So who was this wonder-woman? To some, she was G.E.M. Anscombe, a great analytical philosopher. To her students, she was Miss Anscombe — though she was married to fellow-philosopher Peter Geach. “Miss” Anscombe, the exhilarating teacher. To some, she was Elizabeth, devoted friend. And to some, no doubt, she was “that awful Anscombe woman”, “the Dragon Lady of Oxford”, the oddball Catholic mother of seven. All in all, she was possibly one of the most holy and courageous women you have never met.

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe was born in 1919 to loving parents who were well-educated, progressive, and secular. Between the ages of 12 and 15, Elizabeth voraciously read books concerning religious faith. Perhaps her rather non-religious parents consoled themselves that she would decide to be something harmless, maybe a Buddhist? Or maybe a Quaker? She finally announced, at 15, that she wanted to become a Catholic. Now this was really alarming. Catholic was the one thing an intelligent person from a progressive, secular, British family really could not be. Her parents found one last acceptable possibility: perhaps she could join the Church of England?

They sent her to an Anglican clergyman, who tried to convince Elizabeth that in Anglicanism she could have everything that was “good” in Catholicism, without all the “negatives”. For instance, he said, Anglicans believed that in the Eucharist, they received Christ, “in a manner of speaking”, “in the bread”. She listened to him intently, and then asked, “But after the consecration, is it still bread?” He admitted that he thought it was still bread. She replied that the Eucharist was transubstantiated so that we could be tranformed, and that she wanted to be transformed into Christ, not bread.

This clergyman later recommended that Anscombe’s parents let her be baptized a Catholic, since she held Catholic beliefs more firmly than anybody he had ever met in his life. But her parents would not allow it before she turned 18.

Elizabeth was accepted in St. Hugh’s College at Oxford University, and began to take instruction in the Catholic faith from the Dominicans at Blackfriars. And she became embroiled in a most disturbing controversy.

In the fall of 1939, shortly after England declared war on Germany, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was openly promoting a counter-city bombing strategy against Germany. They were preparing to carpet-bomb entire cities. Their first target in each city would be the city water pumping stations — the waterworks — and then they would wipe out not just the military assets, but the entire cities of Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, together with all their civilian inhabitants. RAF Air Marshal Arthur Harris explicitly declared that area bombing was meant to crush and demoralize the German population as such.

Elizabeth Anscombe recognized that this is not the same as focusing on military targets: this would be terror bombing. She and a fellow student, barely out of their teens, wrote, printed, and started distributing a brief, powerful essay titled “The Justice of the Present War Examined”. Elizabeth was not a pacifist — in fact both her father and her brother were in the British Army. Her brother died during WWII, and she understood and respected the sacrifices of good soldiers in a just war. Yet, not on the basis of pacifism, but by the application of traditional just-war principles, she argued that the British government’s plan to incinerate large numbers of civilians by means of indiscriminate obliteration bombing was not an act of just war, but an act of murder.

But before Anscombe’s essay could be widely disseminated, her own bishop, the Bishop of Birmingham, told her to withdraw it from publication. He said it was not the job of undergraduates to judge their nation’s military policy, and that she had a lot of learning to do before she could make complex judgments. She agreed that she had much learning to do, and she withdrew the pamphlet. But it is her words, rather than those of her bishop, that remain in our memory and were later echoed by the Second Vatican Council.

She was indeed quite busy with school and learning, and she was also busy with something else. In 1938, in her first year at Oxford, she had been baptized in the Catholic Church. After Mass at Blackfriars on the Feast of Corpus Christi, she met a young man who was also a recent convert to Catholicism — Peter Geach.

Like her, Geach was destined to make a name for himself in philosophy, but philosophy isn’t what sparked their romance. Smitten by Miss Anscombe’s lovely face and form and her beautiful voice, Geach immediately inquired of mutual friends whether she was “reliably Catholic”. Upon learning that she was, he pursued her and, swiftly, their hearts were entangled. Since Oxford did not make provision for married student housing for undergraduates, they postponed marriage. And their families disapproved. But in 1941 they tied the knot — and the only ones present at their wedding were the priest and two witnesses.

And there was another man in Elizabeth and Peter’s life, a man who had just come over from Germany to become head of the philosophy department at Cambridge University. This was Ludwig Wittgenstein. He had good reason to get out of Germany, because he was everything Hitler hated. First, he came from an extremely wealthy and highly cultured family. Second, he was a Jew. And third, Wittgenstein was — well, I suppose the most accurate way to put it — Wittgenstein was definitely not heterosexual.

Now, I said he was a Jew; the Nazis would have classified him racially as a Jew, and of course to Nazis it was all about race; but actually, his grandparents on both sides had converted to Christianity, his mother was Catholic, and he was baptized and raised Catholic. But, in a process strangely opposite to that of Elizabeth Anscombe, when he was 12, 13, and 14 years of age, he was losing his Catholic faith. He decided he did not believe any of the things that a Christian was supposed to believe.

He also disliked women. In his opinion women were incapable of logical thought. To some extent he agreed with his teacher, Otto Weininger — who, incidentally, like him, also had Jewish roots and was homosexual — who believed that, while men are basically rational, women operate only at the level of their emotions and their sexual organs. So he especially disliked women philosophers. And he extra-specially disliked Catholic women, whose weak minds were supposedly imprisoned in the iron bands of Catholic dogma.

Wittgenstein was an intensely unhappy man. Everyone in his childhood home had been tortured by extreme sensitivity and emotional suffering. His father was a cold, demanding, and rejecting man who had no affection for his children, and his mother was an emotionally needy wreck who was constantly gushing over them with great waves of sentimentality. Three of his brothers had committed suicide. Wittgenstein hated his life for many lonely years. His one consolation was his ability to write treatises on logic and mathematics.

So as Wittgenstein was getting established as chairman of philosophy at Cambridge, Elizabeth Anscombe and her husband Peter Geach were getting established as a young married couple doing graduate philosophy research at Oxford — and having babies. The Anscombe-Geaches were 30 years younger than Wittgenstein, and one would think they would have nothing in common with him. But one would be wrong. Because both Elizabeth and Peter were deeply respectful of the power of Wittgenstein’s mind; and Elizabeth would travel the 90 miles from Oxford to Cambridge every week to attend his lectures.

Wittgenstein said nobody had ever listened to him as intently as Elizabeth Anscombe listened to him. He was boggled that she could be so Catholic in her beliefs, and so fearlessly logical in her thinking. Plus, she was something of an eccentric, which fascinated him.

Now, there are a lot of stories about Elizabeth Anscombe’s eccentricities. Some of them might be true and some might be mere legends. I’m just going to recount them as I heard them.

One day, Wittgenstein came to visit Anscombe and her family at home, accompanied by Anscombe’s philosopher friend Philippa Foot. At the time, Elizabeth and Peter already had three or four little children, two running around the yard squealing and chasing a dog, and one drooling and squirming in Elizabeth’s arms. Wittgenstein was appalled and asked, “But how do you concentrate on doing philosophy?” Elizabeth smiled and, removing ear-plugs from her ears, said, “Oh, I manage”.

Then she said, “Come in and I’ll clear off a place for you to sit on the sofa”. Surveying this scene of juvenile hilarity, the piles of children’s things scattered hither and thither, and the shrieks from the kids in the background, Wittgenstein dropped his anguished head into his hands, turned to Philippa and said, with furrowed brow, “Isn’t it sa-a-a-d…”

Nevertheless, Wittgenstein admired Anscombe’s strikingly independent and even combative spirit. He took to calling her “Old Man” jokingly, in the style of old-school British professors (“I say, Old Man, do you loathe epistemological phenomenalism as much as I do…”). He liked her commitment to dialogue, and she liked his ability to question himself, even to question his own doubts.

Have you ever seen that button that says “Question authority”? They went further. Their motto might have been, “Question skepticism”.

Anscombe’s international reputation as a debater had early roots. At Oxford in 1948, at age 29, she took on — and trounced — C.S. Lewis in a debate that is still discussed now, more than six decades later. Their debate focused on the third chapter of Lewis’s book Miracles. Everyone present — including Lewis — recognized that the young woman’s critique had completely unraveled his arguments. Yet she didn’t disagree with Lewis’s conclusions; she just thought his arguments were too loose, too easy to pull apart. She wanted a more rigorously tough-minded defense of miracles.

Incidentally, she and Lewis remained on friendly terms, and Lewis rewrote the disputed chapter, taking her criticism into account. Anscombe considered this an act of admirable intellectual honesty.

Anscombe believed in miracles, and believed it was important to teach one’s children about the reality of miracles, just as one taught them the reality of logic and math. When her first daughter, Barbara, was a little girl, Elizabeth told her about Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Once when Elizabeth came back to her pew from Communion, little Barbara asked her, “Mummy, is He inside you? Is God inside you now?” Elizabeth whispered, “Yes, He is”, and little 3-year-old Barbara scooted out into the aisle, went face-down flat on the carpet and prostrated herself to her Christ-bearing mother.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, now a graduate fellow at Oxford, became Ludwig Wittgenstein’s most trusted intellectual collaborator, as well as a close personal friend. Throughout their 10 years working together, the two of them intensively developed the art of dialogue, with themselves, their colleagues and their students. They learned to appreciate even the value of honest intellectual error on the way toward the truth.

Anscombe’s friend Philippa Foot remembers an Oxford philosophy seminar in 1947, to which they invited Wittgenstein from Cambridge. One of the graduate students began to take part but, feeling his idea was somehow mistaken, broke off his comments and tried to change the subject. At that moment, Wittgenstein interrupted forcefully and asked him to please continue saying what he was going to say, because mistaken thoughts are also important: they might contain some fragment of truth that needs to be carefully recognized and retrieved, and the parts that are erroneous will trigger disputes that would eventually carry them even further toward the truth.

Anscombe’s friendship with Wittgenstein influenced her philosophical style in a decisive way. She said that one shows respect for a sage by accepting his teachings, but one shows respect for a philosopher by arguing with him.

Then regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Wittgenstein had written works totaling almost three million words that had neither been translated from German nor published. Despite their differences, he found Anscombe able to deeply understand others’ points of view whether she agreed with them or not. He chose her to be his main literary executor, translator and interpreter of this vast mountain of unpublished work. All this she did in the midst of her Oxford teaching obligations, her marriage and her growing family.

One of Anscombe’s daughters, Mary Geach, describes her mother as being, in some ways, a more attentive parent than most: she notes that children rarely receive so many and such deeply considered replies to their questions. Both as mother and teacher, Elizabeth Anscombe was good at thinking at the level of the person she was speaking to.

Anscombe was once asked if any of her seven children was her favorite. She said, yes, she always had a favorite child: and that child would be whichever one was, at the moment, six years of age. She delighted in the six-year-old mind, and was deeply and warmly responsive to the six-year-old heart.

It is said that Wittgenstein once witnessed Elizabeth and Peter Geach and their many children at prayer, saying the rosary. He stood at the doorway and watched with a look of longing on his face, unwilling to enter the room, but at the same time, unwilling to leave.

By 1951, Wittgenstein was dying. He asked his friend Anscombe to put him in touch with a “non-philosophical priest”, as he said — which she did, though she never presumed he would formally return to the faith of his childhood. Yet a short time later, calling for Anscombe, he told her, “You know, Old Man — Beth — I have always loved the Truth. I don’t mean I possessed it, or that I understood it, but that I loved it. I do hope my Catholic friends would pray for me”. He also said, surprisingly, in the light of his famously miserable life experience, “I am happy”.

Three more of Wittgenstein’s former students arrived at his bedside — and a Dominican monk, Father Conrad Pepler. They were at first unsure what Wittgenstein would have wanted, but then Anscombe explained that he said he wanted prayer, and since he was a baptized person, he was entitled to the Last Rites of the Church, the only prayers which were really adequate to the moment. So although he was now unconscious, they knelt at his bedside and prayed for him, he was anointed, and he was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

At Anscombe’s urging, he was given a Catholic burial at St. Giles’s Church in Cambridge. Anscombe said she hoped to see him someday in Paradise.

Anscombe’s responsibilities in Oxford in the 1950s did not include teaching ethics, which was covered by her friend Philippa Foot. But at one point Foot took a sabbatical and asked Anscombe to fill in for her. When Anscombe started to organize her thoughts by reading the usual texts of modern moral philosophy, she was flabbergasted.

Despite the differences between them, all the 20th-century authors she encountered shared one thing in common: they had no moral absolutes. None. There were no actions that could be ruled out if you were aiming at a good enough result. Not rape, not torture, not abortion, not murder. They said it could all be justified by circumstances. And this was an absolute break with twenty centuries of Western Civilization with its basis in Judeo-Christian moral teaching, and even a break from the teachings of Aristotle and the greats of pagan Greek and Roman civilization.

Anscombe knew this was wrong. Two years previously, in 1956, Oxford University had decided to grant an honorary degree to Harry Truman, who, as president of the United States, had been responsible for the deliberate massacre of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She contested this honorary degree, but she was told that she was the only one who found it objectionable. She forced a vote but only four faculty members — Philippa Foot, two other women, and herself — were willing to say that a man who authorized the deliberate killing of innocent human beings ought not to be given public honors. Her essay “Mr. Truman’s Degree”, which she printed as a pamphlet and distributed to her fellow faculty members, makes exceedingly interesting reading even today — especially, it seems to me, in the light of much more recent controversies about a much more recent US president, Barack Obama, being awarded an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame.

Anscombe’s reflections on moral absolutes developed into her 1958 paper “On Modern Moral Philosophy”. This is an extraordinary piece of work. Standing practically alone against the entire academic philosophical establishment, she defined, described, and pulled apart “consequentialism”, the view that there are no acts, no matter how evil, that cannot be justified if one is aiming for good consequences.

Think of the most patently wicked act you can imagine. Say, pronouncing and carrying out the death penalty on a person you know to be innocent. If consequentialism were right, then it would be legitimate to argue that executing innocent persons could be not only right, but a duty under certain circumstances. The Scriptures tell us that this is abominable and forbidden by Almighty God; but even without reference to religious law, this is completely outside of the bounds of Natural Law, of common decency, and of human civilization.

Yet so-called ethicists who think there really is no right or wrong still use terms like “moral law” as if one could be obliged to commit sodomy, or torture, or rape, or murder, if there were a good enough reason. It’s as if God Almighty had said, “Thou shalt not commit moral abominations — unless thou art really, really, REALLY tempted”.

If one does not believe in a divine Moral Lawgiver, one should be honest and stop talking about big words, big authority-words like “moral law”. It’s dishonest. Otherwise, you are like a person who uses a big authority-word like “verdict” even though he has abolished judges and juries; or a person who claims to be an expert on ribs and joints, when he denies the existence of bones.

This essay hit academic ethics like a bomb. It basically blew the stuffing out of the makeshift, ethically minimalist house of cards known as modern moral philosophy.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach were still teaching philosophy and still adding to their family. Keep in mind that she was engaging in all this intellectual combat while washing dirty diapers and surrounded by the noisy Anscombe-Geach children. This raised eyebrows at Oxford, too.

Anscombe already had a reputation as an eccentric woman. Now, remember that at this point we’re talking about Oxford University in mid-century, which until maybe the mid-’60s was a very proper and straitlaced place. For instance, Oxford had a dress code that required all women, both faculty and students, to wear dresses or skirts. And women professors were supposed to wear their academic robes in the lecture hall. Anscombe defied these rules.

She once walked into an Oxford lecture hall wearing her academic gown. This was unusual enough for her that she drew stares; and she pulled a can of beans out of her pocket, opened it, and proceeded to eat cold baked beans while proceeding with her lecture. As perhaps a bit of laughter broke out, she just pointed to her academic gown and said, in a portentous voice, “I am a great stickler for convention and propriety”.

But although Oxford could accept a ban-the-bomb, intellectually combative lady professor who never took her husband’s name — she was always “Miss Anscombe”, even to him — something that really and truly disturbed the Oxford community was an outspoken woman who believed in God, believed and lived her Catholic faith, believed and lived chastity, marriage, and a generously proportioned family life.

Another legend: by now it was the 1960s, and Anscombe, pregnant again, this time with number seven, walked into a classroom in which somebody had scrawled on a blackboard an intended insult: ANSCOMBE BREEDS. Did she get angry? No. Did she erase it? Not she. Instead, she added two more words to the intended insult, so that it read: ANSCOMBE BREEDS IMMORTAL BEINGS.

Although Oxford was still, in the 1960s, a place of considerable outward conventionality, it was inwardly shaken by the moral confusion of the Sexual Revolution. Undergraduate women often got pregnant, but never had babies, if you catch my meaning. A male faculty member could seduce a colleague’s wife and nobody was supposed to comment; and if a male professor preferred to take up with a handsome male grad student, well, there always was a lot of that in Oxford and Cambridge. At the same time, a girl who was obviously pregnant or a boy who was outwardly effeminate could be quite brutally shamed and bullied.

Anscombe staunchly defended her friend and mentor, Ludwig Wittgenstein, when he was targeted for being a homosexual. And any person, anyperson, being unfairly attacked — the pregnant girl, the bullied boy — could always find shelter under the formidable wings of Professor G.E.M. Anscombe. Elizabeth was so hospitable that she left the door of her home permanently unlocked: her home was always open to inquiring students, especially the ethically confused who were looking for a bit of guidance or a safe haven.

Anscombe’s open opposition to sexual exploitation shocked some of her fellow academics. One professor, hostile to Anscombe, remarked to a student, “You’ll want to think twice about accepting an invitation to dinner at the Geach-Anscombe table. You don’t know if you’ll be crammed in there next to some Paki bint (Pakistani Muslim girl) who’s preggers and wants to keep the brat, or some precious nancy-boy whom Anscombe is shepherding into ethics and chastity. Respectable? I think she and her whole entourage are batty”.

Now, when an insulting remark was repeated to her, Anscombe the Dragon Lady of Oxford sometimes turned fierce. But not this time. This time, she merely took a draw on her cigar, blew a smoke ring, and remarked, “Batty? Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am a fool for Christ. I only wish I were more so”.

And she told her children: “Respect God. Respect Life. But don’t respect respectability”.

Elizabeth Anscombe’s concern for the victims of World War II fire-bombings in Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki was entirely consistent with her concern over the killing of unborn children. She said, “Each nation that has ‘liberal’ abortion laws has rapidly become, if it was not already, a nation of murderers”.

Although Anscombe’s stand against the atomic bomb was widely reported at the time, when she decided to personally and nonviolently intervene to stop the dismemberment of living babies, the coverage was practically zero. A newspaper photograph that her family cherishes shows her being hauled away from the abortion clinic doorway by two policemen, but she is not even identified in the caption or in the article. Her name not even mentioned. This, despite the fact that at the time she was arguably the world’s most prominent living philosopher and, beyond that, a frail old woman with a mighty heart, heroically and non-violently risking her own well-being to save others.

You can well imagine that if she were arrested on what is called the “pro–choice” side, it would have hit the 7 o’clock news across the British Isles and beyond.

Perhaps the issue that placed Anscombe furthest from her academic colleagues was her opposition to contraception. People who defend the strategic bombing of civilians or who promote legalized abortion generally do so because they suppose it to be a “necessary evil”. Even the supporters of such evils don’t see it as a positive good. On the other hand, contraception is typically seen as an unalloyed good, something no intelligent person could disagree with, like soap, sliced bread, electricity, or cotton underwear.

At the Theological Congress held in Toronto in 1967, Elizabeth Anscombe had delivered a very closely reasoned critique of contraception — so closely reasoned that two Toronto papers reported that she had defended contraception. When the chairman of the session, Professor Elmer Kremer, protested that they had got it exactly wrong, they refused to print a retraction: she wore pant suits and smoked cigars, they said, and so she must have been in favor of contraception. She definitely was not.

She sometimes remarked that she’d lived long enough to see every promise made by the early contraceptive enthusiasts turn out to be false: the deceptive hope that contraception would reduce unwed childbearing — false; the foolish notion that contraception would eliminate abortion — false; the truly soft-minded supposition that contraception would make marriages more secure, reduce divorce, make husbands and wives more satisfied with their sex lives — all demonstrably false. She was right about that, but few are clear-sighted enough to see the obvious.

Even though none of these promises of utilitarian benefit have been fulfilled after decades of contraception, few are willing even to listen to the argument that there is an inherent moral, ethical problem with contraceptive intercourse, either within or outside of marriage.

In 1970, Elizabeth Anscombe was appointed chairman of philosophy at Cambridge, the same position that her old colleague Wittgenstein used to hold, and which she held until her retirement in 1986. She spent the next 10 years doing more original work in philosophy, writing, speaking, and striving to empower women — particularly young women — with the intellectual strength to resist conformism, to seek and love the truth, and to accept no substitutes.

In the many speeches she made to Catholic audiences about chastity — that is, moral reflection as it relates to sexual goodness — Anscombe was sometimes called upon to talk about marriage and married love. When she did so, she deliberately excluded sentimentality. She believed that the realism of the traditional concept of marriage in the Catholic Church stands between two equally dangerous extremes: that of a grim austerity that distrusts or denigrates feelings and flesh, and that of a shallow sentimentality that demands non-stop passion and fulfillment. This last extreme — you could call it the “bliss mandate” — which can be understood as a reaction to the excesses of past austerity, is probably the most dominant in Christian circles today.

Anscombe always took care, when speaking of marriage, to acknowledge that many couples fall short of a richly satisfying, ideal relationship, and yet have a marriage they can and will live in, in an ordinary and even a holy way, to the end. As Anscombe wisely wrote in her essay “Contraception and Chastity”, “We absolutely cannot issue an instruction that flatters the lucky ones, and does not speak to the unfortunate”.

The couple Anscombe and Geach seems to have practiced the virtues that could be found in an old peasant household, formed in the hard school of life and tapping into the treasures of a realistic faith: better than the illusions of passion, made to last, growing imperceptibly, a chaste love and proud.

After nearly being killed in an automobile accident in 1996, Anscombe spent her last years in the care of her family in Cambridge, enjoying the frequent company of her seven grown children and, at that time, 10 grandchildren, all of them practicing Catholics. In 2001, at age 81, with her family praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary at her bedside, her last intentional act was kissing Peter Geach.
Juli Loesch Wiley, a contributing editor to Voices, is a Catholic writer and longtime pro-life activist. She is the wife of Donald Wiley and the mother of two sons. The Wileys live in Johnson City, Tennessee. This article was published on the web site Spero forum, and appears here (slightly edited) with the author’s permission.
Retrieved March 21, 2011 from http://www.wf-f.org/10-4-Wiley.html
Voices Online Edition, Vol. XXV, No. 4, Christmastide 2010
Posted here with the author's permission

PA: Anscombe, one of the great philosophers of the last century, was a legend among the philosophy graduate students at Oxford when I was there. Wiley reproduces some of the stories circulated back then in the late 1960s. Someone had made the mistake of telephoning her and asking for Mrs. Geach. Her reply, "She's dead." Another student was reading his essay aloud to Miss Anscombe at a tutorial. She listened intently as always, but with her head between her knees, going from side to side as she muttered, "Wicked, wicked!" - the only feedback he got at the time. After he finished reading and there was a long silence, he asked if he should go, to which she replied, "Yes, go! Go!"

A great and courageous woman, a genuine Oxford eccentric, a holy woman, and as Geach established before seeking her as his wife, "reliably Catholic." Her essay on modern moral philosophy was the inspiration for the revival of virtue ethics rooted in Aristotle, though like Philippa Foot, another key figure in modern virtue ethics, she rejected any notion that principles or 'exceptionless norms' could be dispensed with in favor of a kind of virtuous agonizing over moral choices (see Rosalind Hursthouse on abortion) - a relativistic view that Foot is said to have called "bourgeois satanism."

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

See also Philip Jenkins's book, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice.

The Lure of Heresy

As Alister McGrath shows in his brilliant and compelling book, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, heresy has enormous appeal to the postmodern mind. Consider Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Risibly inaccurate and absurd as it is - there are shelf-fulls of books and articles refuting it on every point - millions of people believe its fabrications to be the real story, the suppressed truth of the history of Christianity.

McGrath's book analyzes the dynamics of heresy's appeal and I won't try to summarize it. In my experience, the attraction is similar to that of conspiracy theories in general. Believing that, say, 9-11 was a government conspiracy - which millions do despite all the evidence to the contrary (Popular Mechanics took apart the most widely believed theories, but with no discernible impact on popular belief) - enables one to bask in one's own intelligence and cleverness. We are not duped like everyone else - said as if we were a small group of people in the know, rather than millions. Such conspiracy theories and heresies rest not on a serious examination of evidence, but on a will to challenge tradition, orthodoxy, inherited wisdom and belief. Modern art rests on this desire to shock and offend, on the denial of beauty and tradition. There is something of the permanent adolescent about all this, as the German writer Martin Mosebach points out in Heresy of Formlessness in relation to art and liturgy:
The 20th century cult of youth culminates in a cruel curse: while the aging process cannot be stopped, the aging human being is not allowed to mature. and is condemned, until his life's end, to play the long-dead games of his youth. This is most clearly seen in the world of art--which is so closely related to religion--where the avantgardisms of 1905 are still being repeated again and again, as an ossified ritual, a hundred years later. And, with her famous aggiornamento, the Church thinks that, in order to survive, she needs to 'open herself' to these senile avantgardisms! (Mosebach, pp.81-82).

These thoughts came to mind after a recent trip to the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu. I usually check out the sections of religion and philosophy and once again I was struck by how the Christianity shelves give more space to heresy than to orthodoxy, to Crossan and Spong than to Benedict XVI. Brant Pitre's 's brilliant and bestselling book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper was not to be seen, nor was the pope's great work of lectio divina, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Does this reflect consumer demand or the bias of the B&N buyer? I don't know.

In any case, it was something of a relief to come home and find Fr. Robert Barron's take on John Crossan at his Word on Fire site. Here it is:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Encouraging Rot in the Life of the Church

The Protestant Posture
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI

In anticipation of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Germany later this year, more than 200 German “theologians” have issued “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure.” In this laborious piece of prose, they explain how the Church has to change. The usual thing . . . ordination of women and so on! The imperative is theirs, based on the imagined “magisterium” of the university. This institutional conceit has been an issue since the sixties, although there have been attempts to try to link it back to the service of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages, when that institution was a center of research on questions that were posed by various bishops.

Something that the “Catholic theologians” – in inverted commas because it’s difficult to say how such freelancers are related to the historic Catholic Church – do not seem much to consider is that they are in a country with a Protestant majority. Perhaps such a national setup puts pressures on Catholic thinking when people do not take the necessary care to identify where they get their premises.

The classic case of course was Karl Rahner, S.J.’s insistence on the ordination of women based on the cultural argument that, if patriarchalism is dead in the culture, then women should be ordained in the Church. This might be plausible if the original choice of apostles was purely cultural. But if we take a step back to THE priest in whose priesthood priests participate, then we come to Christ himself and the non-accidental act of God in incarnating himself as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Male priests express the male priesthood of Christ. Culture is more of a surface expression, while gender is ontological, i.e., it has to do with our very being. And in this case it is tied to the decision of God to incarnate as a male.*

The word Protestant implies defining oneself in reaction against something. It imposes an a priori framework on the formation of concepts. The adversarial stance removes something substantial, namely: “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials.” (Vatican II) This is not simply an authoritarian statement. Rather, it is authoritative because the truth is unitary and it exists in the “Catholic Church [which] has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace.” (Vatican II) Of course, the German way is to approach this adversarial structure intellectually and to frame the challenge in an intellectual way.

The Catholic situation in the United States is similar, but the response is different. It is not intellectual. Listening to Nancy Pelosi trying to teach our bishops about Saint Augustine or to Ted Kennedy seeking to impose the view of a narrow cultural elite on the Church about several questions, no one would be led to think that American Catholic dissent is intellectual. It is more a kind of spoiling action, a political muddying of pools, a way to introduce a little rot into the system.

It is still an adversarial approach, but it is deliberately – almost openly – subversive. It embodies a political strategy in line with the American fascination with politics. And it ultimately relies on the conviction that truth is merely political. The American approach lets some professors teach seminarians that the priesthood started in the fourth century or that a priest is just like a Protestant minister. The subversion is practiced because this kind of thinking fragments the Church and acts as a spoiler when the priest is in a parish. Bishops who allow such things to be taught in seminaries in effect leave problematic colleges for their successors to deal with.

The Protestant posture, if I may call it that, comes down to making the same mistake that Rahner made: confusing orders of reality. Rahner took the merely socio-cultural idea of patriarchalism and gave it an importance that is beyond its value. The accidental nature of culture does not supersede the essential nature of the human being. The discussion of the nature of the Incarnation is not about accidents, but about essences, divine and human. God does not act randomly. The Incarnation is a deliberate choice on the part of God. The choice was that the Incarnation would be as a male human being.

When we look at Pelosi and Kennedy’s words, they are confusing the ideas in their social circle with the truths of the Church. These are different orders of reality. The truth of the Church is the truth of Jesus Christ, and that is not to be pushed aside by the solipsistic thinking of an elite that comes and goes, and is remembered, if at all, only as a minor footnote in the history of ideas.

The scary side of American Catholics who choose the Protestant posture is how subversive they are in the different institutions of the Catholic Church. Like the German “theologians,” they undermine the function of the institutions. Like incompetents or embezzlers in a bank, they interfere with the institution’s ability to function. The bank loses its ability to do business and the Church is clouded in its efforts to speak the message of Christ clearly to a world that is, now beyond any reasonable doubt, faring poorly under a false Gospel.

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info@frinstitute.org

Retrieved March 17, 2011 from http://www.thecatholicthing.org/?task=view


* PA: As Pope Benedict has pointed out, the "cultural" argument does not hold water in any case, because female priests were extremely common in the (pagan) ancient world.

George Weigel has a nice discussion of the German statement at First Things. The document's program, he points out, is clear if not explicit:
Catholicism is to transform itself into another liberal Protestant sect by conceding virtually every point at issue between classic Christianity and the ambient culture of the post-modern West.
This is the same program that has led liberal Protestantism into a state of rapid dissolution. It reminds one of Michael Rose's point in Goodbye, Good Men, that having driven off faithful, pious aspirants to the priesthood from Catholic seminaries through the corruption of faith and morals, the same people (liberal Catholic nuns, priests, and theologians) responsible then used the shortage of priests for which they bore some significant responsibility to bolster their argument for women priests and married priests in the Roman church.

Weigel considers the German document and its authors as providing us a case to which Leo Rosten's explanation of chutzpa is particularly apposite:
In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpa as “…Presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language, can do justice to” and then offered classic examples of chutzpa in action: “Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. A chutzpanik may be defined as the man who shouts ‘Help! Help!’ while beating you up.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Starting young: Michael (Age 2) on Transubstantiation & the Hypostatic Union

After 40 years of neglect and dumbing down of catechesis in the Catholic Church, one theologian believes in starting young.

Here is the father's (Michael Barber's) transcription:

Just in case you can't make it out on the video, here are the questions and Michael's answers. And yes, I know I repeated one question twice; we got sidetracked by the ABCs (edited out). At the end, you also see Matthew (our one year old) walking around in the background with a birthday hat on, proudly proclaiming the letters of the magnetic alphabet which have been attached to the dish washer ("T!").

1. Q. What is it called at Mass when the bread and the wine turn into the Body and Blood of Jesus?
A. "Transubstantiation".

2. Q. Jesus is fully God and fully man. What is the name of this mystery?
A. "The Hypostatic Union".

3. Q. Who inspired the Bible?
A. "The Holy Spirit".

4. Q. Who is Jesus' mommy?
A. "The Blessed Virgin Mary."

5. Q. What's the name of the pope?
A. "Benedict XVI".

6. Q. Who inspired the Bible?
A. "The Holy Spirit".

7. Q. What is the source and summit of the Christian life?
A. The Holy Eucharist.

Retrieved March 15, 2011 from http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/03/michael-jr-age-2-on-transubstantiation.html

Ordination of Women and Abuses of Priests

By Hadley Arkes

The complaint was pressed on me in January at a wedding in the exurbs of Pennsylvania. I was doing one of the readings and that office was shared also by an urbane woman of middle years, an accomplished artist, mother of three children in their twenties. She had been raised a Catholic, but she had detached herself from the Church. She was obviously generous and loving, and too decorous to set out for me the grounds of her defection from the Church. But at dinner something did break though, as a complaint and challenge.

She recalled an article in the Guardian, the British publication, reporting on an announcement last July from the Vatican, a restatement of “grave crimes” in the Church. And what sparked her indignation was the news that, in this restatement of Catholic teaching, those people who engaged in the ordination of women were put on the same plane as priests who engaged in the sexual abuse of children.

The ordination of women was something she regarded as an eminently plausible and legitimate state of affairs. The argument cast up in resistance to women as priests she evidently regarded not only as wrong, but as a corrupted understanding, revealing a demeaning view of women.
I had not had the chance yet to see the documents that had drawn her ire, but my guess, as I told her, is that she was looking at the problem with a lens and an angle strikingly different from that of the Church. And in that guess, I think I was proved quite right. On July 15, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued a restatement on grave crimes (gravioribus delictis). Fr. Lombardi, the head of the Vatican press office, sought to explain the restatement in a manner that should have put things in their rightful place. Zenit, the news agency concentrating on the Vatican, offered this account: “In addition to norms regarding priests who sexually abuse minors, the revision clarifies crimes against the Eucharist, the sacraments of confession and holy orders, and crimes against the faith.”

Anyone who pretended to ordain a woman as a priest, or any woman receiving that supposed ordination, would be subject to excommunication. The sexual abuse of children would also be regarded now as one of those grave crimes against the Church. But when the two offenses are brought together in this way, within the same scheme, the meaning should become plainer: The object is not to denigrate the concern for women; it is rather to put the wrong of sexual abuse on a higher plane of gravity, involving a deep wrong against the faith.

Looking with a different lens, one may not see that the ordaining of women is bound up with the meaning of the Eucharist and a “sacrament.” As Aquinas argued, the very point of a sacrament is that it is supposed to represent something real, that the quality of a sacrament is enhanced as it bears a closer, natural resemblance, to the thing being represented. And what is being represented here has a striking presence in the economy of nature as a man. The priest stands in place of Jesus.

In this vein I did a piece once for Crisis magazine on “Jackie Robinson and the Ordination of Women.” It began with a trivia quiz: In the movie biographies of baseball stars, James Stewart played Monty Stratton of the White Sox, and Dan Dailey played Dizzy Dean. Who played Jackie Robinson? Answer: Jackie himself, for there were no black leading men in Hollywood in 1952. But Lena Horne was there. Why not do it in cross-gender as directors these days do Shakespeare? That could not be done, you see, because Jackie Robinson really was a male and there was a need to be faithful to the Jackie Robinson story.

Lest we forget, the matter of representation with the Eucharist is bound up as well with the logic of the Incarnation: If God came in human form, God could not have come as a hermaphrodite. “Male and female created He them.” God had to come as one thing or the other.

But of course, within the scheme of the Church, no male stands higher than Mary. And as Cardinal Saper sought to explain in the 1970s (“On the Admission of Women to the Priesthood”) women such as Saint Clare and Saint Teresa of Avila were founders of new orders, and others, like Saint Catherine of Siena left writings so rich that these women have been elevated to doctors of the Church. And what this recognized was that there were simply different functions: the fact that men served as priests, in doing the kinds of things that Jesus would do in service, did not indicate that they bore some power of their own. Theirs was to be a derivative power, inviting the power truly wielded by another.

In New York, the new Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, caught the precise sense of the matter in the restatement from the Vatican: “The offenses listed – child abuse, use of child pornography, and abuse of a mentally disabled adult – now carry the weight of the most serious of crimes against the very heart of the Church.” It was not, again, that the place of women was being lowered. But rather, the deep infidelity of priests was being raised now, as a wrong that went to the core of Catholic teaching.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
Retrieved March 15, 2011 from http://www.thecatholicthing.org/?task=view

PA comment: Quite right, but a PR faux pas nonetheless?

Outlawing the death penalty in Illinois


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Peter Augustine Lawler, Modern and American Dignity

Peter Augustine Lawler
Modern and American Dignity: Who We Are As Persons, and What That Means For Our Future by Dr. Peter Augustine Lawler is a must have for anyone who loves to read, think…and ponder. By drawing upon the wisdom from masters like Socrates to Solzhenitsyn, Tocqueville to Chesterton, John Courtney Murray to our “philosopher-pope” Benedict XVI (which I just LOVE), Dr. Lawler uses a charming blend of wit and elegance to fashion a contemporary and relevant understanding of today’s political and moral debates, all the while leaving his “Catholic lenses” firmly in place. He is fantastic. Dr. Lawler guides us through the minefield of contemporary thinking to the heart of the dignity and value of each human person.
Kris McGregor interviews Peter Lawler. Retrieved March 12, 2011 from http://www.discerninghearts.com/archives/2545

Lent as Practice

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is this sick or what?

ATLANTA – The price of preventing preterm labor is about to go through the roof.
A drug for high-risk pregnant women has cost about $10 to $20 per injection. Next week, the price shoots up to $1,500 a dose, meaning the total cost during a pregnancy could be as much as $30,000.

That's because the drug, a form of progesterone given as a weekly shot, has been made cheaply for years, mixed in special pharmacies that custom-compound treatments that are not federally approved.

But recently, KV Pharmaceutical of suburban St.Louis won government approval to exclusively sell the drug, known as Makena (Mah-KEE'-Nah). The March of Dimes and many obstetricians supported that because it means quality will be more consistent and it will be easier to get.
None of them anticipated the dramatic price hike, though — especially since most of the cost for development and research was shouldered by others in the past.

"That's a huge increase for something that can't be costing them that much to make. For crying out loud, this is about making money," said Dr. Roger Snow, deputy medical director for Massachusetts' Medicaid program.

"I've never seen anything as outrageous as this," said Dr. Arnold Cohen, an obstetrician at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Read the full story here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110310/ap_on_he_me/us_med_premature_birth_drug (hmm, still haven't figured how to make a link properly, sorry)

Good reading for Lent - Robert Barron's The Strangest Way

In this wonderful book, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path, Fr. Barron sets out three paths by which to walk "the strangest way" - those of finding the center (making Christ the center of our lives); knowing you're a sinner; and realizing your life is not about you. In describing each path, the author draws intelligently on theological and literary sources to give us a sense of the richness and profundity of the Christian faith. The book is not primarily a polemic against the dumbed down, accommodating, secularized, New Agey, or syncretistic strains of modern(ist) Christian spirituality, although these tendencies are duly noted by way of making the contrast to an alternative orthodox, adult spiritual practice.

In this respect, Barron distinguishes the spiritual search approach, whereby we seek the divine, to the "hound of heaven" understanding in which God's love pursues us. In contrast to an emphasis on the subjective, the interior, the psychological, the private experience, Barron emphasizes the Christian path as one walked in communion with the Church on earth in which the liturgy, the summit and source of Christian spirituality, unites us with the heavenly liturgy. It is a path that involves, especially in Lent, practices like prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the physical and earthly as well as the spiritual and supernatural--combined in the Incarnation, and in Christ's real presence in the bread and wine made with human hands.

In all this, Barron achieves at least two things supremely well in my view. As the title suggests, he makes the familiar strange, helping us see with new eyes how different Christianity is, with its representation, not of human bliss but of a crucified man as the expression of God's broken heart, his outpouring of love as well as of our sinfulness and need for it.

Secondly, the book offers both an intellectually rich and satisfying orientation to Christian, specifically Catholic, spirituality and at the same time a guide to walking the Christian path with specific practices to follow as we do so.

This wonderful, challenging book is an excellent accompaniment to Fr. Barron's DVD, Untold Blessing: Three Paths to Holiness which covers the same material in lecture format that is brilliant and somewhat more popular. There is a study guide to accompany the DVD. Fr. Barron also presents the second path, knowing you're a sinner, in another DVD, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues, a superb meditation on Dante's Inferno (The Divine Comedy, Volume 1, Hell).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The most aggressively inarticulate generation?

Shabhaz Bhatti - Martyr

Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic politician in Pakistan (the first Christian to hold a cabinet post in that country) had been courageously speaking out against the anti-blasphemy laws there, even in the face of death threats. “I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe,” he said recently.

He was murdered March 2, 2011. Requiescat in pace.

Strangely beautiful

Posted by Elizabeth Scalia at http://www.patheos.com/community/theanchoress/

A great book by a great pope

"In the Midst of History": Benedict's Second Volume

By James V. Schall, S.J.

The English translation of Benedict XVI’s second volume of Jesus of Nazareth is being published officially by Ignatius Press today. This volume covers the events of Christ’s life from Palm Sunday to the Ascension. Following the first volume about Jesus’ public ministry, we continue with a careful presentation of the central events of Christ’s life.

We are constantly aware of the enormous scholarship that has gone into efforts to prove or disprove the veracity of those events. The present pope is thoroughly familiar with the body of literature in all its complexity that revolves around “who Christ is.” Benedict is also familiar with the patristic and medieval authors, as well as the Greek and Roman backgrounds to these events. The pope likewise knows the various strands of philosophy – ancient, medieval, and modern – that often lie behind the efforts to prove or disprove the veracity of the events of Christ’s life.

Thus, one reads this second volume of Benedict’s quiet, non-dogmatic effort to present the basic facts and evidence with the assurance that nobody out there knows more about this life than the present pope. Catholics, as I have often said, have no idea of the intellectual strength of their own position. Many have grown up with the suspicion that somehow, out there, the foundations of the faith have in various ways been undermined by science or historical research. It turns out that, if anything is happening, both science and historical research are underpinning the truth that the Scriptures present to us, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth is what He says of Himself.

This book, Benedict tells us, is neither a “life of Christ” nor a thesis in Christology. The book has many similarities with the tractate of Aquinas (ST III, 27-59) on Christ, but it is best described as presenting “the figure and message of Jesus.” Actually, Benedict writes, “I set out to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a ‘Christology from below’ would then become possible.” A Christology “from below,” as opposed to a Christology “from above” would mean, I take it, that if we look carefully at the events in the life of Christ, they only can be properly explained if He was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Many scholars, Benedict notes, have looked for “the historical Jesus.” But they begin with presuppositions that lack “sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact.” The historical Jesus, in such studies, somehow ends up being merely a nice guy, a revolutionary, a confused Jew, or a dreamer. What we need is a reading of the evidence that includes the reality of Christ’s life as it exists even among us today. The testimony of the Church throughout the ages has preserved the witness of the apostles. It is in their light that we see and read the facts of Christ’s life.

“I have attempted,” Benedict writes, “to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus” (xvii). We need to ponder such words.

Early in the twenty-first century, Anno Domini, the pope of Rome writes a two-volume, scholarly, straight-forward book in which he reaffirms that what the Church taught in the beginning was then true and this same understanding of Jesus is still true. None of the massive efforts that have sought to disprove these truths about Jesus have succeeded. They can be understood in their logic and in their scholarship. It is part of Catholicism to know its enemies and deal with them honorably.

But it is also of the essence of Catholicism to insist that the facts are there. In the passion, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, we have a unified narration that is consistent both with the fact that Christ was true man, who suffered, died and was buried, and with the fact that He rose again and ascended into heaven. The pope even explains what Christ’s “sitting at the right hand of His Father might sensibly mean.”

Benedict often says that the problem with our time is its lack of truth. I was especially struck by this passage: “‘Redemption’ in the fullest sense can only come in the truth becoming recognizable. And it becomes recognizable when God becomes recognizable. He becomes recognizable in Jesus Christ. In Christ, God entered the world and set up the criterion of truth in the midst of history.” (194) It would be difficult to be more counter-cultural than this, or, it must be said, more true. This is a great book by a great pope.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lenten Thing


By David G. Bonagura, Jr.

Last year I lost a bet with a group of students. The penalty? I had to bring them Dunkin’ Donuts. After a few days of delaying tactics on my part, Lent arrived. One student asked when I would make good on my promise. She was stunned when I told her I would wait until after Easter. “Why?” she protested with disbelief and visible scorn. “Did you give up Dunkin Donuts for Lent?”
Her question reveals the prevailing notion of Catholic Lent: give up something we like, and hang on until Easter. Otherwise, we should just go about our daily business, with the treats and delicacies that we have come to see as par for the daily course. But if Lent is to have any real meaning and impact on our souls, it has to be more than a single repeated act of self-denial, as important as that act may be. The Church gives us a full season to accomplish the singular aim of Lent, and of the whole of Christian existence: conversion. Conversion requires self-denial, to be sure, but it also requires that everything we do and every aspect of our being conform to Christ. This is why Lent is a season – forty days, evenings, nights – spent in the desert with the Lord.

Living in the desert day and night is a cultural change for all of us with modern conveniences and busy social calendars. Weakened as we are by original sin, we are inclined to offer God a sacrifice of our choosing – sweets, alcohol, television, or some other non-essential item – but we do not even think to offer luxuries that have become normal to us: dinner or a movie out with our spouse and friends, purchasing new clothing or other items, morning coffee from Starbucks rather than the office kitchen. Rather than go the extra mile, we all tend to negotiate with God on our terms rather than His, for He demands too much of us.

But for conversion, for the true metanoia that is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry to take place, we have to allow God into all aspects of our lives, morning, noon, and night. In Lent, we are called to live differently, to “sacrifice” even what is dear to us, according to the original meaning of the word: “to make holy.” And when we make something holy we give it to God, removing it from human use.

The fasting regulations in force before 1966 were a powerful reminder of this: forty days with two half meals and one full meal, with abstinence from meat on Fridays. Of course, prayer and other devotions were (and still are) encouraged to orient fasting toward its ultimate goal: to die to self and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). When lived with the proper spirit, one could not help but think about Lent: the Passion of our Lord, the sorrows of our own wounded pride, and the glory to come with the Resurrection.

Relaxing this fast to two days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and allowing Catholics to choose their own penances has blunted the true force and character of Lent, which, to judge by the way we Catholics live today, is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the year. We have traded the desert for the perpetual feast, and in doing so we forgot what the real Feast is all about.

The discipline of Lent – in addition to its spiritual benefits – also once served as a bulwark of Catholic identity in Protestant America as well. Now, bowing to the demands of secular religion, Lent has been reduced to a private, personal matter that cannot be seen in public. The weakening of our collective Lenten observances has coincided with the withering of our Catholic identity. And as our spiritual lives go, so go our public lives.

A renewal in Lenten practices can be a powerful catalyst in rebuilding Catholic identity. Pope John Paul II recognized the connection between identity and Catholic practice in Christifideles Laici, which Pope Benedict XVI recently quoted in his own call to evangelization: “Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is to first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations” (emphasis in original).

Lent may well be the most difficult aspect of Catholic life to recover. The desert is never a choice destination. But just as the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church, our sacrifice of prayers, fasting, and almsgiving for a full forty days, evenings, and nights can re-grow our Catholic identity, even though this fine wheat will be surrounded by chaff. The donuts, the movies, the restaurants, and the credit cards cannot – and should not – follow us into the desert. But if we can leave them behind, we will not only enjoy the real Feast more deeply, but also learn the proper perspective on the earthly feasts the Lord has given us.

David G. Bonagura, Jr. is Adjunct Professor of Theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY.

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The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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