Saturday, January 26, 2019

Reasonable men... and women...

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"If there is no conviction [or practice] so alien to the mind of the Church as to place its partisans outside the Church, then membership in the same Church has ceased to have any meaning. Reasonable men may disagree as to what counts as an error grave enough to earn an anathema, but this is not the same as denying the possibility of ortho- and hetero- doxy in principle."

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

— Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ, National Jesuit News, December 1991 (as cited in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Volume 15, Number 3 [June 1992], p. 9).

Touching the basis of all reality.. and finding infinite love...

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"We must not objectivize God’s presence, God’s giving of himself to us in the eucharist, as just another of the many ways of being present to us. The eucharist is the centre of all other presences of God toward us. In the eucharist, we touch the basis of all reality, the Holy Trinity; here are concentrated the uncreated, personalized, loving energies of God as loving community. God’s fullness of love moves toward us in order to transform us into his loving children.”

— George A. Maloney, SJ, Be Filled with the Fullness of God (Hyde Park, New York: St. Paul’s, 1993), p. 120.

"Eucharistic Controversies" by James Hitchcock

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[As with my recent post of Fr. Meconi's essay, "A Christian View of History," this short essay by Prof. Hitchcock was not only a large factor in drawing me into Fr. Keefe's work, but has also found itself virtually consigned to the "memory hole." So, in order that his essay is more readily available than by scouring the Wayback Machine, I post it here for posterity.]


by James Hitchcock

One of the great ironies of Catholic history is the frequency with which the Eucharist, the very act of Christian unity, has been the focus of contention and faction.

In this as in so many other things the Catholic Church, more than any other religion except Eastern Orthodoxy, regards correct belief as crucial to authentic faith. Modern sentimental liberalism urges that everyone be admitted to the Eucharist, almost indiscriminately, since participating in the Eucharistic act will itself overcome differences and forge unity.

But, while the Church does not of course require everyone to be a dogmatic theologian, it has always insisted that, to the degree each person is able, he must understand Catholic practice in orthodox ways. Thus an indiscriminately "inclusive" Eucharistic community would be a kind of lie.

One of the fiercest Eucharistic controversies came during the "Dark Ages," when the level of speculation in the West was generally low but when for the first time the Church had to face directly the claim that, when Jesus said "This is my Body," he was not speaking literally. Those tenth-century disputes ended by firmly enthroning Eucharistic realism in the Church, so that at every point the Church has taken great pains to defend that realism, as well as ancillary doctrines such as the sacramental power of the priesthood transcending the personal worthiness of the priest himself.

The Reformation of course divided Christianity a dozen ways on this matter, of which the Protestant-Catholic split was only one instance. Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli aborted a possible theological alliance by failing to agree on the meaning of "This is my body," and there developed a spectrum of Protestant beliefs ranging all the way to the Quaker refusal to celebrate the Eucharist at all, as a merely "carnal" understanding of God.

One of the saddest features of post-Vatican II Catholicism is the way in which the Eucharist, once the great transcendent act in which the most socially diverse Catholics could submerge their identities, has now itself become a focus of contention and division. There is now the "Tridentine Mass," the "Novus Ordo Latin Mass," the ordinary vernacular Mass, the "folk Mass," and those celebrations with numerous varieties of improvisation by celebrants and worshippers. In this as in other matters, there is no longer one faith, and what various groups understand the Eucharist to be is fundamentally in conflict one with another. Beyond all statistics of numerical decline, beyond all disputes over morality or the role of women, this Eucharistic division is the single most important indicator of the unhealthy state of post-conciliar Catholicism.

Traditional Eucharistic piety, and much of traditional theology as well, has been criticized as narrow, static, and legalistic, all of which was true in some respects. At its worst the old Eucharistic understanding was preoccupied with obedient conformity and rubrical correctness, able to find Christ solely in the act of priestly consecration and its aftermath. It is this narrowness which reformers had been trying to remedy ever since the beginning of the liturgical movement in the nineteenth century.

But, as with so many other post-conciliar developments, "reform" has proceeded not by broadening and deepening authentic understanding but by truncating it through a shallow and restricted rationalism.

Polls show that two thirds of Catholics do not believe that Jesus is bodily present in the Eucharist, a figure which probably represents not so much conscious dissent as mere ignorance. What has replaced orthodox understanding is a rational reductionism into which all but confirmed atheists might enter - Jesus is present in the Eucharistic community through the individuals who comprise it, whose unity is itself his presence. The bread and wine symbolize this unity.

An authentic Catholic understanding, which has always been available to those who sought it, does understand that Jesus is indeed present in the Eucharist in multiple ways, among which is his presence within all baptized believers, a presence which is especially powerful when those believers gather for Eucharistic worship. He is also present in the words of Scripture, which are not to be read merely as lessons to be learned but as living words able to penetrate the soul of the hearer and transform it. He is, above all, uniquely and entirely present in an immensely heightened and intense way in the Eucharistic elements themselves.

The relationship of these various modes of presence to one another is itself part of the inexhaustible mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is indeed, as reformers insist, an action rather than a static reality. It is the action of God within the worshipping [sic] community, making Christ wholly present in real and profound ways. Thus the kind of Eucharistic piety which saw Jesus as the "prisoner of the tabernacle," or which thought of him as absent from the assembly prior to the consecration at each Mass, was indeed misguided.

The classical liturgical movement, as it existed until the time of the Council, as well as the work of various modern theologians, sought to retrieve the widest and deepest possible understanding of the Eucharist, an understanding far more demanding in terms of informed faith than the old piety required. Instead, however, liberal Catholicism has mainly issued forth in such things as the theory of "transignification," which are shallow, rationalistic, and merely subjective.

But the post-conciliar period has also brought forth a neglected classic of Eucharistic theology — Father Donald J. Keefe's Covenantal Theology: the Eucharistic Ordering of History — which is as rich and profound a work on the subject as the twentieth century has produced. Only a rash individual would claim to understand all of it, but it provides the basis for a genuine reconstruction of Eucharistic understanding.

James Hitchcock is professor of history at Saint Louis University.

"A Christian View of History" by David Meconi, S.J.

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[This essay, along with a brief essay by Prof. James Hitchcock, more or less launched my entry into the work of Fr. Keefe, but it has slipped through my clutches a few times over the years, so I want to make sure it's readily available somewhere else than a dusty corner of the Wayback Machine.]

A Christian View of History

by David Meconi, S.J.

“In Christianity time has a fundamental importance.”1 At the dawn of the new millennium, our Philosopher Pope wants to teach the world that time is not inimical to human union with the Divine but is rather the arena in which creation’s encounter with God takes place. The Christian faith is neither a mere remembrance of the past nor is it merely the waiting of things to come. In two recent writings, the Holy Father reemphasizes this distinct Christian understanding of history: that time neither sweeps us further away from God’s revelation in Christ nor does it simply bring us to some future glory, but is the conduit in which the Eternal is fully available and definitively present to us now. John Paul II’s 1994 Apostolic Exhortation, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, is a beautifully constructed meditation on the nature of history and the significance of time while his 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio, argues that absolute truth is not some lost or unattainable reality but “is immersed in time and history” (no. 11) and as such, is presently available to those who seek rightly. Both monumental writings draw on the Christian understanding of time as part of the good creation and a means through which God reveals Himself.

Paganism, Protestantism, and Postmodernism all share a mistrust of the Church’s historical optimism. Instead of seeing history as the medium of salvation, these schools of thought maintain that the Divine, the Absolute, is outside of the here and now. To have a distinctly Christian understanding of history, however, is to confess that the Divine is fully present in and accessible to those in space and time. Professing otherwise is to fall into an historical pessimism, taking one of three forms. First, as the pre- or extra-Judeo-Christian pagans believed, time is a pernicious current taking humanity further and further from some Golden Age. In this worldview, divine works were accomplished in a “time before time.” Groping to return to that time unmarked by successive days, religion became the way man could “tie back” (re-ligio) to that eternal present.

The Protestant understanding of history sees time as salvific only in recollecting what God has done and hoping for what He will again do. God is of course active in history but His real presence is something of the past, when Christ walked the earth, as well as something of the future, His Second Coming. Since the “here and now” is void of His tangible and explicit presence, time has no salvific significance in and of itself. The believer is thus forced to “get out” of history through his inner-life of faith. Because God is no longer really objectively present in history, His presence is now determined by human memory and anticipation. Without the Eucharistic mediation of the Church, Protestantism is forced to deny that the fullness of God’s Self is able to be encountered in the present moment and hence denies history’s ability to mediate the Divine.

The third option is of course that there is no Absolute, no Ultimate Reality, and time is able to offer only that which is relative, finite, and passing. This is the Postmodern understanding of history: because we are caught up in endless and inexplicable relationships and webs of networks, the truth always remains something “out there” and is never able to penetrate our own perspectives and positions. In history there can be no immanent truth, beauty, or goodness. In fact, in history we find nothing—no guiding standards, no valid traditions, no objective reality.

By way of explaining the historical pessimism underlying each of these three positions, the following essay will explain what John Paul II means when he holds up time as a fundamental Christian category. The question to be answered here is whether or not God reveals Himself definitively in created time, in history. Is time a medium of redemption or a hindrance to it? Can one encounter the Absolute fully in the here and now? If the answer is yes, how; if no, what then is history’s relationship to the Divine? Jesuit theologian Donald J. Keefe has seen this relationship between Christ and history more clearly than most and has consequently spent most of his academic energy reminding the rest of us that, “There is no other free, intelligible order in history than the one which is grounded in the free unity of the Eucharistic One Flesh, and none has ever been proposed.”2 In the following essay it will therefore be shown that only in the Eucharistic worship of the Church is the Divine essentially and fully present in time while all other creeds share a related distrust toward the historical.

The second section of Tertio Millennio Adveniente begins by contrasting the Christian sense of time with the pre-Christian or pagan understanding. For the Christian, time is created by God and as such—like all of God’s good creation—time is purposeful and a sacramental through which the Divine is seen. John Paul writes, “Time is indeed fulfilled by the very fact that God, in the Incarnation, came down into human history. Eternity entered into time: what ‘fulfillment’ could be greater than this? What other ‘fulfillment’ would be possible? Some have thought in terms of certain mysterious cosmic cycles in which the history of the universe, and of mankind in particular, would constantly repeat itself . . . . Some have considered various forms of reincarnation: depending on one’s previous life, one would receive a new life in either a higher or lower form, until full purification is attained” (no. 9).

The Holy Father knows that apart from God’s covenant fulfilled in the “fullness of time” (cf. Gal 4:4), pre-Christian civilizations could not see how time was good and meaningful. Rather, to find meaning in this world, the pagan myth acted as the safeguard against history’s devouring those caught up in the present day. Because the pagan gods cannot be met in history, the pre- or extra-Judeo-Christian world used myths reenacted in ritual to regain that Golden Age in which the gods walked the earth. These divine events, figures, and sayings which happened in ‘that time before time’ are again made real through the re-telling of the story. The myth offers meaning and protection in a world devoid of significance: since time moves man further and further away from his true home, he clings to the stories and ceremonies which unite him to the heavenly. As Oedipus, the legendary king of Thebes, proclaimed shortly before his death: “Only the gods can never age, the gods can never die. All else in the world almighty Time obliterates, crushes all to nothing . . .” Myth, as in the telling of the Oedipus trilogy, saves the present by injecting the Immutable into an otherwise transient moment.

Greek Orphics depicted their god of time, Chronos, as a vicious monster and the ancient Latins lived by the adage, Tempus edax rerum (Time destroys all things.) Because the non-Christian trembled in the face of the future, he held up the retelling of myth and reenactment of various rites as his only link to the permanent. The eminent scholar in world religions, Mircea Eliade, calls this the pagan’s attempt to escape his “profane duration” by commemorating some pristine past. For those without the proper understanding of God in the world, in history, time must be transcended and even reversed through religious festivals. As Eliade writes, myths reenacted in rituals, “suspend the flow of time, of duration, and project the celebrant into a mythical time, in illo tempore . . . all rituals imitate a divine archetype and that their continual reactualization takes place in one and the same atemporal mythical instant.”3 For example, upon the return of a warrior from battle, stories of the hero—Marduk in the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic or Zeus’ battle against the Titans—would be told to provide meaning and significance, the presence of the gods, to the deeds just wrought. Upon the death of a child, a pious Greek mother would recall Demeter’s perennial loss of Persephone; and every year the citizens of Rome retold the legend of Romulus and Remus so as to recover the sacred origins of their city. For without the individuals’ recalling of these myths, the significance of the present could not convey the Permanent, the Divine, and risks being irretrievably lost to the pernicious current of time.

Pagan texts were read and rites were performed to flee the present and commemorate what the gods had once done. Within this pessimism, however, Christ’s Church was born. “Not by way of cleverly concocted myths” (2 Pet 1:16) did the first Christians teach. Rather, in stark contrast to the pagan attempt to revive a lost time in which Divinity could be found, the Apostles insisted on announcing—literally, to make now (nunc)—the Good News. Whereas the pagan myths and rituals strove to recover an age gone by, the Christian liturgy made available the definitive and real presence of God. As Cambridge University’s Catherine Pickstock writes, “although the Gospel is written down in a book, its proclamation is continuous with the sacrifice it narrates. Its enunciation ‘makes now’ a total sacrifice which is not a prior, closed-off event, but enters the interstices of our present, in contrast to the non-sacrificial silence of the unspoken text.”4

The Scriptures and the Sacrifice of the Mass together are the means Christ gave to His Church in order to give His whole self uninterruptedly to those in history. By continuing His Incarnation through His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist and by continuing His teaching through the Scriptures as transmitted and thus interpreted by His living Church, Christ ensured His essential and absolute Presence to those in time.5 The Lord did not condemn us solely to remembering or anticipating Him—sola fide. Nevertheless, the second understanding of time in need of examination is that in which Christ’s actual presence from the here and now has been removed, thus rendering His presence merely spiritual and intangible.

By removing Christ’s Body and Blood from the center of all worship, the Reformers unknowingly and unintentionally removed God from history. The Calvinist maxim finitum capax non infiniti, (the finite cannot mediate the Infinite), annuls the created order’s mediation of the Divine. In rejecting the Eucharist as the historical continuation of Christ’s Incarnation, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and many others took the God-made-flesh out of time and space, out of the world in which we live. Like any other incarnate individual, once Christ’s flesh is removed from the here and now, His presence becomes one of mere spirit: a presence of memory and anticipation but no longer a Presence which we can touch, kneel in front of and adore. Christ’s Real Presence is confined to the Heavens, to the eternal where time cannot reach. But without Christ’s body essentially present in the here and now, how His presence in this world is different than, say, that of the Holy Spirit’s becomes difficult to explain.

Consider, for example, Article XXXVIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Anglicanism: “The Body of Christ is given, received, and eaten in the Supper only in a heavenly and spiritual sense. Moreover the medium by which the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.”6 Without the Church’s sacramental mediation, the true object of Protestant worship is removed from history. Christ’s individuality, His ‘scandal of particularity’—which St. Irenaeus knew scandalized the Gnostics who considered Christ’s flesh a phantom or a mere symbol—is no longer an objective presence in this world. It is now the faith of the believer that establishes Christ’s presence in the world. Unlike the time He walked Jerusalem, Christ’s presence no longer elicits faith but is a presence now determined by the individual believer, sola fide. The Eucharistic Lord who summons and causes an individual’s faith is now reduced to a presence determined by the individual believer because history does not mediate God’s true and objective presence.

Cardinal Ratzinger traces this inversion back to Luther’s denial of history’s mediation of Christ’s true presence. Luther, Ratzinger writes, “considered this heavenly-earthly, Christian-secular history no longer as salvation-bringing and Christian but as anti-Christian, and who sought Christianity, not in it [i.e., history], but against it . . .” Rejection of Christ’s objective presence in history, then, forces the individual to “bring” Christ into history via his own act of faith. Ratzinger can maintain that “Luther’s appearance signaled the collapse of the prevailing historical consciousness,” because with the Reformers came an understanding of Jesus Christ unmediated by His Bridal Church, a spiritual “presence” of the Incarnate God, and an inability to encounter God’s final and definitive work in history.7

The most formidable Protestant theologian of this century, Rudolf Bultmann (d. 1976), encouraged each Christian to “demythologize” the Scriptures so as to rid them of any historical particularity. Believers must now understand Christ’s to be an entirely other-worldly presence. Since history is unable to mediate the Kingdom of God, the Christian should see that, “In his faith he is already above time and history. For although the advent of Christ is an historical event that happened ‘once’ in the past, it is at the same time, an eternal event that occurs again and again in the soul of any Christian in whose soul Christ is born, suffers, dies and is raised up to eternal life. In his faith the Christian is a contemporary of Christ, and time and the world of history are overcome. The advent of Christ is an event in the realm of eternity which is incommensurable with historical time.”8 Firmly rejecting Christ’s Incarnation as eucharistically continued throughout history, the Protestant mind no longer understands His Real Presence to be available to those in time but, rather, to be an other-worldly, unhistorical, cure for time.

Postmodernism holds the similar belief that for those in time, there can be no final truth, no definitive meaning. The term Postmodern was popularized at the turn of this century to describe the discontentment with the modern project which promised to quell human dissatisfaction through progress and technology. After these failed promises of the Renaissance and Enlightenment (i.e., Modernity), Postmodernism realized that we have all we want but we are still restless, anxious, and unsatisfied. Postmodern thinkers have accordingly turned away from any allegiance to what has gone before. Theirs is a position marked by a fatigue with history and there can be little doubt that their rejection of tradition has affected all areas of human living: one only needs to think of twelve-tone or atonalism in music (e.g., John Cage), stream of consciousness and free verse in literature and poetry (e.g., Samuel Beckett), and Dadaism and anti-representationalism in art (e.g., Andy Warhol). Abandonment of structure and tradition has likewise influenced architecture, film, television, and flourishes in every imaginable academic discipline.

The Postmodernist quickly points out that history has proven that there are no permanent foundations underlying human existence and any appeal to reality or truth is nothing more than a camouflaged resort to power. In denying the possibility of objective truth, a series of nineteenth and twentieth-century thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Michel Foucault (1926-1984), and Jacques Derrida (b. 1930) maintain the impossibility of encountering the other. The human person is shut up in his own perspective, his own mind; all is relation, there is no real meaning in the world, only dubious viewpoints, perspectives, and personal opinions. One postmodern critic, David Lehman, summed it up this way, “There are no truths, only a radical relativism; there are no longer any standpoints that can a priori be considered privileged, no structure that functions validly as a model for other structures, no postulate of ontological hierarchy that serve as an organizing principle in the manner in which a deity can be said to engender man and the world.”

What began as a reaction against modernity ends in the rejection of the created realm’s ability to encounter the Divine. Why? Like Heraclitus’ river, Postmoderns see time as that which sweeps away all permanence and ability to grasp the other. In this Postmodern world, people can no longer subscribe to a final, definitive Principle which explains the way things are; there is no true self, no external world and no God to whom all is related. Jacques Derrida argues that such Logocentrism, the attempt to relate all meaning to God—the “transcendental signifier”—as the foundation of truth, is “an attempt which can only ever fail, an attempt to trace the sense of being to the logos, to discourse or reason . . .”9 The postmodern understanding of history disallows any stable referents, any fixed natures, and certainly any possibility of Incarnate Truth breaking into created time. Or as D.H. Lawrence once wrote, “individuality, our identity, is nothing more than an accidental cohesion in the flux of time.”10 Time sweeps all away: all selves, all reality, all truth.

Against this pessimism, the Holy Father insists that, “History therefore becomes the arena where we see what God does for humanity . . . In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face” (Fides et Ratio, no. 12). Final truth not only exists but is discernible here and now. The human knower is not condemned to grope for unattainable answers, is not doomed to a world of relativism and doubt, but lives in a world where the Absolute Principle of reality can be encountered.

Note how John Paul’s understanding of meaning and truth is rooted in his understanding of history. Because the Church’s authority is grounded in the historical, Eucharistic Lord, she can teach with a final and definitive voice. In today’s postmodern world, however, the Church’s authority is seen, not as a historical extension of the authority Christ gives to His Apostles but, as nothing more than the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s promise that the world’s weak would search for power out of their “vindictive cunning of impotence.” For it is an all too common opinion today that the Pope has a self-appointed monopoly on ecclesial power and that he could change the Church’s teaching against, say, abortion, the male priesthood, artificial contraception, etc. . . . if he only had the will to do so. A world unable to see history as a medium of the Absolute begins to think that every truth is relative and is eventually lulled into understanding every “truth” as nothing more than an expression of individual strength. However, the Catholic understanding of history and its subsequent teaching of the truth of the Ultimate’s Presence in the world stands as a bright beacon to the rejection of history and subsequent nihilism of Postmodernism. As the Holy Father concludes, although many today believe “the time of certainties is irrevocably past, and the human being must now learn to live in a horizon of total absence of meaning, where everything is provisional and ephemeral,” the Church offers the world true hope and meaning (Fides et Ratio, no. 91). Christ’s self-appropriation of all history to Himself is alone what saves us from this postmodern pessimism, this current “crisis of meaning” (ibid., no. 81).

These reflections have helped us see how Paganism, Protestantism, and Postmodernism all share a denial of the historical order’s ability to mediate the Absolute, the Divine. For the pagan the created order was viewed as a destructive river which took him further and further away from a “time before time” in which harmony and unity prevailed. To recapture this Golden Age, the pagan recalled the perfect personages and deeds which injected permanence and meaning into the present. Denying the capacity to meet God-made-flesh today, Protestantism has haphazardly removed Him from history. Apart from the ecclesial event of the Eucharist, God’s Incarnation is absent from time and His presence becomes one of spirit, determined by the individual believer. Postmodernism likewise sees truth and meaning determined not by the individual’s assent to external reality but by personal perspective and determination. The quest for truth and worship is abandoned as illusory and meaningless.

Apart from these three forms of historical pessimism, stands the sacramental mediation of the Church. In contrast to the understanding of time as antagonistic to our encounter with the Divine, the Church teaches that each passing day does not take us further and further away from God but, rather, stands as a perpetual invitation to enter more fully into His closeness. The Church’s message has always stood in hopeful opposition to such despair of the historical. “Within the dimension of time the world was created; within it the history of salvation unfolds…every year, every day and every moment are embraced by his Incarnation and Resurrection, and thus become part of the ‘fullness of time’” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 10). Time does not diminish Christ’s Presence in the world because as God-made-flesh, Jesus Christ promised to be with us until the end of the age (Mat. 28:20) and it is this same Incarnate God continuously present in the sacramental worship of the Church.

Eucharistic worship is thus not one peripheral liturgy among others but is rather the life-giving event which imparts ultimate meaning into our otherwise transient days. Christ is the Lord of history, the Lord of all places and times equally and fully and it is only in the Church’s life, where the Divine essence is fully available, that the present becomes salvific. Apart from Christ’s Eucharistic presence and His accessibility through the Church’s worship, the only alternative remaining is a fatalistic understanding of time and history. He has however entrusted Himself to His Body on earth (e.g., Acts 9:4-5), and the Church’s historical mediation of Creator to creation offers the only option to those alien creeds insistent on the inaccessibility of the Divine.

End Notes

1 Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 10. For all papal writings I will simply include the title and paragraph number in the body of this essay.

2 Donald J. Keefe, “Eucharistic Affirmations,” The Catholic World Report (June, 1999), p. 52. See also Fr. Keefe’s Covenantal Theology: The Eucharistic Order of History (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1996).

3 Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return (New York: Bollingen Foundation and Pantheon Books, 1954), p. 76.

4 Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 218.

5 See the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum, no. 9, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 74-141 for more on the transmission of divine revelation.

6 As cited in James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna (Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 150.

7 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 157.

8 Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology (New York: Harper and Row 1957), p. 153.

9 Raoul Mortley, French Philosophers in Conversation: Levinas, Schneider, Serres, Irigaray, Le Doeuff, Derrida (New York: Routledge Press, 1991), p. 104.

10 As quoted in Martin Henry, “God in Postmodernity,” The Irish Theological Quarterly, vol. 63 (1998), p. 8, n. 17. For more on Catholicism and Postmodernism, see American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly (Spring, 1999) which dedicates five excellent essays to understanding the Church’s response to postmodern claims.

Friday, January 25, 2019

God bless Fr. Donald Keefe, SJ...

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"[O]ur objective reality as human is covenantal, and as historical is Eucharistic; this reality is the single interest and single subject matter of Catholic theology, because it is the ground of existence in Christ. The Eucharist is the center of objective existence because it is the constituting Event of the historically free world, of the Good Creation . . . There is no other dignity than this, our participation in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice by which in Christ we have access to the Father.”
The last I had heard of Fr. Keefe (via John Kelleher?), many years ago, was that he was working on a final supplement to Covenantal Theology. In the interim — I just discovered tonight —, he has left this vale of tears. I can only offer my humble prayers for his departed soul, as well as hope that any unfinished works of his may come to light in due time.


Fundamentalists have more fun...

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"This Schlagwort [viz., 'fundamentalism'], once descriptive of a naive Biblical literalism, has become the favored device and the current glib-speak for exiling from the realm of civilized discourse those Christians, Catholic and Protestant, who prefer the magisterial authority of their traditions to the clerical and academic consensus that would subordinate the Gospel to the higher truth of modernity. ... [For example,] Martin Marty argues [ca. 1987] that insofar as persons of religious conviction do not sell out to an amalgamated 'pluralistic' public religiosity, the end they have in view can only be a theocratic intolerance....  
"The fundamentalist label is now used in quasi-Catholic circles to include whatever theological position refuses to drift before the winds of change emanating from the editorial offices of such journals of conventional opinion as Commonweal, America and the U.S. Catholic Conference 'news service,' the weekly Origins...."

-- Fr. Donald J. Keefe, S.J., Covenantal Theology: The Eucharistic Order of History, rev. ed., with an Appendix (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, [1991] 1996), p. 66. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Fr. Rutler's Weekly Column - 20 January 2019

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Fr. Rutler's Weekly Column
January 20, 2019

   The nineteenth-century churchman John Henry Newman has shaped many of my views and how to apply them. With the credit of a second miracle to his intercession, it is likely that he will be canonized in short order.
   Our culture as a whole is conflicted about the course of events and moral failing in dealing with them, and this is glaringly so in the Church, which is made by God to be a beacon and ballast for all people. Newman reminds us in one of his letters (Vol. XXV, p. 204) not to be surprised by this, as it fits the predictable strategy of the Anti-Christ: “Where you have power, you will have the abuse of power—and the more absolute, the stronger, the more sacred the power, the greater and more certain will be its abuse.”

Where you had Pius X, you will have Francis I...

   For Catholics, present problems are weightier than at any time since the sixteenth century, with its political and theological upheavals. Even the assurance of a stable and centrifugal reference in Rome itself is being tested. It is helpful to recall what Newman said in another of his letters (Vol. XXVII, p. 256): “In the times of Arianism the great men of the Church thought things too bad to last. So did Pope Gregory at the end of the 7th century, St. Romuald in the 11th, afterwards St. Vincent Ferrer, and I think Savonarola—and so on to our time.”

Gee, if only we had a pope who also thought things were bad...

   It would be falsely pious to sweep the scandals of our day under the rug. And it is stunningly evident that, in cases of moral abuse, bureaucratic attempts to buy silence have been a very bad investment.

Is this where Rutler names names? No... I didn't think so....

   In the Historical Sketches, Newman refers to “the endemic perennial fidget which possesses us about giving scandal; facts are omitted in great histories, or glosses are put upon memorable acts, because they are thought not edifying, whereas of all scandals such omissions, such glosses, are the greatest." 

Cf. my above gloss...

   Present experience attests to what Newman wrote in his book Via Media: “The whole course of Christianity from the first . . . is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing . . . Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony." 
   Scandal is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” and it “takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2284-2285). Our Lord, who faulted the scribes and Pharisees for giving scandal, is the author and head of the Church, and the good news is that, despite the vicissitudes and dissembling of the Church’s mortal members, His Good News is not “fake news.”

Never mind that the same Catechism is on record asserting that Christ Himself 

"scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners as familiarly as with themselves. Against those among them 'who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others', Jesus affirmed: 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' He went further by proclaiming before the Pharisees that, since sin is universal, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves. Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God's own attitude toward them" (cf. CCC 588-589).

Stay tuned for more animadversions...


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Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Eastern Orthodox Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Part 2a

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''Mark Eugenicus (1392–1447), disciple of Palamas and pillar of orthodoxy at [the Council of Ferrara-Florence] ... offers a synthesis of the entire [immaculatist] development, not only in favor of doctrinal certitude of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception in eastern tradition, but [also] of its profound links with key doctrinal questions concerning the Trinity: the filioque and the mission of the Spirit. This development might well be considered a proximate preparation for the subsequent decisions of the Franciscan theologian, Francesco della Rovere[,] who, as Pope Sixtus IV, inserted the feast into the universal calendar of the Roman Church [cf. the 1476 apostolic constitution Cum Praeexcelsa]. ...   
"[T]he [immaculatist] synthesis of Mark Eugenicus is not the result of a study of Scotus, but of long meditation on the explicit Greek tradition concerning the Immaculate Conception, just as the work of Scotus, though paralleling the Greek tradition is not, immediately at least, dependent upon it. Nonetheless, the Greek patristic tradition and the 'metaphysical' Mariology of Scotus stand in substantial agreement. Once recognized, it also inspires both study of that Oriental tradition and its more explicit incorporation into Latin Mariology, as in fact occurred during the fifteenth century before and after the Council of Florence. As Fr. Kappes notes, that advancement is reflected in the solemn definition of the dogma by Bl. Pius IX in 1854, and subsequently in the work of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe."*

-- Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI, "Preface" to Fr. Christiaan Kappes, The Immaculate Conception: Why Thomas Aquinas Denied, While John Duns Scotus, Gregory Palamas, & Mark Eugenicus Professed the Absolute Immaculate Existence of Mary (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2014)

* This post is meant to be read after this and before this.

The Eastern Orthodox Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Part 2

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"[The first part of this study] deals with the first known use of this title [viz., Mary as "prepurified"] during the patristic era, that of St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 329 – c. 390), the Theologian. The teaching of St. Gregory on this title, clearly an immaculist one, was kept alive by many representatives of Byzantine theology during the medieval period. On this tradition depends the considerably more detailed exposition of the title in an immaculist sense by St. John Damascene (c. 675 – 749). His teaching on this title has notable links with St. Maximus Confessor and the Third Council of Constantinople (680) where the title appears to be a part of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church.* 

I am extremely eager to explore this last claim, and I think Fr. Kappes elaborates on it in this 2016 lecture, which I shall address in a separate post.

As a disciple of Scotus, the Martyr of Charity [viz., St. Maximilian M. Kolbe] stresses not only the "negative" definition of the Immaculate Conception: preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of conception, but more so the "positive" in pointing out how the name of Immaculate Conception is name of both the Mother of God and of the Holy Spirit, respectively the created and uncreated Immaculate Conception. This perfect union of wills: divine and human, in the Mother of God and of the Church through the operation of the Holy Spirit, makes possible that mysterious, maternal mediation by which the disjunctive transcendentals: infinite and finite, uncreated and created, are united in the Person of the Incarnate Word. This union, through the maternal mediation of the Immaculate, makes possible a sharing in the divine life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for those incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ by Baptism.* 

This latter synthesis is not only breathtaking in its own right, but resonates strongly with prior research I was conducting based on Fr. Donald J. Keefe's magnum opus, Covenantal Theology [also here, here, etc.]. As part of a large, ongoing "ressourcement" of books and research interests I engaged as far back as my college days, I look forward to seeing how much overlap there is indeed between "maternal mediation" of the "disjunctive tranascendentals" in Fr. Kappes's work and the theme of "One Flesh " (mia sarx) in Fr. Keefe's.

* from Fr. Peter Fehlner's preface to Fr. Kappes's The Immaculate Conception, pp. xviii-xx.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Eastern Orthodox Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Part 1

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"The All[-]Holiness of Mary, or Immaculate Conception, as it was sometimes called even in the East and now commonly called in the Latin West, was primarily linked in the East, not to the redemption, but to what we know as the absolute primacy of Christ for the sake of whom the entire creation and then the work of redemption were undertaken. The notion of perfect redemption by a perfect redeemer, as St. Maximilian Kolbe notes, depends on that of the absolute primacy of Christ; and the Immaculate Conception is the Marian mode of that primacy, for us the sign of its actuality. ... 

"Fr. Kappes's study ... is rather a detailed analysis of one particular title of Mary: Prepurified, common in the East from the earliest times, a synonym for Immaculate Conception. ... In the West, however, it initially [ab origine lol] appeared to mean just the opposite, viz., one gradually purified from sin after conception, not preserved. So it was understood by St. Thomas and Scotus in their reading of the Damascene and thereafter among Latins until the time of Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) and Mark Eugenicus (1392-1447) when the disciples of Scotus first began to realize, not only that the real meaning of the title, far from supporting maculism ([the] position of St. Thomas), but that it supported just the opposite: immaculatism ([the] position of Scotus) and had a strong biblical basis in the account of the purification-presentation of Mary and Jesus in the Temple (cf. Lk 2: 22-40). Once the interpretation of the Damascene was corrected and the antiquity of the title in Scripture and tradition was recognized, the basis for this doctrine in the deposit of faith became clearly evident to those supporting the views of Duns Scotus. ... [T]he mystery of Mary's person is our key — to both the study of theology and of the economy of salvation — one pointing to crucial features of a Christian metaphysics as Marian."
-- Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI, "Preface"to Fr. Christiaan W. Kappes, The Immaculate Conception: The Immaculate Conception: Why Thomas Aquinas Denied, While John Duns Scotus, Gregory Palamas, & Mark Eugenicus Professed the Absolute Immaculate Existence of Mary (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2014), pp. xvi-xvii.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fr. Rutler's Weekly Column - January 13, 2019

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   The foundational documents of our nation were influenced by Catholic political philosophers such as Aquinas, Suárez, Báñez, Gregory of Valencia and Saint Robert Bellarmine, who wrote before theorists like Hobbes and Rousseau. This contradicts a popular impression that democracy was the invention of the Protestant Reformation.
If only!
Luther and Calvin considered popular assemblies highly suspect. The concept of the Divine Right of Kings, which was a prelude to what we call “statism” and “big government,” was systematized by the Protestant counselor to King James I of England, Robert Filmer. 
   For all his vague Deism, Thomas Jefferson might have acknowledged those Catholic sources, if obliquely, in his eloquent phrases. The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion and Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests for public office were developments rooted in the Thomistic outlines of human rights and dignity declared in the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbraoth
This latter claim is worth exploring, not the least because the foregoing has chafed against my monarchial proclivities in the worst ways. For the time being, the acute irony is that a reading of the Declaration of Arbraoth that supports popular sovereignty over absolute monarchy is based on a proto-nationalist theory of Scottish independence. So, insofar as I view nationalism as a bridge to monarchy by other means, I will call the significance of Arbraoth an ideological draw.
   This was lost on some senators who have violated Constitutional guarantees by subjecting judicial nominees to religious tests. One senator complained to a Catholic nominee for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Two other senators said that the President’s nominee for a federal district court in Nebraska was unsuitable because his membership in the Knights of Columbus committed him to “a number of extreme positions.” Members of their political party consider opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion “extreme.” This would characterize the Pope as an extremist, but at least he is not a judicial nominee. 
   In the Statuary Hall of our nation’s Capitol are sculptures portraying heroes who represent the best of the history and culture of each state. They include Saint Junípero Serra of California, Saint Damien de Veuster of Hawaii, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Maryland, Father Eusebio Kino of Arizona, General James Shields of Illinois, Chief Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana, Father Jacques Marquette of Wisconsin, Patrick McCarran of Nevada, Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, John Burke of North Dakota, John McLoughlin of Oregon, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart Pariseau of Washington, and John Edward Kenna of West Virginia, all of whom were Catholic. These canonized saints, statesmen, soldiers, jurists and pioneers would be extremists unworthy of public office in the estimation of some current senators for whom subscription to natural law and obedience to the Ten Commandments are violations of what they fantasize as the norm of moral being
Gee, if only America had been established as a Catholic state to the honor of Christ the King, or as a Protestant theocracy which Catholics of the time would have known how to evangelize by preaching and martyrdom. Oh well, Lockean indifferentism wins again. But at least Fr. Rutler can protest that ideological hegemony.
   The coruscating illiteracy of such senators burlesques reason. At every performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, audiences wait for the fifth scene of the second act, when the haunting statue of the Commendatore comes alive and knocks on the door to the sound of trombones. Would that all those statues of some of our nation’s greatest figures might come down from their pedestals and challenge the vacant minds of those inquisitorial senators to explain what constitutes extremism.
This is the essence of the problem: a nation must choose between an inquisition guided by the Catholic Church, or one opposed to it.


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Fr. Rutler's Weekly Column - January 6, 2018

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   Researching the Birth Narrative of our Lord on the computer can be a source of unintentionally mordant humor. On one of the prominent encyclopedia sites, we are told in the entry for King Herod that “most scholars agree” that he was entirely capable of massacring the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem. But the same source, under the entry for Holy Innocents, says “most scholars agree” that the account was a myth, since no one would do such a thing.
   The emperor Augustus, who was content to have Herod as a client ruler, punned in Greek that he would rather be Herod’s pig (“hys”) than be his son (“huios”). Herod had murdered three of his sons along with one of his wives and a brother-in-law, not to mention three hundred military officers who were abrasive to his paranoia, even though he had 2,000 bodyguards from as far away as what now are France and Germany. Augustus was appalled by the crassness of Herod, rather as the Nazis, for all their malevolence, were taken aback by the sadism of the Soviets in the Katyn Forest and the insouciant viciousness of the Vichy leaders. 
   To this day, remnant stones and bulwarks testify to the large-scale engineering wonders with which Herod impressed and intimidated the populace: the extension of the Second Temple, the Herodium and Masada fortresses, the port town of Caesarea Maritima, which was enabled by his development of hydraulic cement, and his shipbuilding industry made possible by the asphalt he dredged from the Dead Sea. 
   The Wise Men from the East, whatever else they were (and we do not know precisely from where they came or how many they were) were good psychologists. They quickly seized upon the paranoia of Herod and outwitted him, provoking the massacre of male infants two years old and under. The historians Josephus and Nicholas of Damascus do not record that slaughter because the victims were babies, and for Roman chroniclers, babies were not as important as adults. Contrary to the inspired Jewish religion, the dominant protocols of the Western world permitted the killing of infants by the paterfamilias for any reason, including inconvenience, deformity and birth control. In Sparta, only a child strong enough for development into soldiery had a right to life. 
   By an indult of Providence, and in contradiction to many “virtue-signaling” cynics, our current Executive branch of government has become the most pro-life since Roe v. Wade, but that is a fragile assurance and one with no promise of permanence. There are vastly more infanticides now than in Herodian Bethlehem. If our civilization lasts two thousand years more, there may be a “majority of scholars” who will say that in 2019 there were people capable of such iniquity, and another “majority of scholars” who will insist that people back in 2019 could never have been so cruel.


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A return to orders...

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Of late, I am rereading formative books I read long ago, or finally chipping away at that endless list of "books I've been meaning to read for a while now,"[1] and I'm currently enjoying Vinoth Ramachandra's staggeringly good, yet seemingly underrated, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry & Christian Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996). The book was life-changing for me, not only because it cemented my conception of Christianity as a global missionary religion (particularly by opening my eyes to Christianity in Southeast Asia, which was a factor in my decision to live and serve in Taiwan for what ended up being nine years, and where I met my wife!), but also because it introduced me to the work of Fr. Stanley Jaki, which was a crucial factor in my conversion to Catholicism. 


Ramachandra's second book, Faiths in Conflict? Christian Integrity in a Multicultural World (IVP, 1999), was just as enriching, though mainly by deepening my understanding of and appreciation for Southeast Asia. I have not had a chance to read his most recent book, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World (London: SPCK, 2008), but I intend to do so once I finish rereading the first two books. 

As an author, Ramachandra is as challenging as he is edifying because of the intellectual balancing act he performs, and which he makes the reader perform with him. On the one hand, he gleefully and deftly skewers anti-European, anti-Christian propaganda that portrays Christianity as a means of oppression by the West, or that non-Christian cultures were and are better off before and without Christian influence. On the other hand, he is anything but a stooge for Western neo-liberal progressivism, and denounces globalist malfeasance just as deftly. He casually uses buzzwords that reflexively give American conservatives, like myself, the jitters, but does so amidst a larger argumentation that ultimately undermines the ideology behind those buzzwords, and behind much of what passes for American conservatism these days, in order to hobble them in subjection to the demands of the Gospel.  

The following passages, beginning on page 116 of Gods That Fail, arrested me not only because it nicely captures Ramachandra's ability to hobble non-Christian idols on both sides of the aisle, as it were, but also because it ties in well with discussions I've had over the past couple years about "Making America Great Again" versus "Making Americans Godly Again."

Let us join Ramachandra on the tightrope: 

Development is one of those words which, far from being innocuous, has served to reinforce the hold of modern idols over vast populations in the Third World (or, the South, to use a geographically appropriate term). It has become a source of propaganda for a particular way of life. In other words, it is an ideology. ... From 'westernization' to 'modernization' to 'development': images that turned the West, whether in its capitalist or socialist expressions, into the definer of the 'good life' for men and women across the globe.  
Not surprisingly, 'development' became a neo-colonial [gasp! a librul buzzword!] project through which an aggressive, expanding Corporation Culture sought to establish a bridgehead among political and commercial elites of the Third World. The attraction of 'development' is that it has brought substantial improvements [gasp! a neo-conservative talking point!] in health care, education and general well-being to scores of people inmany [sic] countries. But it has , more often than not, given legitimacy to the acquisition and control of other people's resources, inevitably increasing poverty and distress under the guise of eliminating them. 

"It never ceases to amaze me," continues Ramachandra on page 117,

how many Christians, in the North and the South, continue to refer to the former as the 'developed' and the latter as the 'developing' world. ... All our normative images and yardsticks of 'devcelopment' are ideologically 'loaded'. Who dictates that mushrooming TV ariels and skyscrapers are signs of 'development'? Who, apart from the automobile industry and the advertising agencies, seriously believes that a country with six-lane highways and multi-story car-parks is more 'developed' than one whose chief mode of transport is railways? Does the fact that there are more telephone lines in Manhatten [sic], New York than in the whole of sub-saharan Africa, mean that human communication is more developed in the former than in the latter?

Keep in mind that I read these words shortly before I (grudgingly) bought my first cellphone, and Ramachandra wrote them years before the explosion of social media that now dominate our lives. And yet, his critique is just as salient, if not more so, for predating our "new and improved" means of "keeping in touch." But Ramachandra's bipartisan critique is not over yet. 

The commonest measure of 'development' (on the basis of which entire societies are classified hierarchically) is the Gross National Product per capita. That improving levels of income are an important aspect of human well-being..., I do not deny. But GNP per capita tells us nothing about the distribution of income in a given society. It is a well-observed fact that, even as the GDP per capita increases by leaps and bounds, the purchasing power of whole segments of the population may decline and levels of of absolute poverty in the country actually increase. As we saw in Chapter 2, no Christian assessment of human well-being can ignore the issue of distributive justice, the access of the poor to the wealth that is generated. [p. 118]

Ramachandra is referring to arguments he mounted beginning on page 44. "The privileged, who may also happen to be 'religious," notes Ramachandra, 

often feel that their social and economic privileges are somehow a solemn, basic, God-given right. In many legal systems down to the present day, the sanctity of private property has been upheld ... with greater religious indignation than the sanctity of human life. As the economist John Kenneth Gilbraith comments, tongue-in-cheek, 'The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich'.[2] But, someone may object, what about the apostle Paul's injunction to Christians to be content with their material state (1 Tim 6:6ff)? 

Firstly, answers Ramachandra, "Paul is not addressing those whom modern economists would describe as the 'absolute poor': namely those people ... whose basic needs of nutrition, clothing, health care and housing have not yet been met." On the contrary:

He assumes (in v.8) that these primary human requirements have been satisfied.... Where these needs have not been satisfied, it is usually because of a failure to share material resources, which in turn is a result of the arrogance of the rich and their refusal to fulfil their obligations to the poor (see v.17,18). Secondly, Paul's warnings are not directed at the legitimate aspirations on the part of the poor to be freed from exploitation and material want. Rather they are directed at human greed, the 'love of money' (v.10), the spirit of acquisitiveness which is rampant among 'the rich in this present world' and which leads to idolatry and a false sense of security (v.17; cf Col. 3:5). ... [In a word,] Paul's warnings are based on the assumption that a world of gross material inequality is a world that is dominated by false gods, by empty sources of security (v. 7,17). 

Ramachandra continues by reminding us that "the great thinkers and preachers of the Christian church have affirmed the economic rights of the poor" (p. 45). "Not only did they remind the relatively well-to-do of their charitable duty to the poor," argues Ramachandra, "but they also insisted on the right of access on the part of the poor to adequate means of sustenance." As St. Ambrose teaches, "Not from your own do you bestow upon the poor man, but you make return from what is his."[3] Even more boldly, notes Ramachandra, did St. John Chrysostom preach: 

That is also theft, not to share one's possessions. ... [T]he rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. ... So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. ... [N]ot to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life.[4] 

Presumably heading off a "conservative" objection to his "liberal" arguments, Ramachandra notes that the suggestion "that the concept of rights is a product of the humanism of the Enlightenment, is historically misleading."

Although the word 'rights' may not have appeared with much frequency in the great patristic and medieval church leaders, the thought that the poor in society have legitimate claims on the rich..., and that to withold what was in one's power to grant in situations of material deprivation was to do moral injury to the poor, permeates their writings. [As such, it] is morally permissible for an extremely impoverished person to take what he or she needs for sustenance from a person who has plenty.

More concretely, Ramachandra explains, "If I have food in my house which you need for your survival, but which is not indispensable for mine, then it rightfully belongs to you." As a result, "If I offered it to you, it would not be an act of charity on my part as much as granting you your rights under God." Ramachandra then invokes the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica: 

In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would seem to be no sin in taking another's property, for need has made it common.... Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor.[5]

An obvious retort -- and certainly my own reflex -- is to say that, in our modern world, and in our daily lives, it is so rare to encounter so radical a case of need that theft against us would be mere justice. However, the retort seems to prove too much, since, if there are no realistic conditions under which we could see ourselves being obliged to follow the injunctions levied above, then we are effectively removing the moral burdens of the traditional teaching about distributive justice. In other words, if we no longer have to worry about the demands of distributive justice "in our day," then it follows that distributive justice is not a universally (i.e., transhistorically and transculturally) binding moral principle. As such, it was never, in principle, a binding principle, and therefore we are refuting the teaching of Sts. Paul, Ambrose, John Chrystostom, Thomas, et al. Rather than parrying the implications of the Christian teaching about distributive justice with sophistical qualifications, it behooves us to discover fresh applications of the Christian teaching, beginning in our own lives and communities.

Meanwhile, how did such materialistic sophistry come to hold sway in the modern Western Christian mind? Part of the problem, according to Ramachandra, is that "the market mechanism for allocating resources was raised to a semi-divine status by Adam Smith's (1723-1790) occult notion of an 'invisible hand' steering human self-interest to socially beneficent ends" (p. 110). In Smith's defense, argues Ramachandra, "Smith has been associated, rather unfairly, with the nineteenth-century [and Social-Darwinian] advocates of laissez-faire capitalism and their counterparts in the post-Thatcher-Reagan era in the West." Smith's main concern, contends Ramachandra

was to defend free trade against mercantilist arguments that a strong government was needed to protect the interests of producers. Many of the mercantilist writers were themselves merchants who saw their own interests as best served by a nation-state which used economic policy as a means of reinforcing its own power. Smith rejected any action by government which discriminated against some citizens by supporting the interests of others.

Modern defenders of laissez-faire capitalism shore up their ideology in Smith's name by leaving his position at that, but thereby do him a great injustice. For, as Ramachandra clarifies, "while [Smith] opposed any government intervention in the operation of markets, he was aware of the responsibility of government to protect human welfare." It is often overlooked that Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy, and only accidentally an economic philosopher. Indeed, his 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, not only predated his famous The Wealth of Nations by seventeen years, but also classified "Economics" as a subset of, or at least a shorthand name for, "Familial Rights." 

As such, his economic theories were intended to be read in the context of his larger moral philosophy. It is in that context, Ramachandra notes, that Smith 

defined three duties of government, the latter two proving a source of embarrassment to advocates of 'minimalist' government who look to Smith for support: namely, the 'duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it', and 'the duty of of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions which can never be for the interest of any individual or small number of individuals...'[6] 

"Smith," Ramachandra concludes on page 111, "may be the patron saint of capitalism and neo-classical economics, but like all such saints his texts are used selectively by his devotees"—just ask Sts. Paul, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, et al. 

With the larger moral context of Smith's economic theories in mind, and the larger demands of Christianity in the socioeconomic sphere fresh in our hearts, let us return to Ramachandra's previously cited critique of 'development' (p. 118). Not only, recall, does a higher GNP per capita not necessarily result in equal development for all, but "a nation's GNP only indicates the volume of circulation of goods and services in the economy [i.e., among families]." Beyond that, however, the GNP per capita "tells us nothing about the quality of those goods and services: are they beneficial or harmful, do they enrich or damage life, do they meet the actual needs of the community?" In other words, to recall an earlier dichotomy," is a robust economy "Making America Great Again" at the expense of "Making Americans Godly Again"? If so, how we can harmonize the two aims? 

Until we achieve such a reconciliation, Ramachandra notes laconically that it "is perfectly possible to have a society with a high GNP per capita, thriving solely on the manufacture and export of armaments, heroin, tobacco and pornography." (Some might call this a libertarian utopia, but I digress.) The question Ramachandra imposes upon us is, "Would such a [commercially successful] society be regarded as 'developed'?" Under the reigning neo-liberal ideology, it would, contends Ramachandra.

In any case, I trust that the foregoing suffices to demonstrate why Ramachandra is an author well worth exploring.


[1] Hence, "a return to orders" I placed long ago.

[2] The Age of Uncertainty (London: BBC, 1972), p. 22.

[3] Quoted in C. Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983), p. 50.

[4] On Wealth and Poverty, tr. Catherine Roth (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), pp. 49-55.

[5] Pt II-II, Q66, Art 7, tr. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger Bros., 1948).

[6] An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), ed. Edwin Cannan (1904) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), Vol. 2, pp. 208-209.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Rolling in his grave...

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"In his forceful attempts to impart, protect, elucidate, and formulate a vitalized Christianity though his many soul-oriented writings, Augustine was seeking to prevent Christianity from mutating into a semblance of religion that 'held onto the form of the faith but denied its true power. [II Timothy 3:5]' Always one who favored the 'life and light of the mind'..., he feared that Christianity might one day be transformed into a mindless, purely symbolic and simple religion that would be content with engaging in childlike otherworldly reflections and fantasies."

Masquerading as an angel of a light show...

"He feared that the faith would become a spirituality of the moods, not of the mind and heart; unexercised, it would degenerate into a belief system that reflected a soft, relaxed confidence in Christ.... In his great concern, he may have foreseen a day when congregations would gather to worship not with the mind strengthened and sustained by the heart, but by the heart alone...."


"People could easily be swayed and swept away by the heavenly beauty of the temporal light falling through stained glass windows, or, like Odysseus with the Sirens, become captivated by soothing melodies rising from a choir."

Clowns of a feather...

-- S. T. Georgiu, The Last Transfiguration: The Quest for Spiritual Illumination in the Life and Times of Saint Augustine (Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1994), p. 82

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wanna earn a million dollars?

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Start by (re)watching Wait Until Dark.

Then rewrite the script to cast a female as the assassin and Alan Arkin as the blind victim.

Get it directed by a 'hawt' thriller director in The Current Year.

Earn a million bux.

Why, Kant, I quit you?

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-- Brokeback Metaphysics